Sep 052012

Here’s a novel way to get up close to Newtown Creek, the notoriously polluted body of water in NYC (Queens) that is now a superfund site. While there are finally plans for a clean-up, authorities still have to work out who is paying the cost, so don’t expect any major changes soon. But with a nature walk on the banks and a new art project, you can see all you’ll ever want to see of the water itself with the Newtown Creek Armada. Brooklyn artists Laura Chipley, Nathan Kensinger, and Sarah Nelson Wright have put together a novel flotilla of small boats and cameras with some simple technology, giving you the chance to see the creek through a new perspective. The small-boat Armada sets sail Saturday, September 8th and then continues on September 9th, 15th, 22nd, 29th and 30th.

It’s a cool idea, and worth seeing. Superfund have a way of being abstract until you get up close and personal to them. Just don’t watch the video while eating lunch.

Aug 132012

Now this is a Webcam! Technology brings us closer together and while we may be glued to our monitors, smart phones and tablets, it sometimes seems that the natural world is left out of the picture. But technology can bring nature back into our lives, with scenes that we might never see in person, as with this live Webcam of brown bears in Alaska feeding in Katmai National Park. This may not be a substitute for a walk in the woods or a hike through a wilderness area, but it can add deeply to our appreciation of the natural world and justify setting aside areas for other species – even if we have to keep our distance from them.

This is remarkable as the video quality is excellent, especially given the remote location some 275 miles southwest of Anchorage. Not many people get to Katmai each year (about 10,000) but it is home to over 2,000 bears. A system of four Webcams required both funding and the resolution of technical challenges. According to the Huffington Post:

The cameras are powered by solar and wind energy. Microwave signals are sent to the Dumpling Mountain camera, which are then sent to King Salmon, Alaska, where a T1 connection allows for the high-definition cameras to be broadcast to the Internet.

The funding for the Webcams and the T1 is from, founded by Charles Annenberg, vice president of the Annenberg Foundation. The organization’s Pearls of the Planet initiative has done other Webcams, including polar bears in Scandinavia, California redwood trees and belugas and jelly fish at the Vancouver Aquarium.

Okay, I concede that brown bears trying to catch salmon may get a little boring as the fish aren’t always there – after all, this is fishing and no salmon is volunteering itself for dinner. But sooner or later you’ll see one clawed out of mid-air and then watch – yikes! – as it gets stripped of it’s skin and tail. The above video was just a highlight and the actual live feed from the Webcam is at!/live-cams/player/brown-bear-salmon-cam-brooks-falls

This is the natural world. And it is compelling.

Aug 042012

Amazing short video (28 sec.) posted on Mashable of the Statue of Liberty in the NYC harbor appearing to melt under the summer heatwave. The video is by German artist Vincent Ullmann shows the statue liquefying like an ice cream cone in a microwave. Well, it may not be that hot, but the combination of heat and humidity has made the summer unbearable, especially in the subway (I’ve reached the point where I dread going downstairs into the station in the morning).

I’m on the boat tonight, out on the water in Mystic, CT. and visually, it’s a beautiful evening. The moon-rise was stunning and a huge shooting star – almost a fireball – tore across the sky a few hours ago. But even with open hatches and fans running, you wish there was an air-conditioner. The light breeze is just bringing waves of humidity across the water. Fog is predicted for the morning which means . . . yet more humidity.

Jul 232012
Pink Slime

Photo: danieljordahl/Flick

Of all the things that bother me about our food, pink slime - or as the industry refers to it: “lean finely textured beef – has to be one of the most troubling. Something about having waste meat and other parts of beef on my plate I just can’t handle. But this is one case of a technological advance (if one can dignify it with that phrase) where the public backlash is having an effect. Here’s the deal from Mother Nature Network in an article on “The Nine Nastiest Things in your Supermarket.”

The meat industry likes to call it “lean finely textured beef,” but after ABC News ran a story on it, the public just called it what it looks like — pink slime, a mixture of waste meat and fatty parts from higher-quality cuts of beef that have had the fat mechanically removed. Afterwards, it’s treated with ammonia gas to kill Salmonella and E. coli bacteria. Then it gets added to ground beef as a filler. Food microbiologists and meat producers insist that it’s safe, but given the public’s reaction to the ABC News report, there’s an “ick” factor we just can’t overcome. The primary producer of pink slime just announced that it’s closing three of the plants where pink slime is produced, and Kroger, Safeway, Food Lion, McDonald’s and the National School Lunch Program (among others) have all pulled it from their product offerings.

The other eight are pretty gross – jet fuel in your lettuce, perhaps? – if you care to see what else is in your diet.

Jul 192012

NYC LightningThe storm that passed through NYC late this afternoon brought back visions of Colorado, the Plains and the Rockies from my trip a few weeks back. We got everything but a tornado and at the worst possible time – evening rush hour. The City’s antiquated drainage and sewer systems simply cannot handle large volumes of water so it went everywhere but it was supposed to go.

One might think that for all our technology . . . we could do better, but nature will have its own say in this. Much of the subway system is below the waterline of the NY Harbor and East River which means that NYC pumps out some 13 million gallons of water a day from the underground tunnels (of course, it doesn’t help that they basically built the # 2 and # 3 lines in Harlem right through a river bed). That’s 13 million gallons when nothing is falling out of the sky – and when it does, the water just has no place to go. Sometimes we get waterfalls in the subway stations, and other times, geysers shoot up from who knows what subterranean spaces that lurk below the platforms.

It was probably fun for some of the tourists but for the rest of us, it was a horrifying commute. So crowded that I couldn’t even take a few photos in the Times Square station. So photo and video (of the Penn Station 34th St subway platform) are from the Gothamist.

I suppose someday this will all seem so quaint and hilarious - like dodging horses and buggies in the 19th century. But it will take a lot to fund the infrastructure improvements that would make a real change  . . . so for now, nature will have its way and the City will temporarily grind to halt.

Jul 122012
Shark for sale on the subway

Shark for sale on the subway

It seems like you see everything in NYC, but this is bizarre and – from the standpoint of the shark, incredibly sad. According to a report and photos in Gothamist, someone was trying to sell a live baby shark at 1:00am on the subway, saying he had caught it in Coney Island and that it had bitten him in the ass – this was on the J train to be precise. The article goes on to say:

This looks like a baby sand shark, which have been spotted in Coney Island a lot. The guy was asking $100 for it, but no straphangers took the bait (at least when our tipster was on board—he boarded at Essex Street and was headed towards Brooklyn).

We’ve reached out to PETA and the Humane Society of the U.S. for comment.

UPDATE: PETA has sent us their official statement, saying, “This guy may get bitten in the ass again after PETA reports to the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) that he is illegally selling a shark on the New York subway.”

And Patrick Kwan, the NY State Director of the HSUS, tells us, “the shark appears to be a young smooth dogfish shark,” and adds, “This is not only cruel and inhumane; peddling animals on the subways is alsoagainst the law. Anyone who witnesses such behavior should alert a police officer, train operator, or other MTA personnel.” 

Hard enough for the natural world to survive in the City, but this is going too far.

Jul 052012
Bear cubs in a car in Snowmass

Bear cubs in a car in Snowmass

Up in the Snowmass/Aspen area for a desperately needed week of vacation and the news tonight is that there has been a series of “carjackings” – this time due to bears. Of course this area has always had bear issues (thus the self-latching garbage cans in all the public areas), but now there has been a string of 14 car break-ins. Unclear how many bears are involved but speculation is that it is just one enterprising mother and her cubs.

They got caught in the act last night and while Mom took off, the two cubs lingered behind long enough to get their photo taken by the police. So the bears are still free, warning signs are posted, and there are late night patrols by city vehicles on the dirt roads leading up the mountains.

Wildlife officials are saying that it’s been so dry here that the bears are moving down from their customary mountain terrain to forage for food in the village. It did rain on the 4th of July but land throughout the State of Colorado is very parched (thus the major forest fires last week). Probably true, but then the bears were around long before people came in and developed the area. There’s a lot of untouched nature here – the beautiful Maroon Bells wilderness area in particular – but there’s more development every year.

Truly, the cubs are adorable. And in general, brown bears are not aggressive – except when it comes to a mother and her little ones. I was thinking of going for a hike over toward Snowmass Creek this evening. But since I’m already in the very last building at the end of the road bordering on a wilderness area – I passed and will stare at the aspen covered mountains from the deck.

Jun 242012

Sahara [man praying], Algeria 2009

Sebastião Salgado, Sahara [man praying], Algeria
2009   © Sebastião Salgado/Amazonas Images

Next year, Sebastião Salgado will open his Genesis exhibition at London’s Natural History Museum. Eight years in the making, one of the world’s most influential photographers has been on an odyssey to capture the last wild places. Already well known for his body of work on epic themes – migration, exploitation, war, etc.(sorry, I don’t mean to trivialize this list with an “etc.” at the end) – this time he has sought out people and nature living in equilibrium.

From early glimpses of the new work, he doesn’t disappoint. If documentary photography seems to run from the Great Depression through the Vietnam War, Salgado proves that the vision is alive and well in his own work, that in the midst of the tsunami of images and video within which we live – 72 hours a minute are uploaded to YouTube alone – there is still a place for the well crafted still image. Working solely in black and white, he’s pulls us back to stop, think, and reflect on who we are as human beings within the larger context of nature.

There’s an exclusive interview on the Canon site and a small selection of his upcoming work over at the Guardian News. Interesting that he uses a combination of analog and digital – shooting his work with a digital camera and then editing on contact sheets to produce physical negatives.

Take a moment to look . . . at the earth and ourselves.

Jun 072012

A great video (check out the views in the background) on the return of Peregrine Falcons to New York City. Though it has been an excruciatingly long process that began in 1983 – there are now 20 pairs residing in the City – the engendered falcons have slowly returned through the collaborative efforts of a number of City and State agencies.

The falcons have taken to the City as the tall buildings and bridge towers mimic the the mountainside cliffs that the birds would reside in naturally. And there is an abundance of food here (particularly pigeons) that they love. I almost witnessed an attack on my rear fire escape by the kitchen window one day last year: pigeons had been hanging out behind my building and suddenly I heard the beating of wings, thumps on my window and the excruciating cries of a pigeon fighting for it’s life. By the time I got to the kitchen (it’s a long, narrow apartment), there were only a feathers floating in the air and a distant glimpse of a falcon carrying off its prey. Not the usual experience living in a densely populated urban area.

In the video, they are banding the young chicks (worried parents flying in the background). The scared young birds make a fuss (the process is harmless) but it helps agencies track and monitor the birds. Young falcons have a 60% and higher mortality rate – more information about their lives and the project at the NYC Dept of Environmental Protection.

Peregrine falcons are some of the fastest creatures on the planet. Flying horizontally at 60 mph they’ve been clocked diving out of the sky at over 230 mph (370 km/h). They will often perch motionless on a building ledge or glide silently overhead, waiting for the right moment. Like so many in the city, they’ve carved out a niche in an exceedingly difficult environment, holding on precariously, striking quickly when opportunity arises.

Not all that different from the hundreds of technology startups here. At a meeting with some of Mayor’s Bloomberg’s staff and VC’s the other morning and startups need the same conditions. A safe place to incubate, a helping hand from the City (and business community), and time to mature while opportunities arise. Interestingly enough – since the downturn in 2008, NYC is the only place where technology startups have actually grown in number.

Peregrine falcons and tech start-ups. Not all that different after all.

Jun 042012
Mosquitoes and Raindrops

Mosquitoes and Raindrops

This might not seem self-evident as a philosophy of life, but hear me out for a minute – the way a mosquito survives falling raindrops. Think about it – raindrops are up to 50 times the weight of a mosquito and yet the insects are apparently never killed by rain. Try imagining us in an environment where objects that much heavier fell from the sky all at once. We’d be lucky to last a day while dealing with a light rain and would never survive a downpour.

How do they do it? They don’t resist. They literally go with the flow, becoming one with the raindrop. Merge and fall with the rain.

But it’s more complicated than that as once they are part of the raindrop, they must quickly separate from it before it hits the ground. I’m no fan of mosquitoes but this is an incredibly well orchestrated ballet that’s been going on right before our eyes. So read on.

A research project at the Georgia Institute of Technology finally figured out how to film mosquitoes as they were hit by raindrops. The report, summarized in BBC News provides the details:

This showed that their bodies put up so little resistance that, rather than the drop of water stopping in a sudden, catastrophic splash, the mosquito simply combined with the drop and the two continued to fall together. . . .

. . . . I hope this will make people think a little bit differently about rain,” said lead researcher David Hu.

“If you’re small, it can be very dangerous. But it seems that these mosquitoes are so small that they’re safe.”

Dr Hu is interested in understanding completely the “tricks” that insects use to survive being so small.

After repeated attempts at what he described as the most difficult game of darts ever, he and his colleagues managed to hit flying mosquitoes with drops of water and capture footage of the result.

Each droplet was between two and 50 times the weight of a mosquito, so what they saw surprised them.

Describing the the results, Dr Hu cited the Chinese martial art of Tai chi.

“There is a philosophy that if you don’t resist the force of your opponent, you won’t feel it,” he explained.

“That’s why they don’t feel the force; they simply join the drop, become one item and travel together.”

When a moving object crashes into another, it is the sudden halt that produces a damage-causing force. For example, when a car hits a wall at 30mph, the stationary wall and the car have to absorb all of the energy carried by that moving car, causing a great deal of damage.

The trick for a mosquito is that it hardly slows the raindrop down at all, and absorbs very little of its energy.

Surviving the collision though, is not the end of the drama for a tiny insect. It has to escape from its watery cocoon before the droplet smashes the insect into the ground at more than 20mph.

This is where the insect’s body, which is covered in water-repellent hairs, seems to give it another crucial survival technique.

Every mosquito studied in this experiment managed to separate itself from the water drop before it hit the ground. 

So Tai chi in nature – no surprise there, of course.

And if there’s a philosophical lesson here it’s this: don’t resist overwhelming force. Go with it, but just long enough to survive. And then separate yourself off again before it brings you down. Merge – fall together – release; merge – fall together – release. Survive . . . and even thrive in face of overwhelming force. The very force the species needs as the wetter it is, the more it breeds.


Apr 212012
Hveravellir—literally "hot springs in the plain" - Iceland

Hveravellir—literally "hot springs in the plain"


Conveniently enough, National Geographic is featuring one of the most beautiful and surreal landscapes with its Iceland’s Resilient Beauty project, a multimedia feature with stunning photographs of the country. And this year, PopTech is in Iceland. You may not be going for the latter given the cost and the distance, but the photos are hard to resist, so have a look at National Geographic’s photo gallery.