iPads for Orangutans in Kansas City: part of a bigger movement

We are just beginning to appreciate the intelligence of other species.  An unexpected side benefit of recent developments in consumer electronics has been an increased ability to explore the realm of non-human intelligence.

And the Kansas City Zoo has enlisted its orangutans in one of those explorations.

The orangutan in this photo is unnamed in my Internet photo source, and I’m not sure what zoo it’s from.  Whoever this orang is, he or she is exploring some of the available apps.

The headline writers have been having a field day with the story (my favorite of the many predictable puns: “There’s an ape for that!”).

But at the heart of it is a project from the New-York-based nonprofit Orangutan Outreach, called Apps for Apes, that seeks to make life in zoos a bit more interesting for the primate species many believe is the next-most intelligent to humans.

This is Iris, of the Smithsonian Zoo, with her “Apps for Apes” iPad.

The Apps for Apes page for Orangutan Outreach explains that “Orangutans are highly intelligent creatures who require mental stimulation to keep from growing bored and depressed.”

It lists three goals of the Apps for Apes project:
“1. To provide stimulating enrichment & immediate gratification for the orangutans using iPads,
“2. To raise awareness among zoo visitors of the critical need to protect orangutans in the wild, and
“3. To promote the conservation efforts of Orangutan Outreach.”

Orangutan Outreach does NOT recommend allowing the apes to hold the iPads themselves, for safety reasons. This is an illustration published by Maclean’s.

One reason why it’s important for orangutans to be happy and interested in life, even when confined to zoos, is that their natural habitat in Sumatra and Borneo is disappearing rapidly. It may be gone as soon as 2022, so the day may soon come when the species must reproduce in zoos, if it is to continue to exist at all.

Having a healthy orangutan population includes their mental health–and with these intelligent apes it’s vital to keep them engaged.

IMAGE CREDITS: The first image of an orangutan using an iPad comes from Bubblenews.  I am not sure where it was taken.  The photo of Iris in DC is from an article on the RedOrbit website. The illustration from Maclean’s accompanies an article that pulls together information about various zoos, the Apps for Apes program, and the studies being conducted by Suzanne MacDonald of York University (York, ON).

Jellyfish Burger, Anyone?

Welcome to what I intend to be an ongoing series of images that visualize concepts in the areas of science, technology, mathematics, and/or engineering (or what we educators call the STEM disciplines).

Here is Jellyfish Burger, by Dave Beck and Jennifer Jacquet

Jellyfish Burger, 2009, by Dave Beck and Jennifer Jacquet

Today’s image made the National Science Foundation‘s list of Best International Science and Engineering Visualizations in 2009.  Unfortunately, things haven’t improved much since then!

The New York Times created a slide show of the winning images, which you may enjoy.  Here’s how the NYT captioned this one:

Jellyfish Burger, Honorable Mention, Illustration
Without changes in global fishing policies, the seafood of the future is rubbery, according to Dave Beck, a digital artist, and Jennifer Jacquet, a marine scientist, creators of this 3D digital composite image. “The jellyfish burger is so close to becoming a reality, we can taste it.”

For a little more information about this image, please see this article from Volume One.

As someone who has started to feel guilty any time I even contemplate eating certain kinds of seafood, this image really hit home for me (to become “part of the solution,” check out the Monterrey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch lists).

IMAGE CREDIT: Many thanks to the New York Times for this image, and to the National Science Foundation for calling it to everyone’s attention!

Holiday Essentials

Every family develops traditions, in my experience–and mine is no different.  The one that’s upon us as I write this is Thanksgiving.  It is traditionally the one my household spends at “our house,” with a cherished circle of family and friends gathered around the Thanksgiving feast, or joining together for a walk to our local-but-internationally-famous event, the Plaza Lighting Ceremony.

A view of the Kansas City Country Club Plaza Lights and the crowd in 2009

Lately, my family’s holidays seem to have been anything but “normal,” however. Last year we spent a bittersweet Thanksgiving at my father’s lake house in Arkansas, which we knew would probably be the last, and it was.  Dad sold his longtime home (our cherished relaxation retreat) in April, and moved to a much-safer-for-him retirement community.  It was a necessary change, but none of us was happy about the necessity.

The view of the lake from Dad’s wrap-around porch is one of many things we miss about his former home in northwest Arkansas!
This is my daughter’s motto.

While we were in Arkansas, my aunt in the San Francisco Bay Area suffered a health crisis that set us up for many changes in 2013. She was hospitalized the day before Thanksgiving–we got the news while we were on the road south–and unfortunately she has been unable to return home since. 

My son and daughter traveled to California in December to evaluate the situation, and my daughter moved there “for as long as needed” in January, to be my aunt’s household manager, “dog Mom” and much-needed patient advocate. This will be her first Thanksgiving and Christmas away from us.

Part of my daughter’s duties include caring for my aunt’s Miniature Schnauzer Fritz (L), as well as her own pack: (center-to-R) Border Collie Cole, Toy Fox Terrier Luna, and Rat Terrier Anika.
A small glimpse of former Christmas glory.

My mother-in-law has had even more wrenching changes to deal with.  For decades she reigned as Queen of the Family Christmas, but as she and my father-in-law have fallen into ill health, and especially now that she is a widow, Christmases have become a pale shadow of their former selves. 

She marked last Christmas by spending a final night in her home on Christmas Eve, and moving officially into a nearby assisted living facility on Christmas Day afternoon.  I can only imagine how difficult that must have been for her.

Wine and memories.

It’s hard not to see all the changes as losses.  But if we live, we see changes.  My family currently includes three octogenarians, the youngest of whom is 85.  Both of my children are young adults, of the age when people usually marry and have children if they are going to.  More changes are inevitable.

Traditions and cherished rituals may seem like the “meaning of the season,” but they, too, eventually either morph into new versions or fall away as they become impractical.  It’s another category of changes that can seem like losses.

The challenge lies in finding the essential, eternal goodness at the heart of the holiday, that which remains in place, no matter what else changes.  We are thankful for recent blessings, for memories to cherish, and for the persistence of love between family and friends–whether they are near or far away, living and drawing breath, or living in memory.

At their heart, holidays boil down to love–or they don’t boil down to anything at all. 

PHOTO CREDITS: I took the Plaza Lights photo in 2009.  My husband Pascal Gephardt took the photo of Beaver Lake from Dad’s porch during the Thanksgiving visit in 2012.  The little “Lilo and Stitch” image and quote is from the Facebook page of my daughter, Signy Gephardt (currently her profile picture). Signy took the photo of the “California Canines” in the loft at my aunt’s condo in Daly City, CA. 

Either my son Tyrell Gephardt or I took the photo of my mother-in-law’s Christmas decorations in 2006, one of the last really “like-old-times” Christmases there, but already shadowed by my father-in-law’s ill health. My son Tyrell took the final photo at Dad’s lake house last Thanksgiving: A favorite wine (Stonehill Norton) and one of my dad’s glasses, commemorating his ship the St. Lo, sunk in the Battle of Leyte Gulf in 1944.  The survivors still hold reunions, but those traditions are necessarily changing, too.

Two Personal Pieces Achieve Closure

A couple of pieces of my artwork have found their intended homes lately. 

Neither of these pieces was ever part of my competitive fine art collection, nor was either created for the sf convention art show market. Instead, each was a piece made specifically for a person I know.

The first is a little piece I made for a relatively new friend.  Ann recently celebrated her 80th birthday.  A group of us created an appreciation piece in her honor, a special hat adorned with Minnie Pearl-style tags that each bore a note  recalling a memory, favorite moment, or other appreciation.

This is the miniature piece Ann’s Hat, created as an appreciation.

Since I didn’t know her as well as some of her friends, I opted for a visual appreciation: Ann is a woman of truly distinctive style.  She favors large rings and brooches, colorful scarves, and vintage hats. I always enjoy seeing what she wears to our monthly gatherings.

I was in California for her party and presentation, but I hope she liked my offering.

I created the other piece for my Aunt Bobbie, who has been a collector of hippopotamus-themed artwork (mostly small sculptures) for as long as I’ve known her (i.e., all my life).  

The piece I created for her actually has been in the works since 2011 and was not delivered till 2013. In the course of creating the final image, I developed several techniques that I have used in subsequent works, most notably all the floral/herbal works created so far in 2013.

Bobbie’s artwork portrays a hippo of the Okavongo, among the papyrus mats that are a feature of that river.  It is titled Hippo at Home.

This is a photo of Hippo at Home, in its original mat.

Bobbie’s had a very rough year. Starting with an illness that forced a trip to the Emergency Room on the night before Thanksgiving 2012, she’s been in and out of the hospital and a rehabilitation facility, and at present lives at a boarding care home (where she recently celebrated her 85th birthday) in South San Francisco.

To compound the problem for all of us, she has for many years lived far away from the rest of her family: my sister is in Dallas, and I’m in Kansas City.  She has many friends in the Bay Area, but sometimes there’s no substitute for family.  My daughter Signy Gephardt (a jewelry designer about whom I’ve blogged in the past) now lives nearby at Bobbie’s condo, and acts as Bobbie’s patient-advocate, household manager, and dog-caregiver.

Unfortunately, while I got the mat/frame in focus, the artwork is NOT.

This fall, partly thanks to Signy, Hippo at Home received a much-needed mat-makeover.  It was delivered while I was visiting in early October, so i got to see it. 

Although I tried, I couldn’t get a very good picture of it in its new triple mat and shadowbox frame, created by Aaron Brothers of Daly City, CA. It is now hanging in Bobbie’s room at the boarding care home, right above her TV. 

IMAGES: all photos are by me, of my own artwork.

Great Opening for State of the Arts Prairie Village

Man, the Prairie Village Arts Council sure knows how to throw a party!

I apologize for the long time it has taken for me to get my act together and get back to blogging–I intended to write this post a month ago.

I was honored this year to be included in the State of the Arts annual juried art exhibition, sponsored by the Arts Council of Prairie Village, at the R.G. Endres Gallery at Prairie Village Municipal Offices, Prairie Village, KS.

The piece accepted to the show was Nine-Part Herbal Harmony.

I owe a big debt of gratitude to my son Ty Gephardt, for delivering the artwork on the specified date, while I was in California on family business, and then making sure it was picked up on the specified date, while I was in Oklahoma on other family business.  Where would we be, without family???

I did make a brief cameo appearance in town–just in time to attend the reception, held October 11 at the R.G. Endres Gallery.

The highlight of the whole evening for me, however, was my chance to meet with a man who has been an inspiration since the very beginning of my foray into paper sculpture.  I think I first saw the artwork of Shannon Manning at the former Heritage Gallery in Prairie Village, in 2004 or 2005, and I’ve been an admirer ever since.

Manning’s wonderful paper sculpture Endangered also was in the 2013 State of the Arts show, and he attended the opening with his wife. He is a delightful person and a wonderful artist. Please visit his online gallery to view images of his paper sculpture artwork!

PHOTO CREDITS: Many thanks to the City of Prairie Village, for the image of the buffet table at the Oct. 11 2013 reception. The images of Nine-Part Herbal Fantasy and the tent at the reception are my own.

And I used to think Math was boring

The “Visual Insight” page of the American Mathematical Society (AMS) includes some wonderful images.

Take the one I’ve “borrowed” here, titled {6,3,3} Honeycomb in Upper Half-Space, by Roice Nelson. I encourage you to access the article about this image on the AMS site.

I also encourage you to look at Roice’s blog, which has some more wonderful imagery based on mathematical concepts that I don’t understand.

I detest having to say I don’t  understand the math (and I’m still angry over the way I was taught math in elementary school, which so profoundly bored me that I became viscerally aversive to later study of the discipline).

However, I am thankful that I don’t have to understand it to enjoy this image.  I simply realize that if I did understand the math, I probably would enjoy it even more.

I am delighted that mathematicians now have access to computers that can create such images, and that I have access to an Internet that allows me to see and share them.

IMAGE CREDIT: Many thanks to the American Mathematical Society, John Baez, and Roice Nelson, for this wonderful image!

Book Review: A sure-fire author’s semi-misfire

Book Reviewed: True Blue (2009)
Author: David Baldacci
Published by: Grand Central Publishing

I recently have been raiding my aunt’s bookshelf (I’m visiting), and just finished reading David Baldacci’s 2009 book True Blue.  It was compellingly written and held my interest throughout, but I found it ultimately unsatisfying.
The basic setup: Mace Perry is a former Washington DC cop who has just served two years in prison after being framed for crimes she did not (willingly) commit.  She’s the main protagonist.  Her sister Beth is the DC Police Chief, a fact that both complicates and simplifies her life. 
Her sort-of-accidental sidekick is a lawyer named Roy Kingman, who is a former collegiate basketball player and now works for a high-end law firm.  He discovers the second body of the book when he opens the fridge in the break room and it falls into his arms.
David Baldacci sure knows how to hook in a reader.
True Blue was one of those “over the top” books: exaggerated characters pulling badass shit and getting away with it.  Vast, deep government conspiracy.  Fabulous wealth and massive, corrupt power.  All that stuff. There was a lot of basketball, some patriotism, and a lot of ambiguous morality. 
I found its resolution unsatisfying because the protagonist solves the crime, but does not achieve her primary objective—and in the process, she and Roy break a lot of laws, for which they do not seem to answer. Although there appears to be a mutual attraction between Mace and Roy, we never get any action, beyond a fairly chaste kiss.

At the end of the book I don’t have much sense of “what happens next.”  What will Mace do now?  She’s still not a cop.  Will she and Roy wander off in separate directions?  What will Roy do, now that he’s been canned from his cushy job?  I checked to see if Baldacci wrote a sequel, but apparently not so far, so we may never know.

Image Credits: The cover image is courtesy of the author’s website.  The True Blue page there includes a link for purchasing the book, as well as a short synopsis and background information. The photo of Baldacci is taken from an interview (well worth reading) on the Bitter Lawyer blog.