Riffing on Books and Life – Arts & Sciences Literary Blog by interactive new media author & artist Terry Bailey

25Feb/17

What Zebrafish Teach Us About Sleep

Understand Sleep - Caltech Lecture 2-22-17

Using Fish to Understand Sleep - Caltech Lecture 2-22-17

Usually the lectures I attend at Caltech and JPL are about landing on asteroids, black holes and the composition of Jupiter’s Moons, but this month, they had a biologist who discussed sleep.

Years ago many scientists concluded that melatonin was the mechanism that causes people to sleep. Subsequently, many companies began manufacturing melatonin supplements. Later, science realized that melatonin was not actually helping their rat models sleep, so they pulled back on the claim of its value in sleep inducing.

Today scientists have stopped comparing our brains to rats, and, instead are using fish. Yes, turns out our brains are more similar to baby zebra fish brains that to rats!

Insomnia is a huge problem. Although science still does not know exactly what function(s) sleep exists for, they do know that all animals and bugs sleep. Some, like cats, sleep a lot. Others, like giraffes, not much (only 2 hours per day!). Whales and dolphins actually put 1/2 their brains to sleep at a time since they live in the predatory ocean and cannot afford to be asleep ever!

When humans are deprived of too much sleep it can cause or exacerbate depression, diabetes, bone loss, heart disease, all kinds of illnesses.

One of the functions we now know of the asleep brain is an act of pruning the new knowledge we put into it just that very day. A brain has 20% fewer neurons in the morning than it did when we fell asleep. The brain gets rid of extraneous material while we sleep.

The greatest problem we have with sleeping pills is that they all work by actually shutting our brains down. This, of course, is dangerous since we know that whatever the brain does at night under natural sleeping conditions is very important to our physical and mental well being. If we just shut it down with a sleeping pill, we may sleep, but our brain does not do the work it is supposed to do at night.

Studies of the zebra fish and sleep taught the scientists that melatonin actually is the trigger for sleep. It did not trigger it in nocturnal rats during the day or night, because their brains are not like human brains. In zebra fish it does trigger sleep.

The biologist said he is not a doctor and cannot recommend melatonin for sleep, but he did go ahead and explain that “if you do take it to help yourself sleep,” you only need 1/2 to 1 milligram of it. Part of the concern he has about the supplement industry, is that they sell it in 5mg to 20mg doses, which can actually be harmful and cause side effects.

He also recommended people with sleep problems first consult a doctor because, while lack of enough melatonin may be the main cause of insomnia, there are other possible causes, including brain lesions in the most serious cases.

Someone asked if there were natural forms of melatonin and he mentioned milk.

The next morning, I researched natural sources of melatonin, and learned something quite curious. I wish I had known this before his lecture, for I would have inquired about it of him.

The foods listed as having the highest and significant amounts of melatonin were milk and cheese (calcium), pineapple, oranges, bananas and oats (other cereals, too, but oats the most).

Does anyone reading here spot what is curious about these foods???

They are all foods we typically eat for breakfast!

I am not a biologist or a doctor, but this certainly gives me pause to learn that foods I frequently eat for breakfast are foods that will help me sleep. Do we have our meals backwards or what??  If I run into any more information regarding the specifics of this, I will write again.

Share
6Nov/16

You Want It Darker – Honoring Leonard Cohen

Illustration for my upcoming book, Pasadena Tales, but painted to honor one of my greatest muses, Leonard Cohen, in celebration of the release of his latest album, You Want It Darker

Illustration for my upcoming book, Pasadena Tales, but painted to honor one of my greatest muses, Leonard Cohen, in celebration of the release of his latest album, You Want It Darker

Update November 12, 2016:  the web page where the interview podcast of Leonard Cohen about his new album, You Want It Darker, appeared has now been updated to be a wonderful homage to Cohen with links to many videos, podcasts, audio files, biography information etc. I learned on this page that he had suffered from cancer for some time, and that he actually recorded this entire last album sitting in a medical chair in his apartment's living room, And it is clear now that this album actually was Leonard Cohen saying his final words, and putting his house in order. Click here for the link.

Update November 10, 2016: I  started this post on November 6. I have another painting finished for Part 2 and had planned to post the second half of this essay a couple of days from now. But, this evening word came that Leonard Cohen passed away. We thought he passed on the 10th, since that is when the news was published, but it turned out he passed on November 7, the day after I listened to the interview with him and began posting my essay. I am very sad about his passing. And I felt perhaps I should re-write this post's part one, because at the end of it I talk about his future; I have decided to leave it as is, as it came from my heart, having no idea that by the following day Leonard would no longer be on this planet. -- Terry

November 6 , 2016:  The first Leonard Cohen song I sang was Suzanne. I was a teen-ager. I changed an A chord in it to an A major 7, embarking on a musical career of "interpreting" songwriters' songs for myself. It was kind of a big deal at the time. Before that, I studied songs by listening to the albums and learning to play and sing them exactly as originally performed. If it was a folk song, I sang the melody precisely and learned the same fingerstyle guitar technique used on the record - I even memorized the exact little guitar riffs the original players played in the songs' introductions and breaks. If it was a jazz song sung by Carmen McCrae or Anita O'Day, I practiced their phrasing by singing along with the records a hundred times so I could imitate their arrangements and singing styles precisely.

When I started practicing Suzanne, something pushed me, inspired me, to break out of the "as-written" mold and to throw in an alternate chord. A major seven just seemed more appropriate, more ethereal, more spiritual, more awe-inspiring, more question-mark to me. And that also seemed more Leonard Cohen to me. Suzanne and so many of his songs have such a spiritual, religion-of-some sort sense to them. I was not religious. But his poetry always spoke to me in that realm of human spiritual need. I don't even like to say "spiritual" because that implies "spirit" and takes us back to religion, doesn't it? We need new vocabulary for that need, for that aspect of human reality that speaks to our place, our values, our connections, our essence beyond the molecules that compose the matter that makes our human physical being.

I listened to an interview of Leonard Cohen on the radio last week and learned that he is not religious. That his choice of religious, biblical, spiritual vocabulary has to do with the fact that it is the vocabulary he grew up with, not because he has a religious leaning. That's important. Really important. I think the fact will resonate with lots of Leonard Cohen fans - who for decades have felt a deep human need fulfilled by his words, but were confused as to the why and the how of the religious bent to his songs.

I am going to put it down to poetry. Leonard Cohen's poetry speaks to the essence of what it is to be human, what it is to be surrounded by other humans, what it is to be mired or lifted by the human condition on any given day. What it is to wonder. Successful poetry is the most essential form of communication. It reduces its subject matter to the core, the essence, the critical. It throws away those superfluous words and meanings to get at the heart of whatever it is.

As a journalist, I learned to start an essay with a mind flush - anywhere from 2000 to 5000 words on my subject. Then I would edit to remove my digressions. I would edit again to establish a logical form. Both those edits reduced my essay to 1500 to 3000 words. At that point in the process I would despair for a time: there was no way I could cut any further and still say what I needed to say! A day or two later I would re-read and laugh at myself for thinking so many of my thoughts were so precious, and scratch out another thousand words by removing whole phrases. Eventually I would get to the level of eliminating unnecessary sentences, then words. Finally my column would be the requisite 750 to 1000 words, and I would submit it.

A few years later I studied poetry as part of my MFA college writing program, and began to learn what essence communicating was really about. The path I had learned as a journalist was a good start, but I still had writing roads to travel. Although my major was creative nonfiction and interactive media writing, the greatest ah-ha moments for me as a student of writing at Antioch were in the poetry lectures, readings and courses I took as part of my program.

Poetry, I found, is the pinnacle of pure communication.  Great poetry not only reduces an idea to its absolute irreducible essence, it does so while drawing from, and appealing to, all our human senses, not just our intellectual perception. It also does so while appealing to our senses of place and time and history and humanity and aesthetics and wonder and . . .

Leonard Cohen is a master of poetry. You Want it Darker is a tour de force of a poetry collection that sends to the darkness the media pushed message that any artist over 40 is past her/his prime. Leonard Cohen said recently that at 82, he is ready to die. In the radio interview, he took back that statement. I am glad, for You Want It Darker is a necessary reflection on the human condition for our age. And with it Leonard Cohen has just hit his stride. He must continue.

(next, my review of the album coming soon)

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Share
1Nov/16

Apples “New” Macs Not Much Help for Creative Developers Who Have Been Waiting and Waiting and Waiting

October 27, 2016 - New Mac Laptops with Function Strip

 

I was super disappointed in this "new" #Apple Mac laptop announced October 27. We have all been waiting for new Minis and desktop computers for several years now, and Tim Cook and company gave us only a laptop with a function strip. (And I am thinking about writing a streaming video app that mutes that Apple presentation crew and their chief every time they use the word "incredible.")

This was not incredible. I don't care if my laptop is a micro-something thinner or lighter, I want a new computer since my old ones are wearing out, and I would love to see some new ideas rather than engineering "feats."

Sadly for this Mac die-hard creative developer, the new Microsoft Surface line is looking a lot more interesting and user-inspired. It really feels like Cook needs to hire some design innovators, and target new hardware development for those of us Maker People out here who create the stuff - like games, books, apps, art, music, magazines, tv shows . . . - that all those masses use/buy his mobile Apple devices for !

I use my laptop for presenting and as my mobile teaching device. I do not want a laptop sitting on my studio desk, getting in the way of my work-space and view of my monitors. I was thinking I should write to Apple and suggest that they make the screen removable if they are going to insist on forcing all of us creatives and developers to use laptops rather than desktop machines. That way we could treat the laptop as a keyboard and still be able to place a drawing tablet, or keyboard, or microphone - or whatever device we are using while we create with our Macs in our studios - in front of our monitors and work efficiently. Then I read this article, and went to the Microsoft website, and discovered Microsoft already thought of that! Their laptop screens ARE removable!

Tim Cook, you are a money manager - clearly a very good money manager - and your team of engineers, I don't deny, are the greatest; you all need to set your egos aside and admit that you are not creatives and you need to bring in some people who are to imagine the things for you to engineer and sell!

here is a link to a Medium essay that inspired my blog post after I watched the "Big" Apple Event introducing their new computers on October 27, 2016.

Share
17Jul/16

Why Women in Tech and Science Know Well About Pulling off the Impossible!

Dr. Mark Ryman lecturing on the Dawn Mission at JPL, July 14, 2016

Dr. Mark Rayman lecturing on the Dawn Mission at JPL, Thursday July 14, 2016

Dr. Marc Rayman, Chief Engineer and Mission Director of NASA's Dawn Mission told an audience at JPL last Thursday night: "NASA's motto is  'If it isn't impossible, it isn't worth doing.' "

I think this will be my new motto, too. It seems to be a pretty good description of my life!

I remember one of the first space scientist lectures I attended after moving to Pasadena. It was at Caltech, and it was celebrating all the scientists who worked on the various missions over the many years leading up to the Curiosity Mission to Mars. One of the speakers explained to us about the earliest space scientists: "You need to remember that they had no mentors, no role models! There was no such thing a a spaceship or space travel before they built the first one."  Turns out many of them had been driven and "ideaized" by sci-fi! I love it!

When I finish my Light 2.0 interactive multimedia novel, I really want to write something that draws the parallels between these scientist starting off to invent space travel, and the life of a woman in tech and science - who typically has no role models or mentors simply by the fact of her gender. I'm starting here.

In college (BA Film Undergraduate) I was once hired to record the live performance of a 300 voice choir, with soloists and musicians and a pianist, in San Francisco's Civic Center Auditorium. Before that the most I had ever recorded on location was a band and a small school choir with a Nagra recorder hooked up to a film camera.

There were no mentors or advisors for me to turn to. On concert day, the director of the project simply pointed to a box of gear and told me where to set up my mixing station and whom to talk to if I wanted to tap into the auditorium's PA. When I opened the very large crate, I had no idea what half the items in it even were. I skipped the PA tap because, truthfully, I didn't  know what that meant. I will save the details for some essay in the future, but, I will share here that somehow with the help of my little sister whom I had dragged along with me and who was furious because she knew that neither of us knew what we were doing, I pulled it off.

I put all that equipment together, remembered pictures in my sound books about mic placement, circumvented the PA, taught myself how to solder, mixed a 16-channel recording of a live performance, and a few weeks later got a call from the Archbishop of the Catholic Church in San Francisco (the performance I recorded was of a choir composed of choirs of every religion from all over San Francisco) thanking me for the outstanding recording I had created of the day's performance. To this day I can't believe I pulled it off!

For years when people asked me how I learned so much about sound in college (I wound up building an Academy Award winning sound post-production studio for producer Saul Zaentz after I completed my undergraduate degree in film), I used to tell them how I apprenticed with the staff engineer at my university. For years I did not know why I gave that as my standard answer. For it was a lie. I am going to speculate today, because I am thinking more deeply about these things now, that I said it because I figured it would give me more credibility than telling people I taught myself. Especially because I was a girl, and was always struggling to be taken seriously. That and the fact that the truth somehow embarrassed and humiliated (and hurt?) me.

The truth being that when I asked him if he would mentor me, he said no. Not only that, but when I went back to him, after learning he had a daughter, and posed the question to him differently, persuasively: "How would you feel if you knew your daughter, like me, some day went to some man and asked for help so she could get a leg up in the world and he said no?" - Unmoved, he still said no.

And yet for years I told people that I went to him with that question, and he agreed to mentor me and that was how I came to know all about sound engineering. When in truth I learned by doing my Workstudy in the sound lab of the university for 20 hours a week. And by engineering and mixing the soundtracks of all my peer's college movies. And by reading every sound recording and physics of sound book I could get my hands on. And by listening to sound. Everywhere.

So, yeah, I kinda know what it has been like for these scientists, inventing things that have never existed before, pulling off feats and expeditions of great complexity - each usually for the first time. But one big difference is that they have each other. Maybe no mentors of people who have gone before, but each other. Most of us women who have been raised in this patriarchal society have pulled off the things we have done for the most part on our own. I hope that will change one day.

 

P.S. If you would like to learn about the Dawn Mission to Vespa and Ceres (exoplanets in our solar system that were thought to be actual planets until the mid 1800s, but which are actually planetary bodies whose growth was stunted by other solar system happenings before they could become full-fledged planets), check out the video of Dr. Rayman's wonderful, and curiously amusing, lecture here: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/events/lectures_archive.php?year=2016&month=7

Share
2Jul/16

Reading James Baldwin

I decided to read James Baldwin. Everything he wrote, from start to finish. Even if it takes the rest of my life.

photo: Reading Baldwin

Reading Baldwin

Share
26Dec/15

Self Driving Cars: the Emperor’s New Clothes Tale of Early 21st Century?

Image Self Driving Car

Self Driving Car

Yes, I am going out on a limb here. And if my words find any traction beyond my little corner of the Internet, surely there will be many people coming down hard on me. For there is BIG money behind this self driving car movement. Google is getting the most publicity for their efforts, but there are dozens of other companies staking their venture money (Tesla, Uber . . .) and their future reputations (Apple) in this zone.

Why am I dubious? Everyone KNOWS that Google and Apple and all the other Silicon Valley brainiacs can pull off just about anything, right? Who am I to doubt?

Well, I guess I’d say who I am is a woman who has a little more historical experience than some of the 20 and 30-something wunderkinds of San Fran, also a person who seems to have a bit more of a handle on the grey areas between the 1s and 0s logic of computer circuits. For starters.

Let me begin with something I tweeted recently (@TerryMediabench). It was in response to a tweet I read about how the Tesla Company was “discovering” (via accidents, I think it was) that human drivers cannot be counted on to be alert in all self-driving car emergencies when human intervention is called for.

Elon Musk Admits Humans Can’t Be Trusted with Tesla’s Autopilot Feature: http://www.technologyreview.com/view/543241/elon-musk-admits-humans-cant-be-trusted-with-teslas-autopilot-feature/

Here is what I responded on Twitter:

Triple A warned YEARS ago that speed control too dangerous due to drivers' attn lapses. I suggest you read history #Tesla #Musk & #Google

I remembered the AAA warning vividly because it was sent to me by a friend who knew that I trekked up to San Francisco (hometown) from Los Angeles (climate of choice) on a regular basis and made frequent use of my car’s cruise control on the straight and boring Highway 5 that connects the two metropolitan areas. I took the warning seriously and have not used cruise control since.

If humans can’t be counted on to take back their car’s speed control in an emergency, while they are still doing the steering and managing every other automobile function, how can they possibly be expected to pay the necessary attention in any other car emergency situation after the car has taken over ALL driving functions? Let’s get real here.

And now let’s add the element of time to this scenario:

Emergency, in most cases, refers to something that is occurring in the space of very limited time. Like milliseconds. So try to imagine this driver having time to take back car control after putting down her/his phone, video game, nail file, harmonica, _______________ (fill in your preferred human auto-car personal activity), when the car suddenly cries out “Alert! human intervention needed. Now!”

Clearly, the auto-car coders were not aware of the Triple A cruise control warning history. What other history and human illogic are they missing-ignoring as they push forward with total confidence that they can not only pull off fully self driving cars, but do it in the next few years, as so many are touting?

I’m just getting started here.

Back later.

Share
25Oct/15

Digital Painting – A Tale of Digital Artist Bert Monroy and Me

October 2015 - iPhone and Coffee. Digital painting by Terry Bailey

October 2015 - iPhone and Coffee. Digital painting by Terry Bailey

A couple of weeks ago I attended a presentation by Digital Painter Bert Monroy. Bert wrote the first book I ever saw and used about computer art. It was a tips and tricks book for Photoshop 1.0! I loved that book. Bert demonstrated how to paint photo-realistically in Photoshop. I devoured every tutorial (how to paint glass, metal, chrome, etc.) and his book set me off with a thirst for experimenting with painting in the computer. I was still in college - art grad school - at the time and already knew that I had the computer bug and would somehow be a computer artist and digital storyteller. This was around 1990!

25 years have gone by and it was fascinating to see the different paths our art has taken. Like Bert, I was originally fascinated by how I could create all the objects in a digital painting on a separate layer - this allowed me to move things around and change / edit objects very easily because everything was always a separate piece on its own layer in the master file. I did not flatten (meld all the layers) the file until I was ready to make a print version, and always kept the master file with its layers intact, too. But, over the years, I grew tired of having such huge files as layers went from a few to a few hundred in a painting (the more advanced computers became, the more layers - larger file size - we could work with). I also began to notice that once a painting was finished, I never went back to its layered file like I had thought I would. Eventually, I gave up that layering technique. Really the last painting I painted all on layers was Digital Olympia (which I will link to here when I have a minute). That was a 60 inch wide digital painting printed on a huge piece of water color paper and displayed so far only once at the Digital Eclectic group show at the Art Institute of Hollywood around 2010. It was very high resolution, and had to be printed that large to see the details I had painted into it - like all the facets on the stones in the model's ruby necklace.

I still use layers - but for different purposes now: for instance, I might paint the shadow of a face on a layer above it, or I might apply an effect to one layer and then meld that layer with another. But today, I have developed different digital techniques, and I treat my digital canvas more as a canvas: I commit most of my art moves to one layer, and if I don't like it, I undo it or start again.

Bert Monroy, meanwhile, demonstrated the other night how he has taken layer work to the ultimate. His files are HUGE, he still paints every object on a separate layer, and he showed us one painting that had 70,000 layers. Ayee! What he now has to do, just to keep track of everything, and to make the size manageable even with our way more powerful computers, is to create each object in a separate file. So, for instance, in a city scene, one lamppost will be in its own file, and contain hundreds or thousands of layers. Rather than flattening one big layered file at the end, when he is ready to print, he actually has to assemble a printer version from all the separate files. Wow. Yes, our process paths have definitely diverged.

I admire his work still - but I see it as more "constructivist" to my "painterly." If you go to his website, you will see billboard sized paintings at extremely high resolution. Zoom into them and you realize that what he has done is to capture all the minute detail of his objects thanks to the ability to paint at such high resolution today. He builds a digital painting like an architect and contractor construct an elaborate building. I, on the other hand, have abandoned that construction aspect of creating digital paintings and turned to a more painterly approach - one that makes use of all the digital options that are not available when painting in oil on canvas. For me now the purpose of painting is more about the meaning, the feeling, the ambience, the composition, than the construction.

This is not to demean Bert's constructivist technique at all - what strikes me is that the world of digital art has actually grown quite sophisticated over the last 20-30 years, yet the public and art critics still think of it as a new thing! There is an entire history of style, technique, evolution that really should be documented - but I don't think much of that is being done. Bert is touring for Adobe Software, not the Metropolitan Museum. Most of us working in this world have been so passionate about our working that we have spent little time making it public; there is also, of course, the fact that there was so much prejudice about digital (computer) art in the early days that many of us kinda pulled out of the mainstream art world - they didn't want us in their club, so some of us retreated and just worked making art (an in my case, writing interactive multimedia books and composing music, too). I am posting this art and story so at least I have made an effort to document more of digital art's history.

You can find Bert's amazing work at bertmonroy.com.

The painting I am posting here is one I painted this month for my Calendar Month Series in Bert's honor (it's on one layer): October 2015 - iPhone and Coffee.

Share
13Sep/15

Landed in New Studio!

View from New Studio Windows

View from New Studio Windows

I once heard a woman say that no woman would have a second child if our minds were able to remember the pain and process of childbirth. Well, I think moving is kind of like that. I am in the last throes of a move, and really looking forward to getting back on track with the creation and publishing of my upcoming interactive multimedia iBook, Light 2.0 (see mediabench.com), plus related music performances and art shows. And, of course, back to my RiffingOnBooks blog.

When most people talk about the pain of moving, they are not referring to what a new media artist goes through! Not only did I move my living space, but my multimedia studio space as well - with all its computer gear, music gear, art gear, writing space and files, and the accompanying supplies and work. I am happy to report that the move is almost complete.

Of course, I set up my computer system first. Still have to hook up all the music gear. And this morning I had space to practice my guitar for the first time. Feeling rusty. But I love my new place and look forward to many hours of creation to be spent here.

Outside one of the rooms' windows is a giant oak tree, which makes me happy because I love looking out to nature, but also because it reminds me of my roots in Northern California - where oak trees are abundant. My cat, Salomé is also in cat heaven with unlimited squirrels to keep an eye on all day!

Share
30Jun/15

New Theory: Consciousness has less control than we believed

Consciousness

Consciousness

Pretty cool theory to ponder: consciousness is just a conduit, not an actor. Link.

Share
18Jun/15

Teaching Coding in U.S Public Schools

computer science image

 

For the last many months, I have been working on ways in which we can get coding / programming into our public schools. I gotta confess: the outlook is dire. I had no idea when I started my research just how dire.

We see all these catchy headlines about the need to get more girls interested in computer science and coding. Well, that is really just the tip of the iceberg! It turns out only 10% of US high schools even offer computer science (to boys or girls), and, in case you are not aware, coding is just a small chunk of computer science.

As a matter of fact, as I made my way through research and interviews I discovered that our first problem is not how little coding girls are getting, or even how little all our kids are getting. The problem is that most people in our society don't even know what coding is! Worse, most people lump all technology into one bucket. To them, technology is just technology, and they want nothing to do with it for the most part.

Coding (also referred to as programming) is the set of instructions that someone has to write in order to make just about everything in the modern world work. Coding is not done in English. We have dozens and dozens of programming languages that are used to write the instructions for creating different things. Languages used to code / program web sites, mobile apps, your automobile's various systems, your baby monitor, your home security system, the software you use on your computer, those electric signs on the freeway . . . .

Remember all the discussions we've had (for decades) about how girls are discouraged from math, messaged with the fact that girls are no good at math from the time they are born? Well, turns out we are doing the same thing with technology. And we are doing it for girls and boys. We give lip service to the fact that we are falling behind in the tech world, that we are not training enough tech workers, that not enough students are enrolling in tech. But, the fact is we have a societal aversion to tech, a wink and a nod attitude that tech is in the realm of a few geeky guys and the rest of us don't need to bother with it, a lack of understanding about how many different kinds of tech there are, and a frightening lack of technology education of any kind in our K-12 school system.

Looking only at the coding / programming niche of technology: There is no curriculum requirement to teach coding to kids in our US K-12 schools. None.

And if that doesn't startle you, how about this? In China kids all start learning to code / program at the age of 5. And by age 11, they are required to know at least 2 coding / programming languages.

I will be tackling this subject here in bite size pieces over the next months.

Share