Friday, September 29, 2017


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Edward Hessler

I just learned that it is National Coffee Day (part of International Coffee Day).

Here are some songs about coffee. Dan Newton, Bob Marley, and The Divers.

And while this is late, here are some places you can get a cup of joe for free today.

Of course, everything we do has impacts: social, environmental, economic and.... Here is an essay about some of the social and environmental costs.

I am drinking a cup of coffee right now and had an iced coffee early this morning, the latter a near daily treat in the warm time of the year.

Friday Poem

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Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Some notes about the poet Sarah Freiligh and her poem for this Friday here.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

4 Minute History of the National Parks

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Edward Hessler

Aeon posted a film on the history of the national parks by U. S. filmmaker Ryan Maxey.  It is an unofficial history.

The film is entertaining and also thought provoking.

Take a look.

Hamline learning lawn & garden signs

CGEE Student Voice
by Jenni Abere

In two of my classes this fall, one of our tasks is to create explanatory and educational signs for the new Hamline garden.

We need signs with basic information including: what is planted here, who started and maintains the garden, and how to get involved. Then we need signs to explain the importance and broader context of the garden.

For the basic explanatory signs, I like the idea of rotating "plant of the week" signs in addition to basic labels. These could be aligned with when the plant is ready to harvest, and include instructions for harvesting and cooking. A permanent sign is also needed to give instructions for tending to the garden (watering, weeding) and to invite people to take food.

My group in class started working on the significance/context sign. We want to focus on the topic of food security because a recent survey at Hamline found that many students are food insecure. The garden could be a small step to providing healthy food, and helping people develop the skills to grow their own food.

I'm excited about this project because I helped build and plant the garden last spring and tend to it during the summer. It's a really cool addition to campus, and I want to make sure people know how they can become involved.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Mystery in Madagasgar: Fossil Beds

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Biological Evolution 
Environmental and Science Education
Edward Hessler

The mystery referred to in the title of this post would be less of a puzzle had it not occurred so long ago: 70 million years before the present. It involves an extraordinary series of enormous mass graves of dinosaurs of all sizes and kinds and literally cheek to jowl.

In the August 29, 2017 daily letter from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Science staff writer Carolyn Gramling summarized research in which "researchers proposed a culprit behind this ancient mystery." For this area of Madagasgar, periodic drought has been the default explanation for these animals with burial provided by sediment following torrential rains.

One of the researchers is Raymond Rogers, a paleontologist at Macalester College. He has been studying a site in the Maevarano Formation for twenty years. In Gramling's article Rogers refers to the site he and colleagues have been studying as "the most fossiliferous package of rock I've ever seen."  That particular bed is a "third the size of a tennis court" and has yielded some "1200 specimens."

Rogers and others grew skeptical of the standard explanation. There are large problems. The animals "nestle against each other, suggesting that the bodies were buried where they died and that the killer struck all kinds of animals without discrimination." Clearly, the cause acted fast. And then there was the "arched-back posture of the dead" (suggesting convulsions which is known as hyperextended neck posture), the large number of dead birds and a "carbonate crust, similar to those left by algae in other sediments."

Together these suggested harmful algal blooms (HABs).  There is some previous evidence which Gramling discusses--an 1878 paper "in dead livestock near a lake; testing confirmed that the animals had ingested toxic cyanobacteria" and a recent paper suggesting "that toxic algae periodically killed hundreds of whales and other marine animals off the coast of what is now Chile, starting 11 million years ago."

What is missing is the famous "smoking gun": direct evidence of the algae. The next step Rogers and his team plan is to look for "chemical traces of algae" (biomarkers).

It is a lovely and fascinating research story and also an example of how science works--constantly examining the evidence, wondering about the pieces and suggesting an alternative hypothesis. The original paper is protected by a subscription firewall but the short summary from the research article may be found here.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

What's That Light Up There?

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Edward Hessler

A dichotomous key on how to identify some of those lights up there in the sky.

It is from Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) for September 24, 2017 so if you open it on another date go to the archives.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

New rain garden near Hamline

CGEE Student Voice
by Jenni Abere

This fall, Hamline University has the exciting opportunity to be involved in a prairie restoration/rainwater management project just a short walk from campus. The site is on the inside of the cloverleaf leading from Snelling to Pierce Butler. There is already a small holding pond here; soon, native plants will be seeded and planted. The site will also act as an “outdoor classroom” for Hamline and other schools in the area, with educational signage.

Earlier in September, the non-native plants and weeds were killed with herbicide and then burned to prepare for prairie planting. Later, on October 15th and 21st, there will be two Plantón Móvil events and native plants will be carried to the site and planted.

My class witnessed the controlled burn of the site. 
Plantón Móvil is a participatory art project started by Lucia Monge, where people and plants become one for a walk, and then a park or green space is created or added to. There are great photos of previous Plantón Móvils on her website.

The event on October 15th will be with Hamline Elementary students. The event on October 21st will be open to everyone.

My Sustainability on Campus class this fall has been focused on planning these events. I’m in the facilitation committee, so we are thinking about all the logistics involved: where and when we meet, what route we walk to get to the site, music and food to provide, planting the plants once we get there.

We have also put a lot of thought into the ways that people can move with the plants. We won’t have many large plants, especially at this time of year. We will mostly have small plugs. So, we’re considering different ways that people can wear plants.

This project is a fun way to get people involved in water issues. It’s clear that our approach to water management is flawed; we get the water out of cities as fast as possible, and it carries pollution into rivers and to the ocean. We don’t let water soak into the ground, and refill aquifers; we funnel it into the ocean, where it contributes to sea level rise. This garden will allow water to stay where it falls, and soak into the ground instead of rushing off in the sewer.

This small project connects to a lot of big picture issues, and will be a great learning experience for everyone involved.

An Energy Plan for Minnesota

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Sustainable Energy & Transportation
Edward Hessler

A few days ago I received an e-mail from Greg Laden who called my attention to Minnesota Gubernatorial Candidate Rebecca Otto's energy transition plan.  It's aim is to move Minnesota rapidly to clean energy.

It is a progressive plan but that hasn't stopped meteorologist Paul Douglas, an evangelical Republican from endorsing it. Douglas is compelled by the ideas, not the political orientation.The plan has also been endorsed by Bill McKibben, University of St. Thomas climate scientist John Abraham, and Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann.

Here is the link to Greg's post in which you will find a link to the Otto plan. Greg provides a convenient elevator speech version. 

The plan is worth reading and thinking about as well as discussing with others. As Professor Abraham notes this plan is bold and a "big, big idea."

Friday, September 22, 2017

Friday Poem

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Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Today is the autumnal equinox, the astronomical marker of fall.

September 1 on the other hand was the occasion of the beginning of meteorological fall a different marker. Critters have their own way of marking seasonal changes, not waiting for  human computations.  Some birds and monarch butterflies have already left for points south. And my beloved nighthawks are long gone.

The link above includes several interesting links, one of which is a video clip I've referred to before from A Private Universe.  On graduation day, graduates of Harvard are asked what causes the seasons. Hmmm. By the way, these misconceptions as they are called (there are at least a 100 different names; one I like is "intelligently wrong.") provide valuable information to teachers as they begin units of study.

This occasion deserves two poems or rather I limit my exuberance to two. One is by Annie Finch. The other by Edward Thomas.

Happy AE day and this year the steam heat is on..

Thursday, September 21, 2017

3 Things You Need to Know about Eco-Friendly Cleaning

Guest Blogger: Charlotte Meier
Charlotte's website: HomeSafetyHub

We are learning more every day about the hazards of cleaning supplies, from children suffering after ingesting laundry detergent pods to the harmful effects of toxic household cleaners. As parents, we want to keep our homes and belongings clean, but we also want to keep our children safe from the chemicals in the supplies that we think clean our homes safely.

Truthfully, cleaning supplies that are safe for use around children also are safe for the environment. By using these types of eco-friendly cleaning supplies, we can ensure the health and safety of our families and our world.

1. Swap Toxic Cleaning Supplies with Natural Ingredients

The first step toward eco-friendly cleaning is reading the labels on your cleaning supplies. Discard any product with a label containing a warning about being hazardous to humans or domestic animals. The key is to dispose of them responsibly before replacing them with natural cleaning ingredients.

Image via Pixabay by evitaochel
Many household cleaning products, even those with hazard warnings, are water soluble and will not harm the environment in quantities that you will dispose of from home. In fact, the majority of cleaning products are specially formulated for safe disposal in a public water system or home wastewater treatment system, even if you have a septic tank.

Any cleaning products that do not list disposal methods on the label should be set aside to take to your local landfill during hazardous waste collection. Do not pour the remaining portions of these cleaners down your drain, as they may contain chemicals that should not enter a wastewater system. Avoid mixing remaining cleaning supplies, as some may cause an unfavorable reaction when combined.

When you are ready to replace your toxic cleaning supplies, replace them with natural ingredients. Many people begin with vinegar, baking soda, and essential oils. White vinegar is a natural fabric softener that removes soap residue in the rinse cycle and prevents static cling in the dryer. To make an all-purpose disinfectant, mix a few drops of tea-tree oil with a tablespoon of vinegar and a couple of drops of lavender essential oil with water in a spray bottle to create a cleaner that kills germs and smells pleasant. Vinegar also effectively cleans mirrors and windows; dilute it with a little water and wipe with a newspaper.

2. You Should Clean Away Toxic Residue While You Declutter Your Home

Eco-friendly cleaning is something that you should start doing as soon as possible. But, you also want to think about things you have cleaned previously with toxic cleaners. For example, children often load totes, bins, and other containers with their toys to keep their homes organized and tidy.

Chances are, as flu bugs and other illnesses hit your home, you scrubbed these toys and containers with bleach or toxic cleaners and threw stuffed animals in the washer with detergents, fabric softeners, and dryer sheets that contain hazardous chemicals.

The next time you declutter with your kids and organize their toys and belongings, scrub plastic toys with a natural all-purpose cleaner and throw stuffed animals into the washing machine with homemade laundry detergent.

Many detergent recipes call for washing soda, Borax, and a natural bar of soap such as Dr. Bronner’s. Add white vinegar to the rinse cycle to remove toxic cleaner residue and to soften clothes. Then, use an organic wool dryer ball rather than toxic dryer sheets while drying clothes, blankets, and stuffed animals.

3. Lemons are an Ideal Disinfectant and Deodorizer

Some people steer clear of eco-friendly cleaning simply because they fear that their homes and belongings will smell like vinegar. The truth is, you can disinfect and deodorize while giving your home and clothing a fresh scent by using lemons. Lemons boast powerful antiseptic and antibacterial characteristics in addition to being natural deodorizers. If you don’t like the smell of vinegar, combine lemon peel with white vinegar in a jar and marinate it for a few days.

Then, strain out the peel and use the lemon-scented vinegar in your cleaners and washing machine. You also can absorb household odors by combining vinegar and lemon juice in a small dish and placing it near your garbage can, kitchen sink, or bathroom.

Eco-friendly cleaning is much better for your family and the environment. Get started by replacing toxic cleaners with natural ingredients, cleaning away toxic residue while you declutter, and relying on lemons to clean and deodorize.


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Environmental and Science Education
Edward Hessler

Another tuesday in the tallgrass prairie under a "certain slant of light" and the "blank blue brightness of a cloudless sky."

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A Photographer's Regret

Environmental and Science Education
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A couple of days ago I posted 13 images that were finalists in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year (Natural History Museum, London). 

One of them is of a teeny-tiny seahorse attached to a Q-tip. The very thought still makes me squirm and my skin crawl.

Washington Post reporter Lindsey Bever talked with the photographer, Justin Hofman, Monterey, California. He took the photograph "off the coast of Sumbawa, an Indonesian island in the Lesser Sunda Islands chain.

Hofman told Bever that his "blood was boiling" when he watched the creature on its journey through the litter and trash. Hofman said that he "wishes the picture 'didn't exist'--but it does and now he said, he feels responsible 'to make sure it gets to as many eyes as possible.'" ... He wants "everybody to see it and everybody to have a reaction to it."

My reaction: Ugh +.  It is sickening and powerful.

Indonesia dumps "3.22 million metric tons of plastic debris per year" (3549442 US tons). It is second in the world in producing marine pollution.

You may read Linsey Bever's essay here.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Blue Skies Smilin' at Me....

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Edward Hessler

Of course the sky is blue. Everybody knows that. Look up and there it is blue as a bluebell or the wispy veins in blue cheese.  

This is something we learn growing up. We later learn the mechanisms in school although we may have to check our memory as we become older and also more distant from the physics of the sky's color and our biology. 

Makes me think of an explanation that I might have used as a small child. "Why is the sky blue?" "Cuz."

So what happens when we take our American understanding and our language deep into the tropical rain forests of South America? This is what Massachusetts of Technology cognitive scientist Edward Gibson did. He took a “car-battery powered light box and 80 standardized color chips,” hopped a boat and went down the Amazon River to the Tsimane’.

The Tsimane’ are a very isolated group hearing mostly their own language.  Gibson learned that they have many fewer color words “than American Engllsh speakers and Bolivian Spanish speakers.” They showed difficulty in agreeing on what to call the colors of the standardized color chips.

The conclusion of the study is “that the ability to describe colors isn’t as rooted in our biology as many scientists thought. And that means that language development may be far more rooted in our culture than in how we literally see the world.”

Science writer Zach Zoarch reported this story in a short essay in Science, September 18, 2017.  Click on that link to see the experimental set-up. There is a link to the original scientific research publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

I think it is a great study, one that makes a rich world of differences ever richer.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Mathematical Thresholds: Two Minutes Worth

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Mathematics Education
Environmental and Science Education
Edward Hessler

A clever, whimsical two-minute video on thresholds in maths.

Graph on one side; the phenomenon being explored visually on the other.

Great music, too.

Good fun.

h/t Aeon

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Harry Dean Stanton

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Edward Hessler

Character actor Harry Dean Stanton dies at age 91.

And what a musician, too.

The Last Image

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Environmental and Science Education
Edward Hessler

Cassini's final image before it was shut down after literally slamming in Saturn's atmosphere. It was moving at 113000 km/hour (70,000 mph) when it hit Saturn's atmosphere. It took 83 minutes for it reach the Deep Space Network antenna in Canberra, Australia.

The image is from Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) for September 16, 2016 which means you will have to go to the archives if you don't view it today.

This achievement is stunning and Cassini seems to have been a bit of an over-achiever. There are many to thank who made all this possible, including each of us in a very small way through our financial support of NASA.

The Cassini orbiter owes its name to the discoverer of Saturn's ring divisions and four of its moons.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Some of Cassini's Numbers

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Environmental and Science Education
Edward Hessler

Everyone knows that Cassini's mission ended today when it crashed into Saturn. There are more animations and photographs than one can count (or almost) and I'm reluctant to add one more but not so hesitant that I'm not going to do just that..

Here is a short BBC video on some of the things Cassini did in its 20 year journey.

Quite a record.

Friday Poem

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Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

This Friday poem is by Ron Rash.

And speaking of trout take a virtual visit if you've not been there to the National Trout Center, Preston, Minnesota.  Here are the three trout of the Driftless Area. There is not much to say in the presence of such beauty. Bow and say thanks to evolution.

Trout country and much more (Goat Prairies!).

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Pictures From A Birthing Center

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Edward Hessler

These photographs notice the daily work of doulas and nurses in birthing.

They were taken at the Sutter Maternity & Surgery Center, Santa Cruz, CA by RN Sara Deitrich.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Wildlife Phots of the Year: Finalists

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Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Photographs taken by 13 finalists for Wildlife Photographer of the Year.

It was great to see a plant and an invertebrate among the images.

I like 'em all but the red squirrel taking a rest before moving on tugs me in all the right places. I thought that to be a bear cub mama is to require a lot of patience. The image of the seahorse was bittersweet showing where things we use and throw to this place called "away" can end up.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The First Day of School

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Edward Hessler

A few weeks ago I watched two YouTube videos on what the first day of school was like in Russia, elementary and secondary. There were some nice traditions to see unfold. Some pomp, some circumstance, some performance, and some ceremony.

HuffPost (I often refer to it as PoHuff, don't ask why because I don't know.) has 14 photographs showing the first day of school around the world.

This is an occasion to be honored no matter where in the world one lives.

What Science is Like

Nature of Science
Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler
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Neil deGrasse Tyson is a champion and gifted tweeter.

This tweet is an example. It demolishes in 15 words climate deniers' favorite argument. 

And it is also instructive about the nature of science.  I have previously mentioned  one of my favorite science educators, the late Mary Budd Rowe. She wrote a science methods text a long time ago, Teaching Science as Continuous Inquiry (1973).  It remains an intelligent and wise book.

The Wiki entry includes comments on some of her important ideas: wait time, praise and fate-control

Rowe noted in that book that science is a social enterprise but not always sociable. Scientists argue, sometimes even angrily, about data and evidence, enough once in a while to become personal and lasting. After all, like us, scientists are human.  

Joe Humphreys writing for The Irish Times (April 10 2016) describes one row this way. "A few years ago, (Richard) Dawkins trashed  (Edward O.)Wilson’s book The Social Conquest of the Earth, saying in a memorable review, “this is not a book to be tossed lightly aside. It should be thrown with great force.” Wilson later dismissed his Oxford (University) counterpart as a “journalist”. Unlike the author of The God Delusion, Wilson said, he had “actually been with scientists doing research. Meow."

Humphreys article for which see here is about a project on disagreement among scientists. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Gentle Giant

Edward Hessler
Image result for don williams

Don Williams 1939 - 2017.  

In a Washington Post obituary in the Washington Post Kristen M. Hall writes about Don Williams that “Everyone who makes country music with grace, intelligence, and ageless intent will do so while standing on the shoulders of this gentle giant.”

He won an Emmy for Tulsa Time in 1978. 

And here is Cheryl Crowe and Eric Clapton  singing and playing this tune in 2007, aided and abetted by an incredible array of musicians.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Jay Leno's Astronomy Quiz

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Environmental and Science Education
Edward Hessler

Long ago Jay Leno gave this quiz to some people on the street in Hollywood.

One may throw you since the status of this planet has changed since the quiz was given: Pluto.

Unfortunately these questions what many people think science is: knowing stuff. Well knowing stuff is useful but knowing how we know that say the earth is round or how species evolve or the crucial importance of evidence in science and how it is used or the value of models in science and engineering or...well that is quite another thing.

These are about smiles and maybe groans.

So while I'm at it let's take a look at questions Harvard graduates were asked on graduation day on the cause of seasons.  It is from a stunning series on misconceptions in science, The Private Universe. The project wondered why even the best and the brightest students don't know basic science concepts.

I hope you have a chance someday to see some teachers in this project in action in their classrooms as well as their students.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Charcoal's Delights

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Environment & Science Education
Edward Hessler

There are still some days left for charcoaling.

You probably know how charcoal is made but probably have never thought of making your own. I hadn't and I'm not at all likely to make my own, preferring to be a sidewalk supervisor or a watcher, silent of course. Delighting in those who can and want to do this.

Primitive Technology shows how to make a batch of the real stuff.  There is a description below the video labeled "Show More" which describes what this "technologist" is doing.

Here are a few FAQs about this young man whom I simply refer to as Man or The Man or Guy, in which he explains why there is no running commentary.

His work amazes and impresses me immensely.

Friday Poem

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Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

American poet John Ashbery died Sunday, September 3 at his home in Hudson New York. His work was acknowledged and honored in many ways including the Pulitzer Prize.

David Orr and Dinitia Smith wrote an obituary for the New York Times.  How to describe his poetry? Orr and Smith observed that If some poets remind us of the richness of American poetry by blending seamlessly into one of its many traditions, Mr. Ashbery has frequently seemed like a tradition unto himself. It is a cliché to praise a writer by saying no one has ever sounded quite like him, and yet: No one has ever sounded quite like him.

Poetry Magazine  noted that Beyond the honors bestowed upon Ashbery during his life, essentially all possible honors a poet might be awarded, his body of work created the paradigm for writing poetry in America during the latter half of the twentieth century and continuing on through to the current moment.

Dan Chiasson who writes for The New Yorker and is a professor at Wellesley College where he teaches Ashbery's poems in some of his courses wrote a fine tribute. He has taught Ashbery's poems.

The links above have many poems but I include another, one I like. It is a cento in the world of poetry speak, i.e., a poem made entirely of quotations. Ashbery was a movie buff and this poem consists entirely of movie titles, becoming a poetic collage. It works and has a coherence that surprises and pleases, at least for me.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

What Day Is It?

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Edward Hessler

Why it is read a book day (September 6 2017).
Few people will note this occasion better than Sandra Boynton.
And reading one of her books counts. Two is a  double count.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Steely Dan

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Edward Hessler

Walter Becker of Steely Dan died a couple of days ago (age 67). He was the other half of a partnership (Donald Fagan) that began at Bard College.

Their music was a mix of jazz and pop with a special intelligence. College rockers.

They were unusual in many ways, including as Bill Wyman wrote "And as for stardom, well, neither Becker nor Fagan could be described as heartthrob materials." 

Read Wyman's loving tribute which includes a performance on Letterman. 

Here is another song. It has an ad which can be skipped in a few seconds.