Raised Mormon: Kip Thorne, Cosmic Visionary

Kip Thorne was recently named to Time magazine’s “100 most influential people” list.

Tribute by Christopher Nolan, Acclaimed Film Director [1]

About 1.3 billion years before Kip Thorne was born, a pair of black holes collided in space, rattling the fabric of space-time itself.  The gravitational ripples of that long-ago cataclysm traveled the universe, heading for an improbable encounter with sentient beings sophisticated enough both to detect them and to recognize their origin.  It was Kip, 75, a Caltech- and Princeton-trained astrophysicist who made that discovery possible.  As the leading founder, in 1984, of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO), he played a critical role in developing the instruments that detected the waves and in so doing confirmed a prediction Albert Einstein made a century before.

Kip Thorne, Cosmic Visionary

Kip Thorne, Cosmic Visionary

Kip deflects credit for the breakthrough, pointing to the younger physicists who kept the project running over the years, and they deserve praise.  But as I learned when I worked with him on [the film] Interstellar, it takes a person who can not only understand the science but communicate it to make a project like LIGO happen.  I used to joke that I could talk to Kip about physics for only 45 minutes before my brain would begin to feel hot.  I’d say to him, “We have to come back to this another day.  You’ve used me up.”  As the body of work Kip has produced over his career makes clear, he has the kind of brain that never gets used up–and we’re all better for that.

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[1]  Time, May 2/May 9, 2016

His biography in wikipedia discusses Thorne’s beliefs concerning religion:

Thorne was born in Logan, Utah on June 1, 1940, the son of Utah State University professors D. Wynne Thorne and Alison (née Cornish) Thorne, a soil chemist and an economist, respectively.  Raised in an academic environment, two of his four siblings also became professors. Thorne’s parents were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) and raised Thorne in the LDS faith, though he now describes himself as atheist. Regarding his views on science and religion, Thorne has stated: “There are large numbers of my finest colleagues who are quite devout and believe in God […] There is no fundamental incompatibility between science and religion. I happen to not believe in God.”

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LDS Leadership: Still a Serious Lack of Diversity

After the disappointment of some members of the LDS Church over the recent choice of 3 non-diverse new apostles, the frustration continues.

At the Church’s General Conference in April, a new presidency of the Primary (children’s organization) was announced.  They are all blond, BYU clones.  The only difference that the Church press release noted was that one of 3 speaks Portuguese.  In their publicity photograph, they are all dressed in identical sport coats (albeit of different colors) and white blouses.  One does have a slightly shorter hair cut.

The leadership couldn’t find one worthy member from Asia, South America, or Africa to serve in the Presidency?  After all, over half of the members will soon live south of the equator.  Many living in abject poverty.  How do we reach the children outside the United States?

Primary Presidency: 2016 Version

Primary Presidency: 2016 Version

The recent choice to head the LDS Church’s Public Relations department–Richard E. Turley Jr.–is a 60-year-old white male BYU-trained lawyer/historian.  Really?  The PR/PA business globally is in a state of major and rapid change.  A more youthful choice would certainly seem appropriate.  Someone who is more familiar with social media and similar evolving technologies.  Given the Church’s recent and continuous PR snafus, staying the course hardly seems like an appropriate course of action.  Neylan McBaine would have been a good choice to head the LDS PR department.

Elder Turley: Newly-Named Head of the LDS PR Department

Elder Turley: Newly-Named Head of the LDS PR Department

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DIY: Monkey Rings and Bars

Monkey rings and bars provide a different form of exercise for young children.  They are an important addition to any outdoor playground.

There is an elaborate wooden playground set in a community park in Pleasant Grove, Utah.  It has a wooden-framed monkey ring set.

Monkey Ring Apparatus in Pleasant Grove UT Park

Monkey Ring Apparatus in Pleasant Grove UT Park

The Rings Are Attached to the Horizontal Beam with a Chain

The Rings Are Attached to the Horizontal Beam with a Chain

We constructed something similar near Bluff, Utah, using circular fence posts.   They are attached to horizontal 2x8s using chain-link fence connectors.   The horizontal 4×4 is attached to the 2x8s using hangers.  The rings are attached to the 4×4 using eye bolts and spring clips.  The fence posts are concreted in the ground.

Monkey Ring Apparatus Constructed with Fence Poles

Monkey Ring Apparatus Constructed with Fence Poles

The Monkey Rings Are Attached to the 4x4 Using Eye Bolts and Spring Clips

The Monkey Rings Are Attached to the 4×4 Using Eye Bolts and Spring Clips

This same design can be used to construct monkey bars.  An apparatus using this design was constructed near Bluff, Utah, at St. Christopher’s Mission.

Monkey Bar Apparatus at St. Christopher's Mission near Bluff UT

Monkey Bar Apparatus at St. Christopher’s Mission near Bluff UT

Another permutation for monkey rings is to extend the 4×4 between 2 climbing towers.  This configuration was installed at a school near Lira, Uganda.

Monkey Rings Suspended between Two Climbing Towers

Monkey Rings Suspended between Two Climbing Towers

Using Monkey Rings at an Installation near Lira Uganda

Using Monkey Rings at an Installation near Lira Uganda

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DIY: Outdoor Balance Beams

There are several interesting designs for low-cost outdoor balance beams.

Using pressure-treated 4x4s and patio footing hardware, you can install a simple balance beam.  You can interconnect any number of 4x4s, as shown below.

Simple Balance Beam Installed near Bluff, Utah

Simple Balance Beam Installed near Bluff, Utah

The patio hardware can be concreted in.

Patio Footing Used for Balance Beam

Patio Footing Used for Balance Beam

Concreting in the Beam Footings

Concreting in the Beam Footings

There are a variety of permutations possible off this simple design.

Possible Designs for 4x4 Balance Beams

Possible Designs for 4×4 Balance Beams

I observed another interesting balance apparatus in a playground in northern Uganda (installed by East Africa Playgrounds, an English NGO).  It involves the creative use of old tires.

Balance Beam in Norther Uganda Made of Old Tires by East African Playgrounds

Balance Apparatus in Northern Uganda Made of Old Tires by East African Playgrounds

A possible permutation of this design involves a tow strap stretched between vertical short sections of log.  This design could also be used in a slack line configuration, with a thinner strap replacing the tow line.

Posted in Africa, Playground, Sports | Tagged , | 2 Comments

In Memorium: Elder Marion D. Hanks

By Maryan Myres Shumway [1]

I clearly remember many refugee stories–people who are some of my beloved friends. But I also thought of a visionary man, Elder Marion D. Hanks [1921-2011], an LDS General Authority who has a remarkable story of work with refugees. In the early 1980’s, he observed perilous conditions in Southeast Asia where he was serving as an Area Authority in Hong Kong. He too yearned for the church to become involved in the refugee effort of that decade (specifically in Southeast Asia) and thus, a few of us were called, as missionaries, to teach and work in refugee camps. However, we were absolutely not allowed to proselyte or even mention the church in any way. I was a missionary, but was strictly forbidden to talk about the church. Yet many hundreds would look up the church later in their sponsored countries

We developed an agency that helped the refugees as they waited for their sponsored countries to allow them to come. Working with other agencies like Catholic Relief Services, the Red Cross, and government and UN officials, we learned how to build a program that was highly respected. We were young, mostly inexperienced, but no one told us we couldn’t do anything. And Elder Hanks gave us all the confidence and support to make it happen. Within the space of about ten years, thousands of refugees were taught temporal and practical skills in Thailand, Hong Kong, and two camps in the Philippines.

As Elder Marion D. Hanks, who instigated missionaries to work in refugee camps under the auspices of the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) taught us in the 1980’s: “Serve with no strings attached–without looking for any credit. Our purpose is to serve in a way that exemplifies pure religion. As you teach and visit with the refugees, you are sitting in proxy for the Savior.” Elder Hanks further instructed, “You are on a historical errand, and God is depending on you to give solace, comfort,and love to our brothers and sisters who have gone through a refiner’s fire.” None of us would ever be the same. How could we be?

As Elder Marion D. Hanks, who instigated missionaries to work in refugee camps under the auspices of the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) taught us in the 1980’s: “Serve with no strings attached–without looking for any credit. Our purpose is to serve in a way that exemplifies pure religion. As you teach and visit with the refugees, you are sitting in proxy for the Savior.” Elder Hanks further instructed, “You are on a historical errand, and God is depending on you to give solace, comfort,and love to our brothers and sisters who have gone through a refiner’s fire.” None of us would ever be the same. How could we be?

Elder Hanks’ vision to rescue the Southeast Asian refugees altered my life, and has given them a refuge in my heart and homes all these years. When I heard Elder Patrick Kearon speak a few days ago in [Spring 2016 LDS] General Conference, my old friend’s voice intermingled in this recent talk. Elder Kearon ended with a probing thought, “The moment of being a refugee does not define them, but our response to them will help to define us.” Elder Hanks was teaching the same principle 36 years ago in the April 1980 General Conference when he said, “There are others, nearer at hand, who struggle with problems with which we must also be concerned. . . . We must have “individual concern for the strangers among us, resident or passing through.. . .” In other words, refugees can be far away in remote places, but they can be in close proximity too. It is for us to discern how to help the strangers around us.

At the end of Elder Hanks’ life, I called his dear wife, Maxine, and inquired if I could come visit him. I was coming from out of state, and had heard he was suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. He had always been larger than life: eloquent, wise, inspiring. She gently cautioned me, “He may not know you. Sometimes he is lucid, and other times he is not. But I am sure he would like for you to come.”

As I walked into his hospital room that day, I could perceive as I looked into his eyes that he indeed did remember me. We spoke, with nods, and me filling up the conversation. At the end of our visit, I asked him because he had always been my teacher (and I had some of my teenage boys standing next to me), “Tell me, Elder Hanks, what is the most important thing we can do in our lives?” In his true sage-like way, without missing a beat, he looked at me with his penetrating eyes, and said, “You already know. Service.”

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[1] from bycommonconsent.com, 17 Apr 2016

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Cheonggyecheon: Seoul’s Urban Park and Artificial Stream

A couple of years ago, I had a 12-hour layover in Seoul, Korea.  I took the opportunity to sign up for a tour of downtown Seoul.  As it turned out, the most interesting portion of the tour was Cheonggyecheon, Seoul’s urban stream.  It is a popular and impressive accomplishment.

The River Walk in Downtown Seoul, Korea

The River Walk in Downtown Seoul, Korea

By Ken Otterbourg [1]

On a hot and hazy afternoon, I set off to walk the 4-mile length of Cheonggyecheon, the lovely ribbon of water that unfurls with quiet assertiveness through the heart of Seoul.

In the city’s preindustrial years, the stream was where lovers courted and women gathered to do wash.  But Seoul’s boom after the Korean War brought shantytowns and pollution, and the stream became an eyesore.  In 1958 a road was built over it.  An elevated highway, finished in 1976, completed the entombment.

There Cheonggyecheon might have stayed, if not for serendipity and politics.  Throughout the 1990s, a small group that included academics and engineers sought to uncover the waterway.  They figured out how to manage the stream’s hydrology and mitigate the traffic snarl that might ensue when the highway and the road below, which carried more than 170,000 vehicles a day, were removed.

The missing component was a leader with clout.  That person arrived in the form of Lee Myung-bak, a former construction executive whose company had been the principal contractor in building the highway.  He made the stream’s restoration a key issue in his successful campaign for mayor of Seoul in 2002.  (Five years later, he was elected president of South Korea.)

Work on the $372 million project, a reclamation job of mammoth proportions, began in 2003.  First the elevated highway was torn down.  Then the surface road was ripped up, again exposing the stream.  Like many restorations, this one is not entirely faithful to the past.  The stream was intermittent, barely trickling in the dry months and surging during the summer monsoon.  Thanks to pumping stations that deliver more than 30 million gallons a day from the Han River, the stream now babbles reliably.

Nighttime on Seoul's Riverwalk is a Colorful Experience

Nighttime on Seoul’s Riverwalk is a Colorful Experience

“People criticize this as a man-made river or fish tank,” Lee In-keun, a wiry and animated man, told me as we strolled the upper portion of Cheonggyecheon.  The paths by the stream were crowded with people enjoying the water and pointing with delight at carp idling in the deeper pools.  Research shows it provides a cooling effect during Seoul’s steamy summers.  Lee oversaw the restoration project and agrees that Cheonggyecheon is artificial.  But that distinction doesn’t matter to him; he finds the presence of nature as vital as in a truly natural setting.

It’s a jewel of the city.  You can hear the water flow in the central area of ten million people.  It’s unbelievable.  We made that intentional.

Cheonggyecheon begins in the financial district, within a canyon of office buildings.  The stream flows east, the banks widen.  The concrete gives way to thatches of reeds and glades of trees.  It moves past glitzy shopping areas and tired-looking wholesale districts and gigantic apartment complexes that rise up like fortresses.  At one point a pair of concrete abutments appears in the stream.  Part of the old highway, they are reminders of the past and the importance of engineering.  Many Seoul residents find it hard to remember a time when the stream was covered, when herons didn’t wade gingerly in the water hunting for fish, when it wasn’t an inviting place.

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[1] National Geographic (Apr 2016)

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Ani: Capital of an Ancient Armenian Kingdom

In 1989 when my twin sons graduated from high school, the 3 of us made a 4-week tour of Turkey.  We selected Turkey because of its rich and varied history.  Of particular interest to me were the ancient Armenian ruins in eastern Anatolia.  I especially wanted to visit the historical site of Ani, located on Turkey’s border with the USSR, the union had not yet split up.  Today, on the other side of the border is the independent country of Armenia.  But the border is still closed.

Ruins of Ancient Armenian Churches in Ani (Located in Present-day Turkey)

Ruins of Ancient Armenian Churches in Ani (Located in Present-day Turkey)

According to a recent article by Paul Salopek (NG Apr 2016):

Ani was the medieval capital of a powerful, ethnically Armenian kingdom centered in eastern Anatolia–the sprawling Asiatic peninsula that today makes up most of Turkey–and straddling the northern branches of the Silk Road.  It was a rich metropolis that hummed with 100,000 souls.  Its bazaars overflowed with furs, with spices, with precious metals.  A high wall of pale stone protected it.  Renowned as the “city of 1,001 churches,” Ani rivaled the glory of Constantinople.  It represented the flowering of Armenian culture.  Today it crumbles atop a remote, sun-hammered plateau–scattering of broken cathedrals and empty streets amid yellow grasses, a desolate and windblown ruin. . . . I have seen no place more beautiful or sadder than Ani.

“They don’t even mention the Armenians,” marvels Murat Yazar, my Kurdish walking guide.

And it is true:  On the Turkish government placards erected for tourists, the builders of Ani go unnamed.  This is intentional.

Eastern Turkey today has few Armenians.  In 1915, caught between the collapsing Russian and Ottoman Empires, the region lost nearly all of its Armenians.  Historians estimate that 500,000 to 1.5 million of them were killed or displaced in what Armenians call a genocide, a claim rejected by Turkish officials.

In addition to visiting Ani, Salopek visited an across-the-border overlook in present-day Armenia:

“I always keep by kitchen fire lit,” says Vahandukht Vardanyan, a rosy-cheeked Armenian woman whose farmhouse sits across the barbed wire from Ani.  “I want to show the Turks that we’re still here.

I climb an overlook by her home where Armenian pilgrims disembark from buses.  These tourists come to gaze longingly across a fence at their ancient capital in Anatolia.  I look too.  I see exactly where I stood months earlier in Turkey.  A ghost of my earlier self roams those ruins.  Nothing separates any of us except an immense gulf of loneliness.

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