This is not an eclipse post.

Last night I was sitting at home reading as the sun faded away, and the droning of crickets outside the house gradually drowned out the sound of the words on the page in front of me.

This is the sound of a summer night – crickets raising heck outside, intermittent frog croaks from the pond, steady whirring of ceiling fans, the tumble of cat feet zipping from one end of the house to the other (oh wait, that’s every night). In Alabama, where I grew up, the crickets sing louder and for months longer than they do where I presently live in the steely shadow of the Southern Blue Ridge Escarpment’s sharp edge. These friendly neighborhood sirens are my favorite part of summer – perhaps because they catapult me back into happy childhood memories, perhaps because I’ve grown grumpy toward heat and they signal cool nighttime hours ahead.

I wonder – will the crickets start their racket when the moon eclipses the sun on Monday?

eclipse
Does this really qualify as night?

Lately I’ve been hesitant to seek out answers to questions like that. Not knowing what to pay attention to sometimes forces me to pay attention to everything, which usually ends in wonder and joy. So I think – for me anyway, tucked away in a pocket of woods somewhere – the eclipse should be a joyful experience. I can’t help but have certain expectations of astonishment, but I tend to expect that out of any ordinary day, so nothing new there.

every day is earth day
Every day is Earth (and space) Day at Hudson Library!

After reading Annie Dillard’s essay “Total Eclipse,” I also expect to be at least a little weirded out. (Find it and other essays in anthologies here and here.)

There are going to be a whole lot of people here in Western North Carolina on Monday. I’ve heard predictions of mayhem – nothing new there either. Some of us locals aren’t too excited about the impending influx of bodies and vehicles, but I really hope we can recognize how lucky we are to live here, and be kind to each other. Aren’t we also lucky to live in a time when a total solar eclipse doesn’t portend doom and destruction any more than the relentless daily news cycle does? How cool is it that so many people in this state, this country, this world, are going to be staring up at the sky together in wonder and awe, and maybe a touch of primordial fear? The world needs more of that.

eclipse tips
Your friendly local library wants to help keep you informed.

We’re being told to prepare supply-wise as we would for an impending winter storm, so I have an apocalypse-worthy cache of toilet paper at the house, and my snowshoes are primed and ready to go. (Wait – what?) I can only focus on doing one thing right at a time, so today I’ll get food and, if I remember, toothpaste.

Don’t forget to stock up on library books!

faulkner
Words of inspiration from a favorite cheerful scribe, as quoted in Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir.

Celebrating National Science Month with Citizen Science

[Contributed by Carlyn, Circulation Supervisor @ Macon County Public Library]

April is National Science Month. There are many ways to celebrate, from reading about a famous scientist, to taking part in a science fair. You might attend Family Science Night at your library or school. One way to become more actively involved is to take part in a citizen science project.

First, what is citizen science? Citizen science has been described as “voluntary public participation in the scientific process.” In other words, anyone – everyone – can get involved with real scientific research! Most citizen science projects take a supporting role, in which the general public assists with projects developed by working scientists. Scientific research often involves either gathering or sorting through large quantities of stuff – data, photos, etc. Much of this work is being done by non-scientists with a minimum of training, which means that anyone can become a part of it. Adults, children, families, groups, or individuals all have a wide variety of opportunities.  Early examples of citizen science often involved using private computers’ idle time to crunch data, but today there are thousands of projects out there available for people to get involved in different ways. A lot of projects are done from a computer or smartphone, while many others involve getting out and about to gather information. These projects offer the public tremendous opportunities to take part in genuine scientific research. They provide scientists with free assistance; they provide hands-on science learning opportunities; and they create connections between the public and the science community.

Currently, most citizen science projects are in the natural sciences and astronomy. For example, many research projects involving birds have involved public participation for years; the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count , touted as the world’s longest-running citizen science project, dates back to 1900. Other birding projects include the Great Backyard Bird Count, eBird, and NestWatch. These projects, and others like them, help scientists to gather large amounts of data from locations all over the world; to do this solely with paid researchers would be prohibitive in both cost and scope, but by enlisting the assistance of thousands of private citizens the costs are minimized and the data pool greatly expanded.

While these projects involve outdoor time, some biology projects are done on a computer, such as EteRNA, which uses a game-like interface and fun graphics to teach non-scientists how to create new RNA.  Astronomy projects are often done on a personal computer or smartphone. Galaxy Zoo, for example, asks participants to view photographs of distant galaxies and identify characteristics about them. This allows scientists to narrow their focus to study only the galaxies that most interest them. Some citizen science projects require participants to attend training workshops, but the majority require little or no training, and any minimal necessary training can usually be completed in a few minutes online.

Increasingly, citizen science projects are making use of smartphones to collect data. Did you feel it?  is an app that allows citizens to submit their experiences with earthquakes, providing a great deal of information seismologists would otherwise be unable to gather. mPing gives people the opportunity to submit weather data, again greatly increasing the amount of data available for study. Project Noah lets people use their phones to share wildlife encounters, contributing to information about our planet’s biodiversity. Noisetube collects information about noise levels wherever a participant happens to be.

A citizen science project that is active right now throughout FRL is NC Candid Critters, and you can get involved through your local public library. Each library in the Fontana Regional Library system has Candid Critter kits ready for you to check out! With the kit, you are equipped to set up a special camera on either your own land or public land, leave the camera to take daytime and nighttime photos for several weeks, and then you get to see the results, identify the animals photographed, and add them to a huge database that is being used by scientists for a wide variety of research. In the process, you’ll also connect with another citizen science site, eMammal.

Does this sound a little daunting? Not to worry. Before you check out a camera kit, you’ll complete a short online training. It took me less than an hour. The training shows you exactly what you need to do, from choosing a location, to setting up your camera, to identifying the photos your camera captures. Once you’ve completed the training, you’ll be put on a list of approved volunteers for the project, and you’ll be able to check out a camera kit. My camera went up on March 11, so this past Sunday it was time for me to collect my camera and see what critters were photographed.  On this first deployment, I got several sightings of squirrels and raccoons; I’ve redeployed in a different location and in another three weeks I’ll have a second set of photos to identify, upload, and share.

Raccoons from my NC Candid Critters camera, taken at night (4:30 AM, to be exact). The one on the right is easy; don’t miss the one on the left, of which all you can see is the glowing eyes!

NCCC racoons

There are so many other citizen science projects, it’s impossible to list them here. An excellent book on the subject is Citizen Science Guide for Families: Taking part in real science. While the title gears the book toward families, it is equally useful for adults, groups, or individuals. Additionally, there are two great online websites that provide access to lots of current projects.

SciStarter serves as a clearinghouse for citizen science projects. Scientists can submit projects to the site, and people can pick from hundreds of projects to pursue. There are many projects that can be completed online, and many others that involve indoor or outdoor activities. SciStarter includes projects around the world as well as local or state projects.

Zooniverse serves as a clearinghouse for citizen science online projects involving analysis of large amounts of data. These often involve viewing and identifying photos or videos, ranging from Arizona bats to the Milky Way galaxy. Other projects involve deciphering handwritten data, ranging from Elizabethan journals to 1940’s African tree research. All Zooniverse projects have built-in tutorials which make it easy to get started.

Citizen science is the subject of a new television series as well. The Crowd and the Cloud is a four-part series airing on World Channel and selected PBS stations this April. You can also watch the series online and get additional information about citizen science at http://crowdandcloud.org/.

So what are you waiting for? It’s so easy, and so interesting, to become involved in citizen science today; the question isn’t whether to get involved, but which project to dive into first! The NC Candid Critters camera kits will be available at our libraries through July 2017, so that’s a great place to begin. Visit the NC Candid Critters website, http://www.nccandidcritters.org/, to get started as a citizen scientist.

Nutrition and Diabetes

By Krystle T. Holt, RD, LDN

dietitian holt

Krystle Holt is our guest contributor to this Shelf Life in the Mountains.  Krystle is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist. She currently works as an outpatient dietitian providing Medical Nutrition Therapy (MNT) to patients. Krystle also works in Harris Regional Hospitals Cardio Pulmonary Rehab services where she provides individual MNT and group class for rehab patients. She helps with community outreach programs as well as employee wellness for Harris Regional and Swain Community Hospital. 

Each March the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics sets out to remind people the importance of eating right and being physically active. This year the theme for National Nutrition Month® is “Put Your Best Fork Forward.” This is a simple reminder of the small choices we can make daily that lead to a healthy lifestyle. Making every bite count can lead to big changes in our health. There are many ways you can “Put Your Best Fork Forward.”  Here are some tips to help you get started:

  • Avoid skipping meals. When we skip a meal we tend to overeat at the next meal. Try to always have a good breakfast, lunch and dinner, using MyPlate to guide your choices. Making half of your plate fruit or veggies, one quarter of your plate lean protein, and a quarter of your plate grains, is a great start to healthy eating. Be sure to include low fat dairy at each meal which could consist of 1% or skim milk, low-fat yogurt or low fat cheese.

my plate

  • Have healthy snacks between meals. Snacks are a great way to avoid overeating at meals. Examples of a healthy snack may include: grapes and a mozzarella cheese stick or apple slices and peanut butter.
  • Choose a variety of different fruits and vegetables. Make sure half of your plate at each meal is fruit and veggies. Fruits and veggies are rich in antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals.
  • Make at least half of your grains whole grains. Choose whole grain breads, cereals, and pastas! Whole grains are a great source of fiber which helps us control weight, maintain normal gastrointestinal function, decrease cholesterol, decrease blood pressure and decrease risk of Heart Disease, Stroke, Type 2 Diabetes, and Digestive Cancers.
  • Avoid sugar-sweetened beverages. Replace sodas and juice with water to help maintain adequate hydration. Limiting added sugars in the diet like the ones found in sugar-sweetened beverages will decrease the amount of empty calories you put into your body.
  • Be physically active. Try to engage in some type of physical activity each day. Start slow for example walking or playing ball outside with your kids for 10 minutes. Most importantly…..have fun!

Use these tips to help you get started on a journey to a healthier lifestyle. You can find many different and up-to-date books to aid you in your journey to a healthy lifestyle at Fontana Regional Library.

The Case Against Sugar

What Do I Eat Now? : A Step-by-Step Guide to Eating Right with Type 2 Diabetes

Eat Out, Eat Well: The Guide to Eating Healthy in Any Restaurant

Mayo Clinic: The Essential Diabetes Book

Go Fresh: A Heart-healthy Cookbook with Shopping and Storage Tips

Healthy Weight for Teens

There are also many different resources online. Visit some of these resources to help you learn more about MyPlate, track your exercise and calorie intake, and get educational handouts regarding National Nutrition Month®.

https://www.choosemyplate.gov/MyPlate

https://www.supertracker.usda.gov/

http://www.eatright.org/resources/national-nutrition-month

In addition to the above resources you can contact your Harris Regional Hospital Registered Dietitians in Sylva at:

  • Krystle T. Holt, RD, LDN: (828) 631-8823
  • Melanie Batchelor, RD, LDN, CDE: (828) 631-8825

Watch it now: Embrace of the Serpent

Recently, a friend heartily recommended that I watch a film called Embrace of the Serpent after discussing one of my favorites, Aguirre the Wrath of God, written, directed, and produced by Werner Herzog. Both of the titles mentioned above present a strikingly similar plot in the same geographic location: the Amazonian jungle. Aguirre and Embrace follow the all-too-familiar conquest and exploitation trajectory of indigenous peoples and their pristine, resource-rich, and sacred environment. 

embrace-of-the-serpent-20159645

 

In Aguirre, the goal of the conquistadors is the city of El Dorado; in Embrace, the goal of the barons is rubber. In Embrace, directed by Colombian filmmaker Ciro Guerra, the only signs of the brutal rubber plantations are villages burned to the ground, only a few remaining indigenous groups (mostly the ones who do not resist the rubber barons), a strong distrustful and traumatic relationship between the natives and the whites, and scarred trees dripping out white, violent rubber. In one of the most gut-wrenching and gruesome scenes of the film shows the protagonist and hero of the story, Karamakate known by all tribes as “The World Mover,” along with another native named Manduca and the German botanist Theo Von Martius walk up on a rubber extraction area. The trees all have the telling marks of rubber extraction with buckets beneath them to catch the unrefined liquid. Manduca, full of rage and heartbreak from watching the bloody rampage in the Amazon over the past few years, runs screaming and cursing and thrashing through each bucket of unrefined rubber. Hearing the commotion, a native man runs up to the site. His is missing a foot and a leg from amputation and torture from the plantation owners. His eye has recently been gouged. He frantically hops about on his amputated limbs picking up buckets and desperately tries to scoop up the rubber that has been poured onto the leafy forest floor. The man then kneels in front of Manduca (the travel aide and companion of Theo Von Martius) and begs him to shoot him. He pulls the barrel of the gun right up to his forehead. Manduca, with resolve, says he will shoot the man to save him from more torture from the rubber barons. Manduca fires, only to see that the gun was not properly loaded or misfired. They leave the man still kneeling, pleading for his death.

 

The film switches back and forth from past to present. Karamakate is in both space-times.Karamakate is young when a gravely ill Theo Von Martius and Manduca land their canoe on his isolated patch of land. Karamakate lives in complete isolation–his tribe and village were wiped out because they fought the rubber barons. He is distrusting of all white men, for in his experience, they only bring guns, violence, and death. Karamakate is a healer. Known throughout the Amazonian villages as “The World Mover,” his powers are not a secret–even to botanist Theo Von Martius. The German scholar concerns himself with gathering and recording plants, recipes, stories, myths, art, and other dwindling cultural institutions unique to the indigenous peoples of the Amazon.

When Manduca first introduces Theo Von Martius to Karamakate, Karamakate staunchly denies any part in helping the sick white man. Then, Karamakate explodes in anger, lunging at the sick German’s neck, which is adorned with a necklace particular to Karamakate’s clan. Karamakate screams “Where did you get this?” Theo Von Martius answers that he got it from a tribe that is now existing up the river. Karamakate promises the man that he will help him find the sacred plant “yakruna” if he takes him to his villagers. The three men, Manduca, Karamakate, and Theo Von Martius set out on the river to find Karamakate’s people. Throughout their travel, they come upon a Spanish mission for children, villages full of people welcoming a familiar Von Martius, and villages smoldering, bloody, leveled. Von Martius, somewhere along the journey, becomes a subject that needs protecting by only Karamakate. Karamakate administers healing but temporary substances to the ailing Von Martius.
embraceoftheserpent_trailer1

The film then switches to an older Karamakate painting glyphs on the side of a rock. He is thigh deep in the river when a snake comes swimming past him. He senses something just like his younger self did in the beginning of the film as Manduca and Martius eddy out and approach him. This time, many years later, the white man is alone. He claims that he, too, is looking for the sacred yakruna plant. He explains to Karamakate that his illness is that he cannot, nor has ever, dreamed. The old Karamakate realizes that, in his interactions with this scientist from the United States, that in his old age and years of isolation, he has forgotten many of the recipes and traditions of his life. The American figure obviously has been taught how to make medicinal substances out of coca leaves and many other plants of the Amazon. Karamakate sees the American scientist, Evan, as a dream coming to fruition. The dream he refers to is his journey decades earlier with Von Martius. The old Karamakate has forgotten many things. He tells Evan that it is Evan who will lead the way to the yakruna plant, not the other way around. Evan is dumbfounded. They embark on their quest. They come across the same Spanish mission from Karamakate’s earlier journey. He and Evan get out of their boat and approach the mission to find an Apocalypse Now scene: a Brazilian man has assumed the figure of Jesus on the cross. His followers, now grown, were once the young children that young Karamakate, Von Martius, and Manduca encounter during the first journey of the film. The scene is delirious, unsettling, and full of Catholic imagery. There are signs throughout the mission that praises the priests who kidnapped the Amazonian children from their parents and villages. The signage claims that the priests brought God to savage cannibals. The scene escalates into a moment driven even further by a psychosis ailing the men who were taken as boys from their villages. Young Karamakate snuck away to teach the children the mythology of their culture–the tinctures and medicines and origins and uses for it all. But what he taught them was not enough. Their lack of mythology led them down a path of complete discord. Now, the children saved from savagery and cannibalism, are worshipping a figure whose flesh is consumed for communion. The effects of Catholic missions, money hungry rubber barons, conquistadors, etc., are felt strongly in this cathartic scene that see Karamakate and Evan escape the village while they mill around in complete hysteria after drinking a hallucinogenic substance mixed by Karamakate. Narrowly escaping the debauchery, Evan and Karamakate continue their journey down the river. To find out what happens, you must watch this gem!

serpent1-1

This description has no spoilers, for the meaning of this film is in every quiet moment, every pan-out, every crackle of a fire, bend in the river. The story is about cultural syncretism. It’s about protecting knowledge, but also not hindering anyone from it. It’s about remembering the actions of our ancestors–conquered or conquerors. It’s about defending what’s sacred, but destroying it when it’s threatened. It’s about the cycle of life and death–not fearing death and not taking each breath for granted.

Watch this beautiful film. The cast is just as diverse as the plants in the Amazon. The story as timeless as the Milky Way (part of the myth of the Great Serpent). The connection between humans as ancient as our first guttural grunts in communication.

I will leave you with director Ciro Guerra’s explanation of the origin of this title from an interview with Cineaste:

Cineaste: Does your film’s title refer to “the serpent” as a metaphor for time or of the Amazon? And why an “embrace”?

Ciro Guerra: In Amazonian mythology, extraterrestrial beings descended from the Milky Way, journeying to the earth on a gigantic anaconda snake. They landed in the ocean and traveled into the Amazon, stopping at communities where people existed, leaving these pilots behind who would explain to each community the rules of how to live on earth: how to harvest, fish, and hunt. Then they regrouped and went back to the Milky Way, leaving behind the anaconda, which became the river. The wrinkled skin of the serpent became the waterfalls.

They also left behind a few presents, including coca, the sacred plant; tobacco, which is also another kind of sacred plant; and yagé, the equivalent of ayahuasca, which is what you use to communicate with them in case you have a question or a doubt about how to exist in the world. When you use yagé, the serpent descends again from the Milky Way and embraces you. That embrace takes you to faraway places; to the beginning where life doesn’t even exist; to a place where you can see the world in a different way. I hope that’s what the film means to the audience.

 

 

Telescopes now available to checkout

Before I ventured into the world of Library Science, I worked in the Planetarium at MOSI– Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa, FL about 10 years ago. I remember thinking, “I like Space, so why not – I’ll give it a try!” Something to that effect. It seems by chance I was hired and so started my fascination with all things astronomy! It’s like getting bit by the astronomy bug – the fascination never ends and a lifetime of stargazing begins.

When I moved to the mountains and saw the night sky, I mean wow – we are so lucky to live here! When I lived in the city, you might be able to see the half-moon on a good night! The light pollution was just awful. Still though, with the right location, time of year, and a telescope (even a small telescope or binoculars) – you can see some really cool things.

During my time at MOSI, we took telescopes out to public programs, schools and other events and showed them the night sky. We would look at whatever would be hanging out in the sky at that time like planets, craters of the moon, and even nebulas. It never got old seeing the look on someone’s face at seeing Saturn’s rings, or look at Jupiter and its four largest moons for the first time through a telescope. I was told so many times that it must be fake! I must have put a small sticker of Saturn on the end of the telescope. My answer was always the same, look Saturn is moving – I have to move the telescope every few minutes – it can’t be fake!orion-telescope

 

Fontana Regional Library, which includes Swain, Macon, and Jackson county libraries in North Carolina, recently received a grant to purchase a portable planetarium and a telescope for each library! These telescopes are about to be available for checkout to any patron with a library card. That’s all you need – a library card and you can check out a telescope for 7 days for free! We even included a star chart, pocket size guide book for stargazing, a red laser (fun for the whole family), and simple instructions to get the most out of your telescope time!

So don’t hesitate to dream big and get ‘stars in your eyes’ by checking out a telescope at your local Fontana Regional Library!

LSTA grants awarded by the State Library of North Carolina are made possible through funding from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act as administered by the State Library of North Carolina, a division of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. These federal funds are investments that help libraries deliver relevant and up-to-date services for their communities.

Where’s My Flying Car? Science Fiction Predictions

It is always fun to read science fiction and see how the author predicts the future. This is especially true for older books. Not only was our technology not nearly as advanced back then, but we can also truly see how it all turned out. For instance, a lot of writers still had us using cassette tape forever. Now there are plenty of blogs and articles out there that will give you a list of books that made “predictions” that came true. I am going to go in a slightly different route and just talk about some books that I have read and what wonders I found in them. Some you will have heard of, and some you probably haven’t. Hopefully some of them you will want to read.

A warning or a reminder?
A warning or a reminder?

Neuromancer by William Gibson (1984). It is an eerie feeling when you read something like this and realize just how close he came. Gibson’s protagonist Case is a former computer hacker and current petty criminal. Drug addicted and despondent, he searches for a way out and gets caught up in a tangled scheme that allows him to once again use his Internet skills. Now, look at that summary again and notice the publication date of the book. Although it is called the “Matrix” in the book, it really is the Internet. He coined the term cyberspace, after all.

Neuromancer isn’t always an easy read (although it is a very good read), and cyberpunk isn’t that popular of a genre, but it is an important book. It is one of those that you kind of feel embarrassed about not having read, so if you haven’t already please add it to your list.

220px-Neuromancer_Brazilian_cover
Impossible Things by Connie Willis (1986-1992). I suppose you could say that in a short story collection the author has more chances to hit a successful prediction. Whether that is true or not, I found a few interesting ones in here. “Last of the Winnebagos” has characters accessing the “Lifeline” to pull up info on people, such as their schooling and employment history and hobbies. Sounds a bit like Facebook to me. “Even the Queen” has tablet computers, which isn’t that noteworthy since Arthur C. Clarke had those in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). But it also features a Mandela led South African government, and optional genetic surgery.

You also get things like a Humane Society run amok, PC (political correctness) run amok, and ruminations on who really wrote Shakespeare’s play, which is a debate (of sorts) that still goes on. The fact that there are multiple award winning stories in the book means that you shouldn’t read it for the predictions but for the great writing.

Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein (1959). Video games are something this blog hasn’t talked about enough. One of the premiere game franchises of recent times is Halo. When I read the first chapter of Starship Troopers I thought to myself “this is Halo”. Then I checked the copyright on the book and had one of those stereotypical jaw dropping to the floor moments. The beginning of the book details a human attack on an alien city, with soldiers wearing fully mechanized armor complete with an onboard computer system and multiple weapon packages. Just like in Halo. And the movie is better than you remember.

starshiptroopersvintagecover
Star Trek. The many TV series and movies has become well known for using many types of technology that have become reality. Let me point you to a couple of pieces on that, here and here. I think it is a good reminder about how wonderful it is to live in this day and age and to have access to this stuff. 3D printing technology, for instance, is truly amazing and is revolutionizing the way people do things. And remember, there are lots of great Star Trek novels, such as Imzadi and Spock’s World.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953). Okay, this is a famous book. But did you remember the earbuds in it? Montag’s wife Millie uses them while watching her flat panel TVs.

The Wonderful Future That Never Was by Gregory Benford and the editors of Popular Mechanics. Okay, so they don’t always get it right. Popular Mechanics started out in 1902, and over the years gave many scientists and writers a chance to predict the future. This fun book compiles many of the misses, and gives credits to some of the hits too. You can get more recent issues of Popular Mechanics at the library.

2014_07_13figure1

The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester. This is a classic, and while the main new technology in it, teleportation, hasn’t come into reality it is very interesting to think about the ramifications of such a thing. In the book it causes economic disruption substantial enough to start wars. Similarly, when reading newer scifi it is interesting to contemplate how the fictional technologies portrayed might affect us if (or when) they become real.

The Voyage of the Space Beagle by A. E. Vogt. Besides the tech predictions it is fun to read books that inspired future stories. Such is the case with this one, which like many books of its time was actually a compilation of four stories originally published in magazines. The Ixtl seems awfully familiar to those who have seen the Alien movies. In fact it was familiar enough that Vogt sued. The Couerl has appeared in many Final Fantasy games, and also became the Displacer Beast in Dungeons & Dragons. Classic fantasy is rife with elements that made their way into D&D, as is evident by reading authors such as Vance, Moorcock, Howard, and of course Tolkien (which also led to litigation), but I suppose that is a conversation for a future blog.

voyage_pocket_1981_gerrydaly_large

Live Long and Prosper

UPDATE from Youth Services Staff:

 The “Under the Stars” program at Macon County Public Library has been rescheduled due to the rain and thunderstorms that are forecast for Thursday evening, March 12.

It will now be held on Thursday, March 26 at 7 PM. Consequently, Science Club will be at 7 PM that day (instead of 3:30 PM). Should the weather be bad that day, we will still have Science Club at 7 PM and instead of covering astronomy, we will cover electricity that evening.


Live long and prosper.
Live long and prosper.

This past week a man who helped popularize science fiction (and science!) with his role as Spock on Star Trek, Leonard Nimoy, died at age 83.  Nimoy’s performance as Spock spawned a new generation of scientists, showing that cold, dispassionate logic could be tempered-and even improved- by compassion and sensitivity. Star Trek was a show that inspired imagination and the characters & performances of the actors helped draw in audiences that may have never dared to dream about space exploration.

Science fiction, however, doesn’t just beget daydreams. Many technologies that improve life on Earth have originated from the ideas first proposed in science fiction. The 1902 film, A Trip to the Moon, (inspired in part by the 1865 Jules Verne novel From the Earth to the Moon ) depicts a group of astronomers who travel to the Moon in a cannon-propelled capsule to explore the moon’s surface- 67 years before the Apollo 11 crew rocketed to the moon. NASA’s push to explore space has led to technologies such as infrared ear thermometers, artificial limbs, invisible braces, portable cordless vacuums, solar power technologies, as well as improvements in highway, fire, mine, and food safety- and so much more.

Image provided by Astronomy Club of Asheville
Image provided by Astronomy Club of Asheville

Space exploration, in general, is not really seen as a topic of great importance in the “real world.” Many people seem to still dismiss the idea as a fanciful pursuit- one to, realistically, remain squarely in the realm of science fiction; not nearly as important as the economy or other political issues. Stephen Hawking, however, recently said that space travel will save mankind.

Technological advancements aren’t the only benefits gained from space exploration. Working on the problems and puzzles of space exploration often gives us new perspectives on the immediate problems on Earth. The sort of out-of-the-box thinking that is required to do the seemingly impossible prompts breakthroughs in other realms- those sparks of imagination spread like wildfire!

Library Loaner TelescopeThe awe that people, children especially, feel when studying space can’t be underestimated. The impact that sort of wonder can have is enormous and life-changing, even if it’s not immediately seen.  If you have children, bring them out to Macon County Public Library on March 12 at 6:30pm for the “Under the Stars” Science Club event with special guests from the Astronomy Club of Asheville. Children will get the chance to use a refractor telescope to check out the night sky and learn about astronomy.

Who knows? Maybe your child will discover the inspiration or passion to become an astronaut, a sci-fi writer, or an unforgettable TV alien.

Do you have a favorite science fiction show or book? Has space or science inspired you or had any impact on your life?

 

Ancient Ancestors

By Stephen

A few years ago GEICO, famous for their funny commercials, embarked a series that labeled getting insurance from their company was “So easy a caveman could do it.”  While America was laughing, scientists were trying to figure out what happened to the real cave men, the Neandertals (Homo neanderthalensis),  and determine if are they close cousins to us (homo sapiens)?   Did Neanderthals become extinct on their own, or did some of them inter-bred with humans and pro-create? Some scientists claim to have found NeanderthJuan Lal DNA in the Human Genome.

As is so often true in the world of science, research and  theory sparks debate.   The research over the fate of the the Neandertals is no different.   As far I can determine, there are two contentious  theories about the Neandertals:  how they became extinct and whether or not they breeded with homo sapiens.  Furthermore, are they distinct  species or an ancestor of the homo sapiens?

Would you recognize a Neanderthal man or woman if they were walking down the street towards you, dressed in modern clothes?  Based the skeletons found and identified as a Neanderthals, they were shorter than modern humans, more muscular, and stronger.  With our diverse society nowadays, I doubt they would have much of a problem of  blending in.

Much the research done about the origins of humans is related to DNA.  Most of us are familiar with DNA if we crime shows on tv.  David Reich, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School, postulates Homo Sapien ancestors evolved in East Africa, then spread out through other continents where they lived together with other hominins, including Neanderthals, who disappeared about 30,000 years ago.   It was first thought homo sapiens, or modern humans if you like, were much more adaptable than their new neighbors and took over Neanderthal territory and sources of food, causing the Neanderthal to become extinct.  But Reich and his colleagues, after they found Neanderthal DNA in the human genome, contend the species inter-bred to some extent .*

Two years ago, “Nova” produced a three part series entitled “Becoming Human.”  The web site for these programs is full of good information for viewers to follow up on  what they  saw on  the videos.

*Carl Zimmer, “Interbreeding with Neanderthals,” Discover, March, 2013 (Vol. 32, no. 2), pp. 38-44.  Accessed on Academic Search Complete, 10/05/13.

Listed below are resources available at your local library on this subject:

Juan Luis Arsuaga, The Neanderthal’s Necklace:  In Search of the First Thinkers.

Paul Jordan,  Neanderthal:  Neanderthal Man and the Story of Human Origins.

James Shreeve, The Neandertal Enigma:  Solving the Mystery of Modern Human Origins.

Jan Tattersall.  The Last Neanderthal:  The Rise, Success, and Mysterious Extinction of Our Closest Human Relatives .

Jan Tattersall, Masters of the Planet :  The Search for Our Human Origins.

Nova, Becoming Human (Video)

Science Rules!

By Amy

I love to read about new discoveries in science, from the out of this world to the mundane “Didn’t we already know that?!”:

Curiosity Finds Water, Poison in Martian Soil

First Cloudy Alien Planet Spotted from Earth

Doctors Find Drinking Only Soda is Bad for You

science

Along with the interesting news, however, you sometimes get some bad news. In a staggering blow to the scientific community, Bill Nye the Science Guy suffered an injury in week 2 of the dancing competition “Dancing with the Stars” and was eliminated in week 3. Bill Nye has played a large role in getting people interested in science, most popularly through his educational television program “Bill Nye the Science Guy” (1993-1998). I loved watching his videos when I was growing up and my daughter watches them at school, too! It was awesome to see someone like Bill tackle dancing and it was really cool how seeing Bill Nye on television again has reignited a wide-spread interest in science! His elimination from the show was very disappointing.

considerOf course, you don’t have to watch “Dancing with the Stars” to get a dose of science! Did you know that… Macon County Public Library has a science club? MCPL’s Club 503 is meeting every 4th Thursday- the next meeting will be October 24th- from 3:30pm to 4:15pm for kids K-6th grade. Their first meeting focused on learning all about air. They did experiments with soda bottle rockets, built a spitballer out of pvc pipe, and kept balloons aloft with blow dryers! There was a great turnout and the kids had a blast (of air!). Come by next meeting for some fun experiments involving candy- fun and delicious!

If you can’t make it to a science club meeting, check out a book instead:

impossiblescienceImpossible Science by James Bow – Discusses how close science is to conquering currently impossible tasks, including teleportation, time travel, and death rays.

eperimentinenergy

Step-by-step science experiments in energy by Janice VanCleave – Provides step-by-step instructions for a variety of experiments in force and energy, illustrating such concepts as conservation of mass, refraction of light, and kinetic and potential energy.

issThe coolest job in the universe : working aboard the International Space Stationby Henry M. Holden – Explores the International Space Station (ISS), including its construction and the missions required to build it, living and working aboard the ISS, and its importance as the future of the space program

bonesBones never lie : how forensics helps solve history’s mysteries by Elizabeth MacLeod – Uses forensic sciences to try to solve some of the world’s mysteries, including how Napoleon died, the identity of the Man in the Iron Mask, and the fate of Thailand’s King Rama.

Love and the Feathered Rex

Who are you looking at? Recent discoveries suggest there was nothing sluggish about Velociraptor. (Photo courtesy of Jurassic Park III)
Who are you looking at? Recent discoveries suggest there was nothing sluggish about Velociraptor. (Photo courtesy of Jurassic Park III)

By Luke

When I was a kid, I was gob-smacked by the movie “The Beast of Hollow Mountain.”

The womanly charms of Patricia Medina couldn't compete with the sense-shattering awesomeness of The Beast of Hollow Mountain.
The womanly charms of Patricia Medina couldn’t compete with the sense-shattering awesomeness of The Beast of Hollow Mountain.

beast_of_hollow_mountain_1This glorious American-Mexican co-production featured rugged cowboys, the low-cut charms of Patricia Medina (who fostered strange stirrings that I wouldn’t understand for a few more years), stampeding cattle and treacherous patches of quicksand – the essential ingredients for a kid’s classic. But haunting the dark center of this 1956 horse opera was an astonishing Tyrannosaurus Rex that chowed down on cows and vaqueros alike. A stop motion idea by animator Willis O’Brien (whose career peaked two decades before with “King Kong”), this dinosaur lodged itself in my cerebral cortex and planted a lifelong passion for these magnificent creatures.

Fortunately, there was plenty of cultural dross and gold to nurture this budding romance. Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Lost World” and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “The Land That Time Forgot” set the template for the strata that would pile up over the years – an isolated land where dinosaurs are still able to fulfill their destiny (eating one another in spectacularly bloody battles), betrayals, cliffs or swamps or some form of treacherous natural barrier, and, somewhere, somehow, a tiger-skin-bikinied cave chick to rescue and fall in love with.

There were variations of this theme in pulp novels, comic books, TV shows and movies, and for a dedicated kid like me it was an endless banquet. It found its full flowering in 1933’s “King Kong,” still a dazzling achievement after all these years – if you ask me, “Kong” is the quintessential American movie, technically astonishing, operatic in its oversized emotional core and leavened with surprising moments of playfulness and sensuality (witness Kong toying with the shattered jaw of the T-Rex, and how on earth did O’Brien get permission to animate Kong slowly stripping Fay Wray down to her dainties?).

Even after 80 years, the battle between King Kong and a Tyrannosaurus has lost none of its visceral power. (Photo courtesy of Turner Classic Movies)
Even after 80 years, the battle between King Kong and a Tyrannosaurus has lost none of its visceral power. (Photo courtesy of Turner Classic Movies)

The only trouble was, back in those days, scientists were convinced that dinos were sluggish, slow-witted reptiles whose own gigantism ensured that they’d be out-played by the frisky mammals playing in their shadows. It was hard to imagine that your plastic brontosaur was stomping a native village when it really didn’t have enough strength to haul itself out of the lake.

But thanks to revolutionary discoveries in the 1960s and 70s, it became apparent that there was a lot more to dinosaurs than anyone had guessed. They became hot-blooded, agile and as dynamic as they always were in kids’ imaginations. Paleontologists began to explore the Mesozoic Age as a discrete ecological system of which dinosaurs were only a part. For a remarkably complete view of this new interpretation and the evident excitement that now informs this science, read “Dinosaur Odyssey: Fossil Threads in the Web of Life” by Scott D. Sampson.

Don't call me "Fluffy." Even with the inclusion of feathers, T. rex was the apex predator.
Don’t call me “Fluffy.” Even with the inclusion of feathers, T. rex was the apex predator.

Well, eventually this new vision of the Terrible Lizards was translated into the popular descendants of Conan Doyle’s “The Lost World,” reaching its apex in Michael Crichton’s  “Jurassic Park” and Steven Spielberg’s irresistible widescreen adaptation. All those new notions that we dino-lovers had held close to our hearts were finally planted into the general public’s consciousness – they were energetic creatures capable of sudden bursts of speed, intelligent problem solvers, and the forerunners of the birds that have blossomed in nearly every environment.

But here’s the thing – in the 20 years since “Jurassic Park” premiered, the understanding of dinosaurs has rendered big chunks of the novel and movie as moribund as those beasts that used to float around in their swamps. It turns that our views are still evolving in ways as surprising as Tyrannosaurus done up in feathers and sniffing around late Cretaceous plains looking for carrion.

If you’d like to explore this new world, pick up “My Beloved Brontosaurus: On the Road with Old Bones, New Science, and Our Favorite Dinosaurs” by Brian Switek. It’s a paleontologist’s valentine to these remarkable creatures that will not be corralled and a meditation on the ways science will not be contained. Even if you still think of these creatures as sluggish lizards, you can’t help but be caught up in Switek’s wide-eyed enthusiasm for his subjects. “My Beloved Brontosaurus” is a new book that’s been waiting 65 million years to be told.mybeloved_poster