Saving the Night Sky

MilkyWayStromatolites_Zhang_1080New Story in the Star Tribune:

A few years ago, in the fall, I went camping in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness on a string of clear nights. When the sun set, there was no moon and the stars came alive in the sky, billions of them stretching from one horizon to the other. In the dark, I lay on a warm rock near the water for a long time, watching meteors flare and satellites circle the earth before turning in.

220px-The_End_of_Night_coverLater, I got up in the night, stepped out of my tent and looked north. The big dipper still hung there, only it had spun, like someone reached down and turned it with a giant hand. For a few seconds I stood there, struck by the palpable sense of being on a planet spinning through space.

A few days later, I was back in Minneapolis, where I would look at the night sky and think of all the stars I couldn’t see. Instead, there I saw a bluish haze with a few bright points. This is what’s known as the “skyglow” and it’s something that increases every year, blocking more of the cosmos from our view.

Read the rest here.

Photo via NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day.

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Designing the Future with Blu Dot

Maurice BlanksFrom the new issue of Alive:

Sitting in his Chicago office in spring 2001, Maurice Blanks took a call from a Los Angeles-based telephone number. It was from the producer of a new design show, “Area,” looking for a host. Not long before, the producers at the Style Network had interviewed Blanks about a company he’d started with some college friends called Blu Dot Design—which made simple, modernist chairs, tables and other furniture.

Blanks, the network thought, would be the perfect host: tall, photogenic, articulate and with a mind steeped in design history and theory. But he had also recently started his own architecture firm while still working part-time for Blu Dot, traveling to Minneapolis on weekends. He had to make a choice.

“I said to my wife, ‘It’ll be fun. I’ll go to L.A. for two or three days, and nothing will come of it,’” he recalls. “Then I got offered the deal.” Blanks wound down his architecture firm, and they headed west.

“Area” was a virtual magazine, with recurring segments on “aspirational house tours,” practical design solutions and product reviews. They filmed a full season, and Blanks felt good about it. It did what they wanted Blu Dot to do: get good design out in the world.

But times were changing. America was changing. And it did not want to watch a program at the heart of this kind of “lifestyles-of-the-smart-and-stylish” ethos.

Read the rest here.

Area Man Runs UTMB

New story form the Star Tribune:

It was around mile 76 of 106 that Steve Andersson decided he was done running. It was 2016, and he was three-fourths into the 171-kilometer Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc, best-known as UTMB, a race in the French Alps that is one of the largest and most-celebrated trail races in the world. But Andersson’s day had been rough. With temperatures in the 90s, the 33,000 feet of elevation gain (and loss) had taken a toll on his legs. The sweat had left him so chafed it felt like he was wearing sandpaper underwear.

So he called his wife, Carrie, to tell her he was struggling and might drop out. She said she would meet him at the next checkpoint, then drove two with their three children and waited.

“Watching people come in at that time,” she says. “It was just human carnage. The tent is full of people who are there, but they’re not there.”

When Andersson staggered into the aid station, he told her: “I’m done.”

“Are you sure?” she asked. “I don’t want you waking up tomorrow and second guessing this.”

Read the rest here.

The China Mystery Illness and the Power of Stories

4d9c7547g94283a8859d8&690From Undark Magazine: To Believe is to Feel: When a Mysterious Epidemic Isn’t So Mysterious

When U.S. diplomats in the Chinese city of Guangzhou recently started reporting strange, inexplicable symptoms of unknown origin — and which seemed to be spreading among State Department employees — I was reminded of a similar “mystery illness” that I spent some time researching a few hours south of Guangzhou, in a village called Fuhu.

One afternoon in May of 2004, a third-grade boy at a local school in Fuhu reported feeling that his genitals were shrinking. He panicked, ran home, and his parents fetched the local healer — an 80-year-old woman who had seen this sort of thing before: In 1963, she said, around the time of the Great Leap Forward, an “evil wind” had blown through the village and many people were struck by this illness known as “suo-yang.” She treated the boy by traditional means and he recovered quickly.

Two days later when the school principal learned of the incident, he gathered all 680 students in the school courtyard and, according to a report by Dr. Li Jie of the Guangzhou Psychiatric Hospital, “explained to the students in detail what had happened, and warned them to be cautious, and to take emergency measures if they experienced similar symptoms.”

Read the rest here.

Class: Write Around the World

28238834_1615693778478879_9025094513664493815_oThis summer, I’ll be teaching a half-day class on travel writing at The Loft Literary Center: “Write Around the World: Your Journey from Travel Writing to Publication

When: Saturday, 8/4/18, 9:00 – 1:00 pm

Class Description: “Even in today’s connected world, travel writing remains an indispensable genre. In this class, we’ll look at exactly what travel writing is, where it’s published, the differences between narrative and service-oriented travel writing, and how to know which branch is for you. We’ll look at the craft side, and talk about the business end as well, including how to pitch your story to the right market.”

Instructor: “Frank Bures is the author of The Geography of Madness: Penis Thieves, Voodoo Death, and the Search for the Meaning of the World’s Strangest Syndromes. His work has been included in the Best American Travel Writing and selected as “Notable” for the Best American Sports Writing and Best American Essays.”

Hope you can join us!

 

FANS 24 Hour Ultra

ows_152724879512701Last weekend, I got to run the 6-hour race at the FANS 6/12/24 hour ultra. (Wasn’t quite ready for a full day.) It was a great event, with great people for a great cause. Here’s my story from the Star Tribune that ran before the race. Congrats to Sue Olsen for hitting her mark! (And the results are in.)

Early one day in the summer of 1995, Sue Olsen went down to the Lake Harriet and lined up with about 50 other runners for the “FANS 24-Hour Ultra Race.” At 8 a.m., they started going around the lake, which they would circle for an entire day. As an ultrarunner (and future holder of the U.S. 48-hour record), Olsen was not out of her element. Except that on this day, she was nine months pregnant.

“I sat out in the hot part of the day,” Olsen says now. “And I slept some in the night. Back then I would normally be running 130 miles, but I only ran 62 miles. So I was taking it easy.”

The next day, her son John Miles was born.

This year, at age 61, Olsen, of Burnsville, returns for her 28th race, having accumulated 2,914.5 miles (exact mileage matters) since her first FANS. She followed the event as the race moved to Lake Nokomis, then to Fort Snelling State Park, which is where she hopes to be the first runner to top 3,000 miles when the race begins June 2.

Read the rest here.

Minnesota’s Solar Boom

SolarNew from MinnPost:

Ben Butcher and his wife live on a small farm on the outskirts of Backus, Minnesota, where they raised their four kids. He used to work as an automotive mechanic, which is where he got his first experience working with direct current — the kind of electricity that comes out of solar panels. These days, Butcher works with a lot more of it — kilowatts, in fact — as a solar installer. Like a growing number of people in the state, he makes his living directly from the sun.

Butcher works as the construction manager for Real Solar, a subsidiary of the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance, a nonprofit that focuses on getting solar to low-income households. The organization employs 14 people, including between four to six solar installers, depending on the season and demand. Their crew might take three days to put in a 15-kilowatt solar array, or just a day to put in a 2-3 kilowatt system. These days its services are in higher demand than in the past, as the solar industry booms across the state, including rural areas like the one around Backus.

“When I first started,” Butcher said, “we were on the road about 70 percent of the time. But last year, it reversed. The local market has really developed, so we were on the road only about 30 percent of the time. We’re actually looking for another electrician at the moment. But solar electricians are in very high demand right now.”

Read the rest here.