The Egg

“All the armies that have marched the earth, and quenched its soil with their blood. These boys of our passing days, and all their comrades in arms who are dust. The hordes of Genghis Kahn, the legions of Assisi, the bowmen of Assyria, all the children of today, and of unnumbered yesterdays. All the poets, all the tyrants, all the philosophers, and all the fools. All of mankind who have lived and labored on this planet since the beginning, all have come from this microscopic egg, many many times smaller than a mustard seed.” –In the Beginning, 1937 (USDA Extension Service, Division of Motion Pictures)

Robin's Egg in Moss

A robin had its birthday somewhere above our garden, leaving behind this trace.

I found this robin’s egg nestled alongside a maple seed, each playing their role in an unbroken chain stretching back billions of years. It reminded me of In the Beginning (1937) which is preserved in the excellent Prelinger Archives. Don’t watch the linked movie unless you can stomach a bit of leporine vivisection.

While science has understood the mechanics of life in broad strokes for centuries, we are still grappling with the implications. Of all the different forms that life has given rise to on this planet, should we be so surprised that human technology is among them? Next to the intricate beauty of a seed or an egg, our tools are crude and simple beings.

True Leaves

True Leaves

One of the most interesting things I’ve learned in starting a garden is the phenomenon of “true leaves.” Many plants start out with two leaflets that correspond to the two halves of their embryo. These are generally simple and rounded in appearance, and serve to get the baby plant going. As it continues to grow, the next set of leaves to emerge are the true leaves, which look like tiny versions of the mature plant. In the case of baby lettuce, they are also extremely cute. Continue reading

Tracks in the Snow

Wandering around the hillside these days, I’ve seen quite a few animal tracks in the snow. I like the way the rabbits repeated a path until it became a trail, connecting the clear ground by the house to their various destinations in the garden. Time for some camera traps!

A rabbit road and intersection

A rabbit road and intersection

My own tracks trace a winding path.

My own tracks trace a winding path.

And of course, the snow blower leaves its own sort of tracks.

Snow Blower Video

 

3 Reasons I Love Maple Trees

A arborist came over before the snows fell to trim the maple trees on our property. He didn’t bat an eye when I asked him not to chip the branches, saving himself gas and providing me with Patrick Dougherty quantities of building materials and fuel.

Continue reading

The Networked Mind

Several years ago, when blogs were young and the “blogosphere” was just beginning to get crowded, I came up with a neologism to describe it, the “clogosphere.” And what was the first thing I did with this burst of creativity? Turn to Google of course, to see if I was truly original. Unsurprisingly (in retrospect), there were already ten results for my clever new term. I cursed to myself, and began declaring to anyone who would listen that “If you think you’ve had an original thought, just google it and be humbled.”

from Cat and Girl by Dorothy Gambrell

So, you can imagine my surprise when I was reading one of my favorite web comics and they made the very same point about Google deflating your sense of creativity. My insight into creativity was applicable to itself in a very “meta” sort of way.

This is certainly “a condition of modern life,” but as a historian of technology I know how often the simultaneous emergence of an idea or invention has cropped up in the past. If you live in the United States you were taught that Thomas Edison invented the electric light, but at least half a dozen other people around the world are held in similar regard, including Joseph Swan in England and James Lindsay in Scotland. Continue reading

Life on Mars

There’s something about a nuclear-powered alien that falls from the sky, looks around with its dozen or so electric eyes, and then begins blasting things with a laser that makes me smile. But then, I’m not a Martian.

first color panorama from mars

View of Mars from our Bot on the Spot

The Times described NASA’s latest exploit as “a triumph of scientific technology,” and it is certainly a triumph. But technology is not so much scientific as science is technological. Science relies on instruments, such as Galileo’s telescopes and the latest NASA probe, to extend human senses far beyond what biology has provided us with. Continue reading

Living Technology

Technology and humanity go way back. Technology was there at our dawn, in sharp rocks and bone needles, in cave paintings and figurative sculpture. It’s an old trope that technology is what makes us human, that tools and language are what first set us apart from other animals. Now, however, as technology is beginning to reach human developmental milestones, such as tracking faces and recognizing speech, a growing number of people think that technology is alive. While I’m one of them, I think the idea of technology as a life form is just the beginning of the story. Beyond the superficial similarities between technology and life, there lies a deeper truth about technology and information. This truth goes straight to the heart of our future on this planet and our evolving relationship with technology. This is an old relationship indeed, so let’s begin with an old myth about technology. Continue reading