Photo-Science Pioneer Atkins Debuts Work in New York

Plate from Anna Atkins’ 1849-1850 Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions.

The New York literary and art world have spoken: nearly 150 years after photography pioneer Anna Atkins faded into obscurity, her work is receiving the tribute it deserves in the NYPL’s Wachenheim Gallery off Fifth Avenue – gorgeous, hand-crafted compositions of ephemeral marine flora in hand-stitched volumes, using a untested, new technology.

Volumes of Anna Atkins’ Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions, 1849-1850

Blue Prints: The Pioneering Photographs of Anna Atkins, on display through February 17, is a show that has it all – an artistic first, a publishing breakthrough, Victorian time travel back to Darwin’s day, and a resurrection story of a visionary woman rescued from history’s dustbin. Although this innovator was born in 1799, it’s the first full full-blown retrospective of her work.

The show centers on the achievements of a female amateur botanist, who came up with an ingenious method to use one of the latest technology breakthroughs to transform her specimen collection of British algae into the world’s first book illustrated entirely through photographs. It’s also the first scientific book illustrated that way.

In a day where smartphones have made image taking (and making) ubiquitous, Anna’s show takes you back to the time before photographs, where meticulously observed drawings, sketches, and a watercolor box were the only means available to record the floral wonders of the world.

Anna’s 1823 spondylus shell illustrations

As a talented young artist, her scientist father commissioned her to illustrate his translations of Lamarck.

In 1842, Anna heard about a family friend’s accidental discovery of cyanotypes – basically blueprint technique – and she had a brainstorm. Instead of making drawings of plants that would require tedious hours of replications by hand, maybe the new technique could let the sun do the work.

She treated paper with a mix of chemicals, arranged her botanical specimens on top, and exposed it to the sun.

1860s printing frame with prepared cyanotype paper and specimen

The photographic impressions were incredible – detailed and beautiful. The task of documenting her collection of complex, seaside plants now didn’t seem so overwhelming.

Although this is a tiny show, the gallery experience delivers quite an aesthetic impact  – rows of rare prints in blazing blue, delicate images of marine plants that compel close study, and exquisite hand-stitched bindings on multiple volumes, lovingly created for family and friends. It’s a maker tour de force.

In her day, Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions was considered a triumph of technology, art, and science.

From an artistic perspective, you simply can’t stop admiring Anna’s work. Seaside stuff simply never looked this good. Take a look at our Flickr album.

Volume III of Anna Atkins’ 1853 publication

Most of the gorgeous books and artworks in the show have been acquired by NYPL. The curators have added a range of other items to put Anna’s achievement in context – early herbariums, Anna’s own watercolors, a frame used for making cyanotypes, and Henry Talbot Fox’s first book promoting all the ways that his “photographic drawing” invention could be applied.

To drive the last point home, the curators included a 1839 magazine that wrote about Talbot’s invention. But upon closer inspection, there’s something quite curious: No one had yet figured out how to use photographs as publication illustrations, so the magazine commissioned a woodcut to replicate what a “photographic drawing” looked like!!

Album of 74 artistic cyanotypes created in 1861 by Anna Atkins and her friend, Anne Dixon

Anna’s cyanotype techniques allow her pages to still dazzle 175 years after they were made, compared to other early photo techniques whose images have faded and remain barely visible to the modern eye.

Later in life, Anna collaborated with her childhood friend on artistic arrangements of botanical specimens that went way beyond algae.

The show is dazzling and should serve as an inspiration to anyone with a passion, a collection, and the creativity and drive to take a personal project and see it through to the end.

Walk through the show with our Flickr album.

Native Inventions in Spotlight as imagiNATIONS Center Debuts in New York

Sixth graders listen to explanation of Native American innovation map

The sixth-graders were having the time of their lives cramming into the rocking kayak, finding secret treasures from far-away cultures in the drawers, and comparing sturdy lacrosse sticks made from natural materials.

It was all part of the joyous opening day of the new imagiNATIONS Activity Center, on the ground floor of the Smthsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, right off Bowling Green in downtown Manhattan.

NMAI officials blessed the proceedings with percussion and chant, but the genuine thrill was seeing the kids pour into the new center to listen to and experience a new take on science, math, and engineering.

Tip of a contemporary surfboard – originally invented by Hawaiians.

When you walk inside, a wonderful wall summarizes the story – a map of North and South America populated with technical inventions by Native Americans over the last several thousand years! It’s a brilliant summary of the fresh ideas that you’ll encounter around the corner.

Although this sparkling, new, inspirational ImagiNATIONS Activity Center was conceived for children, rest assured that any adult museum lover will be blown away by discovering the technical innovation story too.

Although the first settlements in Manhattan and Broadway itself were created by native populations, city dwellers often get so overwhelmed by towering skyscrapers that they don’t immediately connect native cultures with what exists downtown.

Yup’ik kayak frame created by Bill Wilkinson of Kwigillingok, Alaska from spruce, cedar, driftwood, and walrus bone

OK, maybe no one is reading the news on steles in Mayan hieroglyphics anymore, but the much of the work displayed here is made by living, breathing native artists. The next time you’re stuck on a subway because of a signal malfunction, consider the fact that in the Andes, the community assembles each year to repair their chasm-crossing fiber foot bridges. Now, that’s a commuter maintenance plan!

Or consider that Arctic kayaks are custom designed to suit each individual’s weight and shape.  Or that cool surfer dudes in Hawaii are simply carrying on a wave-riding tradition that extends back thousands of years.

Cold weather waterproof kayak-hunting system

Every step makes you stop and think.  How is it that the Mayans were one of three cultures to invent concept of zero in mathematics? What brilliant minds perfected making waterproof parkas from carcass leftovers or salmon skin?  Or the engineering it takes to design watercraft that doesn’t tip?

Sixth graders learn how igloos are engineered.

The mannequin in the corner displays recently crafted components of “system dressing” for hunting from kayaks in freezing waters.  The parka has waterproof stitching and attaches to the kayak opening.  The visor includes walrus whiskers that aren’t just decoration – they transmit subtle, silent vibrations to the visor that tell expert hunters that their prey has shifted course.

Everything you experience in the center was designed to help teachers inject something new to supplement schools’ math and science curriculums. But the fun factor for learners of all ages is truly off the charts.

You’ll experience how all the significant contributions made by native people in food, architecture, sports clothing, agriculture, and engineering really add up in day-to-day modern life. You’ll want to get into the kayak and open all the drawers yourself.

Port Authority executive Janice Stein and colleague who loaned steel cables from the Bayonne Bridge

From attending the opening, we were able to meet the people from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, who donated a piece of repair cable from the recently upgraded Bayonne Bridge for the engineering display. Perfect for seeing and touching to see how Andean fiber cables compare to urban steel.

We also heard the story of how the kayak overhead made a 4,000 journey on a sea plane, a ship, and a truck from the workshop of Bill Wilkinson in Kwigillingok, Alaska to Anchorage to Seattle and to New York City.

Take a look at our Flickr album and make a trip to the Battery as soon as you can. The center, like the NMAI, is free, fully staffed, and open seven days a week.

Exploring drawers of textile samples.

Take your own kids, your neighbor’s kids, or your inner child and get your hands on that igloo downtown and think about what you owe the people living south of the border for the invention of chocolate.

Surrealist Nature Walk and Space Trip at MoMA

One of 147 images from Ernst’s first collage novel in 1929, The Hundred Headless Woman

Drawn mostly from its own collections, MoMA’s Surrealist tribute show “Max Ernst: Beyond Painting,” running through January 1, takes visitors on a nature walk and space trip through the eyes of one of the 20th century’s wildest art innovators.

Ernst cross-pollinated his Data and Surrealist works on paper with his lifelong fascination with natural history, microscopic life, and the furthest reaches of the Universe. MoMA’s showcase of Ernst’s collages, mixed-media mash-ups, and books serve up science and nature in increasingly idiosyncratic ways.

Recovering from his years of service in the German army during World War I, the mysteries of nature, science, and outer space worked their ways into Ernst’s body of work as he founded the Dada movement and transitioned into a leading light of the Surrealist art movement.

Ernst’s 1921 overpainted and embellished science teaching chart.

In the first gallery, Ernst embellished and cut up found illustrations. At a distance, they look charming, but take a closer look. In a small work from 1920, he mixes a dissected beetle and a see-through fish with an illustration from a German military manual about how to conduct chemical warfare from the air.

Nearby, an arresting, colorful painting with meticulous writhing biomorphic forms, who seem to be dancing, is not what it seems. Ernst painted over an otherwise dull science teaching chart showing yeast-cell mutation, turning it into an absurd micro-world where microscopic forms dance, flirt, and carry on.

Slightly surreal bird frottage from Ernst’s 1926 Natural History print portfolio.

A 1924 “Natural History” portfolio in the show demonstrates Ernst’s use of his frottage technique. He creates visions of animals and plants by rubbing crayon on paper over different textured surfaces. It was his contribution to the Surrealist fascination with using unfiltered “automatic” techniques for picture making and novel writing.

Painted rocks, biomorphic forms, and cut-up illustrations made into surreal picture books are on display, along with a Moonrise work. Ernst took burlap, plastered it, spray painted a moonscape, and slathered on thick coats of paint. See this, his butterfly drawing and more in our Flickr album.

Ernst kept drawing inspiration from the natural world as he and his Paris collaborators fled World War II in Europe, tried to adjust as refugees in the United States, and ultimately returned to the Continent.

“Invisible to the naked eye, it appeared in its family to be the furthest from the sun.” An etching in Ernst’s 1964 art book 65 Maximiliana or the Illegal Practice of Astronomy.

The show closes with a magnificent portfolio of work from 1964 that is inspired by a nineteenth-century astronomer’s discovery of a small planetoid. Ernst seriously and whimsically considered what it must have been like to peer into the void of space and find what lies beyond our normal field of vision. In one work, he writes:

“It would be poetic to give the last planets 97 98 and 99 the 3 Fates Clotho Lachesis and Atropos not to cut the thread of research but to wrap up the first hundred of the little planets.”

Ernst spent his life pushing the limits on the edge of discovery.

Here’s a walk though Ernst’s fascinating work with MoMA curator Anne Umland:

Meditative Eyeful at El Museo del Barrio

Detail of Argentine painter Miguel Vidal’s 1975 Equilibrium from the OAS Museum

Detail of Argentine painter Miguel Vidal’s 1975 Equilibrium from the OAS Museum

Mystical, transcendent, hypnotic visions from the Sixties and Seventies dot the white walls, all part of The Illusive Eye at El Museo del Barrio, closing this weekend. It’s a tribute to a corner of modern art history that’s sometimes overshadowed by the larger-than-life, attention-grabbing Pop Art movement – the global movement of Op Art and Kinetic Art.

The inspiration for the show is MoMA’s 1964 ground-breaking show, The Responsive Eye, which paid tribute to the global community of painters and sculptors using geometric purity to dazzle and confound the eye.

Many of the same artists are reunited here, with an emphasis on the spectacular contributions from Latin American artists who shuttled between South America and Europe, mixing it up with superstars like Vasarely and Biasi. Click here to see our Flickr album.

Other works seen through the1965-2009 plexiglass and steel piece by Carlos Cruz-Diez

Other works seen through the 1965-2009 plexiglass and steel installation by Carlos Cruz-Diez

American color-field legends Stella and Albers are featured, but the curators have put the spotlight on stars from Argentina, Cuba, Brazil, Venezuela, and Colombia as well. As the artist biographies demonstrate, most were leading geometric art revolutions in their own countries – like Chilean artist Matilde Perez and Venezuelan artist Carlos Cruz-Diez, who wrote an influential book on color theory in the Eighties and whose works essentially open and close the show here.

Except for the dramatic room-sized vinyl spiral by Italy’s Marina Apollonio, most of the works are on a small scale that invites close inspection. Move back and forth in front of Cruz-Diez’s entryway work and see the colors appear and disappear.

Walk past the shimmering black-and-white lines of Venezuelan artist Jesus Rafael Soto’s 1975 mixed media work of paint, wire, nylon, and wood. Spend time with the barely-there tower of gold thread by Brazilian sculptor Lygia Pape in the back gallery.

Detail of Generative Painting Transparencies (1965), by Argentine innovator, Eduardo Mac Entyre

Detail of Generative Painting Transparencies (1965), by Argentine innovator, Eduardo Mac Entyre

The American and European works were gathered from a variety of small and personal collections, but the curators have pulled from the extensive holdings of two museums to populate the rest of the show – the OAS Art Museum of the Americas in Washington, D.C. and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Buenos Aires (MACBA).

You’ll find meditation and stillness at every stop in this beautiful, contemplative, and exciting show that mesmerizes the eye and brings together a body of work that will be enjoyed by anyone who takes the time to get to Fifth and 104th. No content, no distraction — just pure, simple, engaging form that quiets the mind and shifts the attention to your own, inner capability to perceive and get lost in line.

Take a walk through the exhibition with the museum director and see what we’re talking about:

AMNH Highlights Species Living at the Limits

Tartigrades rule the show -- the micro-animal can survive at high heat, high altitude, high pressure, inhospitable climates, without water, and even outer space.

Tartigrades rule the show — the micro-animal survives high heat, high altitude, high pressure, without water, and even outer space.

If you’ve ever wanted to take a magic carpet ride to visit all the animals, plants, and environments you’ve ever seen on National Geographic or Nova, spend some time inside the special exhibition Life at The Limits: Stories of Amazing Species, running through January 3 at the American Museum of Natural History.

The curators and exhibition staff take you to the absolute limits of life on Earth in a “wow factor” show, organized into topics sure to astound.

How high into the atmosphere do animals live? How deep in the ocean? Who is the world-record holder for bite force? Who makes the longest migratory journey? Who is the award-winner for survival in the extreme?

The show will take you into deep caves, to life among the black smokers in ocean depths, to high altitudes, and even into outer space.

A deep-sea diving champion -- the Southern elephant seal can hold its breath for 2 hours and dive to 5,000 feet

A deep-sea diving champion — the Southern elephant seal can hold its breath for 2 hours and dive to 5,000 feet

And they’ve even thrown in some live creatures, too – the popular Axolotls, who retain their juvenile amphibious form into adulthood, and swimmers using the jet-propulsion method – chambered nautilis. Check out a few views on our Flickr feed.

Not to give anything away, but you’ll find out that vultures have been known to fly at 37,000 feet and beaked whales have been known to dive at least 10,000 feet below the ocean’s surface.

Live Chambered nautilis demonstrates jet propulsion

Live Chambered nautilis demonstrates jet propulsion

Crocodiles have a bit force of 3,700 pounds, electric eels and hammerheads can deliver 600 volts, and eagles can subdue animals of up 20 pounds in weight using only their claws. Arctic Terns may migrate 25,000 miles.

There’s no doubt that the stars of the survivalist show are miniscule tartigrades (better known as “water bears” or “moss piglets”). These miniature eight-legged water creatures inhabit climates that no human could. They are able to survive at temperatures colder than Pluto and hotter than boiling water and have been known to survive in the void of space for up to 12 days.

Moreover, tartigrades are prolific: nearly 1,200 species inhabit Earth in lichen, moss, beaches, and dunes and hold the distinction of residing at the International Space Station and being part of Space Shuttle Endeavor’s final flight.

Artist recreation of tube worms absorbing chemicals from ocean vents three miles under the sea – an environment unknown until 1977

Artist recreation of tube worms absorbing chemicals from ocean vents three miles under the sea – an environment unknown until 1977

How did life evolve to adapt to such extremes? Darwin explains it in his theory of natural selection, which leads to gradual adaptations within animal populations.

But you are left to wander and wonder at the engaging displays, animals, specimens, and movies.

Glimpse some of this fascinating exhibition in this video with co-curators John Sparks and Mark Siddall. By the way, the cover photo below is the Axolotl featured in the show:

Texas Retirement for World Famous NYC Dinos

A 1964 New York Times photo of the Sinclair Dinosaur and Stegosaurus passing by the Empire State Building on their way to the Queens fairgrounds

A 1964 New York Times photo of the Sinclair Dinosaur and Stegosaurus viewing the Empire State Building on their way to the Worlds Fair fairgrounds

The Sinclair dinosaur was a sensation when he arrived in New York City to star in the 1964 World’s Fair. Millions of visitors queued to have their pictures taken with him and get a glimpse of life-size replicas of the scale and scope of the Mesozoic megafauna.

T. Rex, Stegosaurus, Triceratops, Trachodon…never mind that they lived millions of years apart – just to see them inspired science geeks, wonder seekers, and future paleontologists – an unforgettable childhood impression.

It may surprise you to learn that Sinclair and T. Rex are living a blissful retirement in Texas where there are no Unispheres, freeways, lines of tourists, or ticket booths…about 75 miles southwest of Fort Worth in a state park with another unique connection to New York.

Sinclair relaxes in a Texas corral

Sinclair relaxes in a Texas corral

The gargantuan dinosaur trackway up on the fourth floor of the American Museum of Natural History is from the Paluxy River in Dinosaur Valley State Park, where these two former New Yorkers have retired.

Back in the Thirties, AMNH field explorer Roland T. Bird told his boss, Barnum Brown, about the Texas trackways. In 1940, aided by WPA crews, the submerged tracks were excavated, cut into 1,200 pieces and shipped off to the AMNH, the Smithsonian, the University of Texas, and a few other places.The excavation was a media sensation, with chronicles appearing everywhere.

In New York, the jigsaw-puzzle track pieces were eventually reassembled and placed under the Apatosaurus/Brontosaurus, where they remain today.

Apatosaurus atop Paluxy trackway in New York at AMNH

Apatosaurus atop Paluxy trackway in New York at AMNH

The big, round blobby tracks that appear to match those of Apatosaurus are reckoned to be those of Sauroposeidon and the three-toed tracks running right alongside are those of Acrocanthosaurus, a predator.

Even though this spectacular trackway got moved to New York, there are still plenty in in the park. There are at least five big sites, which have all been documented in the Dinosaur Valley State Park footprint-mapping project. See the results here. When you click on each photo mosaics or track overlays, they will open in Google Earth. Find the R.T. Bird site under Track Site Area 2.

But how did the New York dinosaurs get to Glen Rose? The entire dinosaur group toured the United States for a few years after the Fair, right around the time that Texans lobbied to have the Paluxy Trackway declared a state park. No dinosaur fossils at the time, but there were lots of footprints, mostly underwater but a few on the shoreline. Neighboring ranchers donated the land, hoping to keep the site intact and spur tourism dollars.

Sauropod footprints underwater at the Paluxy River, Glen Rose, Texas

Sauropod footprints underwater at the Paluxy River, Glen Rose, Texas

When the Sinclair tour concluded, Atlantic Richfield’s idea was to donate all the dinosaurs to the Smithsonian, but when the Smithsonian said they didn’t want the group, the band broke up. One went to Vernal, one to Cleveland, but Glen Rose was the only location that managed to get the two biggest stars. Did the New York connection make the difference?

It’s hard to know, but the recently opened Perot Museum of Nature and Science features a pop culture corner in its dinosaur hall with replicas of all of the NYC’s World’s Fair dinosaurs!

For the complete story, check out this video of the tracksite and an introduction to the Google Earth mapping project, old videos of Mr. Bird’s historic 1940s excavation, and cameos by the Sinclair dinosaur and friends.

World’s Fair T Rex enjoying a quiet life in Texas

World’s Fair T Rex enjoying a quiet life in Texas

Frida Khalo Extravaganza Ending with Colorful Surprises

NYBG’s Haupt Conservatory is transformed into Frida’s Casa Azul

NYBG’s Haupt Conservatory is transformed into Frida’s Casa Azul

Ever since the New York Botanical Garden installed its Frida Khalo: Art, Garden, Life show, it’s been a nonstop party and feast for the eyes, ears, and tastebuds.

Not sufficient to import fourteen of Frida’s rarely seen paintings for the formal gallery upstairs in its library building, the creative NYBG team has made environments, commissioned artists, designed apps, booked acts, hosted special events, transformed the conservatory, made a wall of cactus, redesigned menus, and even brought in a taco truck to give everyone an immersion into her sophisticated Mexican lifestyle.

This blockbuster sensory experience is in its last week, going out with a bang with a Dia de los Muertos theme as this traditional Mexican holiday collides with our own Halloween. Sugar skulls and whimsical skeletons are taking over Frida and Diego’s pyramid that serves as the centerpiece of the garden portion of the show.

Tissue-paper dresses for The Two Fridas by artist Humberto Spindola

Tissue-paper dresses for The Two Fridas by artist Humberto Spindola

It’s an appropriate mix, given Frida’s own proclivity to merge the everyday with the surreal in her own works. The Library has an exquisite collection of her self-portrait and still life paintings, featuring flowers, animals, and deep-rooted Mexican myth and culture.

Downstairs in the Britton Rotunda, there’s a stunning installation of The Two Fridas by artist Humberto Spindola – side-by-side mannequins wearing tissue-paper dresses in colors that Frida sported, but with the surreal outer heart that she painted more than once. Visitors approach as if it were a shrine with special powers.

Frida’s workspace

Frida’s workspace

The Haupt Conservatory serves up a riot of color with floating blue containers of vivid flowers, the dynamic blue of the recreated Casa Azul, where she lived, pops of the types of flowers with which she adorned her table and sills, and the intensely painted Mexican-style pyramid in the center of it all.

The sensations are so bright that it’s easy to miss the recreation of Frida’s studio, tucked away in the trees to the left of the main event – brushes, paints, paint sticks, and other tools.

Outdoors, the curators have succulents jammed into every piece of oversize Mexican pottery near a “wall” of cactus, replicating a natural fence that Diego had outside his studio for decades.

Soloist from Capulli Danza Mexicana channels her inner Frida for the crowd

Soloist from Capulli Danza Mexicana channels her inner Frida for the crowd

The “Life” portion of the show’s title is represented by the generous schedule of music, performances, films, and events that the NYBG has featured throughout the show’s six-month run. Dance companies, all-female mariachi bands, chefs, and authors provide sensuous infusions of movement, wit, gaiety, and sophistication that Frida embodied her entire life. Flashing red skirts, exciting beats, fast footwork, dramatic flourishes, and meaty conversation all contribute to the experience of who Frida was, how she lived, and what she loved.

Download the exhibition panel to see all the parts of Mexico City that meant so much to Frida and Diego – images of parks, gardens, markets, and historic sites, including photos of Casa Azul.

Download the app for your visit, and go to our Flickr site to see the photos and a few videos of the dancers in action.

Take a look at what the NYBG team achieved:

If you have time, check out the YouTube of the all-star kick-off symposium dedicated to Frida last May.


10 Things to Know About Pluto’s Star Turn This Week

In real time, AMNH astrovisualization guru Carter Emmart notes the moment that humans reached the furthest point of exploration on Pluto on the big screen

In real time, AMNH astrovisualization guru Carter Emmart notes the moment that humans reached the furthest point of exploration, passing beyond Pluto

The American Museum of Natural History hosted a sold-out event at the crack of dawn this week to give Pluto fans (and Dr. Neil) a real time, play-by-play of what was happening on the edge of our solar system.

Check out our Flickr feed to see the visualizations created by Dr. Carter Emmart’s team at the Hayden Planetarium and glimpse some of the (human) stars at Mission Control and others who weighed in via Google Hangout from planetariums from around the world.

Here are 10 essential things you should know:

Pluto’s photo from earlier in the week appears on the Google Hangout, showing the “heart” area

Pluto’s photo from earlier in the week appears on the Google Hangout, showing the “heart” area

1) It was a fly-by. The New Horizons spacecraft flew by Pluto. It didn’t land or orbit around it.

2) Pluto has a reddish tint. The new color photos show that Mars isn’t alone.

3) Pluto has five moons. New Horizons is looking for more.

4) This marks the furthest point of human exploration to date. It happened just before 9 a.m. on Tuesday, July 14.

Just in -- the latest from New Horizons: July 17 photo of smooth frozen plains in Pluto’s “heart”

Just in — the latest from New Horizons: July 17 photo of smooth frozen plains in Pluto’s “heart”

5) The spacecraft, New Horizons, is the size of a grand piano. It traveled over 3 billion miles.

6) It took New Horizons 9-1/2 years to get to Pluto. It was launched January 17, 2006 and is expected to keep going out into space for another ten years. For the full story, click here.

7) The new photos confirm that Pluto is young and doesn’t have any craters (like our Moon or Neptune). Its 11,000-foot ice mountains are only 100 million years old (compared to the Rockies at 80 million years old). They formed during our Cretaceous period. More discoveries to come photos and data slowly stream in.

Fran Bagenal, New Horizons's co-PI, and Alice Bowman, the Mission Operation Manager — the first female Mission Operation Manager at APL Johns Hopkins

Fran Bagenal, New Horizons’s co-PI, and Alice Bowman, the first female Mission Operation Manager at APL

8) The transmission speed from the spacecraft is half the speed of an old dial-up modem. That’s why mission control will be receiving photos and other data from this fly-by for the next sixteen months or more.

9) Twenty-five percent of the people on the New Horizons project are women. Alice Bowman is the first female Mission Operations Manager at APL Johns Hopkins.

10) Dr. Neil keeps correcting people to call Pluto a “dwarf planet” but all of the scientists interviewed on the mission love it anyway. Some fans think it should be “grandfathered” into the solar system as an honorary planet.

Neil de Grasse Tyson reminds astrobiologist David Grinspoon at Mission Control to call Pluto a “dwarf” planet

Neil de Grasse Tyson reminds astrobiologist David Grinspoon at Mission Control to call Pluto a “dwarf” planet

Does Pluto have a molten core? What’s the topography of Charon? Are there geysers? Are there other moons? What’s going on with the Kuiper Belt? Stay tuned as New Horizons keeps going.

NASA has a TV channel featuring (now) daily media briefings on the photos and data and has a channel with all the updates on New Horizons, including links to new photos.

Also, tune into the New Horizons site hosted by mission control at APL Johns Hopkins. Next month, releases will be on a monthly basis.

Real-time visualization of how the New Horizons maps Pluto

Real-time visualization of how the New Horizons maps Pluto

Credit goes to Carter Emmart, AMNH’s director of astrovisualization, and the other creators of the Digital Universe for inventing this 4D open-source software and sharing it with planetariums around the world and applause for the scientists that made this expedition happen!

Nearly 11,000 people watched this live telecast from AMNH. If you have time, enjoy it for yourself by watching this YouTube recording of the event, currently at 46K views and counting:


When Apple Met Alto and Game Boy Began

Tower of keyboards and wires in the center of the fourth-floor gallery; Newton visible against the history wall

Tower of keyboards and wires in the center of the fourth-floor gallery; Newton, PlayStation, and iMac visible on the history wall as iPad watches over everything

What’s the longest you ever sat in front of a computer screen or stared at stuff on your phone? Can you even remember a time before there were texts, browsers, and interactive screens? Bard Graduate Center Gallery has assembled a retrospective that asks you to remember your first keyboard, joystick, trackball, and mouse in their exhibition, The Interface Experience: Forty Years of Personal Computing, on view through July 19.

Plus, you can touch everything in the show and even sort through maybe every clamshell and Internet-enabled cellphone ever designed. What a stroll down memory lane!

Your first view of the fourth-floor show is a tangled tower of keyboards and cables, surrounded by a pegboard gallery with little platforms displaying the timeline of devices – desktop PCs, tablets, and game consoles.

The 1973 Xerox Alto operating system featured the first mouse and graphic user interface.

The 1973 Xerox Alto operating system featured the first mouse and graphic user interface.

The oldest item in the show is the famous (but rarely glimpsed) 1973 Xerox Alto operating system, which the curators display on an ever-playing loop. Experience what Steve Jobs saw when he came face to face with the first graphical user interface, replete with the screen arrow. Brain flash on using a mouse to point to stuff on a screen – Steve said that someday everyone would be using something like this interface.

Walk on to see the Apple IIe (Woz built in an unbelievable 64K of RAM), VisiCalc (first “killer app” all quants had to have – a spreadsheet), and the predecessor to Steve’s Macintosh – the 1981 Xerox Star, which was the first commercially produced computer system to use a mouse and GUI. At a price of $16,000 in 1981, Steve’s up-and-coming Apple Macintosh was positioned to become a winner.

Before web browsers: Rarely seen, the exotic Minitel (1987 model) text information interface, which the French government distributed for free to half its population.

Before web browsers: Rarely seen, the exotic Minitel (1987 model) text information interface, which the French government distributed for free to half its population.

The Commodore 64 and IBM’s PC aren’t neglected, and neither is MS-DOS. Consider other game-changers such as Palm Pilot, Newton, and Kinect. You can touch them all and remember the way it was before things got smaller, faster, and got more oomph. Get a glimpse of the installation (pegboards and all) on our Flickr feed.

Don’t worry if you can’t get up to 86th Street to handle the technology in person. As usual, Bard’s students and faculty, who collaborated on this show, have produced a highly fulfilling web application that highlights everything in their show, adds historic tidbits, and shows each piece’s original print and TV ads.

Click on “Grid” to see all the exhibition items. Click on “Connections” to read interesting comments by the curators comparing different items or telling little histories about the relationships between the tech innovations. Click on “Device Statistics” to see how many units of each sold, how long it was in the market, and how much each would cost in today’s dollars. You’ll be able to sort the items by any of these parameters.

Steve’s hip and happening1998 iMac injected color into a drab, drab desktop computing world

Steve’s hip and happening1998 iMac injected color into a drab, drab desktop computing world

Example: sorted by today’s cost, the most expensive computing investment in the show would be the Xerox Alto operating system at (today) $225,981.

Be sure to click on “more” and enjoy the gallery of magazine ads for these innovations. And check out the 1979 TV commercial for Xerox Alto, on loan from the Xerox Archives, and please, do not miss the unforgettable all singing and dancing MS-DOS product introduction video.

You’ll read memories shared by gallery visitors about various items in the exhibition. For that matter, click on any item on the Grid and add your own story about your first personal encounter with these icons!

Bravo, Bard Graduate Center!

Mobile phones for days – the future of computing. The curators put these up with Velcro so visitors could feel them.

Mobile phones for days – the future of computing. The curators put these up with Velcro so visitors could feel them.

Bird Watching with Audubon: Forget the Binoculars

Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea), Havell plate no. 307, 1832

Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea), Havell plate no. 307, 1832

If you climb up to the second story of the New-York Historical Society to see Audubon’s birds, grab the magnifying glass right inside the gallery door. See the magnificent details painted by the watercolor master of all time in  Audubon’s Aviary: The Final Flight (Part III of The Complete Flock), running through this weekend.

NYHS is the lucky owner of every watecolor JJA produced to make his historic Birds of America subscription project in the early 1800s, which documented over 700 species.

Scarlet Ibis (Eudocimus ruber), Havell plate no. 397, 1837

Scarlet Ibis (Eudocimus ruber), Havell plate no. 397, 1837

The watercolor collection – from which engravings were made – is so large that NYHS had to split the exhibition into three parts. It’s a joy to look at the life-size paintings that Audubon produced through the magnifying lens, seeing the tiny brushstrokes on lush feathers and miniscule detail on the small hummingbirds.

Paintings featured in all three shows are hung in the sequence that JJA painted them. Although JJA traveled extensively throughout the East and South, he never actually saw birds west of the Missouri in the wild.

American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos), Havell plate no. 311

American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos), Havell plate no. 311

By the time Audubon began cranking out the watercolors needed for his final installment of his masterwork, lots of new birds were being discovered out West. Scrambling to keep up – after all, he committed to documenting every American bird – he accessed specimens collected by recent Western expeditions, Lewis & Clark’s trove, and other American specimens archived in Europe.

He holed up in Charleston, South Carolina in the winter of 1836 and worked, worked, worked to finish all the watercolors, which would be shipped to Mr. Havell in the UK for engraving.

How did Mr. Auduon’s studio work compare to the real thing? See for yourself in this bird-watching documentary shown inside the gallery. The birds featured are from the previous installation of the exhibit, including the rare, rambunctious Prairie Chicken at 1:25.

For more, go to the show’s excellent website, explore some of JJA’s works in more depth, and listen to the bird calls for the exhibition, courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.