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Talking It Out

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”  — Hamlet, Act I, Scene V.

We live in amazing times. Scientists are working on bio-luminescent plants that could replace light bulbs. We’re inches away from the long-promised flying car. And we have successfully cloned a human embryo.

Even here at the Library, we’re offering some pretty futuristic stuff. For instance, did you know you can remotely beam books to your Kindle e-reader? (It’s like a Star Trek transporter for library books). And starting June 1, we’ll be offering 3D printing technology that lets you ‘print’ a model of an object you create. But how can we process all these fast and fabulous changes? Who can we talk to about this brave new world?

Each other, of course.

The Library is starting a Science and Math Discussion Group — kind of like our book groups, but without the book. Instead of discussing plot and character, we’ll be hashing out scientific discoveries and developments. No prior knowledge of a topic is necessary. Come to learn something new, or share what you know, or deepen your understanding through discussion. Because the world is changing fast, and we’re all in this together.

Science and Math Discussion Group meets the third Tuesday of every month, at 7 p.m., upstairs at the Library. Our first meeting is this Tuesday, May 21. We’ll be talking about the Higgs boson.

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Celebrating Women of Science

The theme for Women’s History Month is Women Inspiring Innovation through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.  It seems particularly appropriate for Silicon Valley where so many men and women work in the STEM fields.  As I looked through the list of honorees and nominees chosen by the Women’s History Month Project, I was surprised to see a name I recognized.  Mildred Dresselhaus is an Institute Professor and Professor of Physics and Electrical Engineering (Emeritus) at MIT.  She has received many awards over her long career, including the National Medal of Science in 1990 in recognition of her work on electronic properties of materials as well as expanding the opportunities of women in science and engineering.  I would probably have not known about her except that I happened to meet her daughter at a musical event last year.  She had just come back from Norway where she watched her mother receive the 2012 Kavli Prize in Nanoscience.  What interested me is that her mother is now in her eighties.  She had become a scientist when very few women were encouraged to enter the STEM fields,  much less have a career at all.  An article in the New York Times includes a very interesting interview with Mildred.  She entered MIT in 1960 when only 4% of the students were female.  Today, about 40% of the students are women.  Thanks to the work of Mildred Dresselhaus and others, women are becoming more accepted in scientific fields but there is still progress to be made.  Here are a few titles to inspire you:

Unlocking your brilliance



 Unlocking your brilliance: Smart strategies for women to thrive in science, technology, engineering and math by Karen D. Purcell



Breaking into the lab



 Breaking into the lab:  Engineering progress for women in science by Sue V. Rosser



She's such a geek!



 She’s such a geek!: Women write about science, technology & other nerdy stuff edited by Annalee Newitz & Charlie Anders

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Costa Rica – ¡Pura Vida!

My daughter has been nagging us to go to Costa Rica ever since she was there a year ago.  So now we’ve gone and come back, and I have to compliment her taste:  what a wonderful country!

I can’t do show and tell about all the fascinating things we did, but here are a few:

We started at Playa Flamingo in the northwest; lovely beach, no undertow.  Very lazy day, until sunset, under a gibbous moon, we set out to try and find a green turtle laying her eggs.  We actually weren’t fussy; we’d take leatherbacks, too.

It took about 4 hours to find a turtle; we were about to give up when our guide motioned us over.  He’d found one.  Her head was in a sandbank, and she was digging a hole with her hind flippers.  He placed a small infra-red light behind the hole, so we could see, and she couldn’t (her head was in the sand anyway…).

It took the better part of an hour for her to be satisfied with the depth of the hole, stop digging and begin to lay.

And here is what the eggs looked like.  IMG_0492


Okay, so it’s not exactly National Geographic quality.  But being there that night and seeing these eggs actually being laid was more exciting than I can say.



The next day we took a riverboat ride through the Palo Verde National Park.  It’s full of migratory birds, monkeys and crocodiles.

Let’s start with the capuchin monkeys, who were apparently curious about the intruders.

First, a look from afar.  Floating on the river, don’t have tails, which is weird, but otherwise…  Now for a closer look….



A curious monkey jumped onto the bow of the boat, bounded from human shoulder to next human shoulder, in the blink of an eye snatched a cigarette from someone’s shirt pocket and jumped back to the tree, while his cohorts from the troop scampered around on the roof of the boat.

The one with the cigarette took a taste of it, spat it out in disgust, and threw it into the river.  Sure, it’s littering – but that’s a smart monkey!  We were warned, incidentally, not to try howling back at the howler monkeys – they apparently take the sound as an intruder trying to horn in on their territory, and they promptly begin to mark it as theirs.  You don’t really want to know how they do THAT.

And now for one of the big bad boys of the Palo Verde National Park:  a three-meter crocodile!

crocWith a smile that would make an orthodontist happy…




On the way to our next riverboat ride at Caño Negro, we stopped at a place called Restaurante Las Iguanas.  And here’s why – this is only a little corner of the tree full of iguanas!

180576_10100131463477964_7331209_nBy the way, there used to be a time in Costa Rica when many people ate iguanas, both because it was custom and because they were hungry (iguana is still eaten in many parts of the Americas – but not in Costa Rica).  The nickname for these reptiles is “gallo del árbol” – “chicken of the trees.”

Just one more photo of a river animal, I promise.

When this bird, an anhinga, gets wet in a rain shower, it dries off in the sun and it looks like this – kind of reminds me of Mexico’s pre-Columbian feathered serpent god, Quetzalcoatl… 182479_10100131482370104_7838825_n

I could go on for hours, looking at the pictures and remembering.  What a magnificent place.

Oh, and the title of this post?  “Pura vida”?  It’s supposed to be a flashy way of saying “things are great,” it means something like “the best of life.” Very much native tico (=Costa Rican) slang.  Now used for the tourists to mean “you’re welcome;” sorry about that.  I’m a Spanish speaker, and when I said thank you to a Costa  Rican, they invariably replied, “Es mi gusto” – “the pleasure is mine.”  ”Pura vida” is too slangy to be used to another Spanish speaker from outside the country.

Oh, well – wishing someone “the best of life” isn’t so bad, even if it’s kind of made-up…

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Turtles, breadfruit and growing

In September we got back from a trip to Kaua’i.  Here are a couple of exciting things we experienced.

We went snorkeling, which we haven’t done in 6 years.  I had forgotten how beautiful the fish are – Moorish idols, cleaner wrasses, and the Hawaiian state fish, the humuhumunukunukuapua’a!

What I really wanted to see, though, because I’d never seen them in the ocean before, were turtles.  So we went on a snorkeling tour, and our wonderful guide Kiley took us to a place where she said she’d seen turtles.

First she pointed out a female turtle (you can tell because of the short tail)  on the bottom of the lagoon.  Pretty exciting!  Then about 5 minutes later, she poked me frantically on the shoulder and pointed. And this is what I saw, swimming gracefully toward me:

A green turtle, as big as my dining room table, looking as if it were winging through the water in my direction.  I had to scramble to get out of its way  – you can’t be within 5 feet of a turtle, they’re protected.  They’re called green because of the color of their underflesh (which I hope I never see), not because of the color of their shell.

What a magical moment!  Seeing an animal in captivity and seeing one in its natural habitat are two very different things.

We also went to the top of Mount Wai’ale’ale  – it’s a mile high, and gets an average of 450 inches of rain a year!  It’ doesn’t really rain all the time, it’s more like mist, but the effect is pretty much the same.

After we’d seen the misty view, we went back down to the rangers’ station/museum, a couple of hundred feet below.  There I bought a beautiful print depicting the discovery of  ‘ulu, the Polynesian food staple, breadfruit.  The print looks like this:

You can see the misty clouds that we saw on Mount Wai’ale’ale – and the waves beneath the outrigger.

There are many Polynesian myths about the discovery of  breadfruit.  This particular one is Hawaiian, about two fishermen who became lost at sea between Hawai’i (the Big Island) and Maui.  The mist became so thick that they were unable to tell sea from sky.  As they wandered, they came upon a mythical floating island, Kanehunamoku.  There was a breadfruit tree there, and the two men dug it up and took it back to Hawai’i, where they replanted it and it took root.

There is a double meaning (=kaona) to this story:  “whenever you come upon fog and confusion, you will always come upon ‘ulu.”   “Ulu” is the verb “to grow,” as well as the Hawaiian word for ‘breadfruit” – so fog and confusion, while sometimes troubling and frightening, can also help us grow and show us new solutions to problems.

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Moffett Field: Past, Present and Future

Join us Monday,  October 22nd at 7 pm at the Sunnyvale Public Library for a presentation by Capt. John Mascali, USNR retired, from the Moffett Field Historical Society MuseumHe will speak of  Moffett Field’s past, present and future, and help us become familiar with this well known landmark.  John Mascali  is the director of development at the Moffett Field Historical Society

In 1931, the city of Sunnyvale acquired a 1,000 acre (4.0 km2) parcel of farmland bordering San Francisco Bay, paid for with nearly $480,000 raised by the citizens of Santa Clara County, then “sold” the parcel for $1 to the US government as a home base for the Naval airship USS Macon.  The naval air station was authorized by an Act of Congress, signed by President Herbert Hoover on 12 February 1931. Construction of the original facilities was begun 8 July 1931.The base was originally named Airbase Sunnyvale CAL as it was thought that calling it Mountain View would cause officials to fear airships colliding with mountainsides.

In 2006, an offer to clean the hangar and coat its outsides with solar panels to recoup the costs of cleaning was floated by a private company, but the plan never saw fruition because it was too costly.

In August 2008, the Navy proposed simply stripping the toxic coating from the hangar and leaving the skeleton after spraying it with a preservative.  The Navy claimed that to reclad the structure would cost another $15 million and that this is NASA’s responsibility. This was regarded as a partial victory by campaigners.

In September 2008, NASA indicated that it was still urging the Navy to restore the hangar, but that it is willing to help save the structure; in particular, NASA is in favor of re-covering the structure at the same time as it is stripped.


In April 2011, the exterior panels began coming down, starting at the top.

View of the hangar’s skeleton in September, 2012


An episode of the Discovery Channel TV show MythBusters used one of the smaller hangars to disprove the myth that it is not possible to fold a sheet of paper in half more than seven times. The sheet of paper covered nearly the full width of the airship hangar. Other episodes of Mythbusters have utilized the hangar to test myths such as “Inflating a football with helium allows longer kick distances” and “Airworthy aircraft can be constructed of concrete.”

The effort to save Moffett Field‘s Hangar One appears to be bearing fruit. Google execs are offering to pay for the restoration costs of the landmark, which is in dire need of some TLC.

Toxic panels on the historic hangar are in the process of being removed. Total cost of repairing the hangar is estimated at $33 million.

 Please join us for this free event in the Sunnyvale Public Library program

665 W. Olive Ave.  Sunnyvale, CA 94086 ph. 408.7300.7300.






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