Things That Make Me Smile No.140: Unusual “Life”

Back in 2012, before I started doing the smiles, I included a fun video of a self-locomoting art project with the below comment. Someone posted a different video in one of the steampunk groups I belong to, and I remembered the wonder this video provoked. It should have been a smile then, so it will be a smile now.

Enjoy a wander on the stranger side of creation.

The history of Theo Jansen’s Strandbeests, self-mobilizing artificial life made of PVC piping and activated by wind. (Note: Video starts with audio.)

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5 Interesting Links for 04-06-2018

Note: Videos may auto start with sound so be prepared.

Life (Space)

The Cassini mission makes the existence of some form of life in the Saturn System plausible because it found liquid water.

Librarians (Interesting People)

An economic recovery plan in the 1940s included funding horseback-delivered library materials to heavily hit areas, providing both employment and hope for the future.

Gender (Anthropology)

The correction of the 10th century Viking warrior from male to female based on bone structure has been confirmed via DNA testing.

Intent (Writing)

John Scalzi gives his take on the commercial versus art argument for writers. Not only do I agree with him, but also it’s a clear, coherent presentation that both informs and comforts.

Engagement (Websites)

If you use WordPress as I do, this article is worth reviewing. I have been happy with a large number of the JetPack features, and already use the related posts as you can see if you scroll down to the bottom of this list on the individual page (rather than the general blog page). I often see visits to older interesting links posts when I post on Friday, with the related links as the most likely cause.

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Timekeepers: How the World Became Obsessed with Time by Simon Garfield

Timekeepers: How the World Became Obsessed with Time by Simon GarfieldThis book is one man’s fixation on time through the ages, something that neither diminishes his interesting stories and bits of time-related histories, nor prevents the discovery of fascinating notes begging to be shared. I also appreciate how the impact on different classes of people is not neglected though this is lost in the thought of time as the great equalizer. It fails to recognize how the wealthy do buy extra time by outsourcing routine tasks to others, who still have to do their own tasks as well.

Whether it’s the planned community of Poundbury that turns back time or a 24-hour movie formed of clips such that any clock on screen is matched to the movie run time, if it has to do with our relationship to time, Timekeepers has a word or two about the topic. The precision placement of watch gears moves to the precise timing of an automobile assembly line and on to the obsession with time management. Nor is perception neglected as the author explores the extended minute that occurs in an accident or at the last stretch of a race.

Did you know every village or town in England used to have its own time zone? They set the time by their clock tower, regardless of the times set for their neighbors. Train schedules brought this tradition to a halt though acceptance came grudgingly and took a while. The trains ran on railway time rather than addressing the local time because too far a variance in the drivers’ watches could result in collisions.

Timekeepers is the perfect blend of interesting tidbits and an overarching theme. It has come up in numerous conversations since I started reading the book, and another reviewer recommended it for the same reason. Garfield’s intent is to demonstrate how time has become a key element, and sometimes the only element, by which we organize our lives and judge our worth, along with why this is problematic.

Ultimately, the book is a sometimes-chaotic exploration of the relationship between time and humanity. It contains many fascinating anecdotes, interviews, and portrayals of key people in the narrative, covering everything from watch mechanics to the imposition of false and stressful urgency with a touch on pretty much in between.

Timekeepers is the kind of book to prompt discussion and the urge to share some factoid the reader just learned. I don’t remember my expectation in starting the book beyond my own fascination with geared watches, but I’m pretty sure it had little in common with the reality, a fact I do not regret.

Whether you’re obsessed with time or merely governed by it, Timekeepers is likely to expand your understanding while offering a fair amount of entertainment along the way.

P.S. I received this title from the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.

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Things That Make Me Smile No.139: A Tale of Greyhound Bus People

You might have noticed I didn’t post on my blog for the last half of the month. I had a family emergency and couldn’t manage to get the posts ready, but that very event inspired this post. Because of how the timing worked out, I came back home on a Greyhound bus. Everyone has some horror story about riding a Greyhound bus, but I’ve always enjoyed them. The seats are as comfortable as a plane, and you don’t have to run through a huge airport or go through security. Even better, you can wait with your family.

I hadn’t realized another reason I like the bus until this trip. It has to do with the type of people who ride. Not the scary people (who are rarely as scary as assumed), but everyday people who choose to ride rather than fly. My trip demonstrated this difference so perfectly I had to share. Let me tell you the story of my bus trip.

By Kevin.B (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

I was going from Oakland, California, to home in Reno, Nevada. It’s about a five-to-six hour car trip, and same for the bus. My mother and sister brought me to the station and stayed to keep me company until my bus loaded. I did have one amusing moment when I returned from a pit stop to find my mother and sister noses buried in their cellphones. My comment? “Young people today are always playing with one electronic device or another.” It took my mother a moment to get the reference, but my sister, who like me no longer counts in the “young people” category, laughed immediately.

The timing worked out, so I ended up on the express bus, meaning only one extra stop in Sacramento. I stared out the window, enjoying some lovely murals and then egrets as we approached Sacramento, but nothing out of the ordinary. I did enjoy listening to the conversations around me as friends or strangers found things to comment on or discuss. This is pretty normal for a daytime ride. At night, it’s mostly snores.

We pulled into Sacramento twenty minutes late thanks to heavier than expected traffic, so the break at Sacramento was cut from thirty to fifteen minutes. Since I wasn’t planning to get off the bus that sounded good to me.

Then we didn’t leave.

I’m used to delays, as all Greyhound bus people are, but when the bus shuddered to a halt and the AC died, I knew it would be a long one.

Before I could text my husband, in comes the new bus driver (they’d switched) with a frustrated expression. He shrugs and says, “I’m just going to tell you what’s going on. The previous driver accidentally took my log book with all your tickets home with him. He lives in the area, and we’re trying to get in touch with him. Best case scenario, he’ll realize the mistake and come back, but I cannot drive without that book. It’ll take at least two hours to bring another driver in. Worst case, that driver has to be back to start his next shift at 6:30pm (when we were supposed to be in Reno).”

He said everyone could go into the station or stay here. He’d make sure we all came back before leaving (also said he knew who we were from the tickets… I assume he forgot they were missing). Some left, but most of us just settled in.

I want you to pause for a second and imagine the reaction a plane full of passengers would have had to such an announcement. Sure, some people might be resigned, but there are always a few loud, argumentative, and bitter people who crank up the tension for everyone.

On the bus?

There were more than a few chuckles and comments about “That’s Greyhound for you.” Quite a few questions about the log book as well.

Turns out one of the guys on the bus had been a bus driver before. He explained the importance of the log book to the curious. It has to do with auditing and the like so is very important. Another had started his bad day by losing his cellphone in San Francisco’s bus station, but when he asked, someone lent him a phone to report the delay. We were all texting and calling so anyone waiting for us wouldn’t be worried, but it was casual with a lot of side conversations. Someone made the joking suggestion to commandeer the bus and find the missing driver’s house to get the log book. No one would notice, would they?

It’s possible those who got off the bus were stress cases, though you wouldn’t have been able to tell from their expressions coming back. They’d mostly gone for snacks and restroom breaks. I didn’t have a seatmate, so was more of an observer than a participant (beyond a few comments of my own), but resigned acceptance with a side of good humor ruled the day. It seemed those on the other ends of our journey were more distressed by the circumstances than we were.

About an hour later, someone from the back of the bus calls out, “He’s got the log book!”

We craned our necks, looking around at each other and wondering how we could have missed the announcement, when the same person points. The direction ripples through the bus so even those who couldn’t see the man knew where to look. “Watch him. Shoulders back, standing tall with that stride. No question he has the log book.”

Sure enough, the bus driver mounted the bus steps, leaping two at a time with a broad smile. He tells us the other driver realized the mistake and brought the log book back, so we’re free to go.

He turned on the bus, with a return of the AC that I found too cold, and hopped down to find his passengers in the station. He brought them all in and did a head count. Showing as much awareness as the passenger in the back, the driver asked, “Where’s the young lady who was sitting here?”

A woman in front of me stands up. “That was my seat, but the man who had been behind you took it when I went into the station.”

“He’s not here now.” The driver removed what looked like a kitchen towel from the seat and put it on the seat behind him.

“Oh, I’ll go back to my seat.” (Which she did.)

Then he realized that man was still missing also so canvassed the folks up there. He went to check the bathroom when one passenger mentioned the man going that way, but couldn’t find him.

A little delay after that and someone in the back calls, “Here he is!” based on the description the other passengers were discussing. The man had shifted yet again for whatever reason.

There were no shouts or arguments that we should just leave. Everyone who knew anything joined in to solve the problem, and the rest of us were patient.

Happy with every passenger accounted for, our driver locked up the bus and we were back on our way, a little over an hour after we’d been scheduled.

I adore our mountains with the forested reaches, old snow peeking through the latest snowfall, and houses or train tracks nestled into the mountain’s shadow. I’ll have to say the bus driver knew his vehicle and the route very well. Sure, cars were passing us often enough, but he kept to a quick, steady pace, unfazed at the shifts as we went around tight corners.

I kept my husband updated on our time, predicting when he had to pick me up, especially since the station closed at 6:30pm, but the bus driver exceeded his own expectations by rolling into the station at 6:59, having made up more than a half hour. Despite everything, he got us home only nine minutes later than we’d been when we rolled into Sacramento.

My reading over the last month included a non-fiction book called The Timekeepers which explores our relationship to time through history. One of the things the author considers is how the precision of time has created less rather than more idle time to pursue what makes us happy. I see the Greyhound bus people as a last bastion against our time-driven, stressful society. We know Greyhound will get us to our destinations as promised. The “when,” though, is sometimes in question.

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Things That Make Me Smile No.138: Creativity with Metal

I’m taking a little break from the book posts so I thought I’d share a short film I ran across. It is about Alan William, a metal artist, and his creative process. Enjoy.

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