Twitter is quicker (but thinner)

If you look at my blog posts over the last few months you might notice they’ve been becoming a less frequent. It can take time to write a post, and time has been hard to come by recently. I don’t expect time to be any more readily available in the near future, so from now on I’ll be posting my latest observations and thoughts on Twitter. Twitter, you see, is quicker. But it’s also thinner, and so from time-to-time I’ll be back here on my blog to get deeper into certain ideas and issues (or if I simply need more than 140 characters). If you don’t like Twitter and don’t want to follow me, my two latest tweets will always be at the top of this blog.

Now, I know a blog post about tweeting that complains about insufficient time to post blogs might seem absurd, but hopefully in the longer term the tweets and the blogs will prove an economic way to separate my more wheaty thoughts and observations from the chaffier ones…

Follow me on Twitter


I’ve just discovered Apture – it looks like a pretty cool tool for integrating media into websites and blogs like this one. I’ve just installed it and will be experimenting to see how well it works. When you see an icon like this or this , the link it accompanies should open some related content in an interactive Apture window (which you can reposition or enlarge as you please). Here’s an example:

The Guinness Premiership 2009 try of the season was scored at the Memorial Ground in Bristol by David Lemi.

A Potted Guide to Washington DC

Last weekend I took a trip to Washington DC to meet up with an old friend as he passed through the East Coast (and, I might add, a newer friend who now lives there). Being Brits, two of us did all the quintessential tourist stuff that one does – wandered past the official residence of the leader of the free world, took an elevator to the top of the world’s tallest stone structure, reminded ourselves that freedom isn’t free and paid our respects to fallen soldiers, got spaced out (awesome flight simulators) at the World’s largest museum complex, debated the Wall Street Bail Out on the hill, saw some pretty pictures, and drank several of world’s best beers*.

However, despite all that (and all that was very good fun) one of the things that really took my attention was the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum at the National Arboretum. Whilst vaguely aware of Bonsai I don’t think I had ever actually seen a Bonsai tree (or ‘forest’ for that matter) outside of a book. I think I assumed they were just small trees in pots, like potted plants. I certainly have never really appreciated them until now.

Bonsai is the art of cultivating miniature trees through shaping, watering, and repotting. The goal is to produce a tree that is aesthetically pleasing and realises the the principle of ‘heaven and earth in one container’. To some, all the wiring that is required and the stunting of growth may seem un-natural (or even cruel), but the results (when done right, of course) are miniature forms of arboreal beauty, expressing how the past, the present, humanity, the elements, and change itself, are all fundamentally intertwined. Bonsai are not deformed caricatures – if they were we would be unable to associate them with the nature they reflect and as a consequence they would be infinitely less beautiful or intriguing.

If I have have encountered Bonsai infrequently before, I’m sure I have never been aware of the Chinese precursor, <a href="; class=”regular” target=”_blank”>Penjing. Penjing is not limited to the miniaturisation of trees but extends to the culture of idealised landscapes and scenery. Whereas Bonsai is an expression of Zen Buddhism, Penjing is philosophically influenced by Taoism and the concept of a universe containing inherently opposite but complementary forces (Yin and Yang). Penjing may juxtapose organic with mineral (for example using the root-over-rock style of tree culture) or include characters and figures to highlight contrasts in scale.

Initially, I saw Bonsai as idealisations of the untamed, full-size trees they share their genes with. And Penjing seemed to be an attempt to recreate reality on a reduced scale. But I was thinking about them as if they were models – abstract, intentionally objective, representations of reality like the ones we scientists often like to use to better understand the material world. But the more one considers them, observing the trees and the forms produced, and the more one reads and thinks about the philosophies underlying them, the more apparent it is that they are artistic creations that reflect their philosophies. They take the laws of biology and manipulate them to meet our human aesthetic intuitions. There is no claim of objectivity – this is art.

So, there are certainly plenty of venerable museums, monuments, institutions, and buildings in Washington DC. As expected I got to see and appreciate many of them. But I didn’t expect to come away with a greater appreciation and interest in an ancient art form (other than brewing, of course).

*According to the labels on the bottles.

Website Update

Over the last week or so I’ve made a few changes to my website. The CV page has gone and a link to this blog (the one you’re reading right now) has been place in a more prominent position, right up there between Home and Research. I’ve also added a Headline Animator down in the lower left corner of each page that displays the latest blog posts I’ve made (and links to the blog). If you do want to see my CV I’ve provided links on the Home and Publications pages to download a .pdf version.

More substantially, I’ve change the Landscape Modelling section (which in turn is within the Research section) so that is is now organized by the locations I’ve studied: Spain and Michigan. There’s not so much on the Michigan pages as yet, but content will increase as progress is made on the project. If you want to read more, you can read my blog posts about the subject.

Columbia University Press Sale

Columbia University Press currently has a sale on. They have savings of up to 80% on more than 1,000 titles from several fields of study. I was particularly interested in their books in the Environmental Studies and Ecology section and purchased several:

Previously on this blog I reviewed another book they have on sale, Useless Arithmetic: Why Environmental Scientists Can’t Predict the Future by Orrin H. Pilkey and Linda Pilkey-Jarvis.

When I get round to reading this new batch I’ll review some of these also (at first glance the Wiens et al. book looks particularly useful for any Landscape Ecologist – student, teacher or researcher). You’ve got up until May 31st to order yours.

Bristol, UK. Whence I came.

Amazingly it’s just over a year since I arrived in Michigan and started my postdoc at MSU. Time flies when you’re having fun, eh? Well, the first few months didn’t fly so fast… but it’s been fairly well shooting by recently. That’s not to say I don’t miss home everynowandthen. Especially when I see videos like this about my hometown:
[From University of Bristol and DestinationBristol]

But I do remember Bristol – it’s not that sunny ALL the time. 😉

Earthquake hits Wolong

I’m totally behind on posting this: the earthquake that hit China earlier this week is in the region where CSIS does its research on Giant Pandas – the Wolong Panda Reserve. Two of my colleagues and friends, Wei Liu and Mao-Ning Tuan Mu, were in the region when the ‘quake hit. They, along with Yu “Chris” Li who is also in the area (in the city of Chengdu) survived and are well. They are currently helping out with the relief effort – inevitably their fieldwork has been put on hold.

The ‘To catch a panda’ website I highlighted previously will be updated as news is received. The CSIS HELP PANDA fund, set up to enable those interested in the understanding and preservation of giant panda habitat to help the area, has been expanded to allow people to help both earthquake victims and the area. Tax-deductable donations can be made on the site.

shift happens

I like this video. Less because of the message toward the end about the importance of ensuring western countries continue to train adaptable workforces in an increasingly flat world. More because of how it illustrates the speed and unpredictability of change. In hindsight it might seem obvious that this is how the world should end up – contingency matters in the real world after all. But in these contingent, historical, systems how do we generate a model for the future that we can trust with any useful degree of confidence?

sponsor a (s)mile

I’ve been watching Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman on their epic motorcycle adventure all the Long Way Down from John O’Groats in Scotland through Europe and Africa to Cape Town, South Africa. It’s like a 21st century lads version of Michael Palin’s jolly jaunts around the world and follows on from their last trip from London to New York the (wrong) Long Way Round. Another inspirational set of characters to give one itchy feet…

One of the charities they’re associated with and raising money for on their trip is UNICEF. On their way through Africa the boys visited places where UNICEF are working, like in Ethiopia where they are still clearing land mines from previous wars and educating local children and families about the dangers that remain.

You can support this work by sponsoring a mile of Ewan and Charlie’s route. All of the money raised supports the UNICEF Long Way Down Fund to help children affected by conflict, poverty and HIV/AIDS in Africa. For example, £1 will buy six sachets of peanut butter paste that is used to treat children with malnutrition. Checkout the map – I’ve sponsored mile 114.