Passage Of Time…

Gazing out the window, I observe the tempestuous motion of clouds in the sky. The chill of a wet breeze strikes my skin as I swing along with the rhythmic motion of the trees in my neighborhood, dancing to the progressive wind. Relaxing in the comforting solitude of my humble abode, my reflections render a view across time, allowing me to travel back, and revisit the nostalgic memories of the past that led me to my current life.

A journey that began in a small corner of the world, I awakened my dreams at the sight of the luminous lamps of fire that lit up the night sky of my hometown. Contemplating on the questions that beset my curiosity, I stumbled forward, on and on, desperate to seek answers. Soaring upon the wings of my ambitions, I ventured forward into the unknown, finding strength in the arms of three beings without whom I would not be the man I am today (Mom, Dad, Sis, I love you).

Bidding farewell to our last summer, I would pave my own path in life, meeting various personalities along the way, experiences with frequent beginnings, and ends. Reinventing myself over, and over, I eventually discovered my grounds in who I wished to be in the place of another’s heart, completing a journey that brought me full circle to the little bits of everything I found in her, and appreciated in life (Thank you, Leina).

Time waits for no one…and so I wish to fall briefly into the wrenching melancholic, and bittersweet nostalgia of all that has come to be in my life so far. To the friends, and family I have met, and who have supported me along the way I give you my deep-felt thanks. Though we may be distances apart, seeking our own ends in life, our memories together will forever remain in my heart.

Now, as the tides of time push me forward, I find my resolve in the joy of our times together, and remembering those happy days we shared. Embracing the present that is built upon those memories, I find my reason to smile, thankful for all that I have been given in life. Alighting on my 26th birthday, I look toward a new, and grand horizon of adventures to follow. Thus, I’m led forward by the me of tomorrow, who holds my hand, and filled with dreams of the future, but supported all the way, by the me of yesterday, who holds all of our memories together, and follows right along…in what has been my life, or rather a passage of time…

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Cherish the memories of the past, Embrace the present, and happily Anticipate the future…Time may progress inevitably, but it is our choice to make this life, a moment that transcends eternity…

Climate Change – Part I – The Basics

Introduction

Climate change is a global issue that has wedded science to politics while simultaneously transcending the social responsibilities held by both institutions. A polarizing subject in many ways, climate change is considered as one of the most daunting challenges humanity currently faces; at its crux is an initiative towards global communication, and environmental responsibility.

To this day, there remains a schism between the public, and the scientific community when it comes to understanding climate change, and what it essentially means for our world. In a manner that follows the development of various other issues over the course of history, climate change highlights a certain measure of conflict in science, and ignorance.

Investing the time to learn the basics can prove the difference in being knowledgeable and informed or confused and manipulated. This is particularly crucial as climate change is a phenomenon that has wide implications to civilization, and overtly emphasizes the need for humanity to collaborate with each other in tackling the problem.

In this three-part series, we will address various facets of this issue ranging from the basics of the science behind the phenomenon as well as the consequential symptoms  or effects of climate change for the present, and the future. We will conclude by discussing the options that we must consider in our transition to achieve progress.

Let’s begin!

Dissecting Weather and Climate

Le’ts review the difference between weather, and climate. Simply, weather is local, and short-term while climate is long-term, and doesn’t relate to one single location. More precisely, the climate of an area defines the average weather conditions in the given region over a long period of time. The time period being considered generally involves changes taking place over tens of thousands of years. So, whenever we pass by a few winters that aren’t as cold as usual, it does not necessitate a change in climate. Such events are rather anomalies that don’t represent any long-term change.

Moving forward in our discussion, it is also imperative that we don’t underestimate the effects of small changes in climate. To put in perspective, the “Ice Age,” often talked about by scientists involved a world where the Earth’s average temperature was only 5 degrees Celsius cooler than modern day temperature averages. Small changes in climate can equate to major effects around the world. 

Climate Change or Global Warming

We often hear the phrases climate change, and global warming used interchangeably in describing climate transitions but there is a subtle difference. In the early 20th century, scientists used the term climate change when writing about events such as ice ages. But once scientists recognized the specific risks posed by human-produced greenhouse gases on the Earth’s climate, they needed a term to describe it.

Wallace Broecker’s paper in the journal Science, in 1975, entitled “Climate change: Are we on the brink of a pronounced global warming?” introduced the word global warming into the public lexicon.

Soon enough, the phrase global warming gained currency, and the term global change emerged as a way to describe all modes of large-scale impact on the planet, including issues such as the Antarctic ozone hole.

The planet as a whole is warming, but scientists prefer the term global change or global climate change. The reasoning behind this is that global warming can be interpreted as a uniform effect (warming everywhere on Earth), while a few regions may in fact cool slightly even if the planet were to warm up. In fact, it is a popular opinion that climate change sounds less frightening to the ear than global warming; the latter though catches more attention in the public eye. A few scientists, and activists also prefer to use global warming to imply human involvement in the process of describing climate transitions.

So, is the planet really warming up?

The short answer: YES! After laboriously working through a century’s worth of temperature records, various independent teams of scientists have converged on a rise of 0.8 degrees Celsius in the average surface air temperature of Earth when comparing the periods from 2003 – 2012 to 1850 – 1900. While this degree of warming may not sound like a big deal, it does make a big difference when it is in place everyday. Small changes can become amplified into bigger ones. Any warming can serve as a base from which heat waves can become worse. The effects are particularly pronounced in certain locations like the Arctic which has experienced an overall warming. Apart from the numbers, there’s a wealth of environmental evidence to bolster the case in favor of the Earth’s warming up. Without going too much into detail,

(1) Ice on land, and at sea has melted dramatically in many areas outside of interior Antarctica and Greenland.

(2) A lengthening of the growing season around much of the Northern Hemisphere.

(3) The migration of various forms of life, including mosquitoes, birds, and other creatures to higher altitudes, and latitudes due to the increasing warmth. Likewise, the migration of many forms of marine life moving poleward (the shift in ranges is 10 times the average for land-based species).

Other observations from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) highlight the warming trend of the last 50 years being nearly the double of the last 100 years; a vast increase in ocean temperature to greater depths (the oceans absorb 80% of the heat of Earth’s climate system); increasing droughts; increased precipitation in eastern regions of the Americas, and northern regions of Europe, and Asia; drying trends in Africa, and the Mediterranean etc.

How Global Warming Works? 

Global warming is caused by an increase in the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect is not bad on its own, and is in fact a natural circumstance of the Earth’s atmosphere. It is also the reason why the Earth is warm enough for life to survive.

The greenhouse effect, in essence, involves a play of energy balance on the Earth’s. When sunlight reaches our planet, 30% of its gets reflected or scattered back to space by clouds, dust, or the Earth’s surface. More than 20% of the sunlight is absorbed in the atmosphere, mainly by clouds, and water vapor. Lastly, almost 50% is absorbed by the Earth’s surface including land, forests, pavement, oceans etc.

Now, all this energy doesn’t stay permanently on the Earth. If it did, the Earth would literally be on fire. In fact, the Earth’s oceans, and land masses re-radiate the heat, some of which makes it into space. Most of it though is absorbed by clouds, and greenhouse gases which in turn radiate the heat back to the surface, and some out to space. Since the heat doesn’t make it out through the Earth’s atmosphere, the planet becomes warmer. It is basically an energy imbalance scenario where there is more energy coming through the atmosphere, than that leaving the Earth.

The two main components of air include nitrogen (78%), and oxygen (20%) gas, both of which aren’t efficient in absorbing radiation from the Earth due to their two-atom structure. On the other hand, other gases with three or more atoms can capture energy far out of their scant presence. These are the greenhouse gases, the ones that keep Earth inhabitable. That’s all well, and good, but the same gases also warm the Earth. The more greenhouse gases we add to the atmosphere, the more our planet warms. The major players involved include: Carbon dioxide, Nitrous oxide,  Methane, and to a lesser extent, Water vapor.

 Greenhouse Gases: What’s Happening? 

The greenhouse effect is driven by naturally occurring substances in the atmosphere. This is predicated by a necessity for balance referring to the radiation cycles of the Earth mentioned earlier. Unfortunately, since the Industrial Revolution, humans have been pouring huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere thus tipping the balance toward an amplified warming of the planet.

Carbon dioxide makes up less than 0.04% of the Earth’s atmosphere, most of which is due to early volcanic activity in the planet. Today, we are pumping huge amounts of the gas into the atmosphere as the gas is produced when fossil fuels are burned, as well as when people, and animals breathe, and when plants decompose. Extra carbon dioxide results in more energy absorption, and an overall increase in the Earth’s atmosphere. In fact, the average surface temperature of the Earth has gone from 14.5 degrees Celsius in 1860 to 15.3 degrees Celsius in 1980.

Nitrous oxide is another important green house gas, and while we don’t release great amounts of this gas through human activity, nitrous oxide absorbs much more energy than carbon dioxide. For example, the use of nitrogen fertilizer on crops releases nitrous oxide in great quantities.

Methane is a combustible gas, and the main component of natural gas. It also occurs naturally through organic material decomposition. Other man-made processes that produce methane include: extraction from coal, digestive gases in large livestock, bacteria in rice paddies, and garbage decomposition etc. Like its fellow compatriot greenhouse gases, methane also absorbs infrared energy, and keeps up the heat on Earth.

Apart from their devastating effects, it takes a long time for the planet to naturally recycle these various gases. For example, a typical molecule of carbon dioxide can stay airborne for more than a century. Thus, greenhouse gases have both a potent, and a long-standing impact on the Earth’s ecosystems. A few other gases that make up for the rest of the greenhouse players include the Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), water vapor, ozone etc. Water vapor is particularly interesting, as it isn’t a very strong greenhouse gas, but makes up for this in sheer abundance. As global temperatures rise, oceans, and lakes release more water vapor, up to 7% more for every degree Celsius of warming, which adds to the warming cycle.

What’s next? 

In conclusion, the mechanisms involved in climate change, or global warming, are largely positive feedbacks that amplify the warming of the planet: the evaporation of water from the oceans doubles the impact of carbon dioxide increase, and melting sea ice reduces the amount of sunlight reflected to space etc. While not all feedbacks are certain, it is a grounded truth that the planet has to constantly readjust to the changes we make in our environment, in the case of global warming, the consistent addition of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. So far, I have laid the  basic groundwork for the symptoms we can expect to see, as a consequence of global warming, in our environment. Moving on in Part II, we will consider those changes in greater detail, and what they entail for the future of our planet.

Sorry for the wait…

Hi everyone,

Ideally, I would have had a blog post up by now. Unfortunately, I was taken unawares by a sudden bout of sickness that left me out of action for the last week.

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While it has been a frustrating experience, being bedridden came with its fair share of perks, namely, a lot of reading, and brainstorming (I was physically out of it, but for some reason, my mental faculties were whizzing as usual).

Now that I have recovered to a good measure, I will have the first of a three-part series of posts discussing “Climate Change” online by next weekend. I intend to use this format such that I may be able to cover a wide spectrum of issues, concerning the topic, within the scientific, political, and socio-economic regimes. The goal is to provide for well-deserved communication, and education on a highly controversial subject that is inherently a simple, but significant, circumstance of our interaction with nature.

I will also post a book review on Luc Ferry’s, A Brief History of Thought, which I finished reading recently. Coupled with my efforts to finish my second book, I’m looking forward to a busy week of writing. I intend to move towards pre-production beginning with the necessary illustrations for the book. The goal is to have it published by the end of this summer (at the latest, fingers crossed).

Meanwhile, I shall continue to fight the good fight as I juggle my temporary term of unemployment with my academic endeavors, and my writing. It is quite difficult to keep a regular working schedule, especially when I’m spread thin over various fronts, but hey that is life! As excited as I am now to publish my second book, I can’t wait to get started on the subsequent writing projects I have in store. Similarly, there is a lot to look forward to in the near future, not to mention “evolving” another year  in two weeks’ time. This post was to just inform all of you that I’m still here. Once again, I apologize for the delay!

I will see you all again next weekend!

Adventures in Drawing – A New Beginning

Previously on “Adventures in Drawing,” I discussed several matters of art. I specifically placed emphasis on the three valuable lessons of learning to actively see thingsthe value of repetition, and drawing what one sees, not what one knows.

The second half of the drawing course followed the application of said rules with a series of projects. I had the wonderful opportunity to test my skills with various mediums from charcoal, graphite, and conté sticks. Along for the ride came an assortment of healthy drawing techniques I had learned earlier involving the use of guidelines, the ability to delineate depth and active perception in objects, as well as blind contour drawing etc. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to test my skills with the various media (Figures 1-2).

Figure 1. Man’s best friend (using charcoal, and graphite). 

 

Having completed the course, I can certainly say that my knowledge, and library of resources pertaining to drawing has grown exponentially. If there is a takeaway message from my experiences so far, it would be the following: simply put, anyone can be an artist. All you need is an HB pencil, a sketchbook, and a little bit of incentive. Most importantly, practice makes perfect.

In my opinion, I view drawing, and art, in general, as a personal interpretation of one’s environment, and imagination; a realm of infinite possibilities. The uniqueness factor of one’s works is dictated not through the judgment of external critics but rather one’s own individuality. Thus, you have nothing to fear in the criticism of your own doodles. We are all artists in our own measure. As Mason Cooley put it, “Art begins with imitation, and ends in innovation.”

Figure 2. Unfinished swimmer (using conté sticks)

With every passing day, I get closer to achieving the same with my artwork. Once again, I’ve learned that practice makes perfect. (On a side note, it also helps to have an encouraging partner, especially one who goes out of their way to buy you a legit Japanese manga kit but I digress.) If I could briefly summarize the steps that I have taken so far in my journey in drawing, and that I wish to share to my fellow aspiring artists, they would be:

(1) Start with doodles, and doodle frequently. Sketch whatever you wish to sketch. Freedom of imagination, and action is important in drawing.

(2) Get a few guide books on the side, or even better, just parse through the overwhelming history of artists, and their works that we can readily find information about on the WWW (world-wide-web).

(3) Trying a short, and supplementary course is highly beneficial too. Learning drawing also involves the communication of ideas, and techniques. (Check out the arts center in your city. If you don’t have one, Udemy is a wonderful online resource for awesome, and cheap courses. And if that doesn’t work, then it’s even more simple, learn from nature, and become your own artist. There’s no limit to human creativity, and imagination.)

(4) Aggregate the lessons you learn in infinitesimal steps, and integrate them toward a full learning experience.

Moving on from here, I intend to eagerly pursue my dream of becoming a mangaka in the future. For those among my readers who are avid comic fans, and are particularly interested in making their own comics, I highly suggest the constructive anatomy, and figure drawing books written by Burne Hogarth, and George Bridgman (shown below) to get you started.

But after all is said, and done, remember to relax, and just have fun with it!

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Transitions

Life is all about transitions. One moment, we find ourselves latched on to something, and the next instant there is something new around the corner that catches our attention. I have had to deal with my fair share of minute, but influential transitions owing to my absence over the last few weeks; ranging from decisions I have had to make on my academic career in pursuit of a PhD (which has incidentally become a wild-goose chase for funding opportunities), to my exodus in obtaining a driver’s license, and all the way to alighting upon the final stages of content editing my second book (Agent X)!

All of which brings me here today, back to my pensive reverie, during a stormy overcast in Edmonton that beckons me to take up the “keyboard” again, and get back to the blog posts I have been planning for a while. So without further ado, this is what we have to look forward to in the coming days!

Beginning with another recap of my “Adventures in Drawing” I will come full-circle as I complete my Drawing 101 course, and present a few more tricks I have learned over the past month.

Following this, we will shift gears, and in lieu with the current political “climate” (particularly with reference to the recent proceedings at the Paris Accords), I will provide a report on climate change, approaching the topic from a scientific, political, and socio-economic perspective.

I will also add another chapter to my review of Carl Sagan’s “Dragons of Eden,” as we explore the mechanisms of the human brain including the R-complex, the Limbic System, and the Neocortex.

Lastly, following up on a request from a reader, I will provide a learner’s review of Bitcoins, a crypto-currency, and modern digital payment system!

So, all in all, look forward to a good number of updates on the blog, and some healthy reading over the coming days everyone!

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Adventures in Drawing!

Making good progress on my dreams to be a mangaka in the future, I’ve spent the past two months attending a basic drawing class, and so far, I’m having a blast. This post is dedicated to my fellow amateur artists, or anyone interested in drawing; I thought it would be a worthwhile effort to provide a summary of what I have learned so far, and share my efforts with all my readers.

Art, in general, is a highly subjective field. At the first session, it was a relief to hear my instructor recite the philosophy, “Anybody can learn how to draw,” mentioning that one’s drawing ability isn’t measured by how gifted they are, but is rather a reflection of their perseverance, and efforts to hone their skills.

Though I’m only halfway through the course (four sessions out of eight in total), I’ve learned a lot. Much of this learning has involved the transcription of my observations, and perspectives of a random subject onto a paper, following three fundamental principles of drawing.

Techniques aside,  drawing is the ability to closely observe your subject. It is an exercise in learning to actively see things, and deduce differences.

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Figure 1 – My first work, a shoe!

 Lesson 1 – Learn to actively see things. Figures 1-2 describe this principle. Both figures were drawn within the same period of time, with Figure 1 drawn initially, prior to instruction, and Figure 2, after learning to remediate my ability to observe, and focus on the details of the shoe.  

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Figure 2 – The same shoe, after really learning to observe my subject.

Rather than have a passive approach, I was instructed to use continuous lines, which provided a sense of structure, and certainty to my artwork. Now, drawing a straight line in itself is difficult, continuous lines even more so, and it is here I found the value of repetition.

Lesson  2 The value of repetition. It is imperative that you repeat the exercises you learn in drawing. Figure 3 presents simple exercises in “doodling,” such as drawing circles of varying sizes, and figure eights, using continuous curves (without lifting the pen). Such activities helped with hand-eye coordination, particularly with blind contour drawings. 

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Figure 3 – Part of aggregating your skills in drawing is to practice, repeatedly. 

I spent many an hour practicing my hand/eye coordination by simply doodling around on a piece of paper. This also helped big time in learning to draw with my arm rather than my wrist which is essential when one wishes to draw continuous lines.

Lastly, I was encouraged to draw what I plainly see in my subject, and not give in to the natural urge of presupposing what I believe the subject should be from prior knowledge.

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Figure 4 – The botched pepper.

Lesson 3 – Draw what you see, not what you know. This makes a big difference. Figure 4 presents the infamous drawing of a pepper from memory (looks more like a pumpkin). Figure 5 presents a pepper drawn from observation.

Now, does this make a difference when it comes to drawing from imagination. I think it does, but we have to realize that our imagination is in many ways an exaggeration or extrapolation of what we observe in our reality. Learning to draw what I see in reality helped nurture my imagination.

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Figure 5 – Pepper from observation. Seeing versus knowing makes a difference in drawings!

These three principles have formed the foundation of my progress in the class so far. Supplemented by lessons in individualizing one’s artwork, and finding a measure of focus, and shape consciousness (which calls for basic interaction with your subject) my drawings have come a long way (Figures 6-7).

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Figure 6 – A half-finished portrait of Natalie Portman using graphite pencils, cheese cloth, and blending stumps.

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Figure 7 – Another exercise in graphite. A portrait of Marcus Aurelius. I’ve still got a long way to go!  

In this review, I wished to provide a generalization of the primary lessons that were essential to getting me started in drawing. Of course, there is always more to learn especially when it comes to the various techniques that can supplement your skills such as the use of guidelines, sighting angles, drawing upside down etc. But ultimately, practice makes perfect.

In my case, drawing has served as an extension to my imagination, as well as an entertaining activity in interpreting the world around me. As an art, it stresses our abilities to interact with the environment using our physical, and mental faculties, providing a medium through which one can express his/her individuality.  Most of  all, it is a lot of fun!

On a conclusive note, for those among my readers who live in Edmonton, I attend my drawing classes at the Edmonton City Arts Center.

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The course is 8 sessions long, and is well worth the money. The City Arts Center boasts a variety of programs for adults, and children alike. If you’re interested in polishing your basics for drawing, certainly give the Drawing 1 & 2 course a try.

And for my readers who occupy various other corners of the world, but are aspiring artists, I would highly suggest Bert Dodson’s Keys to Drawing.

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It is an excellent resource to learn the principles of drawing, and is a great complementary reference for any basic drawing course.

Brave New World – Book Review

It took me about a month, but I finally finished reading Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, completing my journey through a dystopian future set in London in the year 2540 A.D. BraveNewWorld_FirstEdition

‘The greater a man’s talents, the greater his power to lead astray’

This quote sets the tone for Huxley’s novel, written in 1931, and published a year later in 1932. In the context of the history of the 20th century, the novel served as a unique, and menacing vision of the future during the interwar period between the end of the First World War (1914-1918), and the beginning of the Second World War (1939-1945).

Through his skillful prose, Huxley provides a prescient view of a future where he anticipates the development of various scientific ideas such as reproductive technology, sleep-learning, psychological manipulation, and classical conditioning. Human lives are controlled by a variety of forces including genetic engineering, indoctrination, and drugs. In fact, the concept of the individual is mired, and ultimately lost in the foundation of an “ideal” society where “everyone belongs to everyone else.”

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“…a bokanovskified egg will bud, will proliferate, will divide…making ninety-six human beings grow where only one grew before. Progress.”

Spontaneous human desires, and emotions are nullified by the anesthetizing public mantras, the messengers of the societal indoctrination that pervades Huxley’s world, but it doesn’t matter as “everybody’s happy nowadays.” The reader is provided entry into this bleak, but brave new world, through the daily lives, and attitudes of the major characters in the novel. Through their eyes, the reader is able to identify his/her critical opinions of a biased world where skepticism is in itself a crime, feared as an unnatural, and tainting element of the supposed balance expressed in the societal hierarchy.

Throughout the novel, Huxley borrows heavily from the works of his predecessors. In particular, he draws inspiration from much of Shakespeare’s works, providing several quotations from The Tempest, Troilus and Cressida, Romeo and Juliet, and Macbeth to name a few. The title of the novel is in fact from Miranda’s speech in The Tempest,

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“O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in’t.”

– William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act V, Scene I, ll.

While Huxley himself speaks of his work’s inspiration from the utopian novels of H.G. Wells, including A Modern Utopia (1905) and Men Like Gods (1923), he disavows Wells’ hopeful vision of the future in place of the darker presentation he provides in his novel. Huxley’s novel also serves as a counterpart to the George Orwell’s 1984. The two novels differentiate themselves in the prescient views they prescribe to the future. While Orwell’s fears are borne of a world that rejects knowledge, Huxley’s fears are beset upon a world that finds knowledge redundant, or rather irrelevant.

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“…most men and women will grow up to love their servitude and will never dream of revolution.”

In conclusion, I believe Huxley feared the loss of the complexities that make human culture unique in exchange for triviality. He expresses this fears through the cyclical, and largely indifferent activities that his characters engage in their daily lives. By reading the book, and finding the various allusions it provides to modern-day society, I was left exhilarated at the daunting responsibility for the future that the current generation faces amidst a rapidly changing world. The triviality that Huxley frequently alludes to in his work is evident in today’s society, dominated by social media, leaving us blind to an extent, and in much need of a reassessment of what may constitute the necessary discussions, decisions, and actions we must partake in, for the greater security of our world, and the human species as a whole.

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“Again the greatest use of a human was to be useful. Not to consume, not to watch, but to do something for someone else that improved their life, even for a few minutes.”
― Dave Eggers, A Hologram for the King 

While Huxley may have realized his vision of such a brave new world several years ago, his work remains today as a warning, and as a reminder of the social responsibility every individual shares in the maintenance, and regulation of the world we live in.