Friday, April 26, 2013

Balloon Art

Jason Hackenwerth, a New York-based balloon artist, is known for his balloon sculptures of biological forms and creatures, like this anemone-like sculpture, which was on display in the Grand Gallery of the National Museum of Scotland as part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival .


The sculpture represents the artist’s interpretation of the legend of Aphrodite and Eros. The spiraled double helix structure was created with more than 10,000 coloured balloons and hung over 40 feet tall.

Jason, born in St Louis now lives and works in New York and has exhibited his work around the world at galleries and museums including the Guggenheim in New York, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and at the 51st Venice Biennale as well as in Hong Kong and Mexico. "Pisces" is the first artwork that he has created in Scotland.

A Sculpture Made of 10,000 Balloons Redefines Balloon Art

It took three members of Science Festival staff six days to blow up the 10,000 balloons which were woven into an intricate three dimensional structure by Jason and his assistant Leah Blair. It not only proved to be back-breaking work, but Jason and his team also had to wear ear protectors to protect their hearing from the constant popping and squeaking of balloons, as well as protective tape on their fingers.

The sculpture was on display in the Grand Gallery until 14th April.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013


Another wonderful photograph from the Globe and Mail (camera club):

A baby giraffe stands in front of its mother Gambela at the zoo in Dortmund, Germany. Using the mother's body as background creates the perfect backdrop for this image. And having the baby staring right at camera makes her standout from background. (Bernd Thissen/AP)
A baby giraffe stands in front of its mother Gambela at the zoo in Dortmund, Germany. Using the mother's body as background creates the perfect backdrop for this image. And having the baby staring right at camera makes her standout from background.
(Bernd Thissen/AP)


Monday, April 22, 2013

Earth Day

Happy Earth Day !

This is the day we celebrate our wonderful blue planet

and every year at this time we are reminded to make changes in our lifestyle that will have a positive impact on our environment. Often we say to ourselves, "Why should I bother to make changes to my comfortable life when so many people, businesses and industries don't bother. My change would be but a drop in the sea!"

I think the choices we make in our individual lives have a mushrooming effect. If many of us make small changes, maybe we will inspire another person or another family and maybe, together, our efforts will eventually have a wider effect on preserving our amazing planet for the generations to come. The personal advantage is that the small changes we make now at home may enable us and our children and grandchildren to become healthier and to live longer, more meaningful lives.

Here are a baker's dozen of easy ideas to reduce the impact of our feet on the earth:
  1. Eat locally when possible, taking advantage of farmers' markets to support local growers.
  2. Reuse plastic bags: especially the ones for produce. Take them back to the store again and again - the grocery chains don't care what plastic bags you use (or don't use: why do people think bananas, for example, have to go in a plastic bag?!) Most of the time most of us remember to take our bins and grocery bags to the store. Now start taking back those plastic produce bags. The bonus is that when you come across the nice big ones, you can reuse them again and again for large items like celery or broccoli or a big bunch of kale. Even better, start using reusable fabric mesh bags for produce: make them yourself in the sizes that you prefer. Making produce bags is on my short list of things to do soon.
  3. Support sustainable fishing practices and eat fish responsibly.
  4. Avoid foods with a lot of additives. Keep it simple! And healthy!
  5. Check out your cosmetics for unhealthy ingredients. Lipstick, for example, is a bad one for lead. Do some research into what you are putting on your body. Our skin is an organ and it can absorb chemicals which can be detrimental to our health.
  6. Let's not idle the car any more than necessary. So bad for breathing.
  7. Clean out the car's storage area(s) often so you are not lugging a lot of unnecessary junk around. Use less gas.
  8. Walk more. When in town, park your car, then walk from there to run your errands. Good to slow down and good exercise too.
  9. Here's one I struggle with: we in North America use too much household water. Let's find ways to reuse water in the kitchen instead of pouring it down the sink. Use a bowl of water to wash vegetables, then keep it handy to rinse your hands or wash a few dishes. Don't run the water any more than necessary. Let's be mindful about our use of water - it's precious!
  10. Don't buy bottled water. It's not necessarily better tasting or healthier than tap water. If in doubt, use a filter.
  11. Take your reusable mug to the coffee shop.
  12. Cut apart those plastic sleeves for cans so that an animal or bird will not get its head or beak stuck.
  13. Don't litter!
#13 is a big one for me. I live in southern and south-central Ontario and I just cannot believe the stew of litter that pollutes our towns, cities and country roads. It is disgusting to the max!! It is truly alarming that the extent of garbage strewn across our landscape is worsening year by year. I don't believe the problem stems only from people littering (though I suspect certain drivers are tossing empty beer cans out their car windows, an alarming thought in itself). What might be an even bigger cause of this eyesore is the wind that is blowing our garbage and recycling far and wide. So let's make sure our garbage containers are secure from winds, animals and birds. If it's too windy today, our garbage and recycling can go out next week instead.

In towns and cities, days are often set aside at this time of year for picking up litter and many civic-minded families join in. One day a year is not enough! And in the countryside nobody seems to feel a responsibility for cleaning up (though I confess that on my walk yesterday I saw two people collecting litter along the roadside). A pond that I walk past almost daily has plastic bags, snack bags, "disposable" coffee cups and lids and those plastic sleeves that cans come in floating on the surface alongside the muskrats, ducks and frogs that are raising their families there. Does anyone else care?

Our wildlife is asking for help.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Every Teardrop is a Waterfall

Amazing cover of the Coldplay song by 2 Cellos on one cello. Turn up your volume!

I love the lyrics to the song, especially poignant after last week's tragedies:

Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall


I turn the music up, I got my records on
I shut the world outside until the lights come on
Maybe the streets alight, maybe the trees are gone
But I feel my heart start beating to my favorite song

And all the kids they dance, all the kids all night
Until Monday morning feels another life
I turn the music up, I'm on a roll this time
And heaven is in sight, Ooh

I turn the music up, I got my records on
From underneath the rubble sing a rebel song
Don't want to see another generation drop
I'd rather be a comma than a full stop

Maybe I'm in the black, maybe I'm on my knees
Maybe I'm in the gap between the two trapezes
But my heart is beating and my pulses start
Cathedrals in my heart

As we saw, oh, this light
I swear you emerge blinking into
To tell me it's alright

As we soar walls
Every siren is a symphony
And every tear's a waterfall

Is a waterfall, ah
Is a waterfall, ah
Is a waterfall
Every tear is a waterfall, ah

So you can hurt, hurt me bad
But still I'll raise the flag, Wooh

It was a wa-ah-ah-ah-aterfall
A wa-ah-ah-ah-aterfall

Oh, Oh

Every tear
Every tear
Every teardrop is a waterfall

Oh, Oh

Every tear
Every tear
Every teardrop is a waterfall

Every tear
Every tear
Every teardrop is a waterfall

Every tear
Every tear
Every teardrop is a waterfall

These cellists, Croatian musicians, Luka Sulik and Stjepan Hauser are so exciting. Check out their bio . Here's another of their videos, You Shook Me All Night Long

Their bows remind me of Ashley McIsaac!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Inspiration For the Beach?

The Weston-super-Mare Sand Sculpture Festival has been a growing event in Somerset, England (on the west coast, west of Bath) since 2006. This year more than 20 artists from around the world converged on Weston-super-Mare last week to create amazing works of art out of the unique sand. The theme this year is Hollywood. These are the artists and here are a few of the sculptures. More photos here. Now get out there with your pails and shovels!
.11 Splendid Sand Sculptures Made For the Movie Geek
ET phoning "home".
11 Splendid Sand Sculptures Made For the Movie Geek
Batman and The Incredible Hulk
11 Splendid Sand Sculptures Made For the Movie Geek
Alfred Hitchcock and a murderous bird.
11 Splendid Sand Sculptures Made For the Movie Geek

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Land More Kind Than Home

A Land More Kind Than Home
Take two young brothers, close in heart, one of them disabled.  Inseparable. Then put them in the mountains of western North Carolina, amid some of the evangelical folks who live there, but back in the simpler days before cell phones and wireless internet. A time and a place in Appalachia when healing was often thought to be a matter of faith alone.
All it takes is one evil person to get the story rolling. This time that person is the leader of his self-established church where odd and unmentionable things happen behind newspaper-ed windows.
This is gothic southern fiction, a first-published book by North Carolina native, Wiley Cash. Ultimately, a tale of loss, it is also a tale of courage. Cash excels in catching the voices of his three narrators, a boy, a woman and a man, lending authenticity to the tone of the novel. Having spent some time in the area around Asheville, I was especially interested in the geographic references and I’m sure anyone living in that part of the US would really enjoy the familiarity and southern flavour of both place and character.
This book would make an excellent book club selection with many themes for discussion: parenting, grandparenting, fathers and sons, religion, southern culture, rural life, tragedy and hope, to name a few.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Doctor Mad Science

This post is for all kids and all of us who still feel like kids.

Meet Jordan Hilkowitz , an 11 year old boy living in Richmond Hill, just north of Toronto, who has an avid interest in science and science experiments. With the help of Tracy Leparulo, 23, a Ryerson marketing student and his babysitter since he was 4, Jordan has been able to put his many kitchen table experiments on a YouTube channel so that kids around the world can try them out in their own homes. I should mention that besides Tracy, Jordan's mom, Stacey, and several other key people in Jordan's science life help to make it all possible and they are mentioned here.

What fun: dissolve metal, squeeze eggs, expand balloons and make slime: 22 experiments, using simple ingredients, so far, with more to come. All are demonstrated expertly by Jordan, sporting his safety glasses and unafraid to make a mess.

Here's his experiment on making foam:

Just in case you are annoyed by YouTube ads, keep in mind that the ads (and the more than four million views) have enabled Jordan raise more than $5000 to put towards buying a new computer.

Oh...and by the way? Jordan is autistic. He couldn't speak until he was 5 and these videos have been instrumental in improving his language, organizational and social skills, to say nothing about his confidence.

Jordan and Tracy are planning to make a Doctor Mad Science pitch soon at the CBC's Dragon's Den where budding entrepreneurs can propose their ideas to sometimes ruthless venture capitalists. Wish them luck!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Batting Pope

This is not the current Pope. It is the Polish Pope John Paul II in 1987 when he was 67 (6 years after surviving an assassination attempt). He made the most of an opportunity to get into a batting cage during a visit to the United States. Apparently he really enjoyed regularly playing baseball in a Vatican League. Even Popes need exercise!

Pope John Paul II was, in his later life, beset with physical ailments - Parkinson's and painful knees and hips. After getting the flu, followed by breathing problems and a urinary tract infection, he died, aged 84, on April 2, 2005, to be succeeded by Pope Benedict and after Benedict's resignation, by Pope Francis, just before Easter this year.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

More Funky Plant

Remember my funky plant ? This is an update. The "bloom" or whatever it is - stalk? - is still there and even more prominent. I decided to stake it to eliminate the lean.

The other day I kept moving the plant around to try and get it in the optimum spot to get a photo that would capture the amazing colour of the spike. Here are a few of them.


Monday, April 8, 2013

All His Tweets

Chris Hadfield's tweets can all be found here and you can hide replies and retweets by ticking the appropriate box. Hadfield has a long involvement with NASA, has been in space previously and joined the ISS on December 21, 2012 as part of Expedition 35. Since then has been tweeting regular photos showing our wonderful planet from an orbit  240 miles away from the earth's surface. From that elevation, the horizon is approximately 1000 miles in every direction.

Here is a typical view of the horizon. Note how thin the atmosphere is.

IMAGE: A typical view out the window

Here are a few more of his photos from the ISS:

Finger Lakes, New York. Glaciers clawed them into the earth as they retreated during the last Ice Age.
Washington, DC, waiting for the green of Spring. Andrews Air Force Base visible at lower left.
 Charlottetown locked in the cold of winter, Confederation Bridge just barely visible from orbit.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

30 Healthy Ways To Teach Kids About Consent


For Children Ages 1-5

1. Teach children to ask permission before touching or embracing a playmate. Use langauge such as, "Sarah, let's ask Joe if he would like to hug bye-bye." If Joe says "no" to this request, cheerfully tell your child, "That's okay, Sarah! Let's wave bye-bye to Joe and blow him a kiss."

2. Help create empathy within your child by explaining how something they have done may have hurt someone. Use language like, "I know you wanted that toy, but when you hit Mikey, it hurt him and he felt very sad. And we don't want Mikey to feel sad because we hurt him."

3. Teach kids to help others who may be in trouble. Talk to kids about helping other children, and alerting trusted grown-ups when others need help. Use the family pet as an example, "Oh, it looks like the kitty's tail is stuck! We have to help her!!"

4. Teach your kids that "no" and "stop" are important words and should be honored. Also teach your child that his or her "no's" are to be honored. Explain that just like we always stop doing something when someone says "no", that our friends need to always stop when we say "no", too.

5. Encourage children to read facial expressions and other body language: Scared, happy, sad, frustrated, angry and more. Charade-style guessing games with expressions are a great way to teach children how to read body language.

6. Never force a child to hug, touch or kiss anybody, for any reason. If Grandma is demanding a kiss, and your child is resistant, offer alternatives by saying something like, "Would you rather give Grandma a high-five or blow her a kiss, maybe?" You can always explain to Grandma, later, what you're doing and why.

7. Model consent by asking for permission to help wash your child's body. Keep it upbeat and always honor the child's request to not be touched. "Can I wash your back now? How about your feet? How about your bottom?" If the child says "no" then hand them the washcloth and say, "Cool! Your booty needs a wash. Go for it."

8. Give children the opportunity to say yes or no in everyday choices, too. Let them choose clothing and have a say in what they wear, what they play, or how they do their hair.

9. Allow children to talk about their body in any way they want, without shame. Teach them the correct words for their genitals, and make yourself a safe place for talking about bodies and sex. Say, "I'm so glad you asked me that!" If you don't know how to answer their questions the right way just then, say, "I'm glad you're asking me about this, but I want to look into it. Can we talk about it after dinner?" and make sure you follow up with them when you say you will.

10. Talk about "gut feelings" or instincts. Sometimes things make us feel weird, or scared, or yucky and we don't know why. Ask your child if that has ever happened with them and listen quietly as they explain.

11. "Use your words." Don't answer and respond to temper tantrums. Ask your child to use words, even just simple words, to tell you what's going on.

For Children Ages 5-12

1. Teach kids that the way their bodies are changing is great, but can sometimes be confusing. The way you talk about these changes—whether it's loose teeth or pimples and pubic hair—will show your willingness to talk about other sensitive subjects.

2. Encourage them to talk about what feels good and what doesn't. Do you like to be tickled? Do you like to be dizzy? What else? What doesn't feel good? Being sick, maybe? Or when another kid hurts you? Leave space for your child to talk about anything else that comes to mind.

3. Remind your child that everything they're going through is natural, growing up happens to all of us.

4. Teach kids how to use safe words during play, and help them negotiate a safe word to use with their friends. At this age, saying "no" may be part of the play, so they need to have one word that will stop all activity. Maybe it's a silly one like "Peanut Butter" or a serious one like, "I really mean it!" Whatever works for all of them is good.

5. Teach kids to stop their play every once in a while to check in with one another. Teach them to take a T.O. (time out) every so often, to make sure everyone's feeling okay.

6. Encourage kids to watch each others' facial expressions during play to be sure everyone's happy and on the same page.

7. Help kids interpret what they see on the playground and with friends. Ask what they could do or could have done differently to help.

8. Don't tease kids for their boy-girl friendships, or for having crushes. Whatever they feel is okay. If their friendship with someone else seems like a crush, don't mention it. You can ask them open questions like, "How is your friendship with Sarah going?" and be prepared to talk—or not talk—about it.

9. Teach children that their behaviors affect others. Ask them to observe how people respond when other people make noise or litter, and ask them what they think will happen as a result. Will someone else have to clean up the litter? Will someone be scared? Explain to kids how the choices they make affect others and talk about when are good times to be loud, and what are good spaces to be messy.

10. Teach kids to look for opportunities to help. Can they pick up the litter? Can they be more quiet so as not to interrupt someone's reading on the bus? Can they offer to help carry something or hold a door open? All of this teaches kids that they have a role to play in helping ease both proverbial and literal loads.

For Teens And Young Adults

1. Education about "good touch/bad touch" remains crucial, particularly in middle school. This is an age where various "touch games" emerge: butt-slapping, boys hitting one another in the genitals and pinching each other's nipples to cause pain. When kids talk about these games, a trend emerges where boys explain that they think the girls like it, but the girls explain that they do not. We must get kids talking about the ways in which these games impact other people.

2. Build teens' self esteem. In middle school, bullying shifts to specifically target identity, and self-esteem starts to plummet around age 13. By age 17, 78% of girls report hating their bodies. Remark to them regularly about their talents, their skills, their kindness, as well as their appearance. Even if they shrug you off with a, "Dad! I know!" it's always good to hear the things that make you great.

3. Continue having "sex talks" with middle schoolers, but start incorporating information about consent. Ask questions like, "How do you know whether your partner is ready to kiss you?" and "How do you think you can tell if a girl (or boy) is interested in you?" This is a great time to explain enthusiastic consent. About asking permission to kiss or touch a partner. Explain that only "yes" means "yes".

4. Nip "locker room talk" in the bud. Middle school is the age where sex-talk begins in gender-segregated environments, like locker rooms and sleep overs. Their crushes and desire are normal and healthy, but we need to model how to talk about our crushes as whole people. If you overhear a kid say, "She's a hot piece of ass" you could say, "Hey, I think she's more than just an ass!" You can keep it jokey, and they'll roll their eyes at you, but it sinks in.

5. It's common, and perfectly okay, to be overwhelmed or confused by new hormonal feelings. Tell your kids that no matter what they're feeling, they can talk to you about it. But their feelings, desires and needs are no one's responsibility but their own. They still need to practice kindness and respect for everyone around them.

6. Mentor teenage and college-aged boys and young men about what masculinity is. Ask what hasn't been so good about our culture of masculinity in the past. How can we build a more inclusive form of masculinity that embraces all types of guys: from jocks to theater kids to queer folks to everyday you-and-me? These conversations can encourage a non-violent form of masculinity for the future.

7. Make it clear that you don't want them drinking or using drugs, but that you know kids party and you want your kids to be informed. Ask them questions about how they are going to keep themselves and others safe. Be careful about the language you use with your kids about partying. The responsibility is never on the victim to have prevented his or her assault. It is always on the perpetrator to make the right decision and not harm anyone.

8. Keep talking about sex and consent with teens as they start having serious relationships. Yeah, they'll tell you they know it all, but continuing the conversation about healthy consent, respecting our partners, and healthy sexuality shows them how important these themes are to you.

9. Teens are thirsty for more information about sexual assault, consent, and healthy sexuality. They want to learn, and they will find a way to get information about sex. If you are the one providing that information—lovingly, honestly and consistently—they will carry that information out into the world with them.


Friday, April 5, 2013

Track Your Pet

Ever wonder where your dog or cat goes when (s)he's outside without you?

David Evans, in the UK, was wondering why his cat was getting fat in spite of the fact that he wasn't eating what was in his dish at home. So he devised, with the help of a friend, a lightweight (15 grams) GPS tracking device that he attached to Yollo's collar and soon discovered that Yollo was making the rounds and likely getting fed in a number of places.

Now there is a great deal of interest from Evans' friends and from people around the world in the pet-tracking GPS device, G-Paw ($75) which Evans has put into production.

Here's Yollo with his collar and G-Paw (it just slides on) plus the tracking of his morning route.

The device plugs into a computer for downloading data and there are plans afoot for a social network to be ready sometime in the summer.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Lake Erie Eagles

In January of this year the weather was so cold on the shores of Lake Erie and Rocky River in Ohio that the bald eagles were cruising over houses in hopes of a quick meal. When they couldn't access the fish in the lake or river they started to gather on the shore.

People in the area organized themselves to get fish to feed the eagles and even more gathered.

No problem getting pictures - the eagles were determined to stay once they knew there were fish.



Wednesday, April 3, 2013


Have you heard about this innovative product from Uncharted Play? It's the Soccket, a #5 size soccer ball that kids can kick around all day and then use at night as an electrical supply for a light to read by.

The waterproof non-inflatable ball contains a gyroscopic generator and stores the energy produced so that when play is over an LED light plugged into the ball will last about 3 hours. The company's intention is to get donations enabling placement of the balls, costing about US$60 apiece, in remote and disadvantaged communities around the world where there is no reliable or safe lighting.

I wonder, though, about this product. Although it's certainly innovative, it seems a bit gimmicky to me. Is this ball to help people or to enable a company to profit? Is it really going to be useful to folks using it? What do you think?

Monday, April 1, 2013

Whale Vomit

A piece of ambergris.

OK, this sounds like an April Fools' Joke, but it's not! A boxer named Madge enjoying a run along a beach in the UK found a smelly disgusting (what else is new!) rock. Turns out it's ambergris, highly valued by the perfume industry. Read more about ambergris here and here.