Friday, December 19, 2014

A peak into Bellwether and The Upcycle

For this week's Book Beginnings on Friday, hosted by Rose City Reader here something from near the very beginning of Bellwether by Connie Willis (because the book actually starts with a Robert Browning poem and then a discussion of the hula hoop - oh, this is fiction and a pretty funny book, just in case you are confused) ...

It's almost impossible to pinpoint the beginning of a fad. By the time it starts to look like one, its origins are far in the past, and trying to trace them back is exponentially harder than, say, looking for the source of the Nile. 

In the first place, there's probably more than one source, and in the second, you're dealing with human behavior. All Speke and Burton had to deal with were crocodiles, rapids, and the tsetse fly. In the third, we know something about how rivers work, like, they flow downhill. Fads seem to spring full-blown out of nowhere and for no good reason. Witness bungee-jumping. And Lava lamps. 


OMG - that website has one of the original ads for the Astro Lamp from 1963!  Cool!  If you are interested in the history of the Lava lamp, this is a surprisingly interesting writeup.

Right, to get back on track, for The Friday 56 hosted at Freda's Voice we pick up Bellwether on page 56 ...

She picked up my sack from the bookstore. "What's this?" 

"A birthday present for Dr. Damati's little girl." 

She had already pulled it out and was examining it curiously. 

"It's a book," I said. 

"Didn't they have the video?" She stuck it back in the sack. "I would've bought her a Barbie." She tossed her swath of hair, and I could see that she had a strip of duct tape across her forehead. There was a cut-out circle in the middle with what looked like a lowercase i tattooed right between her eyes. 

"What's your tattoo?"

"It's not a tattoo," she said, brushing her hair back so I could see it better. It was a lowercase i. "Nobody wears tattoos anymore." 

I started to draw her attention her snowy owl and noticed that she was wearing duct tape there, too, a small circular patch right where the snowy owl had been. 

"Tattoos are artificial. Sticking all those chemicals and cancerinogens under your skin," she said. "It's a brand." 

"A brand," I said, wishing, as usual, that I hadn't started this. 

"Brands are organic. You're not injecting something into your body. You're bringing out something that's already there in your natural body. Fire's one of the four elements, you know." 

Sarah, over in Chem, would love to hear that. 

"I've never seen one before," I said. "What does the i stand for?"

She looked confused. "Stand for? It doesn't stand for anything. It's I. You know, me. Who I am. It's a personal statement." 

I decided not to ask her why her brand was lowercase, or if it had occurred to her that anyone seeing her with it would immediately assume it stood for incompetent. 

Sorry - that got kinda long, but I really couldn't figure out how to shorten it without it becoming even more confusing.  I just wished we had gotten to the sheep.

For non-fiction I thought I would share The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability - Designing for Abundance by William McDonough and Michael Braungart...

Imagine you are sitting in the top-floor boardroom of a major United States consumer products company and you are meeting one-on-one with the company's executive in charge of sustainability. You have been in this facility many, many times before. Over seven years, you have met with executives in charge of finance, supply chains, manufacturing, product design, research and development, and marketing. Hundreds of meetings to listen, to learn, and to explore your new concepts for sustainable growth and beneficial innovation. 

[skipping a paragraph] 

This is the nature of the work. To use a detailed, defined inventory as a platform for invention, innovation. To ask and answer: What's next? 

Then picking up on page 56 ...

MacCready [the designer of the human-powered aircraft that won the first Kremer prize] didn't reject Mylar because it had never been used for an airplane's wings, nor did he reject it because it's expensive. To solve his problem, he went wherever he needed to go, even to this relatively new material.

This, from our experience, is crucial. You need to solve your problem using whatever is available to you, no matter the cost or the rarity. You can always return to the reality of schedules and budgets when the time comes to build.

Thomas Edison's work exemplifies this notion. He wanted a natural substance for his lightbulb filament and even tried human hair but finally suspected that bamboo coated with carbon would work. To find the exact bamboo for the job, he sent explorers to Japan. He didn't think that paying for botanists to comb the forests on the other side of the world was too much to invest in solving the problem. He correctly surmised that if he were to discover a workable solution, investors and companies would be only too happy to take over the issue of reducing the cost of importing bamboo.

We are not suggesting that you fritter away your money on your answer. But you need to come up with a solution first. Once you have solved your problem, you can deal with the issue of cost. 

BTW - The authors are talking about the creation of the Gossamer Condor

Have a lovely weekend ! 


  1. Both books sound fascinating! Bellwether is especially interesting to me. I never had a lava lamp--I missed that fad--guess I didn't live in a "discerning establishment." But I did have a wicker bird cage like the one in the ad.
    My Friday post features VIDAL’S HONOR.

  2. Love the lava lamp book.

    I actually bought a lava night light.

    Thanks for sharing.

    ENJOY your weekend.

    Silver's Reviews
    My Book Beginnings

  3. I had a lava lamp years ago and it was so fun. I'd love to flip through the book to learn more about how it all came to be.

  4. Wow! Did this character actually brand her face!? Ouch! I sure enjoyed the tone of the dialogue on the 56 you've shared though, the female sounds so snarky; I like it :)

    Here's mine:
    Sparrow's Friday 56

  5. oh I'm laughing, we were in Homebase (UK) yesterday and I noticed they are selling them again! I enjoyed the snippet from both books but not enough to want to add either to my lists. Best wishes for the holiday.

  6. I would have liked to read that poem in the beginning of Bellwether. :-)
    Happy weekend!


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