A toothpick you say?

Bird book Dec 2013 025Why collect toothpick holders?  I’ve always been fascinated by these diminutive objects.  My interest may stem from early childhood influences.  My father, to my mother’s frequent dismay, was often found with a toothpick dangling from his lips.

As a collectible, there is infinite variety in the design, material of making, and functionality of toothpick holders.  They are easily found in thrift & consignment stores, antique shops, and gift shops.  Held in the palm of the hand, the holders are easily scrutinized and enjoyed.  Their small size makes it easy to store and display your collection.

My collection consists mainly of glass and ceramic objects. The figural toothpick holder pictured here is a new addition to my collection, a recent Christmas gift, and my first holder made of metal with a functional design.  Depressing the bird’s head will impale a toothpick with the sharply-pointed double-prong protruding from the bird’s beak; the spring-loaded mechanism draws the toothpick out of the tree-trunk shaped receptacle.

Molded inside the tree trunk is the inscription “PAT NO D-151773,” a U.S Patent Office “First Design Number” which can be traced to 1948.

An eBay search will reveal a wide variety of woodpecker toothpick holders of various designs and manufacture.

To learn more about toothpick holders:  National Toothpick Holder Collectors’ Society

Or try:  The Woodpecker Toothpick Dispenser

If I Were a Bird

“If I Were a Bird” by Gladys Conklin with pictures by Artur Marokvia (copyright 1965, published by Holiday House)

It’s always an adventure to visit the used book sale at our local library. Our latest find: “If I Were a Bird” by Glady Conklin. A delightful children’s book about…birds. The author describes and gives musical notations for the songs and calls of twenty-seven common birds. Pictures by Artur Marokvia show the birds in natural surroundings; my special favorite: the murder of  crows.

Bird watching can provide an excellent introduction to nature study for young children. Conklin’s simple text coupled with Marokvia’s colored-pencil illustrations are a delight to young and old, novice bird watcher and veteran birder alike.

MadSilence readers know how much we treasure young adult and children’s books. The authors work diligently to render difficult or complicated subjects into language young people can understand. Adults also benefit from these efforts.

Gladys Conklin’s Nature Books

MadSilence Children’s Books

Two turtle doves

Christmas 2013 025On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…two Turtle Doves

Our family shares a wonderful Christmas tradition where, gathered together on Christmas Day, we sing the English Christmas carol, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

Each singer claims a single day, with much debate over who will sing the five Gold Rings verse.  Each verse must be accompanied by appropriate gestures and acting out.

This year, cousin Mary gifted each of us with this hand-made pair of turtle doves.

a world where digital technology is everywhere

Writing for the New York Times, Robert B. Reich posits that “…[w]e increasingly live in hermetically sealed ideological zones that are almost immune to compromise or nuance. Internet algorithms and the proliferation of media have let us surround ourselves with opinions that confirm our biases.”  This trend, according to Reich, fosters inequality and threatens social cohesion.  Even as we surround ourselves with like-minded people through social media, we close our minds to those with different views, bolstered as we are by our neighbors who not only share our views, but magnify them.

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project draws different conclusions.  Recent research findings suggest that “…there is little validity to concerns  that people who use SNS [social networking sites] experience smaller social networks, less closeness, or are exposed to less diversity.  [...] Americans have more close social ties than they did two years ago. And they are less socially isolated. We found that the frequent use of Facebook is associated with having more overall close ties.

Facebook users are more trusting than similar Americans. MySpace users have a greater propensity to take multiple viewpoints. Facebook users have more social support, and they are much more politically engaged compared with Americans of a similar age and education.  The likelihood of an American experiencing a deficit in social support, having less exposure to diverse others, not being able to consider opposing points of view, being untrusting, or otherwise being disengaged from their community and American society generally is unlikely to be a result of how they use technology…

I agree in part with both views. I have witnessed the benefits accrued through social media sharing and access to seemingly unlimited information via the Internet.  I’ve also noted how immersing oneself in a tsunami of categorized information can overwhelm and confuse, can isolate the individual from others, “confirming our biases”.

Throughout history, technology has changed the way humans interact with the world.  We now live in a world where mobile digital technology is everywhere, providing more access to information than ever before. It remains to be seen whether access to seemingly unlimited information is actually helping us learn and solve complex problems, or ultimately creating more difficulty and confusion for individuals and societies by offering content overload that is not always meaningful, but may serve to isolate us from others.

I answered 13 of 13 questions correctly

I answered 13 of 13 questions correctly… and scored better than 93% of the public!

How about you?

Try the Science and Technology Knowledge Quiz and let us know how you score

Do you know more about science and technology than the average American?
Take our 13-question quiz to test your knowledge of scientific concepts. Then see how you did in comparison with the 1,006 randomly sampled adults asked the same questions in a national poll conducted by the Pew Research Center and Smithsonian magazine.
The analysis of the findings from the poll can be found in the full report. (No peeking! If you are going to take the quiz, do it first before reading the analysis.)

Making Room by Living Small

Making Room 2Do you love small spaces and simple living?  During my time in Japan I came to appreciate the creative design innovations of small Japanese houses.  Apparently these design innovations are gaining popularity outside of Japan.

Small living has deep roots in Japan, where land is scarce. “It’s just the way things have always been done,” says Azby Brown, an architect and author of The Very Small Home: Japanese Ideas for Living Well in Limited Space. Three hundred square feet may sound tight, but consider that Japanese families historically lived in row houses outfitted with 100-square-foot living quarters and large communal areas. After World War II, Japan’s homes grew, though not much by American standards. By the late 1980s the average Japanese home measured 900 square feet.  From Making Room by Living Small

Making Room: New Models for Housing New Yorkers showcases innovative design solutions to better accommodate New York City’s changing, and sometimes surprising, demographics, including a rising number of single people, and will feature a full-sized, flexibly furnished micro-studio apartment of just 325 square feet – a size prohibited in most areas of the city.  Visitors to the exhibition will see models and drawings of housing designs by architectural teams commissioned in 2011 by Citizens Housing & Planning Council, in partnership with the Architectural League of New York. The exhibition also presents winning designs from the Bloomberg administration’s recently launched pilot competition to test new housing models, as well as examples set by other cities in the United States and around the world, including Seattle, Providence, Montreal, San Diego, and Tokyo.  From Micro-Apartments in the Big City: A Trend Builds

Can money buy happiness?

Apparently not

The American tradition is to enshrine economic activity as a central element of “the pursuit of happiness.” In reality, however, economic activity is largely concerned with the relief of unhappiness. At the subsistence level of economic activity that has prevailed through most of human history, people must work to eat and to be clothed and housed, not so that they can enjoy the happiness that these goods can bring but so that they can avoid the pain of hunger, cold, and exposure to the elements.

In developed economies, most of us can assuage these fundamental sources of unhappiness.  But whether because of drives inherent in our nature or because of the constant efforts of advertisers and others, we seem destined to remain unhappy with our economic lot. Despite the burgeoning literature on happiness, and the contributions of prominent economists such as Richard Easterlin, Richard Layard, and Andrew Oswald, the general response of the mainstream English-language literature in economics has been to shrug and leave questions of this kind to psychologists and marketers.  However, there is some interesting discussion going on in Europe, and a couple of recently translated works might help to stir the debate.

From The Chronicle of Higher Education

A place to talk about art

From the Official Google Blog:

An excellent guide often best brings an art gallery or museum’s collections to life. [Google is] hoping to bring this experience online with “Art Talks,” a series of Hangouts on Air on our Google Art Project Google+ page. Each month, curators, museum directors, historians and educators from some of the world’s most renowned cultural institutions will reveal the hidden stories behind particular works, examine the curation process and provide insights into particular masterpieces or artists.

Google calls the Google Art Project a ” place for anyone who wants to talk about art, museums, artists and other sources of inspirations” and it may indeed fill that purpose.  Information, intelligent conversation, and well-written criticism can bring art to life.

Art Talks is the latest expansion to Google’s Art Project, an attempt to make images of fine art, and now of art criticism, available to all.  A laudable goal, although I remain concerned about the monster Google has become.

Google Art Project website

bizarre, odd and downright weird books

At first thought, using words like bizarre, odd, or weird to describe a book leaves me feeling  a bit uncomfortable.  How can something so important be described in such a disrespectful manner?

That was until I visited AbeBooks’ Weird Book Room, the self-described “finest source of everything that’s bizarre, odd and downright weird in books.  [...]  With new titles added periodically, AbeBooks now ha[s] an excellent selection of crazy and strange titles for sale by [...] booksellers, about every oddball aspect of life you could possibly imagine (and a few things you couldn’t).”

Their collection of literary oddities will amuse, surprise, and delight. Upon perusal it appears most unusual tomes are judged so by their subject matter.  Certainly there’s someone out there who loves a book about Land Snails and Slugs, or possesses a strong affection for muskratsThe Strange Story of False Teeth may make a riveting tale; I for one am intrigued by the story of  Shepherds’ Crooks and Walking Sticks.  Certainly their authors believe their subject matter has value.  And most of the books are easily affordable.

My current favorite:  Electricity in Gynecology by May Cushman Rice:  Ouch!

Now that I’m more comfortable with the concept I’ll be searching my personal library for unusual books.  And you can even suggest your own biblio-oddity to add to the list.

Any bizarre, odd, or weird books out there?

the costs of constant connectivity

The balance between connectivity and contemplation
Restoring Contemplation: How Disconnecting Bolsters the Knowledge Economy, by Jessie L. Mannisto
“While constant access to information enabled by digital devices has done much to improve our lives, it also exacts costs with respect to our attention and productivity that are especially harmful in a knowledge based economy. Increased public awareness of the impact of our information consumption habits—and ways to develop a healthier “information diet”—will help mitigate the negative impacts of constant connectivity. To build this awareness, librarians and educators can teach information consumers to differentiate actively between gathering and processing information and help them understand when and how each of these modes of thought will benefit them. Libraries also can provide services and spaces that promote contemplation within the modern information infrastructure. Software developers and system engineers can contribute by creating products and services that promote contemplation. Researchers can help us better understand the costs of constant connectivity and tailor an information infrastructure that better supports creative and analytical thought—and, ultimately, a higher quality of life.”

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