Betsy Devine: Funny ha-ha and/or funny peculiar

Making trouble today for a better tomorrow…

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Entries from January 2007

Two-lanes-wide scary-looking metal egg towed through Eggenstein-Leopoldshafen

January 27th, 2007 · Comments Off on Two-lanes-wide scary-looking metal egg towed through Eggenstein-Leopoldshafen

Lots of scary-metal-egg-meets-quaint-buildings footage in this 35 meg movie of the particle detector for the KATRIN experiment being towed at a walking-pace through the picturesque German village of Eggenstein-Leopoldshafen.

Modern villagers–think camphones, not torches or pitchforks–turn out to watch the giant’s passage, which also features a truck with 5 gazillion tires and foreigners uprooting street signs and hand-bending saplings out of the path of the monster.

Perky background music doesn’t detract from philosophical and psychological interest–or maybe it’s just that the movie is long enough to send your brain out for some real wool-gathering.

Tons more background info from Bee. Thanks to Tingilinde for the links and this photo.

Tags: Science

In praise of “accountabalism”

January 25th, 2007 · 1 Comment

Accountabalism” (says David Weinberger) results from “accountability” pushed too far–into the realm of “eating sacrificial victims in an attempt to magically ward off evil.”

Accountabalism tries to squeeze centuries of thought about how to entice people toward good behavior and dissuade them from bad into simple rules by which individuals can be measured and disciplined. It would react to a car crash by putting stop signs at every corner. Bureaucratizing morality or mechanizing a complex organization gives us the sense that we can exert close control. But grown-ups prefer clarity and realism to happy superstition.

Stop signs at every corner? Nobody wants that!

Centuries of thought about how to dissuade people from bad behavior, however, haven’t come up with great substitutes for punishment of the few people who get caught. Harsh punishment for drunk driving made that “insoluble” problem much less of a problem. The “insoluble” problem of men who beat their wives found a much better solution when researchers noticed that getting hauled off to jail even briefly cut recidivism better than years of counseling.

In the NH phone-jamming scandal, a NH judge sentenced warm-hearted family man James Tobin to ten months in federal prison. Sorry as I am for Mr. Tobin and his family, I think that such harsh “accountabalism” is needed to dissuade other politicians from breaking the rules on elections.

When our society has such a big stake in the outcome of individual decisions, we need to put up big stop signs and whomp people with big penalties if they go through them.

Update: David comments on my comment, says whomp-’em-if-they- ignore-a-major-stop-sign is accountability (good), not accountabalism (bad). What he’s against is magical belief that proliferates ever more, ever tinier stop signs. Well, of course, he explains it much better than that.

In fact, I doubt I’d have disagreed with his article at all if I hadn’t been doing that half-awake ought-to-be-packing-now-blogging-at-dawn from Kyoto.

Tags: Editorial

Nanzen-ji mosses

January 25th, 2007 · Comments Off on Nanzen-ji mosses

Nanzen-ji mosses

Originally uploaded by betsythedevine.

Just last week, in southern Chile, we visited a Patagonian national park that celebrated different kinds of moss and bryophyte as “Chile’s miniature forests.”

Here in Kyoto, Japan, different kinds of moss are displayed as artistic resources whose uses have been known to garden designers for centuries.



Just plain moss?

You decide…

Tags: Wide wonderful world

Kyoto stone walls, NH stone memories

January 25th, 2007 · Comments Off on Kyoto stone walls, NH stone memories

Kyoto stone wall

Originally uploaded by betsythedevine.

Left to itself, the earth of NH produces glacial rocks, year after year, eroded up out of our topsoil by rain and snow. NH farming — and just 100 years ago, NH was almost all farmland –meant dragging the glacial rocks to the edge of your field, where they could be piled up into New England stone walls.

New England stone walls — I’ve even built one myself — don’t need any mortar. You start with a ground layer of your heaviest boulders. Self-protection dictates this, because higher layers of the wall are made of rocks that you have lifted and dropped!

Once you set the ground layer, a matching process begins between rough rock and odd-shaped crevice. Two big rounded stones sitting side by side on the ground create an implied empty space between them into which one of your left-over rocks will fit better than any of your others…

I’ve been admiring the different ways that Japanese stone walls get built from the same kinds of rough, gray glacial till

Tags: New Hampshire!

Remembering Bohr and his horseshoe in Kyoto

January 24th, 2007 · Comments Off on Remembering Bohr and his horseshoe in Kyoto

御御籤 Fortune strips

Originally uploaded by Chica_Chubb.

After waiting in line behind two little Japanese girls and several grown-ups, I shook my fortune stick out of a wooden box today in Kyoto, at Fushimi Inari Taisha, a beautiful temple devoted to Inari spirits.

The number on my stick was “32”–not that I could read it, because the number was written in Japanese. With the help of Kyoto physicist Taichiro Kugo, I got the relevant printed fortune, which turned out to predict “Great, great fortune”! If I am sick (I’m not) then I will get well. If I want to build a house, it’s a good time to start. If I have a dream, that dream will come true. And if I want to go on a journey, it will turn out well. With so much good fortune, I think it must be shared by Frank and me and Taichiro, all three of us!

Not all of the fortune numbers promise good fortunes. Some predict bad ones. But if you get a bad fortune, you can fold the paper up narrowly lengthwise and tie it onto a tree branch or a long string–then the fortune no longer applies to you. If, on the other hand, your fortune is good, then you make it come true by…folding the paper up narrowly lengthwise and tying onto some landmark the very same way.

So I folded my paper and tied it up with great pleasure, remembering the story of Niels Bohr’s office, where he kept an old horseshoe on display. One secular visitor challenged him–“Surely you don’t believe the superstition that a horseshoe will bring you good luck!”

“Of course I don’t believe it,” said Bohr. “But they say it will bring you good luck, not just if you believe it but also if you don’t.”

Update–and here’s photographic evidence

Tags: Wide wonderful world

Kyoto jetlag outside the sushi restaurant

January 22nd, 2007 · Comments Off on Kyoto jetlag outside the sushi restaurant

Kyoto jetlag

Originally uploaded by betsythedevine.

What it feels like…

Tags: Wide wonderful world

From Kyoto, where it is and isn’t 10:30 p.m.

January 22nd, 2007 · Comments Off on From Kyoto, where it is and isn’t 10:30 p.m.

Kyoto Tower 2.JPG

Originally uploaded by Godzilla from Phila.

That is, the clocks in Kyoto say 10:30 p.m.

The clocks in Boston say 8:30 a.m.

My common sense says it’s time to sleep because tomorrow will be a busy day.

But everything is so interesting and so new!

The vending machines in the airport were all different, the sushi arrived on a tiny conveyor belt, the hotel “bell boy” was a young woman in a chic top hat. Guest services include not just massages and messages but something called “takkyu-bin” that provides paper bags for your packages.

It’s going to be so hard to wait for the sunrise!

Tags: Wide wonderful world

Five minutes to taxi time…

January 21st, 2007 · Comments Off on Five minutes to taxi time…

Cambridge cab

Originally uploaded by leonzerider.

… because 24 hours is plenty of time to do all the laundry and email and family lunchtime while simultaneously re-packing from Chile/Antarctica to Kyoto, Japan.

Sleep is something we plan to do in the airplane!

Tags: Wide wonderful world

Frank and Betsy, in our Aquiles lifejackets

January 19th, 2007 · Comments Off on Frank and Betsy, in our Aquiles lifejackets

Frank and Betsyin our Aquiles lifejackets

Originally uploaded by betsythedevine.

Here we are, ready to leave our Chilean battlecruiser in a small wooden boat for a closeup of some Patagonian glaciers. En route, we bumped into and crunched over many tiny icebergs but didn’t tip over.

Still, these lifejackets were of great use as extra raincoats.

Lots of adventures on our battleship voyage up and down to Tierra del Fuego, but no Internet access. We saw blue glaciers up close, touched a blue iceberg, met glaciologists, learned how to date ice cores, and slept for four nights in narrow Navy-ship bunk beds.

Now we’re in Miami airport, on our way home. More photos on Flickr!

Tags: Wide wonderful world

View of a Foucault pendulum..

January 14th, 2007 · Comments Off on View of a Foucault pendulum..

View of a Foucault pendulum

Originally uploaded by betsythedevine.

Ahhh! The Centro Estudio Cientificos is well and truly launched, with a wonderful party, some short but poetic speeches, and the symbolic smashing of a Champagne bottle by Michelle Bachelet, who Is Chile’s new President.

There are more great photos of related events over at my Flickr pages. Now I have to run to a breakfast, a bus, a plane, and a three-day boat trip. More when we next land in Internet-capable places!

One of the launch events was snipping a ribbon to release a giant Foucault pendulum. You can see it in the lower right corner here. Foreground, two Nobel laureates. Background, 200 photographers.

Tags: Blog to Book