Bend-a-Bike

Regular bike, no?

Bike Man Dan hipped us to a fascinating new bike. This bike, designed by 21 year old Kevin Scott, gives you the flexibility of a folding bike but without the diminished wheel or frame size.  It also provides a built in locking mechanism to secure both wheels and the frame.

The frame can be stiffened using a rachet system or easily lossened The photos do not fully demonstrate how the locking systems works, but to read more about the bike click here.

It locks to itself!

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Meticulous Stop Motion Graffiti

A remarkable visual artist by the name of Blu has released numerous stop motion animations in the last few years. Fans of his work are excited as he recently completed a new short entitled Big Bang Big Boom.  As its name implies, the film tells a quick, abstracted narrative of the universe. I was particularly impressed by his depiction of humans toward the end.  Fascinating, creative, beautiful, and provoking. I can’t ask for much more than that in a piece of artwork.

If you like this short check out some of his others including Muto and Fino.

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Quotables

Reading a National Geographic article about Seven of the Biggest Beasts of All Time, I came across a quote that needs to be shared. One of the biggest beasts was the Megalodon, a giant shark – the jaws of which, research indicates, carried more force than a T-rex’s maw.  The unbeatable quote, which is meant to help one visualize the size of such a beast, comes from Peter Klimley, a shark expert at UC Davis:

“A great white is about the size of the clasper, or penis, of a male megalodon.”

Note how big Megalodon’s clasper would be if it were the size of great white.  I like the ratio.

Check out the megalodon article to see the quote or other cool pics of sharks and megalodon renderings.

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Happy 150th Birthday Market Rail Line

The only known photo of the Market Street Railroad train was taken around 1860 at Market and Third streets. Courtesy: Market Street Railway

Last Sunday, July the 4th, was a historic day not just for our country but also for the rail line running along Market street. Did you know that the first street railway in SF was a two-cars steam train first created in 1860?

Before that, the young cities inhabitant only had the option of walking, cycling (thank God it is making a come back!), or horse riding. Omnibuses, pulled by horses, seated only 10 to 12 passengers and were prohibitively expensive ($1 per ride!).

After the steam train, in 1867, horses returned to the scene and began pulling rail cars.  By 1883, the horses were again replaced, this time by cable cars. The 1906 earthquake destroyed the former cable car system on Market which was subsequently replaced by an electric car system with four rails. The rest is more familiar history – BART, MUNI, et al.

If nothing else, it is remarkable that Market Street has had rail transit on its surface longer than any other main street in the United States. It certainly makes me proud.

Learn more from the SF Gate article that tipped me off.

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Giant Toothed Sperm Whale

Artist's impression of Leviathan melvillei preying on a baleen whale. C. Letenneur (MNHN)

Nature recently published findings from the 2008 fossil discovery of an extinct sperm whale named after Moby Dick. The prehistoric sperm whale, of which researchers discovered 75% of a skull dating to approximately 12-13 million years ago, has been given the taxonomic name of Leviathan melvillei.

Estimated to have grown anywhere from 13.5 to 17.5 meters (44.3 to 57.4 feet), L. melvillei was not larger than modern-day sperm whales.  What was remarkable about these whales were the size of their teeth. The largest teeth on theses whales were more than 36 centimeters (14.2inches) long!! That is nearly 10 centimeters longer than the largest recorded sperm whale tooth.

Unlike sperm whales which use suction to catch deep sea squid, it is suggested that this Leviathan fed more like a killer whale tearing off flesh from (no not penguins and fish, but infact) mid-sized baleen whales.

Besides the remarkable teeth on these ancient sperm whales, the discovery is leading scientists to question the original function of sperm whales’ characteristically large foreheads which house a ‘spermaceti organ.’ It has long been assumed that these organs, which are filled with reserviors of oil and wax, aid the sperm whale in its deep dives for food. The Leviathan, however, would not likely have needed to dive suggesting a different reason for the evolution of spermaceti organs. Maybe the foreheads were used for echolocation, acoustic display or ramming rivals competing for mates.

From such fossil records, it is becoming apparent that modern day cetaceans (large marine mammals) only reflect a sliver of the previous diversity found among marine mammals. Scientists have postulated that the Leviathan may have gone extinct due to climactic changes to the oceans reducing their food source. Top predators are often the first species in an ecosystem to disappear. We are seeing the same trend with sharks today, compounded by continued human hunting and killing. Hopefully, we can learn a lesson from Moby’s prehistoric cousin.

View the full scholarly journal here.

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In Remembrance of Forgetfulness

Michael Pollan - The Botany of Desire

Admittedly, it is unhelpful and inaccurate to say that any plant “wants” something or has any kind of cognitive desire; however, we can speak of the genetic benefit for many domesticated plants due to their intimate and mutualistic relationship with humans. A good friend of mine emailed me a link to Michael Pollan’s lecture and panel commentary from “Cannabis, Forgetting and the Botany of Desire” as presented at UC Berkeley.  What follows is a synopsis and sparse analysis of his talk.

It is easy enough to guess why humans (and  other animals) ingest plants that affect our consciousnesses.  Andrew Weil described humans’ desire to change their consciousness as the fourth human drive after water, food and sex. [1]  For many centuries and through almost all cultures, different plants have been consistently chosen to aid in the process of consciousness altering. In addition to their mind-altering effects, we’ve also learned that many “drugs plants” act as energy stimulants, pain relievers, and antidepressants for existential pain and boredom.

Pollan poses an important question: “What’s the use of these drug plants in evolutionary terms?” Drawing from Steven Pinker, a brain scientist, he proposes that our large brains may have combined two important adaptive traits: 1) the release of chemicals (e.g., endorphins) when we have done something “heroic or useful” and 2) the ability to solve complex problems. In this manner, our brains have problem solved how to easily obtain the satisfaction of conscious-altering chemicals by ingesting everything from the gentle (for some of us) stimulant of caffeine [2] to the potent spiritual sublimation of, say, DMT.

Pollan places his attention on Cannabis.  “Why did this plant make THC in the first place?” he asks.  His answer is that the plant does not want you to get hight but evolved THC for some other, unknown, reason. Possibly, it evolved to deter insects, block UV radiation, or, he muses, to interrupt the memory of predators that consume it so that they can’t find their way back to the plant afterwards.  (A long shot theory? Yup, and Pollan recognizes the lack of science behind his somewhat flippant theory.)

First domesticated around 15,000 years ago in China, Cannabis was one of the earliest plants domesticated.  Initially used for its fiber as hemp, the medicinal and cognitive effects were also discovered early. The plant then began it’s two fold co-evolutionary path with humans, one strain used for its fiber, the other for medicine.  Regardless of why THC was first developed by the Cannabis plant, genetically speaking, the plant took advantage of how this chemical affected the human brain.  We changed the plant by selecting for better fibers and a more potent drug, but it changed us, both individually and culturally, by providing pain relief or an altered mind-state.

At this point in his talk, Pollan side-tracks to indulge in some more abstract musing on the interplay between weed and homo sapiens. “Besides being mental tools, plant drugs work on us at this higher level, at a cultural level.” With several pop-culture references and a nod to David Lenson’s On Drugs, Pollan suggests that THC is to be thanked for the mid-20th century explosion of improvisational music in the US. He flirts with the idea that much of modern art and music would not have been produced were it not for the “naturalistic imagination” provided by THC. Pollan claims, however, that the true marvel of THC has come in “studying, not smoking it.”  He cites Raphael Mechoulam‘s discovery of anandamide (an endogenous cannabinoid named from Sanskrit for “inner bliss”) [3] and Allyn Howlett’s discovery of the cannabinoid receptors on the brain and elsewhere. [4] He briefly touches on the now commonly known phenomenon of chocolate extending the effects of anandamide.

This leads one to wonder why we even have a system of cannabinoid receptors. Pollan asks the experts mentioned above. Howlett says that these brain drugs are ideal for medicating the human condition of childbirth and physical toil. Mechoulam posits that the chemicals are involved in producing emotional experience. We now know that cannabinoids such as anandamide work similar to THC affecting short-term memory, pain, emotion and appetite, but the ones that our bodies produce are short-acting neurotransmiters. [5] They provide us quick drips of relief often in the form of forgetting. Pollan’s lecture, although meandering, finally focuses on this potent ability of THC and similar naturally-occurring chemicals in our brain to strip our consciousness to its most immediate and present surroundings, forgetting not just past memories and future anxieties but distant affairs and overwhelmingly close stimulus.

Why would our brains evolve a drug that promotes short-term memory loss? Isn’t that maladaptive?  Not necessarily. Forgetting can be as important a mental operation as remembering when your mind has too much information to process or can not cope with a traumatic experience.  He suggests that the difficulty we have with remembering the experience of pain may be due to these drugs.

In trying to answer this questions, Pollan admits that the literature is scarce on forgetting while brimming with memory. Two texts that he does reference are publications by psychologist. The Mind of the Mnemonist, written by A.R. Luria, a Russian psychologist, explores the life and subsequent trauma of a man who could remember via visualization an indefinite string of words or symbols.  With time, his lack of forgetting became debilitating as he could not forget what was not important in order to follow a story or argument, nor could he lose images in his head be them disturbing or pleasing.  This implies to Pollan that abstracting or distilling information depends upon forgetting.

Friedrich Nietzsche also wrote on forgetting. Pollan quotes  Nietzsche that those who can act are those who “forget most things, so as to do one thing.” In order for us to focus our mental faculties we must ignore and, in this neuro-chemical sense, forget the vast majority of what surrounds us. I would be remiss not to quote this pivotal part of Pollan’s lecture:

I mean, forgetting is not just about the past, it’s an important thing to remember. To be here now depends on forgetting a great deal of sensory information in the near present, and even forgetting the future, too— worries, anticipations, intentions, all these things can be forgotten also. So what I’m suggesting is that anandamide is crucial to this operation, to editing out all of the near-term memories, so that you can attend to what is before you.

Andrew Weil  in The Natural Mind also discussed this “disturbance of immediate memory” that “seems to be a common feature of all altered states of consciousness in which attention is focused on the present.”  Examples abound in various schools of philosophy and religion where, Pollan states, “this experience of the present becomes our door onto eternity.”

Plants powerful enough to revise our thoughts and perception of reality force us to realize and reaffirm our connection to the natural world and provide transendence “rooted deeply in the earth with the plants and fungi.” Pollan closes by reminding us that consciousness altering with these drugs pulls our upward gaze back to earth where we can feel the sublime immediacy of our profoundly complex world.

Like always, after reading Pollan, I was struck by the cultural and historical breadth of his argument and, although some of his ideas are far fetched, I find myself wanting to believe them even if only to keep this omnivore optimistic.

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[1]Ingesting mind-altering plants and chemical is not the only mechanism by which humans change how they experience the world around them.  In Weil’s book The Natural Mind , he reminds us that children and ascetic adults change their consciousness by becoming dizzy, thrill-seeking, meditation, exercise and fasting.

[2] Pollan argues that animals often gave early humans clues as to what plants might act as short cuts to providing the much desired chemical release.  Coffee was discovered by Abyssinian herders observing the feeding behavior of their goats.

[3] One of Mechoulam’s students discovered 2AG another endocannabinoid like anandamide.  These chemicals act like short-acting THC.

[4] The uterus to name just one other organ.

[5] There is now research showing that THC can act as an anti-inflammatory and neuro-protectant in addition to its well known side effect of increasing one’s appetite.

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Soil for my Seeds

Good day, everyone. I am quite excited at the inception of my first virtual diary. This blog is intended to celebrate my recent and gradual submersion into a variety of active and thoughtful communities here in San Francisco (particularly those concerned with education, access to housing/food, environmental and civil rights). Although I have lived in this city for three years, it is in the last eight months, after having left and returned to these windy dunes from MN, that I have found myself finally rooted to a locality and demographic where I feel both inspired and provoked. Without knowing that I was searching, I have found the soil for my seeds.

I intend for this blog to act as a personal diary to chronicle mine and others’ involvement in community activism, a media outlet for events and organization that I support, and a laboratory for my harebrained ideas.

The name for this blog derives not from my voracious appetite for food (my friends may beg to differ) nor any personal interest in charity (on this point, they may agree). But as any good logophile would, I entreat my readers to appreciate this blog’s “omnivorous philanthropist” in the strict sense of the original Latin and Greek. Simply put, this is a blog about an all-devouring and humanity-loving boy (and his exploits). Prometheus gave me fire to build and Pandora gave me hope to persevere. I am guided by a profound belief that all life (including humanity) is a beautiful miracle and must be protected, even if at times aggressively.

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