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Photo: Grace Z. Li
Yuleyca Ortiz, the security supervisor at the Graduate School of Design and one of the subjects of a recent art show.

I like this idea. A graduate student in the Design School at Harvard decided to honor the security and custodial staff by making art about them. Grace Z. Li and Ruth Zheng have a report at the Harvard Crimson.

“Sometimes Doris Reina-Landaverde wanted to ask artist Annie J. Liang why she wasn’t painting a professor, or a famous person. Why her, a custodian working at the Extension School? The goal of ‘Harvard Works 2.0,’ an eight-part portrait series on exhibition in the Science Center, is to challenge the premise of this question. …

“Liang, who graduated from the Graduate School of Design this past spring, developed the idea for the exhibition in VIS2448: ‘Painting for Designers,’ a class she took with Professor Ewa Harabasz in the fall of 2016.

“For one assignment, the students were asked to draw on top of concrete, a ubiquitous texture in the Design School’s Gund Hall. Liang said she was inspired to capture the social landscape of the school — that is, ‘the workers, and the people who support the institution in all its activities.’

“Despite their work being as foundational to the University as its physical structures themselves, the hours they dedicate to supporting the institution often go unnoticed, Liang said. She said ‘Harvard Works 2.0’ integrates those who do maintenance work into the layers of the painting — reimagining Harvard’s history with Harvard’s workers at the forefront. …

“In addition to highlighting the work done by Harvard’s custodial and security staff, ‘Harvard Works 2.0’ also raises awareness about the struggles Harvard’s workers may be facing.

“Reina-Landaverde arrived in the United States from El Salvador in 2000 and is a recipient of Temporary Protected Status, a designation the U.S. Department of Homeland Security grants to certain foreign nationals who are unable to return to their country of citizenship due to unsafe circumstances like armed conflict or natural disaster.

“TPS recipients can legally live and work in the U.S. and are immune from deportation. The status is temporary, but previous presidential administrations have largely left the program alone, allowing recipients to continue residing legally in the US.

“[Because of current federal] efforts to repeal TPS, workers at Harvard have taken part in activism to defend TPS, holding multiple rallies, appealing to former University President Drew G. Faust to take action to protect workers from deportation, and calling on the University for greater legal aid. …

“For [Yuleyca Ortiz, the security supervisor at the Graduate School of Design], her inclusion in ‘Harvard Works 2.0’ was above all a reminder to herself that the work she puts in at Harvard has been paying off.

“ ‘It doesn’t matter that sometimes I feel like a failure, that I’m not doing my very best,’ Ortiz said. Seeing that picture and the caption accompanying it, she said, confirms that ‘I am doing okay.’ ”

More at the Crimson, here.

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Photo: Cornell University
Small predators related to jellyfish (Hydroids) and other marine creatures made of glass may be viewed at the Corning Museum of Glass until January 8, 2017.

Visitors to the Boston area are often taken to see the famous glass flowers created by Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and displayed at the Harvard Museum of Natural History in Cambridge. I have taken guests there myself.

But it was news to me that the Blaschkas also created sea creatures in glass. Many of those were acquired by Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

According to Wikipedia, the marine specimens came before the flowers.

“Leopold Blaschke was born in Český Dub, Bohemia, to a family which originated from Josefuv Dul (Antoniwald) in the Iser or Izera Mountains, a region known for processing glass, metals and gems. The family had also spent time in the glassblowing industry of Venice.

“Leopold displayed artistic skills as a child, and was apprenticed to a goldsmith and gemcutter. He then joined the family business, which produced glass ornaments and glass eyes. He developed a technique which he termed ‘glass-spinning,’ which permitted the construction of highly precise and detailed works in glass. He also Latinised his family name to ‘Blaschka,’ and began to focus the business on the manufacture of glass eyes.

“In 1853, Leopold was suffering from ill health and was prescribed a sea voyage. He traveled to the United States and back, using the time at sea to study and draw sea animals, primarily invertebrates.’ ” Read how he started making replicas of them at Wikipedia.

The Guardian alerts us to the current exhibition of the Blaschkas’ marine work in upstate New York. “Father and son team Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka created perfect reproductions of invertebrate marine life in glass in their studio in Germany in the 19th century. Cornell University acquired a collection of 570 items in 1885, and a selection of these can be seen at an exhibition at the Corning Museum of Glass. ‘Fragile Legacy: The Marine Invertebrate Glass Models of Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka’ runs until 8 January, 2017.”

Amazing photos here.

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Photo: BBC
BBC
Africa’s Sophie Ikenye visits a fish farm in Kenya.

The BBC recently called my attention to a surprising new trend in Africa: Young people, who used to flock to urban office jobs and spurn farming, are beginning to see the attractive side of a return to the land.

Sophie Ikenye writes, “Six years ago Emmanuel Koranteng, 33, gave up his job as an accountant in the US and bought a one-way ticket to Ghana. He now has a successful business growing pineapples in a village one-and-a-half hours away from the capital, Accra. He says that even when he was far away from the farm, it was always in his thoughts.

“Across the continent, Dimakatso Nono, 34, also left her job in finance … and moved from Johannesburg to manage her father’s 2,000 acre farm three hours away in Free State Province. She says she wanted to make an impact. …

” ‘At the beginning, we were not sure about what the animals were doing and where they were in the fields, so for me it was important to ensure that every single day, every activity that we do is recorded.’

“Life on the farm has not been easy. … Both young farmers have found it difficult to get funding for equipment. For this reason, Mr Koranteng has decided to stay small.

” ‘If you are small and you don’t have funding, don’t try to do anything big. It’s all about being able to manage and produce quality because if you produce quality, it sells itself,’ he says.

“But there is to be made money in farming. A World Bank report from 2013 estimates that Africa’s farmers and agribusinesses could create a trillion-dollar food market by 2030 if they were able to access to more capital, electricity and better technology.

” ‘Agriculture has a bright future in Africa,’ says Harvard University technology expert Calestous Juma. And it also means making the finished product, rather than just growing crops and selling them. ‘The focus should be … from farm to fork, not just production,’ he says.”

Check out one farming entrepreneur’s approach here.

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My friend Kristina is an artist with a long-time interest in shells. At a Harvard-based shell club that she frequents, she meets many interesting artists and scientists — including George Buckley, a Caribbean coral reef researcher who made the video below.

Buckley says, “Little did I know in 1976 that my first visit to Bonaire to study land snails … and dive with Captain Don Stewart would lead to a career interconnected with Bonaire and to some 100 more return trips!

“Bonaire became the focus of case study after case study of marine management and biodiversity in my Harvard University environmental management program. [Dozens] of research and study groups, students, magazine writers and photographers that I brought to the island all fell in love with the landscapes and the emerald sea of Bonaire.

“The early years of the Bonaire Marine Park [BMP] and STINAPA [Dutch acronym for national park] … were a great adventure and while my efforts with the Carco Project and Marecultura were not as successful as hoped, both helped to lay the groundwork for future efforts around the world as to best practices in that field.

“The BMP’s pioneering leadership in education, moorings, gloves policies, banning light sticks and spearfishing, creating the ‘Nature Fee’ and so much more led to Bonaire’s well-deserved world-wide recognition. The efforts to save Klein Bonaire were a testament to international collaboration and stand to this day as the Hallmark of what a committed group of concerned people can accomplish. It is indeed true that Bonaire is to conservation of nature as Greenwich is to time – with credit to Captain Don.”

If you are on Facebook, check out the rest of Buckley’s post.

Photo: Sand Dollar in Bonaire

 

 

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Giving prisoners something constructive to do with their empty time has long been a goal of reform activists and prisoners themselves. The upstate New York prisoners mentioned in a recent Talking Points Memo article really got into formal debating — to the point that they beat a storied Harvard team.

Colin Binkley writes, “Months after winning a national title, Harvard’s debate team has fallen to a group of New York inmates.

“The showdown took place at the Eastern New York Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison where convicts can take courses taught by faculty from nearby Bard College, and where inmates have formed a popular debate club. Last month, they invited the Ivy League undergraduates and this year’s national debate champions over for a friendly competition. …

” ‘Students in the prison are held to the exact same standards, levels of rigor and expectation as students on Bard’s main campus,’ said Max Kenner, executive director of the Bard Prison Initiative.” …

” ‘There are few teams we are prouder of having lost a debate to than the phenomenally intelligent and articulate team we faced this weekend,’ [the Harvard team] wrote. ‘And we are incredibly thankful to Bard and the Eastern New York Correctional Facility for the work they do and for organizing this event.’

“Against Harvard, the inmates were tasked with defending a position they opposed: They had to argue that public schools should be allowed to turn away students whose parents entered the U.S. illegally. The inmates brought up arguments that the Harvard team hadn’t considered.  …

“While in prison, they learn without the help of the Internet, relying instead on resources provided by the college.”

More here.

Photo: Acroterion
Eastern Correctional Facility

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Having heard one too many panel discussions and lectures lately about the downsides of the “ageing population,” I was delighted that a few upsides were mentioned at today’s Harvard conference on “Ageing + Place” — a refreshing and intriguing event presenting the latest research and design ideas related to ageing.

Meanwhile, John was on my wavelength again, sending me a link to a story about someone who seems to be ageing remarkably well and making a contribution to society while she’s at it.

Katie Honan of DNAInfo.com writes at BusinessInsider about a 100-year-old woman who is still teaching children in a Brooklyn elementary school.

“Three days a week, Madeline Scotto walks across the street from her home to St. Ephrem’s elementary school, where she was part of the first graduating class.

“She climbs the stairs to her classroom, where she works to prepare students for the math bee. She pores over photocopied worksheets with complicated problems, coaching kids on how to stay calm on stage while multiplying and dividing in their head.

“She’s just like any other teacher at the school — except for one thing: She’s 100 years old.

” ‘I think it just happens, you know. You don’t even realize it,’ said Scotto, who marked her birthday on Thursday.

” ‘Last year I thought, “This can’t be, that I’m going to be 100.” I sat down and did the math actually. I thought, I could not trust my mind. This I had to put paper to pencil — I couldn’t believe it myself. It just kind of happened. I guess I’m very lucky.’ ” More here.

Is there a person of any age who isn’t astonished when they think of how old they are? I think if you are 21 or 40 or 65, you are still going to say to yourself, “How did that happen?”

Photo: DNAInfo
Madeline Scotto is 100-years-old and still teaches students in Dyker Heights.

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At Smithsonian magazine, Tom Downey explains why urban planners could learn a thing or two from a Hindu religious festival that occurs every 12 years.

“I arrived by taxi at the Kumbh [in India] at sunset, expecting throngs of cars, cows and human beings blocking all access points. Instead I glided comfortably into my camp, which sat on a hilltop. I looked out over the fleeting city before me: makeshift shelters constructed on the floodplain of a river that was sure to overflow again in a few months. …

“I’d come to witness the spectacle for myself, but also to meet a group of Harvard researchers from the university’s Graduate School of Design. Led by Rahul Mehrotra, an architect from Mumbai before he went stateside to teach, they would closely analyze this unparalleled feat of spontaneous urban organization.

“ ‘We call this a pop-up megacity,’ said Mehrotra, a bearded 54-year-old. ‘It’s a real city, but it’s built in just a few weeks to instantly accommodate tens of millions of residents and visitors. It’s fascinating in its own right, of course. But our main interest is in what can we learn from this city that we can then apply to designing and building all kinds of other pop-up megacities like it. Can what we see here teach us something that will help the next time the world has to build refugee camps or emergency settlements?’ …

“The Kumbh Mela works in a way that most other Indian cities do not in part because everyone is on their best behavior: Civil servants know that their careers will be defined by these few weeks in the national spotlight; members of the public arrive with a sense of purpose and community.” More here.

I think it goes to show that when large numbers of people are basically on the same page about the importance of something, miracles happen. Loaves and fishes get shared. People pick up their litter. Everyone feels they’ve been part of something big.

Photo: Alfred Yaghobzadeh
Cooks at the Hindu festival worked to feed millions.

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I can’t think how many times I have heard someone say that people should harness the energy from workouts on treadmills, biking, or running. Finally, a couple of college students did just that.

Nicholas Nehamas, Latitude News, writes about the students’ innovative idea.

“The company, Uncharted Play, has designed a fully functional soccer ball called the SOCCKET which can power an LED light. One minute of kicking around this portable generator produces around six minutes of light. Children in developing countries without reliable sources of electricity can play their favorite game and then plug in the light to read, do homework, and help illuminate their homes. …

“More than a billion families around the world use kerosene lamps as their primary source of light because electricity is either unavailable or too expensive. But as well as being a serious fire risk, kerosene lamps also endanger the health of those who breathe their fumes. …

“The SOCCKET is one innovative alternative to kerosene. [Jessica Matthews, CEO and co-founder of Uncharted Play], explains that the ball contains a pendulum, or gyroscope-like device, inside it.

“ ‘As the ball rolls, the mechanism also rolls, harnessing kinetic energy and
and then storing it inside a simple battery,’ she says. …

“ ‘We weren’t trying to change the world,’ says Matthews. ‘By no means were we trying to do anything beyond not failing the class.’ ”

More.

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Today we joined forces with our son, daughter-in-law, and two-year-old grandson for a lovely, low-key apple-picking adventure in Harvard, Massachusetts.

Carlson Orchards has many varieties of apples. Small painted signs tell you which ones grow in which part of the farm. The trees have been pruned so as not to grow too tall, and they are loaded with fruit. The purplish ones are Empire. I had never seen Empire apples that looked purple. We picked Empire, Cortland, Mac, and Pink Gala.

A friend from the office told me about the farm. She likes to go pick peaches in summer.

The little general store had hot cider and donuts, pumpkins and a nice variety of apple products and jams.


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“Elizabeth S. Spelke,” writes Natalie Angier in today’s NY Times, is a “professor of psychology and a pre-eminent researcher of the basic ingredient list from which all human knowledge is constructed.” She studies babies  to learn how much knowledge humans start out with. And perhaps not surprising, she finds that babies are intensely focused on … other people.

“Dr. Spelke studies babies not because they’re cute but because they’re root. ‘I’ve always been fascinated by questions about human cognition and the organization of the human mind,’ she said, ‘and why we’re good at some tasks and bad at others.’

“But the adult mind is far too complicated … ‘too stuffed full of facts’ to make sense of it. In her view, the best way to determine what, if anything, humans are born knowing, is to go straight to the source, and consult the recently born. …

“Dr. Spelke is a pioneer in the use of the infant gaze as a key to the infant mind — that is, identifying the inherent expectations of babies as young as a week or two by measuring how long they stare at a scene in which those presumptions are upended or unmet. …

” ‘Why did it take me 30 years to start studying this? … All this time I’ve been giving infants objects to hold, or spinning them around in a room to see how they navigate, when what they really wanted to do was engage with other people!’ ”

Read more.

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Nicholas Kristof wrote recently about a new ” ‘poverty statement’ from the premier association of pediatricians, based on two decades of scientific research.” It ties early childhood stress to persistent poverty.

In his NY Times column “A Poverty Solution that Starts with a Hug,” Kristof says of stressed children, “Toxic stress might arise from parental abuse of alcohol or drugs. … It might derive from chronic neglect — a child cries without being cuddled. Affection seems to defuse toxic stress — keep those hugs and lullabies coming! — suggesting that the stress emerges when a child senses persistent threats but no protector. … The crucial period seems to be from conception through early childhood. After that, the brain is less pliable and has trouble being remolded.

“ ‘You can modify behavior later, but you can’t rewire disrupted brain circuits,’ notes Jack P. Shonkoff, a Harvard pediatrician who has been a leader in this field. ‘We’re beginning to get a pretty compelling biological model of why kids who have experienced adversity have trouble learning.’ ”

Lest this is striking too dark a note for Suzanne’s Mom’s Blog, I hasten to point out that identifying a problem is the first step to fixing it. As a proponent of both hugs and poverty alleviation, I was really happy to see this addressed! And Kristof’s mention of the stress hormone cortisol jumped out at me because I hadn’t heard about it until I saw the research in yesterday’s post, which suggested that a pleasant phone conversation with Mom can reduce cortisol more effectively than instant messaging with Mom. (Or whoever reduces your stress.)

Read more. And do leave comments.

(I must look up that article from a few years ago about the Indian woman who stood on a street corner in New York and gave free hugs to long lines of people craving hugs.)

 

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“New York City is using poetry to boost traffic safety. The city is installing 200 colorful 8-inch square signs featuring haiku about safety at cultural spots, schools, and high accident areas. In an age when many messages compete for attention, officials hope that ones such as

‘Oncoming cars rush
‘Each a 3 ton bullet
‘And you, flesh and bone’

“will encourage pedestrians to exercise caution.”

So writes the Innovators Insights listserv, linking to the CBS New York news story, where you will find some amused and amusing comments from New Yorkers.

“ ‘What we’ve learned that is that the more innovative the message and with a little bit of humor, or something a little off beat, is much more effective form of communication,’ Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said.”

Reminds me of my October post on traffic mimes in Caracas. Remember? There’s something delightfully incongrous about traffic adminsitrators being the ones, out of all possible professions, to use mimes and haiku to further their work objectives.

But maybe I don’t know much about traffic administrators.

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Some years ago, the John Adams family biographer Paul Nagel introduced me to physician/poet Norbert Hirschhorn. Paul told me that Bert was on the team that helped save thousands of lives in Third World countries simply by distributing water to which sugar and electrolytes had been added. (A National Institutes of Health paper references Bert’s 1973 research on “oral glucose electrolyte solution for all children with acute gastroenteritis” here.)

A special NY Times science supplement on Sept. 27, 2011, “Small Fixes,” reminded me of Bert and the notion that small innovations can have a huge impact.

Among the great stories in the supplement. is this one about Thailand’s success fighting cervical cancer with vinegar.

It turns out that precancerous spots on the cervix turn white when brushed with vinegar. “They can then be immediately frozen off with a metal probe cooled by a tank of carbon dioxide, available from any Coca-Cola bottling plant.” The complete procedure, which can be handled by a nurse in one visit, has been used widely in Thailand, where there are a lot of nurses in rural areas.

In Brighton, Massachusetts, Harvard’s George Whitesides founded Diagnositcs for All to commercialize his inventions, including a tiny piece of paper that substitutes for a traditional blood test for liver damage. Costing less than a penny, “it requires a single drop of blood, takes 15 minutes and can be read by an untrained eye: If a round spot the size of a sesame seed on the paper changes to pink from purple, the patient is probably in danger.” Read the Times article.

Amy Smith at MIT is another one who thinks big by thinking small. Read about her Charcoal Project, which saves trees in poor countries by using vegetable waste to make briquettes for fuel.

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Not sure if, as a fan of detective mysteries, I should be disppointed or delighted about a new police database in Florida.

I learned about the database from an e-mail listserv I receive at the office. It’s called Innovators Insights. Sign up here to tell the Ash Center at Harvard’s Kennedy School what sorts of public policy topics interested you, and they will e-mail Innovators Insights to you weekly with short descriptions of relevant articles from around the nation — and links to the full story.

Here’s the Florida gumshoe story (to coin a phrase).

“In Cape Coral, Florida, the police department is employing a sophisticated shoe-print database that helps investigators quickly identify what type of shoe a suspect was wearing. While shoeprints are often important in identifying a perpetrator, the traditional process of manually casting a shoeprint and searching the Internet and catalogs for the matching type of shoe can be time-consuming when expedience is of the essence. By contrast, the software houses over 24,000 shoe types and allows information like side-shots of the shoes, their manufacturer, and their color schemes to be immediately forwarded to detectives. If investigators have a suspect’s shoe, they can also compare a digital image of its sole with a shoeprint from other crime scenes and look for a match. Cape Coral police have already used the technology to arrest one offender.”

Read all about it. And no matter how many exotic and unfamiliar shoes you buy in places around the world, you better behave yourself in Coral Gables.

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