From the archives…

Geysers

Fragile spectacles

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

A few years ago on a family trip to Europe, we had the chance to spend an afternoon in Geneva, Switzerland, and despite limited time, we hoped to see as many of the city’s iconic sights as possible. Alas, our timing was off: the European headquarters of the United Nations, the Palais des Nations, did not accept visitors over the lunch hour (right when we showed up at the gates), and more surprisingly, the famous Jet d’Eau (“water-jet”), a fountain rising 140 meters (459 feet) from Lake Geneva, was closed for repairs. All was not lost, however, as we consoled ourselves with wine, chocolates, and souvenir shopping.

In 2003, two years after our visit to Geneva, the hours of operation for the Jet d’Eau were expanded, and it is now possible to see it in action all year long (though only during the day). This daily consistency calls to mind the Jet d’Eau’s non-mechanical predecessor, the geyser, which similarly releases water (and steam) at regular intervals. However, while the Jet d’Eau is the result of human ingenuity, geysers are the product of extremely rare circumstances, and once damaged, cannot be repaired so easily. [Article Continues…]

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From the archives…

Skara Brae

House of sand and rock

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

The 2001 documentary Rivers and Tides showcases artist Andy Goldsworthy, who creates ephemeral works of art out of the natural materials around him. Whether it’s leaves, twigs, or icicles, Goldsworthy crafts them into breathtaking constructions that add to the beauty of the landscape while still remaining part of it. Although Goldsworthy invests significant effort in each work, after its completion he leaves it at the mercy of the natural processes of wind, rain, sun, and water, only taking a photo to document its momentary perfection.

Some of Goldsworthy’s most arresting works are the ones he creates out of stone. The film follows the progress of a few such projects, including one in which he creates an egg-shaped structure out of split pieces of stone, and another where he works with stonemasons to create a long serpentine wall in a park in New York state. While the wall is meant to be a permanent installment, the egg-shaped structure Goldsworthy creates in the film is destined to be carried away by the rising tide, showing the vulnerability of a material that most people would take to be among the most solid. [Article Continues…]

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From the archives…

Ethanol Batteries

High-energy cocktails

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

Many cell phone users, including myself, have had the frustrating experience of needing to make a call just as our phone battery loses it charge; unless you’ve brought your phone charger or a spare battery with you, you’re out of luck for the moment. Imagine the same situation happening while you are out at a bar or restaurant, but this time you are able to recharge your phone easily and quickly, needing no special equipment. Instead, you take a thimbleful of the cocktail or wine in front of you, pour it into a special fuel cartridge on your phone, and end up with enough of a charge to last you for the next month.

While this technology is not yet available, a team of researchers at Saint Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri, with the backing of the company they founded, is working to make it a reality. Once their invention, known as Stabilized Enzyme Biofuel Cells (or SEBC), is fully developed and tested, consumers will not only have a more convenient way to keep their cell phones and laptops charged, but will be protecting the environment at the same time. [Article Continues…]

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From the archives…

Sears Modern Homes

Ordering houses by mail

In the lot immediately behind my home, a new house is under construction. My bedroom happens to be on the side of the house facing the construction site, so nearly every morning for several months, I’ve been awakened by the sounds of hammering, sawing, and yelling. From the look of things, this will probably continue for several more months. Day after day, I look out the window, trying to assess what that day’s racket has accomplished, and most of the time, the visible changes are quite small.

Although I know relatively little about construction, the thought has occurred to me more than once that there’s got to be a quicker and easier—not to mention quieter—way to get the job done. And perhaps a cheaper way, too. Small, unassuming two-bedroom houses in my San Francisco neighborhood routinely sell for upwards of $800,000 (which is why we rent—I can’t imagine ever being able to afford to buy a house here). Although the land itself is expensive, as are building materials, a great deal of the price of any new home goes to pay for labor; people aren’t going to hammer, saw, and yell for nothing. [Article Continues…]

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From the archives…

Hay-on-Wye

The Town of Books

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

As anyone who knows me can attest, I am a sucker for books. I’ve had my nose perpetually stuck in a book for as long as I can remember, and I can go absolutely stir crazy if I have to endure a two-hour flight (or ten-minute bus ride) without sufficient reading material.

Although I don’t own a car, and my wardrobe may be threadbare in places, buying books (used or new) is, along with travel, one of the luxuries I will not willingly forgo. Thus it was with great joy that I discovered a place where my bibliomania would not seem out of place: the Welsh town of Hay-on-Wye, home to 1500 inhabitants and four million books. [Article Continues…]

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Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Power Napping

Siestas revisited

I recall being unenthusiastic about taking naps as a child, much to the consternation of my parents. Fortunately, as with so many other childhood dislikes, that attitude disappeared as I got older. By the time I was in college, I had realized naps were among the most wonderful things in life, right up there with chocolate and computers. Ever since then, I’ve indulged in naps as often as possible.

It hasn’t always been easy. For a number of years, my job involved sitting behind a desk in an office all day, and my employers would have frowned upon my spending any portion of the workday asleep. And so I conquered the early-afternoon sleepies with caffeine instead. But I always felt that countries where siestas were common had it right: people tend to get drowsy soon after lunch, and when they’re drowsy, they’re less effective at their jobs. If, instead of suppressing the urge to sleep, we give the body what it wants, we end up being more alert and more productive. [Article Continues…]

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