Taking you inside research through Google Glass

Your chance to explore #throughglass

Posted on November 4, 2013

Glass in Cotton High-res version

How would you like to join me in the Glass Explorer program? Google sent me three invites and I’ll share them with you if you fit the following description:

  • a U.S. resident
  • 18 years or older
  • able to purchase Glass ($1500+tax)
  • can provide a U.S. shipping address OR pick up the device in New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles

New explorers will be getting the updated hardware which will be compatible with new accessories and prescription frames/lenses.

Let me know what you would do with Glass in the comments below, and I’ll select three people by Friday, November 8.

Flight school

Posted on September 26, 2013

I spent today’s crisp fall morning touring the Raptor Center on the university’s bucolic St. Paul Campus. I also spent it suppressing any desire to blurt out bird puns (Take off! Bird is the word! Winging it! Fowl play! Ruffle your feathers!)

Next year, the university’s Raptor Center will celebrate 40 years of world-renowned work in conservation and rehabilitation of sick and injured raptors. As of last Monday, they’ve treated 756 raptors this year alone. In fact, you can see a list of patients that are in the clinic on their website, currently numbering 102.

Research going on at the center is imperative to a burgeoning field known as “One Health,” a multidisciplinary effort to discovering the connections between and ways to improve the health of people, animals, and the environment that we share. The focus of the extremely dedicated and passionate veterinary staff, students and volunteers is to make life better for these birds. Research spans from the study of the effect of lead poisoning from spent ammunition in Eagles and developing a captive management system to safeguard Galápagos hawks during rodent eradication. The center also uses bird banding to collect data on what happens after rehabilitated raptors leave the nest, so to speak. How far will they travel from the release location? If they weren’t returned to where there were found, will they go back? How long will rehabbed birds survive?

The rehab work they do is also science-based. Each bird exercises with a trained volunteer “Flight Crew” by taking eight 150-200 ft flights. Those precise numbers came from the measurement of lactic acid in raptor blood after exercise to ensure an optimal rehabilitation program (a practice also used to condition racing horses). Assessments made from regular exercise helps staff determine the exact right time to release a bird back into the wild. You can attend the public Fall Raptor Release on Saturday, September 28 in Hastings, Minnesota.

The Raptor Center’s 40th anniversary will also usher in some changes in scenery, including sustainable and innovative renovations that will make for a better recovery space for wild birds, a cozy home for the permanent education raptors or “winged ambassadors” and a more engaging space for the center’s unique public education programs. Clinic manager Lori Arent literally wrote the book on Raptors in Captivity and says the center is excited to share the new space that showcases the highest standard for raptor care.

You could say it’s a real feather in their cap.

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Related links

More of my photos and videos from The Raptor Center
The Raptor Center releases rehabilitated birds this Saturday
U of M faculty help bring peregrine falcon back from the brink
Take a Virtual Tour of The Raptor Center
The Raptor Center website
The Raptor Center on Facebook
The Raptor Center blog

Cedar Creek: Where science meets art

Posted on September 24, 2013

This past weekend I enjoyed a unique hike at the Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve in Bethel, Minnesota. What’s unique about my company was that it included scientists, artists, and musicians. What’s unique about the reserve is that the site, a mere 40 minutes north of the Twin Cities, represents all the diverse, natural habitats of the entire state. It should come as no surprise that Cedar Creek is an important hub for environmental research and conservation (though it was a surprise to me to learn that it’s been a university research site since the 1940s and that radio tracking collars for animals were invented there).

Scientists at Cedar Creek aim to bridge the gaps between science, community and government. Thanks to an innovative collaboration between the School of Music, Department of Art, and Institute on the Environment they’re about to bridge those gaps in a whole new way.

Sounds and Visions of Cedar Creek is a creative project that will result with a performance and art installation created by the faculty and students I tagged along with last Saturday. They will utilize the natural sounds and beauty of the reserve to produce original compositions and mixed media art to give new perspectives on the environmental issues being researched at Cedar Creek like human impact, biofuel development, habitat restoration, fire frequency, and biodiversity. This project will also showcase the power of combining science and art to spread awareness, enlighten and inspire.

I can’t wait for the result, but until then enjoy some of my visions of Cedar Creek, captured through Glass, and a fitting thought from David Bowie:

I will sit right down, waiting for the gift of sound and vision.

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Related links

Harnessing the Power of Music
A Song of Our Warming Planet


Posted on August 30, 2013

Yesterday, I explored something completely foreign to me: new student convocation. There I was, on the floor of the legendary Maricucci Arena, amongst esteemed faculty, staff and the university’s Regents, all in full academic regalia. They were all there, with an impressively exuberant group of volunteers, to officially welcome a lot of fresh-faced kids to campus. I shouldn’t be so flip. These 5,500 “kids” rose out of over 43,000 applications to be one of the most academically talented class of incoming students admitted to the U of M.

The new students  were encouraged to do new and important things, take risks and stay playful along the way. To this new crop of thinkers, I impart a bit of encouragement that Google gave me when I accepted the “new and unknown” that is being a Glass Explorer. I think it’s quite fitting given the “new and unknown” opportunities you have to shape your minds and discover your passions.

You are pioneers, founders and architects of what’s possible. You are explorers. We have an exciting journey ahead of us, and what happens next starts with you.

Good luck and welcome from one of your own (Class of 2006). Though, I suspect this meager welcome pales in comparison to the one you had yesterday:

(Be sure to crank the volume to experience it the way I did.)

The beekeepers’ apprentice or how I learned to love bees

Posted on August 16, 2013

A few days ago, I spent my afternoon at a little living art party on the rooftop of the Frank Gehry-designed Weisman Art Museum (WAM as we call it in these parts). Our view: a panoramic mash-up of the Twin Cities campus, the Mississippi River, and the Minneapolis skyline. Our hosts: WAM staff, the university Bee Squad and about 100,000 honey bees affectionately referred to as “the girls” since the majority of hives are made up of female worker bees.



The bad news is that bees are in trouble. They are disappearing at an alarming rate likely due to a number of baddies like pesticides, a loss of pollinator landscapes (i.e. food), and parasitic Varroa mites. Scientists are referring to this puzzling loss as colony collapse disorder and it’s a very big deal. You may not realize just how vital bees are to our health, environment, and economy. The current issue of TIME magazine is dedicated to the “Plight of the Honeybee” and inside details the story about a Rhode Island Whole Foods store that removed all the bee-dependent food from it’s produce section to show the impact of this loss. 47% of the produce was missing from their shelves, everything from apples and cantaloupes to squash, cucumber and almonds.


The good news is that hope is not lost. World-renowned bee expert, Marla Spivak is leading ground-breaking research at the U of M Bee Lab. Spivak and her team aim to help get bees “back up on their own six feet” through hygienic breeding that helps bees help themselves. There’s also the promising power of propolis, a tree sap bees use to seal cracks in the hive that also provides a natural defense. A collaboration between the university’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences and Medical School is investigating the antimicrobial and antiviral properties of propolis—studies have even shown that it’s highly active against HIV-1. Other projects look to landscape conservation and alternatives to pesticides.

Spivak also started programs like the Bee Squad to spread the knowledge from these discoveries to beekeepers (commercial and hobbyist alike) and average people like you and me. We may not all be able to set up a colony at home, but we can play our part in fostering healthy bees by planting bee-friendly buds like Russian sage or establishing nesting boxes for wild bees like the delightfully rotund bumble bee. The Bee Lab also hopes to establish a state of the art research and discovery center that would combine research, education and display gardens, taking their mission to the next level.

It was an afternoon of learning, and I left with a newfound respect for bees (and my sting-free life record intact). Honestly, could there bee a better subject to move onto after covering Sherlock Holmes, who famously retired to beekeeping at the end of his fictional life (inspiring a recent series of bestselling novels)? Quite apropolis.
… it was also an afternoon of puns.

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Related links

My photos of the bees (taken with Glass and a Nikon)
The artistry of bees
TED Talk: Why Bees Are Disappearing
University Bee Lab
The practice of science: Marla Spivak
A higher state of beeing

On the case

Posted on August 12, 2013

Mr. Holmes. High-res version

The University of Minnesota is home to the world’s largest collection of Sherlockiana — over 60,000 items including books, artwork, memorabilia and some rare treasures related to Sherlock Holmes and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This collection exemplifies the university’s dedication to preserving archival materials and educating the public on historical figures, even if that figure is fictional. A massive resource for those studying the impact made by the world’s most famous consulting detective on Victorian England, his creator and popular culture.

Keep calm and deduce

Maybe you’re like me, you’ve dipped your toe in the canon with The Hound of the Baskervilles (or a very–very!–faithful graphic novel version). You saw (and liked) both of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes movies starring Robert Downey Jr. and you occasionally indulge in television’s modern-day Sherlocks: Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller.

Maybe you are a true Sherlockian, a card-carrying member of the Baker Street Irregulars (or a scion society like the Norwegian Explorers of Minnesota). You indulge in a world where it’s always 1895. You’ve read all 56 short stories, four novels and actively take part in “The Great Game,” using your own knowledge of the canon and detective work to learn more about Holmes. Maybe you’ve even made a full-scale replica of Holmes’ sitting room at 221B Baker Street (this happens to be real and part of the U’s collection).

If you’re the latter, you may have just flipped your Deerstalker lid at my lack of Holmesian clout. One thing I have on you thanks to Google Glass: My face has been closer to one of Doyle’s handwritten manuscript pages than yours.

The collection is housed in a secure underground storage area and generally not available for viewing, but you can see items from this impressive collection. The Sherlock Holmes: Through Time and Place exhibit is free and open to the public at the Elmer L. Andersen Library through September 27. You can see a few of the items on display in my factoid-filled gallery below. Not in the Twin Cities? No worries. You can view the entire collection online through the U Media Archive.

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Related links

Special collections and rare books: Sherlock Holmes
At U. of Minnesota Libraries, a Curator Beckons Holmes, Sweet Holmes
The Enduring Appeal of Sherlock Holmes
Holmes’ home


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