Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Where's My Cow?

In Indonesia, and it has been for tens of thousands of years. Welcome to this week's Illumination! And yes, those of us in the US have a lot going on after yesterday's election, with a ton of firsts and a whole lot of work ahead, but you can get news about that pretty much everywhere.

Here? Here, we're going to talk about cave paintings. Archaeologists in Indonesia have finally been able to put a date to some figurative cave paintings found there, and discovered that it may be the oldest yet discovered at 40,000 years.

By "figurative," experts mean art that intends to represent something - in this case, a cow with horns. There is geometric artwork that dates older than this painting, but it isn't representative of a specific thing or person the way we would recognize it today.

The best part, to me, is finding that the style of drawing is something familiar across multiple continents. At some point, everyone's ancestors decided to try their hand at drawing what they saw, and decorating the space in which they lived. It says something about what it means to be human, I think.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Walking On Sunshine

And a happy Halloween/Samhain/end of October, everyone! To end the month of Illuminations, let's talk about getting back on our feet.

Injuries to the spinal cord have been seen as major, life-changing issues that can't be overcome. There have been some limited successes in specific situations, but not many and not often.

Cue scientists and EES. The technique is still in process and has a ways to go, but it represents a huge leap forward in treating spinal-cord injuries. In the small study done earlier this year, several of the patients were able to move - and walk - with assistance after as little as a few days' treatment. The treatments, which involve implanting electrodes that allow electrical impulses to bypass the injured portions of the spinal cord, have proven to be effective in animals, but they've been difficult to get just right for humans. The combination of the treatment itself and the additional knowledge of the human nervous system researchers developed are going to lead to bigger and better things across the board.

And on that note, that is day 31 of the month of Illuminations! This has been an eye-opening, exciting, exhausting month, and I think I've got a better handle on how I want to move forward and what I can offer. November starts the month of craziness that is NaNoWriMo, which will be its own kind of entertaining, but I want to keep doing the Illuminations - just not every day. I'm committing to two Illuminations a week, and hope to have some kind of Nano update at least once a week for November.

At any rate, thanks for reading.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Books, Glorious Books!

A tip of the hat to Ainy Rainwater for directing this my way - super helpful, especially as I'm fighting either a bad cold or a light flu at the moment. Thank you!

So, lo these many moons ago, I spent a summer in college working in the school library as we did some year-end cleaning and organizing. Part of this job involved spending a day with the rest of the student employees and full-time librarians moving several bookcases' worth of books from the tower down to the main floor. No elevator up there, of course, so we used mail bins to pass handfuls of books down a human chain down the stairs and onto a cart. It worked, though man were those things heavy.

Today's Illumination involves a similar process with a lot more people. October Books in England was moving to a new location, as the rent of their existing storefront was skyrocketing (as they do). They decided the best thing they could do was buy their own location, which they were able to do through donations, crowdfunding, and microloans. The next step was moving the stock to the new location without costing a lot of money or shutting down for a long time.

On Sunday, they put out a call for volunteers, and were nearly overwhelmed with help. All together, more than 200 people formed a human chain to pass books out of the old store, down the street, and into the new location. The best part is that passersby would ask what was happening, then join in.

People working together to help a bookstore stay in business and moving stock by hand? I'm a sucker for people helping people read.

Monday, October 29, 2018

It Belongs In a Museum!

"It," in this case, means a sign of a hopeful new beginning. Tonight's Illumination is about an aspect of conflict I don't think many of us consider.

Syria has been living through years of internal battle and civil war, but finally, finally, there are some signs of improvement. Damascus, an important and ancient city, is currently restored to peace, and city officials are taking a moment to show the people of the city their optimism. Something that had happened early in the fighting was that the national museums were closed and artifacts either moved or hidden, hoping to keep them safe.

While not everything survived unscathed, Sunday the Syrian National Museum reopened its doors and allowed the people to see their past once again. Many artifacts were recovered, having been smuggled out of the country or looted by the Islamic State. More work remains to be done, but in the meantime, the city of Damascus is reminding people that they're still here. They have not been, and will not be, destroyed.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Yes, Wrestling

GeekGirlCon has come and gone, which means I stand a chance of relaxing after a weekend full of good times, awesome people and stuff, and so much walking. And conveniently, tonight is the airing of the Illumination I want to discuss!

So, I enjoy professional wrestling. (I'll wait while some of y'all laugh. I get it.) Something that has always been a problem has been how women appeared in wrestling shows - basically, if they did appear, then it was as arm candy (or worse). There were a few women who wrestled, but not frequently, and not particularly well.

Cut to tonight, and Evolution. This is a pay-per-view, meaning it's one of the big shows during the year, and this time every wrestler in the ring is a woman. There are several different types of matches, including a battle royale which requires multiple wrestlers in the ring at the start of the match and people are only eliminated by being tossed over the top rope. Essentially, these are matches of the type that women don't normally get. And there are enough women in the WWE (past and present - they brought back some folks who had retired) to fill out the entire card.

It may not be the first thing most people think of when it comes to positive news, but gender equality and providing opportunities for everyone is generally a pretty awesome thing.


I'm starting this before the clock strikes midnight and before I've gone to sleep, so it's Saturday's Illumination. Remember how we discussed Egyptian blue and how it can be used to keep buildings cool?

Engineers at University of Colorado Boulder and University of Wyoming have taken another step in the War on Heat. They've managed to demonstrate a practical way to manufacture a metamaterial (debuted last year) in sufficient quantities to use it to cool homes and businesses. The way the devices are made, the cooling is extremely efficient, requiring very little by way of electricity.

Personally, I've always been a fan of being too cold than too hot, so bring on the air conditioning, especially if you can do it in a responsible and non-damaging way.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Technically, I Haven't Missed a Day

I realize it's after midnight my time, but I haven't been to bed yet, so it's still Friday. That's my story, at any rate. And I have an Illumination for everyone!

Now, those who know me know that the US military holds a spot close to my heart, as my father was a career member of the Air Force, and most of the men in my family have served at one time or another. Many of them were deployed to different combat areas around the world, and that sort of action takes a toll, both physically and mentally. In general, humans aren't built to handle that kind of violence and come out unscathed.

Lately, the Wounded Warrior project, which has been helping veterans and their families for several years, have doubled down on mental health support. They're working with hospitals and clinics around the country to provide intensive, clinical support for those in need, particularly those impacted by PTSD. This is the definition of an underserved population, so it warms my heart to see the Project identify the need and work to fill it. The link above includes an interview with a veteran who explicitly states that without the intensive care provided with the Wounded Warrior Project's help, he would probably not be here today.

And now for something completely different.