Questions and Chaos

Life in the 21st Century

Rippling of the River

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Who hears the rippling of rivers will not utterly despair of anything.

Henry David Thoreau

Corpse Flower – Amorphophallus titanum

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Somewhere in the  tropical rain forests of Sumatra, plants like this are growing, blooming, pollinating, creating seeds, feeding birds and growing again. This plant grows for seven to ten years before  blooming.  A plant in the New York Botanical garden took forty years to finally bloom. These photographs are from the second day of blooming at the Muttart Conservatory in Edmonton, Alberta. This particular plant, which staff have named Putrella, has bloomed in 2013, 2015 and  again in 2017. The Muttart has been able to create the conditions for  growing and blooming a complex, equatorial  plant in North America’s most northern city. That is quite an accomplishment.

It is called “Corpse Flower” in its native surroundings because of the putrid smell that disperses when the spathe opens. Its scientific Latin name, Amorphophallus titanum, means “giant misshapen penis”.   The plant produces the largest flowering structure and one of the  worst odors in the plant kingdom. The smell mimics that of  something dead and decomposing. This smell attracts the beetles that are necessary to pollinate the plant and produce seeds.

The actual flowers are contained inside the round bottom part just above the ground. The spike in the middle is called the spadix and the petal like collar around it is the spathe. The bloom only lasts about thirty six hours. These photos were taken on the second day when the spathe is already closing and the scent is no longer perceptible to humans.

Amorphophallus titanum has an interesting life cycle. It grows from an underground bulb like structure called a corm. The corm of Putrella weighs over 200 pounds. The corm produces a pointed sprout that develops into either a leaf or the flower. The leaf can be over six feet tall. To the untrained eye it looks like a tree but its structure is that of a single compound leaf.

The leaf grows for a year, storing energy in the corm, then dies back. Year after year the sprout will produce another leaf until there is enough stored nutrition to produce a flower. How does a plant “know” that it has enough energy to produce a flower?  Imagine the intricate biochemistry and DNA activation that must take place to make this spectacular flower grow instead of a leaf. Imagine a six foot caterpillar   turning itself into a butterfly and also turning itself back again.

The bloom usually opens at night. At this time the plant also heats up to 98°F. The increased temperature helps to spread the smell as far as possible to attract insects.  Both male and female flowers grow in the same inflorescence.  The female flowers open the first night, then close, and the male flowers open the second night.  This prevents the plant from self pollinating. In the two days the flower structure is open it must attract enough insects to carry pollen to and from another flower somewhere in the jungle.

Once the female flowers are pollinated, they grow into many red berries. These berries are poisonous for humans but loved by birds. The birds then poop the seeds all over the jungle and the cycle begins again.

This isn’t virtual reality crafted by a computer. There’s just a seed in the dirt with sunshine and rain.  The  drama continues unabated for millennia.


Breathing the Sky

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

My attempt to write a poem about breathing the sky was an epic fail.

I was trying to show the connection between the sky and the wind and our own breath.  Because we use different words to name them, we see them as separate entities existing in different places. But what is the sky? It is the atmosphere as we experience it visually, extending far above us. What are wind and storms? They are the atmosphere as we feel and hear it in motion. What are we breathing?  The atmosphere. Day and night we are unconsciously breathing this same ocean of air from the moment of birth until death.

The first two lines of my poem were:

We breathe the sky
twenty times a minute

My writers’ group was sure this was inaccurate. “We don’t breathe nearly that fast.”  I had found the information with a quick Google search.  It seemed to me that this fact was simple to measure and extensive research wasn’t necessary.  On the other hand, I  wasn’t willing to justify my information with, “Well, I googled it.”  I  expect sound evidence for any fact and “I googled it” wouldn’t  convince me to accept the credibility of someone else’s fact.   The scientist in me expects verifiable facts and evidence. So, the next morning when I woke up I set my timer for one minute and counted my breath. The result was sixteen breaths in one minute. I stand by my number. Twenty breaths per minute seem like a reasonable average while going about one’s day.

Then there was the ending:

warm breezes
blow my skirt
caressed by the sky

A group of men automatically assumed this was a skirt blown upwards. On second reading I understand how that might be assumed. The words “rustled my skirt” might have created a more accurate image. What I was attempting to convey was that moment on a hot summer day when a breeze gently waves the skirt around your legs. I wanted to convey how it made me think of being caressed by the atmosphere. That same atmosphere that is indistinguishable from the blue sky.

I see more work is necessary for composing words to deliver my thoughts on the page.

True and False

Wednesday, October 5, 2016


“The opposite of a fact is a falsehood, but the opposite of one profound truth may very well be another profound truth.” 

–Niels Bohr 

From The Lightness of Being by Frank Wilczek


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Heisenberg Quote

Asking the right question is frequently more than half way to the solution of the problem.

–Werner Heisenberg

I Like Living

Tuesday, July 26, 2016


“I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.” —Agatha Christie


Wednesday, July 13, 2016


Trees are poems the earth writes upon the sky.

–Kahil Gibran

Light in the Dark

Wednesday, June 29, 2016


To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle.
— Walt Whitman

More Virtual Reality

Sunday, June 19, 2016

I tried out HTC Vive Virtual Reality and couldn’t stay away.

Tilt Brush is a 3-D drawing program. It’s difficult to make it look interesting with 2-D screen shots. It was an unusual experience to draw a campfire and then walk around it. I could draw stars overhead and snowflakes falling all around me. In a screenshot it loses all effect and just looks like a five year old’s drawing so I’m not going to show you my efforts. It’s possible to save the drawings for other people to experience later. Here is a saved drawing.

Here is a sample drawing in the gallery, to show us what’s possible.
Again, it completely loses its effect in the screen shot. These are drawings that you can walk around and, in some cases, walk through.  A three dimensional drawing is something the brain doesn’t really understand until you actually experience it.

In Waltz of the Wizard  I am throwing potions into the cauldron to create spells. Each spell creates a  different super power. Super powers such as throwing fireballs, attracting objects with my hands or turning myself into a giant are available. This game  has great visual effects, but I found it a little disconcerting to find that objects could be put, not just onto the table, but also into the table.
Butterfly in Walz of the Wizard Waltz of the Wizard
Irrational Exuberance involves shattering the rocks that and boulders that float past me and shattering the rock wall that surrounds me.  Eventually I am  left standing on a small platform  floating in a star filled galaxy. If I lean too far the blue lines of  the VR boundary appear making me feel safe. Now I know no matter how far I lean I won’t fall  into the abyss.  It doesn’t mimic any real life experience and I think this makes it more fascinating.  Screen shots don’t show the details in the darkness.  Like TheBlu,  it’s a beautiful game for introducing a non-gamer to virtual reality.

Hover Junkers is an on line game that looks fascinating. I was told “You wouldn’t like it Mom.” Of coures, this means I have to try.  In this game you have a choice of various post apocalyptic space ships to drive through the desert scene, collecting treasure and avoiding death.   I admit, I did refrain from going on line so I wouldn’t get shot at, but I definitely wanted to drive a ship and go for a ride.
Here are my hands.
Hover Junkers
Loading the gun.
Hover Junkers 2

Taking a a drive around the scenery. 
Hover Junkers 3

Apparently even video game players are highly impressed. “OMG”, “No Way!  “This is the coolest shit ever!”
Take a tour.







Virtual Reality is Here

Friday, June 3, 2016

Virtual Reality

A few days ago I was able to try out the HTC Vive virtual reality headset. Yes, the future is here and available in your living room. Put on the headset and adjust to fit. Add ear buds and I enter another world.

I find myself in a big warehouse space with white furniture while a talking basketball gives me instructions about how things work in virtual reality. The controllers become my hands. The blue lines show the edges of the virtual  reality. Don’t step past the blue lines or I may hit my shins on the furniture.

When I push a button on the controller it blows up a balloon that floats  to the ceiling. I can blow up red, green, yellow or blue balloons from the ends of my finger tips. The balloons float slowly upwards and when I pull the trigger I  shoot them down. I’m reminded not to push the controllers past the blue lines. My son is worried I may punch a hole in his television screen.

In another module, I  practice using my controller hands by throwing sticks  for a robotic dog. He fetches them and drops them at my feet.

Virtual Reality

My favourite program so far is TheBlu. The floor doesn’t move. Yes, this is where you introduce your grandmother to virtual reality. It’s fascinating first time around but could be boring without more interaction. TheBlu has three modules. The first is called Reef Migration. I’m standing on the ocean floor with sea anemones beside me  and various sea creatures above and all around me.  When I touch the sea anemones with the controller they close themselves up.

Click on photo to see better details

Click on photo to see better details

I am surrounded by schools of small fishes flitting everywhere. It feels like a little fish might go right up my nose. And then there are the jellyfish.
Jellyfish 1
Luminescent orange jellyfish everywhere.
Jellyfish 2
And gigantic jellyfish.
Jellyfish 3

I was so enamoured with jellyfish I almost missed the sea turtle completely.

The second module is Whale Encounter. Instead of standing on the sea bottom I am standing on the deck of a sunken ship.
A whale swims in from the distance.  It swims past the platform and looks me right in the eye. I’ve never been face to face with a whale, so perhaps I shouldn’t judge, but the whale somehow didn’t seem real. Still, it was a really good 3D movie whale.
And the stingrays floating overhead were beautiful.
The third module is called Luminous Abyss. I am walking on the sea floor littered with old whale bones. It is dark and I need to use the controller as a flashlight. Many scary things could happen when surrounded by darkness.  I am nervous but, here, it’s perfectly safe. Nothing jumps out at me.  I use the flashlight to look around the sea bed at the bones and the crabs, as small luminous jellyfish float by.
Small Jellyfish

I have to confess, on  the drive home the streets looked a little drab and ugly.  Really, with all of modern technology,  is this the best we can do?

When I went to sleep that night I was still seeing schools of orange jellyfish in my head.

There’s so much more to see.


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