How the humble S-bend made modern toilets possible – BBC News

via How the humble S-bend made modern toilets possible – BBC News

“”Gentility of speech is at an end,” thundered an editorial in London’s City Press, in 1858. “It stinks!””

“More than 170 years later, about two-thirds of the world’s people have access to what’s called “improved sanitation”, according to the World Health Organization, up from about a quarter in 1980.”

“Across various African countries, for example, it reckons inadequate sanitation lops one or two percentage points off gross domestic product (GDP), in India and Bangladesh over 6%, and in Cambodia 7%”

What the Disasters Say About Us

The Equifax disaster was somewhat inevitable considering the current state of software systems and network security around the world.  I have noted in the past that the moment one became a part of the Internet, you have basically given up your privacy.  You may ask then, what more is left to be said about what happened at Equifax, when the extremely private information of over 143 million people, more than forty percent of the population of the United States, was compromised by a single entity, all in one shot.

What astounds me is the response of the people, and of the folks who run our country, to what is going on.  Indeed, it is the lack of response that is amazing.  While there are a minority of people who seem to appreciate the seriousness of the matter, beyond the context how this one-time incident effects people, most others go about their lives simply hoping that the current problem does not affect them, when indeed this incident is only the tip of the iceberg and a symptom of greater disasters that can happen with the way our systems are structured and the way we live our lives.  In this particular case, also consider the additional cluelessness of the company involved.   They appear to have had no sense of the seriousness of the situation and value of the information that they were handling, and once disaster struck, they had no idea how to to handle the situation.  Indeed, as of today, they still have not demonstrated that they know what they are doing.

Perhaps I should not be surprised with what is happening.  The same kind of attitude seems to hold in the case of physical disasters.  Weather events like hurricanes seem to be getting more powerful over the years, yet we choose to ignore the science behind the phenomenon and refuse to acknowledge why this may be happening.  Indeed, we will even reduce the resources available to further understand and address the problem and very few will even care or protest.   It does not matter if the origins of our problems are physical or virtual, the same kind of attitudes and philosophies hold.

We think we are an advanced society because of our access to all kinds of technologies.  But that does not mean that we really know what we are doing.

“1945-1998” by Isao Hashimoto

This is an old one, and the video has been linked to by many people in the past. I am providing the link just in case you have missed it. There is  an eerie beauty to this piece of “art” even while it provides a different kind of testament to the manner in which humankind can put itself in danger by its actions.

via “1945-1998” by Isao Hashimoto

My apologies if you have seen this already.

These amazing little birds just broke the world record for nonstop flight

This is amazing stuff to me!  We have a tendency to believe that existence, perhaps even the Universe, is all about the human experience.  Really?!  Stories like this are reminders that amazing stuff happens close to home without our participation or interference.  In fact, I would argue that overall our participation in the grand scheme of things has actually been quite negative in its impact.

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Common swifts spend nearly a year on the wing and will travel the distance of seven round-trip journeys to the moon in their lifetimes.

Source: These amazing little birds just broke the world record for nonstop flight

The data revealed that common swifts — which make a 10-month journey from Northern Europe to Central Africa and back each year — spend 99.5 percent of their migration in the air. When they did touch down, on a tree branch or patch of ground, it was only for an hour or two. Then back into the air to continue their marathon journey.

“It’s absolutely minuscule, the time they actually spend resting,” Hedenström says.

Three of the birds never landed at all. Instead they spent their entire migration aloft, traveling more than 10,000 miles without rest. No other migratory bird — not even the tenacious frigate bird, which spends weeks on the wing during long ocean crossings — is known to spend so long in the sky.

The Passage of Time (10/5/2009)

Not sure if this fits into the weekly category, but since life is a quest for something or the other, I decided to post this old letter from 2009 with a few pictures I took at that time…

img_1612The leaf dropped out of the tree and was caught by the gentle Autumn breeze as it fell from the sky.   I swung my arm lazily as I ran by, as the leaf drifted across the trail.  Amazingly I made contact and the leaf ended up in my hand.  Alright!, I said to myself. At least that is what I thought I was doing.   But these days I am sometimes not sure if I am speaking to myself, or if I have said something out aloud without realizing it.  But it did not matter in this instance since I was all by myself.   I could behave like an happy two year old without having to worry about somebody looking at me in a strange way because I was not “acting my age”.
img_1602img_1652Perhaps, this is one reason I enjoy being out there on the trail.  I can scream out loud with a sense of wonder every time the heavy locomotives of the freight trains power past me.  I can even sing loudly to myself with only the flowers, the birds, and the occasional curious squirrel hanging around to hear the cacophony.  I can drop the burden of “expected” behavior and be myself.  I can take unplanned diversions from the trails into the unmarked woods if I want.  I can follow the butterfly or dragonfly as it flitters from flower to flower, hoping it settles down long enough at one location without flying away at my approach, so that I can take its picture.  (It does require a lot of patience!)  It is truly a healing process to get away from “civilization”.  Maybe I have a stupid smile on my face when I am out in the woods, and this why the few people I encounter seem to respond to me with a pleasant Good Morning.  Maybe they are all as crazy as I am.

The heat of summer is behind us and the cooler days of Autumn have arrived.  There are the cool and crisp Fall mornings – with the clear and bright blue skies, with the occasional fluffy wisps of clouds floating by – looking like light cotton balls that are being gently pulled apart by some unseen hand in the sky.  There are the cold and gloomy mornings, when the clammy feeling penetrates your jacket, and even your skin, when the heavens are filled with dark ominous clouds that block the sun and scurry across the sky, as if in a hurry, eager to get somewhere.
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The leaves are just beginning drop from the trees and there are already a few spots of reds and yellows in our neighborhood and on the trail.  The Frittilary that I saw in large numbers at the beginning of summer in Black Hill park have long since gone, and so have the somewhat rarer Monarchs.  There is still the occasional Tiger Swallowtail to be seen, but other than a few Skippers, this really seems to be the season for the Sulphurs.
img_1587The unidentified dragonflies and damselflies are still around in smaller numbers, occasionally flying around in pairs as if they were indulging in some sort of mating ritual (perhaps they are!), but they will also disappear as surely as the butterflies and the leaves on the trees.

The various types of ducks that I used to observe at Black Hill have long since gone, and I am looking forward to Spring when I hope to see the somewhat rarer migratory species once again.  The Canada Geese that are supposed to be migratory never left, and they dominate the lake and the river these days.   The cardinals are still around, but the robin will only return in spring.  My good friends, the blue heron, can very frequently be seen in certain sections of the canal fishing.  (Yesterday I saw a whole bunch of cormorants perched on some rocks in the middle of the Potomac near Harpers Ferry.  I was even fortunate to capture the picture of a raptor, perhaps it was an eagle or a osprey, diving into the waters of the Potomac to come up with a fish that it had caught!)
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The last flowers of summer can still be seen in the woods of Black Hill and along the towpath – the purple chicory, some white and purple fleabane, some asters, a few goldenrods, and some others that I still cannot identify.  I wish I had more time!img_1597
img_1649img_1668I cannot wait to experience the vast expanses of the fields of Virginia bluebell on the towpath in Spring.

And thus the days, the seasons, and the years go by, and one finds that one has survived to reach the age of 50!  (Teresa had arranged a great surprise Birthday party!  Thanks to John from arranging his trip from Bangalore so that he could spend the evening with us.)  The times seem to rush by in a hurry, and before I knew it, over 20 years of marriage have gone by and the kids have all grown up.   In just a few years the next generation will be ready to take over the reins from us, and eventually we will also be consigned to the dust.  The cycle of life will continue. I have to remind myself constantly that we need to do our best while we are here, and that we also need to make the best of what we have without being greedy.  In tough times I have to try to remember that I am one of the fortunate ones, and that the present will eventually become the past.  In the short time that we have here on Planet Earth, perhaps we can try to leave our mark by doing something positive for others, and we can also try to leave the world in a better shape than we found it.  Maybe, just maybe, this could be The Meaning of Human Life.

Life goes on.   Keep on Truckin…
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Come On, Get Up…

We have to finish this race!

I think many of you will recognize these words spoken by Abbey D’Agostino of the United States when she stopped to help another runner, Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand, who had also fallen during the 5000 meters heats at the Olympics.  They were strangers to each other.  And then Nikki returned the favor by helping Abbey towards the finish line when she was struggling at the end.  Very dramatic and touching!

But how many of us will get beyond the visuals of the drama that was being played out on a television screen and consider how these circumstances relevant in our own lives.

I think it is difficult to get beyond the constraints of ones own selfishness and think truly in terms of the human family.  Even if we are simply not thinking about our own well-being and protection, and perhaps even glory, we are most likely thinking about others only the context of their relationship to us as family or friend (or enemy), or maybe even in the context of community and country.    We care more about the well-being of those we know and those we can identify with rather than that of the stranger, right?  There are times that I have wondered why we pray only for the soldiers in our own armed forces at church?  Do we think of the soldiers on the other side as being less human, of not having the same problems that ours have, of not going through the same thoughts and struggles that ours do?  I am sometimes haunted by the number of times I have walked away from something bad that was happening to a stranger without offering a hand in help.  It was none of my business, and I could always find a way to try to push the guilt into the recesses of the mind, and to memory cells that would hopefully not be reawakened.

We can tell ourselves that it is a natural state of mind for humans to care more about the people you know and love and can identify with.  But this is also a selfishness in some form.  Unless we can find a way to truly expand our love and care to the family of all humanity we will continue to be mired in the destructive ways of the world.   I know that this is fantasy that is not going to happen, and that I am being naive in even bringing up this topic, but the incident at the Olympics reminded me that there is a spark that in present in some people, even if the number of such people is a minuscule minority on this planet earth.  Surely such people have the instinct and ability to do what is right in other circumstances also, not just in the glare of an extravagant sporting event.

Are we able and willing to help the strangers among us?