The tree of life

I was reading this blog post today about the rediscovery of an ancient Iranian goblet as one of the earliest (perhaps the earliest) cartoons, illustrating a goat in several different positions around the bowl. There’s a short video of the ‘animation’ on the post which shows the goat leaping twice and eventually reaching the leaves of a plant in front of him. There’s some early theory that the plant represents the Assyrian Tree of Life, despite the fact that the artifact itself predates Assyrian civilization.

As I was reading this, I was first drawn to the tree of life reference, perhaps because of my Christian background. My first assumption was that the Biblical tree of life (the one in Genesis that’s not the apple, aka not the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) preceded the Assyrian one.  After all, the Assyrians are part of later books of the Bible and the history of the Jewish people.  Evidently, this is not necessarily true: 2/3 of Assyrian history preceded the supposed initial writing of the Genesis tales.  So, though oral history may have carried one or both at the same time, it’s difficult to say who borrowed from whom.

Perhaps a more accurate summary would simply state that the Tree of Life, or World Tree, could be peeking out from this goblet as it  peeks out in a wide variety of myths and stories around the globe.  Take the peach immortality tree of the Taoist, or early Chinese depictions of trees including both the dragon (immortality) and the phoenix (balance).  Take the pomegranate of the Greeks or Yggdrasil of the Norse, or the ceiba tree of the Maya.  Take any old tree you know personally – its power to lift the eyes;  its strong, deep roots and its dancing green lights.  What can such a tree tell you about age, death, and growth?

Paint.net and Photofiltre

As a part of my renewed current interest in design, graphics, and messing around with technology, I’ve started testing out a couple of freeware products to replace Photoshop.  Although I used Adobe throughout my college career in architecture, I have no real loyalty to the company.  Actually, I’m just not a fan of corporations with software monopolies.  True, I had full access to Photoshop at computer labs when I was in school, but for my personal computer Photoshop was always too much of an expense.  And for that alone, Adobe irks me.  There were alternatives.  There used to be Jasc, which got bought out by Corel, and now is not up to speed.  There’s cheap reduced versions, like Photoshop Elements.  I’ve used both.  But it’s really after knowing Mike that I was let in on the free versions.  And I love free.

The problem comes with limitations.   Photoshop Elements doesn’t have most of the features I need – it’s pretty much standard photo manipulation software, on par with whatever program you got free with your digital camera.  Jasc always was a bit behind Adobe in their software functions and usability, and now that they’re gone, nothing you pay money for is really on par with Adobe.

So, on to the free stuff.  I like both of the programs I’ve played around with so far, Paint.net and Photofiltre.   Both are easy to use and seem to be pretty straightforward.  Both are slimmed down from something like Adobe, but still with most of the features I want.  If you combined them together, they would be my perfect program.  Unfortunately, each one is missing something key.

Paint.net doesn’t have a smudging tool.  There are assorted effects you can apply to an entire image or layer, so you could probably finagle a smudge somehow by selecting a line onto a different layer and then applying some effect.  But it seems an annoying waste of time kind of way to solve a problem.   Maybe I’ve grown lazy, but if I can do something by hand, I want to be able to do it on my graphics program.

Photofiltre does have smudging, along with a wide array of buttons that I have yet to fully explore.  Unfortunately they too are missing one key feature that I’ve grown used to – layers.  So that’s something that most people don’t use with their work, but remember, I was an architecture student.  Trace paper is my middle name.  If I don’t have layers, it’s increasingly hard to think while I’m drawing.  And I was accustomed to having them due to Photoshop.

Both programs are worth extremely more than what I paid for them.  And while I am probably pessimistic enough to have found something wrong with both of them regardless (for example, neither has a burn tool), I’m very very glad that someone put time in to develop them.  Go nerds!  Make me bigger and better software!

More drugs in the water.

A day after the Associated Press came out with their findings on pharmaceuticals in our drinking water, more findings are being published regarding the impact on various plants and animals. While the primary studies are in and around Lake Mead, where water consumption is high as well as where Vegas’ sewage treatment plants exit, there have been other related studies done around the world, confirming the extent of many of these impacts.

There were a few I found particularly interesting. First, the hermaphrodite tendency. While it remains unclear (at least to me) whether or not this tendency is caused by hormones like estrogen and testosterone being released into the water, it is possible that this reaction could be a direct correlation. But basically, it has resulted in a bunch of partially hermaphroditic fish. Walleye and carp males have been reported as producing ‘egg yolk proteins’, females have actually developed male genitals, and bass of both sexes that produce sperm and eggs at the same time. Second, there’s algae. Evidently the trace amounts of pharmaceutical slop inhibits its growth. I evidently need some Lake Mead to fill up our fish tanks – but then, we’ll probably never see more fish babies after that either.

The most alarming portions of the article are not focused solely on aquatic life. Plants such as corn, lettuce, and potatoes – so staple foods – fertilized either with livestock waste or waste-water showed amounts of pharmaceuticals. So that chicken without growth hormones probably was a good buy, because we’re already registering trace amounts of that hormone being passed along. In addition, you may even be getting cholesterol medication in your daily fruits and veggies. Yum. Finally, there was an almost complete die-out of vultures in Pakistan due to eating livestock remains. So your new liver problem may be about your steak, rather than your alcohol consumption.

While researchers are already working on ‘cures’ such as bacteria that eat estrogen, maybe there’s another solution. Maybe we should stop taking so many drugs.