The Mound Builders

The prehistoric earthworks at Newark, Ohio cover almost five square miles…the largest ancient monument in the world.  Over one hundred such earthworks were built over five centuries by mysterious early Americans.

Reconstructed effigy pipe

“My father has received many honors.  Today’s will be the greatest.  Flickering light and choking smoke filled the ceremonial house.  My eyes watered as his bones blackened, then cracked and settled deeper into the coals.  Only inches below the clay-lined fire pit lay the ashes of his father.  If the monuments I build prove worthy, my son will one day stand where I stand.  He will hold my stone pipe, my most intimate possession, home of my animal spirit; source of visions and wisdom…as today I hold my father’s.  His will never be smoked again.  When his funeral fire was kindled, I broke it.” 


3D Kaleidoscope

I rode to Sedona for breakfast on Sunday and tested a new, cut-down-for-summer windscreen on the K-bike.   Downtown was just waking up, but several restaurants were serving early customers.  I value the opinion of locals.  Michelle, just opening her kiosk for ‘Vortex Jeep Tours’, urged me to ride up to the Mesa Grill at the airport.  It pays to ask.  I enjoyed great huevos rancheros, an interesting fly-in clientele and the best elevated views of Sedona’s famous red rocks.

From the Sedona airport

As I strolled through Sedona’s art galleries after breakfast, I saw large numbers of fancy, hand-made kaleidoscopes.  These abound in every pot-infused, new-age town perforated with vortices.  I squinted through several varieties.

Always curious about the apex expression of any craft, I asked a sales clerk if she’d ever seen a kaleidoscope made for two eyes; able to produce psychedelic images in three dimensions.  She answered, “No.”  I thought I might be onto something new and interesting.

Then I went to the web.


Big Science From a Little Tent in a Snowstorm

Wegener (left) and companion in Greenland on November 1, 1930.  They look cold here, but a couple of weeks later, both were frozen solid.

Waiting out a winter storm in a small tent on Greenland’s icepack, German meteorologist, Alfred Wegener was bored.  With only his diary and a world map to help pass the time, he pondered the apparent puzzle-like fit between the continents of South America and Africa.  Though not the first to notice this curiosity, Wegener became the first to seriously study it.  For years he compared the geology and the fossil record in the corresponding areas of the two continents.  He published papers on his findings before World War I, and in 1915, a book, “The Origin of the Continents and Oceans”.  Wegener proposed that all the continents had once been joined to form a single super-continent that he named Pangaea (all earth).  He advanced a theory that the present continents had broken apart and, through a poorly explained ‘continental displacement mechanism’, slowly moved to their current positions.

The big-name geologists in their universities predictably ridiculed the presumptuous German ‘weatherman’.  Nobody else paid much notice.  Wegener’s theory sank into decades of obscurity.

A century later, Continental Drift, plate tectonics (Wegener’s poorly explained continental propulsion system) and a proto-continent called Pangaea are taught to every budding geologist.  Wegener is a scientific hero.  He’s my hero.  He receives credit for a colossal, apparently obvious, but brain-bending insight; a reality staring the world in the face for centuries.  For this I create the “Wegener Prize” to be awarded to other seers in future posts.  What else is staring us in the face?  Maybe I’ll pitch a tent…


The Greatest Invention

img_7778-copyThe wheel’s origin and development is a fascinating story told by an easy-to-like former professor of biology at Duke University, Steven Vogel.  His just-published book, “Why the Wheel is Round”, unfortunately, is a posthumous achievement.  Steve died in 2015.

The wheel is alien to nature.  No living thing we can see without a microscope has an appendage that makes a complete 360 degree rotation.  Instead, the muscles of virtually all living things, attached to rigid exo- or endoskeletons, create movement by pulling on cleverly hinged mechanisms in relatively short-stroke contractions.

Ironically, human technologies have taken the alien path, employing chiefly rotary motion to grind, spin, lift, drill, turn, create tools, generate power and go places.

“Why the Wheel is Round” tells how this came about.



A Perfect Circle:   Linear to Rotary to Linear Motion

The Golden Age of the Wheel   For the last 300 years hydrocarbon engines have flourished.  They’ve proliferated as linear-to-rotary motion conversion machines, with a piston and crankshaft emulating (in reverse) a muscle and crank handle.  A fabulous, relatively recent machine, the motorcycle, converts linear motion to rotary motion…and ultimately, wonderfully, back to linear!

Bike credit