July 26, 2012

Arborsculpture: The Artful Science of Tree Shaping

Axel Erlandson's "Basket Tree", made
from six sycamore trees planted
in a circle.
By Ansel Oommen

Our Earth is hungry for solutions. From climate change and deforestation to overpopulation and pollution, our lives are ever dependent on our delicate dealings with the environment. But amongst the grassroots an ancient practice is resurging again; combining art and science, humanity and nature, to deliver an innovative contemporary response: arborsculpture, or the art of tree-shaping.

A brief history of arborsculpture:

Dating as far back as the sixteenth century, tree shaping has been hinted at in paintings and literature, but it was not until Axel Erlandson, the father of modern arborsculpture, that the art form truly flourished. As a young man, Erlandson was inspired by the sight of two conjoined branches in a hedgerow on his property. As a result, he began experimenting― designing and sculpting over 70 different trees into various stunning horticultural and architectural specimens. He went on to open a roadside exhibition in Scotts Valley, California in 1947, debuting his curiosities in an aptly named Tree Circus.

How does tree-shaping work?

Photo credit Ansel Oommen
Photo credit Ansel Oommen
Photo credit Ansel Oommen
What Erlandson had observed and used to great effect was a natural form of grafting known as inosculation. Rather ordinary, the phenomenon of inosculation occurs when trunks, roots or branches in close proximity gradually fuse together; it can arise within a single tree or neighboring trees of same or different species. Over time, as the limbs grow, they exert pressure similar to the friction between two palms rubbed against each other. This causes the outer bark to slough off, exposing the inner tissue or cambium and allowing the vasculature of both trees to intermingle, in essence, joining their lifeblood.

Besides grafting, arborsculpture also employs pruning, bending, weaving and bracing to create the dramatic loops, twists and knots evocative of the form. The three photos of young trees illustrate this process. Many of the techniques are borrowed from related horticultural practices like bonsai, espalier and topiary. However, not all species of tree are suitable for such creative treatment. Trees to be shaped must be flexible, vigorous and easily grafted (thin barks). Some notable examples are willow, sycamore, poplar, birch and box elder trees.

July 23, 2012

Sally Ride, First American Woman in Space, Dies at 61

Sally Ride aboard the space shuttle Challenger.
Photo courtesy of NASA
By NASA People

In a space agency filled with trailblazers, Sally K. Ride was a pioneer of a different sort. The soft-spoken California physicist broke the gender barrier 29 years ago when she rode to orbit aboard space shuttle Challenger to become America’s first woman in space.

"Sally Ride broke barriers with grace and professionalism – and literally changed the face of America’s space program," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "The nation has lost one of its finest leaders, teachers and explorers. Our thoughts and prayers are with Sally's family and the many she inspired. She will be missed, but her star will always shine brightly."

“Sally was a personal and professional role model to me and thousands of women around the world,” said NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver. “Her spirit and determination will continue to be an inspiration for women everywhere.”

July 13, 2012

The Correlation Between Property Values and Birds

Image by Vlado
By Elizabeth Daigneau for Governing

"Not all green spaces are green,” says Michael C. Farmer, an associate professor of agricultural and applied economics at Texas Tech University. It’s his way of saying that not all green spaces are created equal. But figuring out what makes one space greener than another can be difficult because “land use decisions operate under short timelines and modest budgets.”

Four years ago, Farmer and his Texas Tech colleagues Mark C. Wallace and Michael Shiroya began looking for a way to differentiate between green spaces, a tool that would enable officials to easily pinpoint which landscapes have richer ecosystems, or simply put, which green spaces are more green. So they started counting birds.

What the researchers found was that the number of birds on a given plot of land -- and the number of diverse species -- not only indicated eco-diversity, it also related to property values. In a survey published late last year, Farmer and his colleagues collected information on home sales in Lubbock, Texas, in 2008 and 2009, and then conducted bird counts near the recently sold properties. The presence of “less ubiquitous” species, such as blue jays, mourning doves and western kingbirds, correlated with higher home prices. Just a single additional species could add about $32,000 to a home’s value.

July 1, 2012

Siri vs. Google Search (Jelly Bean): Which is Faster?

Siri is the hot new feature on Apple's iPhone 4S, and in iOS 6, but it doesn't work as well as it seems to in product placement ads on Big Bang Theory and other shows. The voice assistant is supposed to expected to improve, but Google is about to unleash an upgrade to its search engine that is surpassing Apple's tech. Google's new search engine recognizes voice requests and answers questions with apparent ease. According to reviewer Jon Rettinger at TechnoBuffalo, "When we first booted it up and gave it a go, it seriously blew us away with how quick it returned results, and the technology's voice is much more fluid than Siri's robotic pipes. We pitted the two against each other to see just how great Google's enhanced search is, and why Apple's new Siri may already be behind before she even arrives." In the short video below (under five minutes), reviewers pit Siri against Google's Jelly Bean in a real-time race to answer questions and complete a variety of tasks. We at EH think it is a great comparison test, well worth watching.