One star’s ash is another sun’s treasure

we are all made of star dust, stardust, we are stardust, great quote, milky way, galaxy quote, milky way quote, star dust quote, star stuff,

A friend just shared a quote from Victor Tenbaum:

The molecules of your body are the same molecules that make up the nebulae, that burn inside the stars themselves. We are star stuff.

We can all use a little more reason to come together these days, so let’s add to this.

Beyond rote burning, stars fuse atoms, creating the heavier elements – without them, we would live in a universe of hydrogen with a dash of helium. Atoms in your body like calcium and carbon and oxygen (all those larger that the smallest atoms, H and He) are only created in stars.

And even farther: elements heavier than iron are too large to be made by nuclear fusion as occurs in the core of a large star. They’re only made when a star reaches the end of its life and explodes into a supernova, a galactic blast of so much concentrated energy and heat that it creates the rest of the heavier elements in the periodic table.

 

They then float around in nebular clouds for billions of years, eventually condensing to form new stars, with little planets orbiting them. Some of those planets are rich in water and are juuuust the right distance away from the sun. Some also have metal cores that make magnetic fields that conveniently deflect incoming solar wind, which would otherwise sweep away an atmosphere. An atmosphere like the one we have on Earth, that over time formed a bubble within which turbulent volcanic eruptions finally subsided, giving rise to a stable climate where complicated configurations of stardust atoms formed into molecules like amino acids and RNA and lipid bilayers and eventually…

 

You!  You evolved from the largest explosions in the universe.

 

From a cacophony, the elegant complexity of life, and eventually humanity, emerges. Damn wonderful.

 

PS: “On average, a supernova will occur about once every 50 years in our galaxy, the Milky Way.” – NASA says. Our sun is one of ~100 billion stars in it.
Cassieopea, supernova, remnant
Cassiopeia, a supernova remnant. NASA

 

Continue Reading

A Better World, Backed by Data

It’s politics season in America. This one is particularly bad. I’ll leave off lamenting our lack of endearing candidates and endeavor to destabilize a bit of the unbridled pessimism that springs forth when two opposing political parties turn a nation into their battleground of divisive plays for power.

The 50 states of America unite not just to advance America but to continuously improve our world at large. As one of the most powerful nations in this world, our responsibility and duty rests first and foremost in the livelihood, intelligence, and worldliness of our populace. That is to say, not just an understanding of the present. We must have the wisdom to look beyond our borders and deeper into history. A broader perspective on time reveals that things may not be as they initially seem.

While the percentage of US citizens holding a passport is growing, it’s still only about 100M Americans. That 1/3 of the county leaves 66% of Americans unable to legally travel outside USA. It’s therefore no wonder that our news is overly nationalistic and tends to lack a cohesive worldview. Let’s take a crack at breaking that trend whilst instilling a healthy dose of rational optimism toward humanity’s shared global future.

The world is much better than it has ever been, as evidenced by the following economic data visualized by Max Roser at University of Oxford.

First, let’s all rejoice that pretty much everyone is living longer. Life expectancy has doubled from 1800 to 2001.

life expectancy, 1800 to 2000, 1800, 2011, economics, data visualization, economics, gif

Play around with this graph to explore changes in life expectancy of countries:

Longer life expectancy may not mean much if quality of life is not also improved. Luckily, nearly every metric is ascending.

The UN’s overall Human Development Index has been on the rise for decades.

 

Fewer than 10% of people on the planet now live in absolute poverty. We’re not talking about losing a car to a debt collector. We’re talking about raw destitution.

Absolute poverty is defined by the United Nations as “a condition characterised by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information. It depends not only on income but also on access to services.” In 1900, 80% of the world’s population lived in absolute poverty.

drops in absolute poverty, economics,

Just look at these changes in GDP per capita over the past few hundred years! Here it’s shown in purchasing power of the 1990 USD.

GDP per capita, GDP over time, GDP, economics, GIF, Max Roser

Hit play below to watch the world grow wealthier. Hover to see exact GDP per capita and click any country to see a time series of the same change over the past several decades.

 

Global income distribution is also on the rise. In the late 1990s, the world was clearly divided between rich and poor. Despite the growing wealth inequality problem in America, the global distinction is much less pronounced as wealth creeps ever higher and more evenly distributed.

 

income distribution 1988 to 2011, income distribution, rich and poor, rich world, economics, our world in data, gif

 

And what are we doing with this newfound wealth?

We’re educating everyone.

 

And distributing nutrition.

We’ve innovated tremendously in commodity production, such that most people can afford food,

and electricity,

which if you live in a developed nation and want to turn on a lightbulb, is trending toward free.

Electricity even packs exponentially more punch per kwh.

computation per kwh
Computations per kilowatt-hour over time – Koomey, Berard, Sanchez, and Wong (2011) via Max Roser

 

Sure, you may say, we have more. But we’re working more for it. Actually..

100 years is not so long ago that we should accept forgetting it. The web is full of posts lamenting the hours in an average workweek and sure, I’m among those who often work passionately for well over 40 hours a week. Yet if we consult historical data, people – including Americans – work on average nearly 20 hours less per week now than the did in the year 1900.

The path to prosperity for many people living during the turn of the twentieth century was a production job in one of numerous new industrial facilities. From farm field to factory meant a steady stream of income. It also meant workers were at the liberty of corporations operating without present day workers’ rights laws. Today’s legal protection is influenced largely by violent labor strikes involving militia that took place in the 1800s and 1900s. This war for the modern workweek claimed thousands of lives. For example, the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 left 100 dead in a fight against paycuts. The Bay View Massacre, a strike turned bloody, left seven dead in the quest for an eight hour work day. The list goes on and on.

 

But thanks in part to the sacrifices made by those workers, democracy began to spread across the globe…

word democracy 1980 to 1995, democracy, economics, graph, world GIF, map gif, max roser, amy sterling

About half of citizens around the world live in democratic conditions, compared to a mere 10% in 1901. The percentage of anocracies, unstable governments, has somewhat ironically remained steady. There are still far too many people living in autocracies; however, it is invigorating to see that the relative percentage is on the decline.

percentages of people living in various governmental states, our world in data, max rosies, government, economics, dataviz

 

Globally, death by war is on the decline. And where it’s not, we’re drawing on clever algorithms to predict and hopefully prevent many of the would-be future deaths.

 

conflict deaths, war, peace, data, our world in data, rational optimism

Conclusions

We have access to more resources by working fewer hours. Those resources are getting cheaper year by year. Ultimately, a better world means both better quality of life and deeper connections to one another.

These graphs by no means cover everything. Numerous foes of progress thrive; however, we stand to benefit by bearing in mind how far humanity has come since the Industrial Revolution.

As we ponder the future of America, it is important to consider her not in isolation but relative to the world at large and in the broader context of history. May these data catalyze productive conversations. In times of political dissonance, perhaps that’s what we need most.

 
Special thanks to Dave Ewalt for helping to edit this blog.

Continue Reading

Whoa! #lifebonus

About a month ago I shared #lifebonus, the first installment of an ongoing series designed to incite surprise and discovery in life.  Or at least my inbox.  Today, here is another round.

On Friday, the following Facebook status went live while a more personal email went out to a few friends:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Subject: Life Challenge

Are you having an awesome day?  Yes?!  Yes.

This week’s Life Challenge:

Share something that made you say “woah!!! ..but is it too geeky to share?”
Due Sunday at noon, or earlier if you’re an intellectual baller.
Response could be a great article from 3 years ago or a photo you saw yesterday or a crazy fresh resource, such as

AskNature.org

Browse nature’s solutions to challenges such as network cooperation (think interwoven trees and UV protection from bacteria), physical integrity (think bones and trees) or mechanical energy (think spider legs using hydraulic lift and how honeybees fly).  Browse around. You’ll be surprised how exciting it is.  Covert learning.

via Nicholas Sykes at TEDxSummit

Cheers, have a wonderful weekend and take three deep breaths right now (seriously it’s good for your biochemistry). I’ll blog some replies and send out a post on Monday so that your week will start out with a little bit of epic.  And if you are curious for more Wow!Geek discoveries, let me know and I will be happy to share a few more.

Amy

Try this with your friends.

Who knows what you might discover?  I do.

The scale of the universe.

History meets Quora and Reddit:

Ask about any era of history and get answers from professional historians!

Keep in mind that this forum is for asking questions about what did happen, not what could have happened had something gone differently. For those types of questions, check out /r/historicalwhatif

Images from the Boston Globe Big Picture‘s Earth Day Gallery.

Science and Tech

Rockets that breathe.  SABRE engines “use atmospheric oxygen in the combustion process.  The engine achieves this with its two modes of operation: its air-breathing and conventional rocket capabilities.”

 

Magnetic Fields light up ‘GPS’ neurons. Findings allow scientists to infer that birds, like compasses, can determine both direction and relative position.  Importantly, this research adds to evidence “showing how single brain cells can record multiple properties or complex qualities in a simple way.”

Get your own Galaxy Cube (image right). 80,000 stars from the Milky Way laser etched into glass. As seen in Design for a Living World.

Philosophy

12 Things you should be able to say about yourself:

1. I am following my heart and intuition.
2. I am proud of myself.
3. I am making a difference
4. I am happy and grateful.
5.I am growing into the best version of me.
6. I am making my time count.
7. I am honest with myself.
8. I am good to those I care about.
9. I know what unconditional love feels like.
10. I have forgiven those who once hurt me.
11. I take full accountability for my life.
12. I have no regrets.

Awesome tapes from Africa:  “music you won’t easily find anywhere else—except, perhaps in its region of origin.”

Popularity data:

Curious world!

At Wikipedia, it always interesting to see traffic on various articles, Some are constant while others are “One-Day-Hero” articles, receiving 1million views in one day, and that’s it – nothing after that.  The world acts in curious ways.

Here is an example: Google Launched Zipper Doodle few days back on Gideon_Sundbäck‘s B’Day. (Click here to see the doodle) You can see his article received 1m+ views on that day, and almost negligible traffic today.

For me, its something interesting, how the mind works and how someone [or something] gets popular overnight, and then is again forgotten over the next few days.

I hope this post contains something cool for you to think about.  The way I see it, your mind is a world. You are a wold abundant with resources like intelligence, stories, experiences, perspectives, curiosity..  Your self resources can be – and I think are best when – shared.

Be creative in your pursuit of extraordinary interactions.  Send out a Life Challenge or other playful yet serious opportunity with which friends can spice their minds.  Think of it as a game.

What should I send out next week?  I love discovering innovations and ideas you are passionate about.

Finally, this last image came as a Life Challenge response, too.  What does it mean to be happy, anyway?

In the words of my friend Carlos,

“Love this!  Nothing is too geeky, Amy.”

I concur.  Bring on the geek.

 

 

Thanks to Marconi Pereria, Rio de Janeiro; Antonella Broglia, Madrid; Will Sterling, Nashville TN; Mosab Abulkhair, Amman Jordan; Cody Marx Bailey, Austin Texas; Ramy Nassar, Waterloo Canada; Terry Pollard, Oxford UK; Kevin McClure, Birmingham Alabama; Shreenath Regunathan, San Francisco California; Philip Kovacs, Huntsville Alabama; Chris Palmer, Huntsville Alabama;  Kat Haber, Vail Colorado; Hugo Schotman, Zurich Switzerland; Abhishek Suryawanshi, Pune India; Nicholas Sykes, Doha Qatar.

Continue Reading

What are you passionate about?

Yesterday I was asked “what are you passionate about?”  Refreshing.  And told to answer in 100 words or less.  Interesting challenge.

This question in the TEDGlobal application catechism caught my attention.  At first I scoffed.  How can I capture my zest in 100 words..I need a thousand, ten thousand.. and then I began to write. 

Scoff turns to intrigue as I realize this is a conversation with a quiet comrade, not a monologue.  Who am I, what fuels me is the question.  Introduce, don’t preach.  Outline my horizon.

I think high and wide and a hurricane of vocabulary in strange grammatical structure erupts from my brain.   Thoughts of thousands of words melt into hundreds, then dozens.  This challenge poises an opportunity for precise creative thinking.  As I progress in my answer I am captured by the notion that my initial reaction has morphed into a beautiful realization. 

I used the 100 words to create a chromosome of passion.  This is an outline of me, not the complete expression.  In this attempt to densely pack  myself into 100 words I found, surprisingly, that my passion required just four.  And I am delighted to share them with you.

Question:  What are you passionate about?

“Curiosity.  Endless exploration and perpetual discovery. History, etymology, literature (Seneca, Voltaire, Nietzsche+), scientific theory, travel, the human mind…My greatest curiosity is consciousness and how “I” exists.  I am obsessed with systems and complexity. Interdisciplinarity fuels my revelry in reality’s infinite variety.  Bilateral symmetry, philharmonic sound, fractals, posture, creativity, the wild..adamantly I focus and refocus my perception of the world and myself.  A dynamic innovative mind am I who lives for both the unexpected surprise and long developed accomplishment. In 100 words I need but four to tell you:  My passion is life.”

We should all be asked this more frequently.  Have a go, what are you passionate about?

Continue Reading

“Book about the variety of the world”

The title is quoted from a hero of mine, Marco Polo.

First allow me to give thanks that it only takes 8 hours to travel from America to London.

Second, thoughts about travel’s influence over time.  This globe has little ships drawn on it noting significant  navigator voyages:  Vasco de Gama, Magellan, Charles Darwin, Zheng Ho.  Pardon?  I Googled this explorer.

Marco Polo’s Travels comes to mind and I vaguely anticipate what to expect of the Ming Dynasty‘s Admiral of the Treasure Fleet (for real?!).  Awe and inspiration ensue and I get excited enough to share.

  • In the fall of 1405 a trading party of 28,000 men set sail under Admiral Zheng Ho.
  • The ~62 flagships that chaired this moving nation measured approximately 400 feet long by 160 feet wide (122 m x 50 m) and carried ambassadors and the national trade of China.  The escort was an additional 190 ships.  Compare this to modern day feats of marine lavishness.  In 2009, 600 years after Zheng Ho, the largest yacht in the world measured 531 ft (162 m).   Head down the list and look at the size of #6.  You guessed it.  400 ‘.

Zheng He’s ships relative to those of Columbus

  • This flagship two year journey took the crew from the mouth of the Yangtzee, in North-East China trading from Vietnam to  Java before finally reaching Calicut, West India, their destination.   Zheng Ho loaded up on more than just imported items; foreign ambassadors traveled back onboard the troupe as well as on their own accord.
  • The fleet (over 300 ships and 28,000 people acompanying the tradeable wealth of China and serving as early forms of dignitaries) eventually takes six more voyages (early evidence of exploration as a profitable investment), venturing to the Persian Gulf and south along Africa’s coast.  During each trading expedition, new diplomats are brought to Nanjing and old ones ferried home.

Imagine what commerce I take for granted.  Pre-imagine internet or email – instantaneous information distribution – international trade facilitates the dispersion of ideas beyond borders, what a revolution.  Globalization infancy!

From warfare (hello, gunpowder and The Prince) and culture, to goods and services, communication has profoundly enhanced the development of the human race.  A day in the life of 2010 can incorporate a globe full of cultures and ideas.  We sometimes forget, in this world of quickness and connectivity, the extraordinary relativity of when in time we live.  Forget 2 months to cross the Atlantic..what if it was not even an option?  The beauty of exploration.

May you always remember that the world has more to discover.  If you don’t, someone else will get to have all the fun!

Amy

Continue Reading