Black Hole Escape

A couple of weeks ago I finally saw the movie "The Theory of Everything". Seeing it with my mother gave it an extra dimension, since she worked with people almost unable to move at all and also helped researchers at KTH develop synthetic speech, similar to that Stephen Hawking has been using.

Already during his work on his PhD thesis Hawking became interested in black holes and their role in the creation of the universe. That's why his words on depression and the black hole metaphor we are all familiar with seems so beautiful and true to me:
“The message of this lecture is that black holes ain't as black as they are painted. They are not the eternal prisons they were once thought.
Things can get out of a black hole both on the outside and possibly to another universe. So if you feel you are in a black hole, don't give up – there's a way out.”
From my blog post Somewhere Out There from Christmas 2014

Maybe it is also the case that depression has a role in creating life as we know it.
"It's also important not to become angry, no matter how difficult life may seem because you can lose all hope if you can't laugh at yourself and life in general." From The Daily Mail


Tree of Life

It's no wonder trees have a prominent place in human myths, especially the tree of life. In the Norse mythology, the tree is called Yggdrasil, and is an enormous ash with big roots drinking water from three wells.
From Amsterdam 2016
In 1872, Charles Darwin used the expression Tree of Life as a metaphor for the phylogenetic tree of common descent in the evolutionary sense. Since then, the tree has been drawn in various ways and is still being revised, now based on genetics. The modern tree does not speak of kingdoms but of supergroups who's names you've never heard of: Opisthokonts, Excavates, Amoebozoa, SAR (Stramenopiles, Alveolates and Rhizaria), and Archaeplastids. Guess which one you belong to!

There are several open source initiative targeting species taxonomy issues. For example, The Tree of Life Web Project is a collaborative effort of biologists and nature enthusiasts from around the world who provide information about biodiversity, the characteristics of different groups of organisms, and their evolutionary history.
From Mölnlycke Winter 2016
The Open Tree of Life is funded by the National Science Foundation. It aims to construct a comprehensive, dynamic and digitally-available tree of life by synthesizing published phylogenetic trees along with taxonomic data.

David Attenborough has partnered with BBC and the Wellcome Trust in an interactive version of the Tree of Life. Here you can find a video with him talking about Charles Darwin and the tree of life.
From Brännö 2016
In 2015, National Geographic put out a Tree of Life assignment in their Your Shot department. The task was "to photograph what the Tree of Life means to you, to your community, to your culture, to your world". The instructions were as follows:
  • "Become silent in order to listen. 
  • Slow down. 
  • Visit the same tree on different days, in different light, among various activities, and during different hours.
  • Get close, climb, sit below or on top, and move far away. 
  • Let your perspective change by moving yourself and not the zoom of your lens.
Remember: It's inevitable that something that has been around as long as trees will teach us. This assignment is about looking, becoming silent, listening, learning, and teaching. That which reflects us also reflects our world. Let your trees be a mirror for your world."

For me and my Mum, ashes are weeds and we kill them off as much as we can in our little wood at Ekkullen. However, big ones like the one at the cemetery nearby are beautiful. Their leafs are always late and they are the first to go in the fall. Makes you want to join the Dendrologists.
From Photo Competition 2015


The Meat Grinder

Long time ago (or at least before WWII) Amsterdam was often referred to as the ‘Jerusalem of the North.’ Some people call it the ‘Venice of the North’. I call it the Meat Grinder. This is what my late Father used to call the traffic model where you put cars, busses, trams, bikes and people on foot at the same level.
From Amsterdam 2016
For a tourist, the traffic situation in Amsterdam is lethal, or at least if feels like it. Bikes everywhere and stopping for nothing. Not people, not cars, not red lights. They don't use helmets. They put small children in boxes without belts on the bike. I even saw a man with a very small baby in a sling on his chest biking.

It comes as a complete surprise to me to learn that approximately 70% of primary schools offer a practical cycling examination when the pupilts are 11-12 years old. Traffic education lessons continue after the pupils transfer into secondary education. Either this is a completely new regulation, or massive amnesia sets in during puberty.

It's easy to believe that bikes have always dominated Amsterdam. Although it was very popular at the beginning of the 20th century, cars became more and more popular and the situation for bikes became very unsafe. The movement "Stop de Kindermoord" grew stronger and together with the oil crisis in the beginning of the 1970s, the local government started to plan more for bikes.
From Amsterdam 2016
Apparently, the number of people using bikes has more than doubled between 1990 and 2014. Currently, 60% of all journeys in Amsterdam historical city centre are by bike. 75% of Amsterdammers own a bike. Many even have two or more bikes: a city bicycle and/or a bike for recreation or a racer. Amsterdam is home to an estimated 880,000 bikes. Right now, the number of traffic incidents are going down but let's just see what the combination of electrical bikes and smartphone does to that statistics.

However, there are other reasons compare Amsterdam to a meat grinder, tearing flesh to pieces. One is the attitude to drugs, another the stance towards prostitution.

I've been to Amsterdam five times and find it wonderful. I love walking along the canals and over the bridges, watching the beautiful houses, shopping at the street markets, basking in the sun in the parks, peering into the art galleries and antiques shops, and gaping at the wonders in the museums. It's strange how you can both love and loathe something at the same time. Or someone for that matter.


Cat People

When I was in London 2013, I visited the David Bowie exhibition at the Victoria&Albert Museum. It was truly fascinating even for a person like me who is only a small Bowie fan. Seeing all the clothes, stuff and images brought back memories from the film "Cat People". I saw it together with my older sister and her friends, and I remember that I felt a bit uneasy since I hadn't that much experience of erotic thrillers. I liked the theme song though, Putting out Fire by David Bowie.
From Caucasus 2015
I'm so very fortunate in having many cuddly cats nearby but not in my apartment. I love cats, but I'm allergic to them so I can't have them around me all the time. That's why it's purrfect to have friends like the big and bold grey Pelle, the friendly Ragdoll Orion and the playful Tortoiseshell Elsa to pet now and then.

There are quite a few sayings involving cats:
  • Let the cat out of the bag
  • What the cat dragged in
  • Playing cat and mouse
  • Many ways to skin a cat
  • Raining cats and dogs
  • Cat got your tongue?
  • Way the cat jumps
  • Cat on a hot roof
When I met researcher Elin Hirsch she told me that research involving cats is not that common, since cats are not considered especially valuable or esteemed animals (at least in the world of research). That was some years ago, and I think the status has somewhat changed since then. For example, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences has a special Facebook page on Cat Research. Currently they are working on a project together with Lund University called Melody in Human-Cat Communication (MEOWSIC) and I do love their logo!
The project is aiming at understanding how cats and humans use melody and other prosodic features when they communicate with each other. They have compiled a list of various cat sounds, with video examples. National Geographic has also made a short video summarising the project. I wonder if the research on cat robots used in the care of people suffering from dementia is taking this into consideration.

Cuddling real cats can pose a danger, since they spread the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. If you get it, you can become more outgoing, risk taking, impulsive and irresponsive (no, I don't think I have it). Strangely enough, this is sometimes called the Crazy Cat Lady Syndrome