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From Dinosaurs to Data Networks: Texas and the Arctic in the Anthropocene

“Report from the Top of the World!”

The flier caught my attention immediately. The U.S. Embassy in Oslo and the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Washington, DC wanted to send graduate journalism students to the Norwegian Arctic as part of a new internship program.

I applied because I wanted to gain a global perspective on my research and reporting. Less than a year later, I found myself standing on an empty beach near Bugøynes on the northern coast of Norway, silent except for the call of a distant bird and the lapping of cold water against the shore. Towering overhead were the sharp black rocks and dark islands of the fjords, silhouetted by midnight sun that glowed a soft, radiant white behind a sheet of fog…

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RUN Author Wins SPJ Mark of Excellence

Jaycen was awarded the Society of Professional Journalists Region 8 Mark of Excellence Non-Fiction Magazine Article category, announced Mar. 30. Her article “Mr. Universe. Lonely Hearts and Einstein in Love: The Personal Side of Science” is a feature-length profile of former New York Times science editor and now self-dubbed “cosmic correspondent” Dennis Overbye.

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“You can’t breathe in air with 7,000 micrograms of sulfur dioxide.”

[Image: The nickel smelting plant in Nikel, Russia located just over the Norwegian border produces pollution that has been a problem for northern Norwegians for decades and is nearly six times the amount of pollution produced in all of Norway. Photo by Amelia Jaycen.]

Russia’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology on Tuesday told representatives of “MMC” Norilsk Nickel of the planned decommissioning some of Nikel plant rundown facilities by 2016 and reorganization of metallurgical production at the Monchegorsk plant, which must be upgraded and modernized, the ministry said in a press release yesterday. Monchegorsk is owned by the same company and located some two-hour drive south of Murmansk on the Kola Peninsula.

The program involves modernization and renovation of all stages of processing and consolidation of smelting and refining capacity to a more modern venue including technological upgrading and expansion of refinery at Monchegorsk during 2016-2017. Capital investments in the program total more than 50 billion rubles, the release says.

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Marvin Minsky, computing pioneer, cognitive scientist, and a founding father of artificial intelligence known for his relentless ambition and forward thinking, died in late January of this year at age 88, leaving a legacy.

Minsky lived his life on the cutting edge of computer technology, trailblazing the path to discovery and embracing humor in his quest to elucidate the mysteries of the human brain in order to make better machines.

He worked alongside collaborators who were also revolutionizing their fields…

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Augmenting NASA’s Mars Simulation for the Health of Astronauts

Eight-thousand, two-hundred feet above sea level on the northern slope of Mauna Loa in a place surrounded by the barren, lava-rock landscape of an abandoned quarry, six scientists are living in isolation for 365 days in a roughly 1,000 sq. ft. dome.

That’s tight quarters. That’s a year stuck in a space not much larger than a racquetball court.

The domed habitat is called HI-SEAS, the Hawai’I Space Exploration Analog and Simulation…

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Coding: The Creative Medium of Our Time

Ira Greenberg treats himself like a computer. His is the art + science of using coding as a paintbrush and exploring the iterative process of creation. Working generatively, Ira creates art using code and algorithms that are art themselves. The self-dubbed “coding evangelist” believes that coding is the creative mode of our time.

While he has two degrees in painting Greenberg decided he wanted to start working with software for art-making. But he found the shrink-wrapped variety wouldn’t do, and he decided to teach himself coding so he could work creatively at the level of math and algorithms. Now, he’s spent 25 years working to figure out the physical disconnect of the computational medium versus painting.

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Art + Science. Cool! But what is it?

The intersection of art + science is not a place to which a map can be drawn. Its practitioners won’t give you a neat definition of the field or summarize the nut graph of its literature.

They will tell you that it’s not about answering the question, “What is art + science?” It’s about asking it. And then immersing yourself in the virtual space of discovery that follows. Taking notes on the journey between the asking and the answering. It’s also about learning to ask really good questions…

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The Most Pressing Problem in VR

If you’re following VR, you’re probably hearing a lot about presence. But what is it?

The definition is elusive. Presence in virtual environments has been described, measured, and theorized in all kinds of ways. Whether they have dedicated decades of their lives to the subject or they are part of today’s new generation with a fresh take on VR, researchers are still struggling to come up with a unified conception of presence.

As a huge new wave of presence-inducing technologies hits the market this year, for the first time many people will experience presence and broken presence in virtual environments, so understanding what works and doesn’t is important.

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A Delicate Dance between East and West

This BBC report live from Kirkenes in the High North of Norway talks about Russia-NATO relations, hundreds of refugees on bicycle entering Norway, the firing of an editor reporting on cross-border relations, and points to an uncertain but hopeful future for Arctic border life in a place called a test of east-west relations.

BBC Assignment on Kirkenes

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The History Behind Texas Coal Power

ANDERSON — Straddling a dammed-up creek 20 miles east of College Station squats the Gibbons Creek Steam Electric Station, a massive coal-fired power plant supplying the city-owned utilities of Denton, Bryan, Garland and Greenville.

In the plant, a boiler is suspended from a steel beam like a glowing bee’s nest hanging from a giant tree limb. A conveyor feeds the boiler finely ground coal, fueling a fireball hotter than flowing lava. . . The control room on top of the plant is aglow with computer screens where workers in overalls press buttons to control feeders, fans and flow rates, and monitor the behavior of the fireball inside the boiler. Good behavior is determined by how much and what form of sulfur, carbon, mercury, nitrogen, particulates and other contaminates the burning coal produces.

“All this is just a giant chemistry experiment,” said Jan Horbaczewski. 

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Embodied Information Behavior, Mixed Reality, and Big Data

Professor Ruth West, together with two students and a University of Tasmania collaborator, published in the proceedings of the SPIE, The Engineering Reality of Virtual Reality 2015. West presented the paper to an enthusiastic audience at the conference held in San Francisco Feb. 8-12, 2015, followed by a lively question-and-answer session.

The paper “Embodied Information Behavior, Mixed Reality and Big Data” is a snapshot of the current renaissance in virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality technology and the promissory contexts in which those systems are developed.

Written with two xREZ Art + Science Lab students – psychology senior Max Parola and journalism graduate student Amelia Jaycen – the study outlines the process of innovation as it unfolds in developers’ laboratories and the consumer marketplace, where a narrative about a hybrid physical-digital future affects how the Internet of Things will become a part of our human lives.

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Landfill Gas and Biogas Symposium

The Landfill Gas and Biogas Symposium March 16-19, 2015 in New Orleans will give biomass managers a chance to assess their system and look for ways to increase efficiency using successful case studies. “At a DTE Biomass Energy site consisting of (2) CAT 3520 engines, a series of incremental improvements cascaded on each other, leading to a drop in plant operating costs of over 35% from 2010 to 2013 and a plant on-stream rate improvement from 93.2% to 96.6%. What appear to be common sense applications of problem solving proved themselves to be game changers…”

Find out more about the event–>

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Not a lot of thanks-giving after OPEC’s Nov. 27 meeting

End-of-year Company Update

Dec. 2, 2014 — The world’s largest publicly traded energy company is weathering the storm of falling oil prices with a show of healthy profits, but the oil giant may not be exempt from facing further price drops that could mean curbing investments in 2015.

Over the course of 2014 ExxonMobil led explosive growth in production in a booming energy market, a market which today suffers from a glut of supply that has continued to push the price of oil down since June — to $70 a barrel Friday for a four-year low.

The company’s stock dropped a whopping 4% on Friday after OPEC did not to agree to reduce oil production, pushing down oil prices in order to push out unwanted competition — a move analysts are calling “commodity gamesmanship” aimed at targeting U.S. shale producers.

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East-West Meets Far North

I lived in Kirkenes, Norway for five weeks this summer, and I could not put into words what it mean or how it felt. Thanks to Bittner’s op-ed, I can share with you a little about why it shook me, why I’m in love with some far-away thing, why I was scared and elated, at the top of the world and the depths of me, why I couldn’t sleep, why I did some of the best reporting and deepest loving of my life there. Why I’ll never be the same, why no one can quite “get” that.

I’ll keep trying to tell it when i’m a better reporter. But for now, see the New York Times editorial on my home away from home…

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On Writing: Art of Darkness

This incredible, short piece by Pico Iyer captures some of the heavy psychological burdens of creativity. Indeed, many of my literary colleagues talk about the writer’s “pain cave,” while a theme in my young writer’s life sang of a “curse of consciousness.” Neither is a very far cry from Pico’s “Art of Darkness”:

“To what extent is the price of immortality humanity, as you could put it? Must the revolutionary artist ignore — even flout — the basic laws of decency that govern our world in order to transform that world? “Perfection of the life, or of the work,” as Yeats had it. “And if it take the second,” he went on, the intellect of man “must refuse a heavenly mansion, raging in the dark.” It was an ancient question even then..”

Continue Reading Pico Iyer’s “Art of Darkness” at The New York Times–>

Iyer’s forthcoming Art of Stillness book will be the second on the TED Books imprint, a collaboration between TED conferences and Simon & Schuster.

Read more about Iyer/TED Books–>

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IPCC Climate Change Report makes a strong case for change

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Nov. 2 issued its Synthesis Report – a combination three IPCC Working Group reports, which IPCC says are “the most comprehensive assessment of climate change ever undertaken.”

The report is the joint effort of 800 lead authors, almost 1,000 more supporting authors and a combination of 30,000 scientific papers. The report “distills and integrates the findings” and provides information critically important for policymakers, IPCC says.

But David Malakoff poses the pertinent question in his article in Science magazine: “whether the new IPCC report can help overcome the political and economic obstacles that have blocked major movement of reducing emissions.”

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UNT library opens creative “Factory” with 3-D printing, scanning, robotics, Google Glass

“The Factory has eight printers for standard printing needs and a large format printer; a Raspberry Pi, a computer no larger than a credit card that plugs into a television and keyboard and can be used for spreadsheets, word processing, gaming and playing high-definition video; Arduino, a tool used to create computers that take input from a variety of switches or sensors and control lights, motors and other physical outputs; cameras and photographic equipment; and Google Glass, an optical device that can be used to record videos and photographs from a first person perspective…”

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Vexed by Earthquakes, Texas Calls in a Scientist

[Image: David Craig Pearson, the Texas Railroad Commission’s new seismologist, is giving serious attention to the state’s earthquakes. Friday, Sept. 26, 2014, in Austin. Credit: Marie D. De Jesus / Houston Chronicle]

“Surely the seismologist – this man of science, highly educated and blessed with good ol’ boy roots in West Texas – must know what he’s getting himself into. The Texas oil boom is the envy of the nation, a source of strength in uncertain geopolitical times. Smart people are moving in from the coasts. Investors are getting rich. Even a high school dropout can make decent money behind the wheel of a truck. Life is good…”

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James Geurts’ Work at Zhulong Isn’t Merely Large in Scale, It’s Global

[Image: Amelia Jaycen]

At first glance, the work of James Geurts may not be what you expect to see at Zhulong Gallery. The relatively new exhibition space calls itself “the new light on Dragon street.” It differentiates itself from most of the other galleries by outwardly embracing new media, and work that interacts with contemporary technology. Saturday’s launch of Re-Surveying: Measuring Site utilized landscape art, photography, and public works.

Geurts is based in both Melbourne and London. Geurts’ vision is related to the shape of the earth itself, while he also ties in complexities of the human understanding of time and space. His presence in Dallas offers a different perspective on new media than the one to which we’ve been accustomed.

Geurts resuscitates anachronistic technologies that seem a far cry from new media–until you take another look.

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Inside)(Outside: A guide to Dallas performance art for the uninitiated

[Image: Andi Harman]

A woman is lying on the floor of an 8th St loft space in Oak Cliff like a sacrifice, seemingly possessed. Streams of thick white light shine from a lamp straight down into her open throat and then refract out the other end in strings of color. Her eyelids are still, wrists limp against the floor. Her knees are bent, spread just enough to allow a rainbow to escape from between her legs and spiderweb into the room. Not touching her is impossible—the room can barely be entered without climbing over or under the colored strings attached to the walls. Curious figures tip-toe by this quiet sensuality, some trying not to touch anything, others unaffected by the fact that the strings are literally connected to her most private region. Once, at another show, a guy tried to pull the copper piece tied to the strings from inside her as she performed. She wasn’t sure if it was ultimate art or ultimate trauma. Her boyfriend was furious.

“People get very offended with being confronted with nudity, with the human body. They don’t like being exposed to it or forced to confront it. They consider it exhibitionism,” Houston artist Julia Claire says. “For me it’s a way of dealing with relationships with people; with having to be close to them.”

Claire’s installation in the upstairs Spotplus gallery was the climax of a night of performance art, and like many of the other acts, hers left a bunch of curious onlookers trying to figure out what they were “supposed” to feel.

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Quantum Diaries blogs narrative physics

[Image from Quantum Diaries: A french birthday party and update on the Higgs boson, sterile neutrinos, and a physicist and a historian walking into a coffee shop are all good finds in the pages of Quantum Diaries.]

Quantum Diaries, don’t judge too quickly – there’s real substance to this site: “This project is not just about physics; it’s about being a physicist.” The site is a conglomeration, a revolving panel of about 100 bloggers writing narrative diaries about their “families, hobbies and interests, as well as their latest research findings and challenges that face them in their labs.”

It’s hard not to find something of interest from a global network of particle physicists writing topics from “the Higgs versus Descartes” to “the fifth dimension that Einstein missed.”

Supported by InterAction, a promoter of cross-border particle-physics cooperation, the blog site is “not just about physics; it’s about being a physicist.”

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Masters of the Universe and other characters from the heart of Texas in July

MaybornMagCover

In blistering Texas summer heat, the Mayborn Tribe gathers each summer in north Texas to talk about the craft, learn from each other and soak up the spirit of nonfiction writing.

This year’s event was centered around Narratives on the Cutting Edge, Writing about Science, Technology, Medicine and Innovation. Last year’s event dealt with digging into the past to bring historical narratives to life.
Both were rich themes with space to explore, share insight and dig into the down-and-dirty of nonfiction. In the middle of three days of mayhem, there’s a suit-and-tie (or boots and jeans, depending on how Texan you are) Literary Lights Dinner and Mayborn awards program, just a few ticks from rivaling the Pulitzers.

The Mayborn contest has categories in newspaper, essay, manuscript, and
reported narrative, hand-crafted trophies, $12,000 in cash prizes, competitors from nearly every major American newspaper and winners from as far away as New Zealand. This year’s Literary Lights included a live auction of signed first-editions of Larry McMurtry’s books and an online auction of tens of other signed first-editions of Mayborn speakers-past as a celebration of the tenth anniversary 2014 Mayborn Litearary Nonfiction Conference. Continue reading

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Permafrost thaw cracks urban infrastructure, students dig in

[Image: Google satellite image of the city of Norilsk, Russia.]

Students from Russia, U.S., Norway, Germany, Italy, China and U.K. arrived this week in Norilsk, Russia where they will spend two weeks in a field school to assess the effects of permafrost thaw on Russian urban infrastructure.

The student researchers will conduct permafrost research in the field as well as meet with representatives of the Norilsk-Nickel mining company and of local production plants and geological, planning, social and migration services to form a science-based dialogue about problems and solutions.

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