Wednesday 29 September 2010

This Earth’s Crust ... its waste, but yet its offerings ...

Humans have evolved, we have always been nosey, inventive creatures ... able to take advantage of our natural environment – the earth’s crust – perhaps to our cost now ... but the elements and ancient humans helped shaped this world of ours as it is today.
We found mineral rich ores from which we were able to fashion simple tools that became the foundation of civilisation; we had tapped into river systems and were controlling the water supplies to feed and create early cities; we explored and were able to track the winds and work out that they had a circular motion .. returning us whence we came – creating trade routes.

On the Yellow River, Xunhua Province (further west than Shanxi Province highlighted below)

Plants and animals in their wasted state became coal and oil, our technological exploitations go on ... our processing abilities continue – the brain amazes ... will co-operation bring the next huge leap forward?

The ancient civilisations of China had settled, expanded, acquired huge reserves of knowledge, and most importantly had the capabilities of feeding their large populations from the wind deposited loess rich soils of inland China (the site of the Terracotta Army) ...

Shanxi Province

.... but were far too early to take advantage of the engineering, scientific and industrial revolutions of the 18th century, while the huge continent did not and still does not lend itself to easy transportation routes – even the rivers are so vast, flowing through high gorges, full of enormous rapids, liable to flooding the lower reaches which makes security of shipping goods nigh impossible.

The elements – earth, wind, fire and water – continue to wreak havoc interrupting at times our progression, yet continue to provide new materials and resources that we learn to utilise.

Some thoughts on some minerals and how we have taken advantage of them over the centuries ... as symbols of power in carvings, the Chinese and Mayans with their jade figurines and masks, Byzantine use of Lapis Lazuli in their churches and palaces as cladding of all things!

A polished specimen of Lapis Lazuli

Muscovite, a silicate mineral, produces large transparent crystals which were once used as window panes in Moscow: hence its name! That supply came from Norway, while material from India is still used in furnace doors, where normal glass would melt – presumably as in wood burning stoves, that we so love here in England.

Silicon – we know makes chips ... zillions of them – not of potato, but from the second most abundant mineral in the earth’s crust – powering or controlling just about everything we do.

Integrated circuit of Atmel Diopsis 740System on Chip showing memory blocks, logic and input/output pads around the periphery

Silica, usually in the form of quartz is the most common constituent of sand; however quartz rocks have been known for millennia – the Roman naturalist, Pliny the Elder, believed quartz to be water ice – permanently frozen in time – hence the word crystal from the Greek word for ice.

Fatimid carved rock crystal (clear quartz) vase, c. 1000

Galena, the main ore of lead, was better known in Cleopatra’s day (3,500 BC) as eye kohl; two thousand years ago the Romans utilised the by-product of silver smelting – lead for their waterworks, and copper; now the by-products include zinc, antimony etc as well as bismuth, whose commercial importance is now being recognised as an alloy replacement for lead, eliminating its toxicity.

Lead pipes - set amongst well trodden Roman pavements

Copper – perhaps is the ‘all metal’ .. we know many of its uses over time – early tools, pots, conductive piping and money; it is 100% recyclable, probably 80% of all copper mined is still in use today. Now it is even used for door knobs in hospitals, because of its antibacterial/germicidal properties.. while copper tubing is used in air conditioning systems to deter the spread of Legionnaires’ disease.

Copper is essential for all plants and animals being distributed widely in the body – in liver, muscle and bone; rich sources of copper are to be found in oysters, beef or lamb liver, Brazil nuts, cocoa and black pepper (of all things!).

Steel too has been known for millennia, arising as a by-product of smelting iron (when carbon is produced) – the most common element in the earth and the fourth most common in the earth’s crust – ancient steel excavations date from 4,000 years ago in Asia Minor and East Africa; the Romans extensively used steel, as did the Chinese over 2,000 years ago.

These old world base metals are now being usurped in the race for supremacy by the search for free elements and rare-earth metals – essential to our modern life for their use in magnets, lasers, xrays, computer memories, telephony etc

The cycle goes round, China the cradle of ancient dynasties, finds itself once again with the wealth in its interior and despite being technologically advanced, its infrastructure simply cannot keep up with the breakneck growth that is going on.

Traffic jams, monstrous gridlocks, and snarl ups are commonplace – jams as long as 60 miles, lasting nine days ... the coal from Inner Mongolia is desperately needed, transported by trucks to fuel its energy needs ... entrepreneurial street vendors take advantage by setting up shop with the basic commodities of human consumption .. no change there then.

This photo of 'Björkskär', the main island, comprising a group of islands in Stockholm outer archipelago, where rare-earth metals were first found in Ytterby village quarry.

If it flies or you talk into it - it has rare-earth metals ... and China for now keeps a steely grip on the market ... by undercutting the competition in Africa, America and elsewhere; market forces however now play their part and have precipitated a rash of proposed mining and processing operations outside China, on the realisation of the enormous hike in market prices and that complacency cannot reign whatever the cost for these essential minerals.

However – is the earth moving in China? Will the closed society of today be more embracing to the rest of world in the future .. will the fact that the People’s Republic of China have embraced the Linux free and open source software ... prelude new beginnings?

What else has this wonderful earth and its crusty outside have to offer us ... more wonders to behold – more hidden secrets to find.

Dear Mr Postman - my mother has been completely awake – we’ve talked about conkers and playing conkers as children (we had a few conker trees in the garden) Warwick Castle, and Alfred the Great and his times .. with a little patience and clear diction .. she participates and asks questions – she continues to amaze us all! Long may it last – particularly her hearing – life is just so much easier and pleasurable.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Thursday 23 September 2010

B is for Barbara, A is for Apple, B is for Blogging without a Blog ...

How do you blog without one? This maid from Bend, for some of us the apple of our blogging eye – our aperture to the blogging fraternity .. gives us some pertinent information she has uncovered, then poses some questions and waits for her blogging community to respond, enhancing this Blog without a Blog!

I notice that Barbara started in 2007 and this blog began to evolve as is by the end of that year – that would make sense, Barbara is not one to rest on her laurels ... she’s an entrepreneur .. out there searching new paths forward in this technical journey that we’re all on.

I met Barbara 18 months ago and was, as most of us are, spell bound by her knowledge, humbleness in asking us questions, and her simple approach to giving us her lessons .. long may it continue.

Blossoms, fruits, and leaves of the apple tree (Malus domestica)

I’ve just been over to read her About page – where she is just as succinct and down to earth about her blog, describing it: “It’s my blog, but it’s all about YOU”. How true her words are .. bloggers, who comment and communicate here, are her community (YOU).

The apple of our blogging eye ... an apple a day keeps the doctor away, the patron saint of throats is Barbara! - while a visit to Barbara’s blog a day keeps us up to date via her posts and the interaction she’s engendered with her blogging friends.

Apples, as all plants, have many component parts that start small, grow and flourish. Barbara, is no different, she now has branches – the Blog Registry, where we can register our blogs; - the Blog Boutique - where we can get free headers; she’s true to her word and offers to help us;

... and now she’s starting a new project .. Writers’Blogk .. so she’s forward thinking too – trying and testing new ideas .. with us her community. We will nurture our apple tree – we need to be healthy .. Barbara will help us to be wiser and no doubt in due time wealthier too ... as the Blogging Without a Blog community will encourage everyone within – the support is incredible.

So this lady from Bend in Oregon .. you know me – I had to have a look see where Bend is and find out a little more .. it’s central Oregon’s largest city, being located on the eastern edge of the Cascade range along the Deschutes River. I love the description of its setting – can you smell the pine, the gin?!, the herbs?:

Here the Ponderosa Pine forest transitions into the Great Basin high desert plateau, characterized by arid land, junipers, sagebrush and bitter brush. Originally a crossing point on the river; settlement began in the early 1900s, with incorporation into a city in 1905 (no change in growth spurt here then!).

Above: Drake Park in Autumn - in the city

Left: Newberry National Volcanic Monument .. Newberry Caldera (just south of Bend)

Economically it started as a logging town, but is now identified as a gateway for many outdoor sports, including mountain biking, fishing, hiking, camping, rock climbing, white-water rafting, skiing and golf ... sounds like a great place to visit – hope you’ve got some spare rooms Barbara? – another opportunity Bed and Breakfast?!

And I know Barbara loves cooking – it helps her unwind as she cooks up treats for her family and friends .. and it’s the time of year for apples – those British immigrants brought across apple trees and their love of apple pie – a stalwart of many a family get together. Baked apples are a favourite of mine .. cored, filled with currants or dried fruit, a little honey and water, or brown sugar sprinkled down the hole and some butter .. baked til bursting with flavour and juice.

Or how about apple mash .. I thought this was rather a good idea and would go well with a pork dish, or a Breton ham and bean dish .. adding the flavour of the boiled apple to the buttery mash; I guess potato and fried onion cakes with apple in would make a distinctive change.

That magical of all fruits that has stood the test of time, travelled far and wide, spreading pips and creating new growth across the world .. as does Barbara with her community – America, Canada, Panama, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and many others I’m sure ..

So the ABCs for today’s lesson are A for apple to keep you healthy, B for Barbara from Bend and her Blog, and C for community .. for us, who benefit and support each other so much ... thank you from HMB!

Barbara, I particularly thank you – your teaching has been exemplary, your care of us, your friends, is wonderful to behold, you give real value and we all continue to learn from you .. while two members of the Community – Patricia and Davina .. I salute you for putting this idea forward .. Patricia from Patricia’s Wisdom instigating it, and Davina from Shades of Crimson for supporting her .. and then bringing this motley bunch of bloggers to share in the cake: enjoy the day!

A for Award ... B for the Blog .... C for the Classroom ....& ABC for brilliant and fun – it’ll be so interesting to read everyone’s posts ...

Blog Registry – the free blog registry:
Writers’Blogk – the post:
The Blog Boutique: Website

Dear Mr Postman - we go on here – all is much the same and the weather is being kind – an Indian Summer ..

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Sunday 19 September 2010

Spreading the idea, hearing the words, seeing the movement .. the power of video ...

Bloggers, Authors, Writers, Creators, Innovators, Entrepreneurs .. wherever you are this is your future .... thank goodness for thinkers and developers and researchers and Chris Anderson and Seth Godin .. I know – lots of “ands” ... but this you need to see ....

Seth Godin’s latest blog post is entitled “Beyond Crowdsourcing” where he advocates one of the latest global TED talks, given by Chris, who is the present curator of the TED talks ... which I know most of us will be aware of and have probably listened to at least one or two of the presentations.

Chris Anderson - TED curator

I thought I’d just have a brief sit, start watching the video Seth suggested and think I’ll come back sometime – but NO .. this riveted me to the screen .... so much so this is my post today – I encourage you to watch it – 18 minutes.

All of you are creators, designers of your life, dreamers, wanderers .... here is the future for us, wherever we are in the world, we can create an idea and get it to spread .. this video should change your thinking .... should it not?

I was first introduced the idea of micro-finance through a video in the early 1980s on the Grameen Bank, the concept of people helping themselves is spreading .. and we now have Kiva and many others - I'm sure you'll visualise the possibilities of these sorts of thinking ...

Here we see the power of video, the power of people, the power of crowds .. that little sprinkling from the clouds, that can spread and grow into a storm .. as Seth says “His video will be seen by more than a million people by the end of the week” .. not possible with the publication of a book – is it?!

We’ve had the printing press, we’ve had reference books, almanacs, encyclopedias, dictionaries, atlases and many many others .... we were into audio ... but now video will be the 'king of the castle' .. if one video will be seen by one million people within a week .. what ideas can be spread through the power of openness and as Chris calls his talk “Crowd Accelerated Innovation" ....

Please watch the video – and come back and comment .. or vice versa! .. but let’s add to the numbers viewing of this amazing piece of history ... let me know what you think .....

TED Video: Chris Anderson - Crowd Accelerated Innovation

(the actual video link in case the one above is broken and you want to copy and paste: )

Seth Godin Blog Post: Beyond Crowdsourcing

Chris Anderson was a former computer journalist and magazine publisher – see Wiki for his interesting brief bio.

Dear Mr Postman - my mother seems comfortable and continues to hear, though hasn’t been awake sufficiently to have a conversation. The weather is still reasonable – but we can feel it drawing in ..

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Tuesday 14 September 2010

Misalliance ... to veer to the left, or to veer to the right?!

Fragrant Honeysuckle and the convolvulating Bindweed - an unlikely pair as you’ll ever meet have been immortalised in the Flanders and Swann song “Misalliance” – a fascinating societal tale of life .. so true, so sad. Did you know the honeysuckle spirals clockwise towards the sun, while the twisty bindweed climbs counter clockwise – no, nor did I.

Honeysuckle - photo c/o Peter Wuebker - gallery here (of Betsy and Peter - Passing Thru fame)

On reading the words who could not be touched by them?

Said the right-handed honeysuckle to the left-handed bindweed
“Oh, let us get married, if our parents don’t mind, we’d
Be loving and inseparable, inextricably entwined, we’d
Live happily ever after” said the honeysuckle to the bindweed.

It goes on:

To the honeysuckle’s parents it came as a shock.
“The bindweed,” they cried, “are inferior stock!
They’re uncultivated, of breeding bereft,
We twine to the right and they twine to the left”

You can imagine the misalliance in the tale .. but what powerful words describing the story .. I loved it when I heard it last weekend.

Field or Lesser bindweed

The word misalliance seemed a good word to describe some other plants and their unlikely destinations in life .. a seed planted by a three year old that can shoot to over 23 feet in a year and turn into a beautiful sunflower .. would the best way to view this - be with a spiral staircase – the tot would be overawed otherwise?

Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519) was the first to record in his botanical studies that heliotropic flowers track the sun’s motion across the sky – this picture shows the incredible detail of the sunflower’s inflorescence, with the florets in spirals of 34 and 55 around the outside - there’s a Fibonacci link here – but another day.

The sunflower's inflorescence
We know that the sunflower is an ancient plant from central America, probably spreading into the rest of the continent 4,500 years ago, but now is a global and valuable food resource .. but did you know that they can be used to extract toxic ingredients from the soil, such as lead, arsenic and uranium – after Chernobyl they were used to remove cesium-137 and strontium-90 from a nearby pond.

Another Mexican plant, imported for its ornamental value – the Agave .. also surprises us .. a Cornish couple went away for a few weeks and returned to find a towering flower spike .. the sad thing is .. the plant after many years puts all its energy into the flowering – then poof .. that’s it – it dies. No wonder it’s also known as the Century plant flowering only once after decades of dormancy.

Agave too has many uses .. it is an alternative to sugar, with the sap being known by the name ‘aguamiel’ (honey water) .. while didgeridoos can be made from the dried out stalks. In pre-Columbian Mexico, agave was used to make rope, matting, pens, nails and needles, as well as thread to sew or weave with.

Agave at Cape Sounion, Attica, Greece

Didgeridoos, that incredible wind instrument developed by the northern Indigenous Australians, apparently have another use – which I think is worth mentioning, while obviously needing to be investigated, is that by learning to play one - using the circular breathing technique, this may help people reduce their snoring and sleep apnea through the strengthening of their muscles in the upper airway.

Top: Traditionally crafted & decorated

Middle: Bamboo souvenir didgeridoo

Bottom: Traditionally crafted & undecorated

Now the Karvy .. which only takes a decade or so for the bloom cycle to happen – is to be found along the western coast of India – but when it blossoms .. oh! it blossoms .. covering many a forest area with a colourful veil. A veritable feast for the eyes as well as the ears ... just sitting quietly surrounded in a haze of purple .. with numerous species of butterflies, bees, and other insects buzzing around – what joy: to look at and listen to.

Even after the month of flowering .. the forest is still alive with the pop, pop, pop of the seed heads bursting forth and spreading their bounty over the forest floor. Here again the Karvy has its uses for us humans .. the juice from the flower is used for medicinal purposes while the stems can be used for thatched buildings.

The Monsoon brings the plant to life, turning it green, once the rainy season is over, all that is left is the dry and dead-looking stems – the pattern repeats for seven or so years, and then in the eighth, or when ready, it bursts into a mass flowering. Bees flock to the honey-soaked flowers, that’s when the honey hunters appear to track the bees down for their thick, dark bounty.

Honeysuckle, bindweed, sunflowers, agave and karvy – what an odd collection of plants all with extraordinary characteristics .. who would have thought that humans would have spread across the world making use of every possible part of each plant or learning from the visiting fauna ...

... and now we keep finding new uses for these inspiring plants, which feed our pollinators of life – bees, butterflies, moths, wasps, flies, bats, birds, beetles and even midges, let alone thrips and ants .. all thrive ...

or as in “Misalliance” a political allegory concerning a love affair between a honeysuckle and a bindweed .. to amuse us, to teach us .. or as here gently to entertain us

Together, they found them, the very next day
They had pulled up their roots and just shrivelled away.
Deprived of that freedom for which we must fight,
To veer to the left or to veer to the right!

Flanders & Swann singing the song “Misalliance” via You Tube (4 mins)
The Flanders and Swann lyrics can be found here at "Just Some Lyrics"

Another post you might enjoy: Plants as Metal Gatherers

See Wiki for paragraph about circular breathing, sleep disorders and apnea, within the Didgeridoo page

Dear Mr Postman – the weather has turned autumnal ... and I’ve been busy – apart from my own move, my mother has had to move back upstairs .. so yet another upheaval – but surprise, surprise .. she can hear again! Wonderful news .. as I said to her – “well at least I can talk to you again and we can have a conversation .. that’s a good thing” – to which my Mama replied “Is it?” .. but with a big smile! It’s the luck of the drawer whether she’s awake or not – but the staff seem to be enjoying her chatty times!
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories