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Monday, May 28, 2018

Exploring Little-Known Petroglyphs Off the Beaten Path in Nayarit, Mexico

"On this long volcanic rock, they would lay down the person selected for sacrifice. She would extend her legs toward the temple, and hold her head back here where the rock dips down. That's when they would cut her throat.  Take off the entire head."  The Huichol shaman was telling us about the past. We were an hour and a half from Puerto Vallarta, an hour from formerly sleepy surfer town of Sayulita, but we might as well have been on another planet. 

A breeze rattled the dry leaves along the dry creekbed in this isolated corner of the coastal state of Nayarit, Mexico. It sounded like rain. That's exactly what the gods who controlled the rains wanted. They wanted the blood to turn that sound, that suggestion of rain, into a reality.

I wondered if this was true and how they knew. I also wondered why there were so many "decapitator gods" in the Americas.  What was described reminded me of the Moche civilization of Peru.

If you were a part of the ceremony, how did you go from a calm quotidian existence to being  a part of a decapitation ceremony?  Just how much pulque, peyote, or whatever else they used would you have to imbibe?

In my mind thumped the joyous hooks and beats of the Swedish artist known as Avicii, of "Levels" and many others, and I could certainly understand the mass energy and euphoria of crowds.

Was the spraying of the victim's blood a cause for euphoric ululations? Of a faster pace of dancing and euphoric drumming and piping?  Or, was the ceremony dark and horror-tinged?

I shivered.  How did we get here in this unknown tributary flowing into the Pacific Ocean in a part of Mexico where Canadian and American tourists flocked to be a part of a so-far safe stretch of coastline, quickly converting itself into a tourist bubble?

Near Las Varas, where the new highway will shave an hour off the journey from Guadalajara, along with the dangerous curves and mountain passes of the Sierra Madre del Occidente, is the little mountain village of Alta Vista (high view), which lies around 10 km from the two-lane highway that takes people from La Peñita to Las Varas.

And, tucked away along the banks of a rocky little stream, and a more or less dry riverbed (in the dry season) are petroglyphs - carvings from the Huichol Indians, or from their preHispanic forebears.  Or, based on the way they have eroded in the last 10 years, it's possible that they were carved by some industrious stoneworkers who thought it might be a great way to attract government support.  I am not an expert, but Miguel did say that they look a lot more faint than they did just 10 years ago. Were they worn away by visits from tourists?  Have they become so popular with the shaman "soi-disant" the self-styled but well-meaning purveyor of emotional, psychological, and for the really self-actualizing (or at perhaps absolutely shameless), physical healing.

We tried Google Maps. It showed the town and a ceremonial center and museum. We went there. Nothing.

We tried Googling Alta Vista petroglyphs. There were many blog posts, Wordpress postings, websites that featured photos of the petroglyphs, and many with a blow-by-blow description of the hike. But, there were no maps and no details about how to actually find the petroglyphs except to assure the reader that there was absolutely no way to find the petroglyphs without the services of a guide.

We were not convinced. We went down one little cowpath and dirt road after another. No luck.

Finally, we asked someone in the town of Alta Vista how to find the petroglyphs. They said to go back down to the place where the road split into two directions and to inquire at the snack stand located there. It's weird to describe it this way, but that's the only way I know how to describe the little commercial center at the fork in the road.  It was an impromptu food stand that sold the kind of food people love to buy on the street -- tacos al pastor and such -- with the basics of water, soft drinks, etc.

We asked directions and immediately a young man offered to be a guide for 80 pesos, which was about 5 dollars -- and for all day.  I thought it was a sad commentary on income inequality - a young man was willing to work all day for 5 dollars (but in reality it only took 2 hours) when a toll road that took 30 minute to cross cost 200 pesos (around 11 dollars).  There is something wrong with that. But, I am not really in a position to comment about that.

We drove down the same highway we had gone down before, and just across the road from a field with a herd of "vacas flacas" (skinny cows), there was a small path with a gate fashioned of wood and barbed wire. Christopher hopped out and opened the gate.  It was not locked and presumably open to the public but there were no signs at all and presumably the public would need to know about this. Plus, the public would need to know that there were no cartels, drug trafficking or other kinds of trafficking to happen upon. It would not be good to stumble upon marijuana or opium poppy cultivation. Presumably Christopher would only take us places where he (and his clients) would be safe.

We headed down the path. To our left was a large guanábana orchard. Christopher entered and plucked a rather large and still quite green guanábana. "It will be ripe and ready to eat in 3 or 4 days," he said.

We drove farther down the path, past a mango orchard. We parked under a large, spreading mango tree (un mangal). We found ourselves at another fence, this time without a gate. Christopher lifted the wires so we could enter, and we did so without any problem at all.

Once past the wire, there was a small path into a clearing. This was the so-called "Ceremonial Center" of the "Pilar del Rey." There were hand-painted signs with neat lettering - white paint on black metal, in Spanish and then in English. The signs explained the function of the petroglyphs, the presence of a ceremonial center, and the culture of the people who lived here, who were antecedents of the Huichol.  The clearing was rather large, and so I supposed it must be a favorite location for small events or gatherings, although it was hard to imagine that it would be very easy to access.

The signs led us toward a creek bed where there were more signs and large rocks. The first sign described the meaning of the carvings, which were the petroglyphs. It indicated that the glyphs referred to the sun, the moon, directions, some sort of god figure, and human sacrifice.  It seemed highly interpretive to me.  We made our way through the leafy underbrush and I was quite glad we were in the dry season. It was warm, but not hot, and while it was a bit humid, it was very bearable.  I imagined that it would be more or less pure torture during the rainy season.  The leaves slapped my legs, but fortunately they were not thorny or wet. I was wearing khaki colored capris and they stayed unblemished.

We passed by more petroglyphs, some indicating the god of corn, others indicating a cross. The theory was that somehow some sort of Christian saint had visited before the arrival of Spaniards.

"Ockham's Razor," I thought to myself.  I could think of at least five more likely explanations for the appearance of what seemed to be a Cross of Malta on the rocks (and for the petroglyphs themselves).  It seemed much more likely to have carvings by Spaniards and settlers, even if simply to amuse themselves. But, I'm no anthropologist.

The rocks they claimed were part of a pyramid looked like the normal joints you'd see in volcanic rocks, but again, if you asked me what the mounds near Saint Louis were or what the hillocks were in Chiapas and the Yucatán, chances are, I would have attributed all to geological and geomorphological processes.

We arrived at a small pool fed by springs where a clutch of gaudily tattooed Mexicans and Canadians were smoking marijuana and stretched out on the rocks. On a ledge where people offered "ofrendas" (feathers, stacked rocks, yarn "eye of god" crafts, a dreamcatcher or two) a young man wearing a Huichol priest outfit with gorgeous embroidery was talking about the spiritual beliefs of the Huichol. He said that he often participated in dances in Sayulita and wore a deer skull. I asked if the Huichol believed in the animal spirits and visions of animal spirit guides. He said, "yes."

I thought of the Navajo sand painters who combined the painting with spiritual healing and thought he could go far if he combined some of the petroglyph shapes here with a kind of sand painting ceremony for healing.

I did not share my idea, though.  I had already asked him too many questions and I think I seemed a bit weird.

We made our way back and I laid out some coins that amounted to probably $1.50 at best. My ofrenda looked nice and shiny on the rock, and it was nice to think that it was Earth Day as well.

As we made our way back through the creek bed, past the ceremonial area and then squeezed through the barbed wire and opened up the car, I took a long drink of bottled water and reflected on the experience.

There was no doubt that it was totally inaccessible to someone who did not know precisely where it was. GoogleMaps had the ceremonial center far to the north of the town of Alta Vista.

The road to Alta Vista continued up into the mountains where they grew coffee that was supposedly some of the best in Mexico. I wondered if there were also poppies, as a bit farther along the coast in Sinaloa or Guerrero.

What would your garden grow?  I'd rather have a crop of petroglyphs.

Friday, April 06, 2018

New Geothermal Energy Directions: Interview with Marit Brommer, International Geothermal Association – Innovators Series

Geothermal energy is often overlooked as a renewable, sustainable energy source, but new developments in technology and a better understanding of the earth’s mantle are making it one of the fastest-growing energy source in some parts of the world. Welcome to an interview with Marit Brommer, Executive Director of the International Geothermal Association.

1.  What is your name and what do you do?  
I am Marit Brommer, and I am the Executive Director of the International Geothermal Association.

2.  How did you become interested in geothermal energy?
I am a geologist by training and have built my technical career in the Oil/Gas Industry. Over the past years I became very interested in the global energy transition and the world´s perspectives on moving away from fossil fuels and embracing renewables. However I became equally intrigued by the marginal role Geothermal Energy is still playing in the energy transition. After all I am an Earth Scientist ;-)

Although many countries worldwide are adopting geothermal energy as a potential renewable energy source, and influential people as Bill Gates specifically mention geothermal power and refer to geothermal as´… the phenomenal amount of energy stored up as heat under the Earth´s surface´ and earmark it as an investment opportunity, we still see that there is a lot of work to do to create that visibility for geothermal at the world energy scene.

Here we chat with Marit on LifeEdge (click here)
Interview on LifeEdge with Marit Brommer.  
3.  What is your organization?
We are the International Geothermal Association – a global geothermal organization uniting the geothermal sector around the globe. The IGA is an Association of Associations meaning it has an umbrella function towards its affiliated national associations.

4.  What does the IGA do?
We believe that Geothermal Energy is a key player in the sustainable future energy-mix and we are committed to let geothermal energy reach its full potential.
The IGA aims at being the leading world authority in matters concerning the research and development of geothermal energy by setting educational standards and offering world-wide energy solutions and in-house technical support, with special support for countries in early stages of geothermal development.

We connect the Global Geothermal Community, serving as a platform for networking opportunities aimed at promoting and supporting global geothermal development, providing best practices and guidelines, and actively engage with policy-makers and decision-takers.

5.  Where can we find geothermal energy?
Geothermal is available everywhere as underground heat is available everywhere!

6.  What are some of the exciting new directions in geothermal energy?
There are many exciting new directions here are a few: electricity conversion in low temperature environments (i.e. temperatures up to 150 dec Celsius), the search for deeper and hotter reservoirs (between 4 and 8km depth for instance NW Europe) in non-volcanic rocks, smart cities initiatives with the vision to replace the baseload from a coal-based district heating systems to a geothermal based system, and small island development states in the fury of climate change wanting to become independent from fossil-fuels and adopting renewable technologies such as geothermal in their journey towards autonomy, independence and a clean and green future.

7.  Where are places of great potential right now? 
Everywhere, geothermal has something for everyone around the planet. Whether it is deep geothermal for power production, geothermal baseload for district heating, geothermal heating and cooling of buildings, direct uses such as green houses & geothermal spas, industrial purposes such as drying foods, hot springs for geothermal tourism, you name it, geothermal has it!

In terms of countries the eyes are on Indonesia, Philippines, Turkey, Central America and East Africa. Where we can win the most is the Asia Pacific, Caribbean, Africa and the Arabic Peninsula.

Crepuscular rays over the steam from a hot spring in Yellowstone National Park. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
8. Please describe the GTW Geothermal Cross-over workshop.
AAPG and the IGA have joined forces and organises Cross-over workshop. Both associations are committed to develop a vibrant community of integrated research and development, information exchange, and creating value-based projects together This joint community has the unique opportunity to leverage the experience of the oil & gas industry over the last century, share the technical know-how on drilling geothermal prospects in deep and hot wells, innovate dual-play concepts, in order to put the vision of global policy makers to scale up geothermal development into action.

The workshop will offer a meeting point to two geo-energy communities where both technical and social aspects associated with subsurface energy exploration, development and production activities will be presented and discussed. It will provide case-study examples where geo-energy projects benefitted – or not – from an effective technology and knowledge transfer between different industries.

9. Recommended good books
There are plenty of good books out there but here are few really great ones:

What is Geothermal Energy? – Dickson and Fanelli, 2004
Geothermal Exploration – global strategies and applications (Harvey et al., 2016)
Geothermal reservoir engineering – Grant (2012)

Please stay tuned with the IGA and check our website and connect with us on social media (#lovegeothermal) and follow us on twitter @lovegeothermal. Connect with the Geothermal Resources Council in the USA -  and for the latest news visit


Crepuscular rays over the steam from a hot spring in Yellowstone National Park 

Friday, March 23, 2018

Preparing Professionals for the Future of Energy: Interview with Richard Chuchla, Director of the Earth & Energy Resources Program, UTexas

If you've driven by a wind farm, or have looked with awe at the gorgeous new skylights that double as solar panels, you've probably wondered what the future of energy will be.  What will happen to petroleum? How can we be cleaner and how can we more efficiently use the resources we have?

Welcome to an interview on LifeEdge with Richard Chuchla, Director of Energy and Earth Resources Graduate Program at the University of Texas in Austin. Richard, a retired executive of a major energy company, has used his very unique background to contribute to a program that is truly unique in the world.

Richard talks about the state of energy needs in the world today and in the future and how this has changed since he graduated.  As a result, graduate education must change to prepare students for a more diverse and complex energy world.  Rather than geoscientists or petroleum engineers alone, we must prepare people to be energy practitioners, with multidisciplinary training so that they can enable sustainable interdisciplinary solutions.

As you watch, don't miss the great photography, the informative presentations, and the interesting chat about volcanology and the Yellowstone super-caldera.

Direct link to the show:

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Interview with Shaunak Roy, Yellowdig - Innovators in E-Learning Series

People learn from each other and in online courses, the quality of interactions between students in their collaborative activities and with instructors is very important. Welcome to an interview with Shaunak Roy, founder and CEO of Yellowdig, a social learning platform that has been developed with the goal of enhancing the learning experience.

1.     What is your name and your relation to e-learning?
My name is Shaunak Roy, and I am Founder and CEO of Yellowdig, a social learning platform for education. I started Yellowdig with the fundamental believe that there is something magical about peer learning. Casual conversations, exchange of ideas, or occasional debates help form meaningful bonds with other learners, which make learning more fun, and real. As I look back into my own MIT and IIT days, I realize that I have learned as much from my peers as I have from my favorite professors. Some of those bonds have lasted well beyond those formative years and have morphed into lifelong friendships.

Shaunok on the video program, LifeEdge

2.     What is Yellowdig and what does it do? 
Yellowdig is a social learning platform that merges and combines the power of group learning and rapidly expanding real-time content from the internet into a seamless and easy to use learning platform. Yellowdig is Software as a Service (SaaS) that integrates into all Learning Management Systems (LMSs) and Portals to offer 1-click socially intuitive groups for a variety of use inside and outside of courses. For example, Yellowdig can be added in an individual course within minutes to offer a FERPA compliant, private and moderated collaboration forum for your course.

3.     How is it different than other collaboration apps?
The advantages of Yellowdig over other popular collaboration APPs such as Facebook Groups, Slack, and Yammer are the following :

·       1-Click Signup : Learners join the platform by clicking on a “Yellowdig” button in the Learning Management System (LMS), no separate registration required

·       Automatic grading and gradebook sync : Instructors can set up a points system to encourage learner participation, that is fully customizable from course to course.

·       Privacy and moderation : All the content remain private to a course and can be moderated by the Instructors and admins encouraging deeper and authentic participation.

·       Customization : There are many out-of-the-box and  custom configuration options available to support a variety of use cases and learning needs

4.     How are universities using the app? 
Yellowdig is bring used by over 40+ institutions and 140,000 learners across online, blended and residential courses and MOOCs.

5.     Many collaboration applications are not used in courses because they require so much extra time from the instructor.  How does Yellowdig approach that problem? 
We recognize that engaging students through prompt driven discussion and manual grading of discussion posts is a major time sync for instructors. In fact, this type of discussions tend to lower the quality of engagement as it feels less like organic sharing of ideas and more like assignments for the learner. Yellowdig, though peer driven discussion and automatic grading, substantially reduces instructor time commitment while improving both quality and quantity of engagement.

You can refer to our blog for many stories from instructors on how Yellowdig has helped them improve their instruction without increasing workload.

6.  What are your plans for the future?
We plan to continue to build our vision of making learning more engaging and real-world. We plan to add more features and data capabilities to help instructors and students get more from their learning experiences, from anywhere, at anytime and from any device. Our competitive advantage is our focus on working closely with our instructor community to co-curate the future of eLearning.

Check out Shaunak Roy on LifeEdge! 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Aerial Robotics Beyond Drones: Interview with Bob Dahlstrom, Innovators Series

We tend to think of drones as the only kinds of aerial robots, but Apellix has developed an aerial robot that can be used to deliver products instead of simply sensing or collecting images. Welcome to an interview with Bob Dahlstrom, CEO and founder of Apellix, a dynamic, new aerial robotics company.

1.  What is your name and your relation to innovation and robotics? 
Bob Dahlstrom – Growing up working at my parents’ hardware store from age 12 to my early 20’s provided me hands-on experience with the practical needs of people to fix, repair, or replace a wide variety of items – often with innovative mechanical solutions. Later, in the mid-80s while working in a “clean room” at an integrated circuit manufacturer and writing software code for the first time, I made the connection that the world was destined to have software interact with and instruct hardware, as we moved from physical and electrical mechanical systems to software-controlled systems.

Founding a software company in the 1990s that was finally, 13 years later, an “overnight success” provided me more exposure to software and is where I became unequivocally adamant that software was “eating the world”. Apellix is my first robotics company. To me, robots are software. Looking at things through a software lens, I believe aerial robotics (drones) are just flying computers and with the right sensors and data - and most importantly, software - they can be made to do most anything.

2.  What is Apellix?  How did you get started with it, and what is its mission? 
Apellix is a technology company focused on creating systems to keep workers safe. We are passionate about designing and creating software-controlled robotic systems that keep people out of harm’s way and save lives.

We live in a time when the fantastic has become ordinary. No longer do we have to imagine mythical machines and buildings out of science fiction movies. Our telephones are pocket computers now. Why are people still hanging from skyscrapers cleaning windows, or working from scaffolding cleaning and coating structures, when we have robotic systems that can do the work safer and most likely more effective and efficiently.

3.  How do aerial robots work and how are they different from drones?
This is a FANTASTIC question –An Aerial Robot includes a “robotic arm” and an “end effector”. A “robotic arm” is a type of mechanical arm, usually programmable, with similar functions to a human arm. Robotic arms may include a manipulator and may be connected by joints allowing either rotational motion (such as in an articulated robot) or translational (linear) displacement or can be a lance or probe. The terminus or end of the arm is called the “end effector” or probe tip. End effectors are the device at the end of a robotic arm, designed to interact with the environment. The exact nature of this device depends on the application of the robot.

An Aerial Robotics system includes a robotic arm with an end effector AND the ability to fly close to, touch, or modify a structure or surface. Just the fact of having an arm with an applicator / end effector on it requires flights wherein the lift platform (the drone) must fly with precision close to structures. Drones, and all aircraft in general, are designed to fly away from potential obstacles, not close to them.

4.  What are the main applications of the Apellix robots?
Apellix is an early-stage company and the leader in aerial robotics. It is the only company with proven capability to measure the thickness of steel on a 300’ flare stack or clean and paint a wind turbine 260’ off the ground. With proprietary circuitry, software, and power management systems, our Apellix-designed drones serve as industrial tools capable of all-day continuous work.

Our initial product, currently available for pre-orders, is in the field of contact-based Nondestructive Testing (NDT) for evaluating the properties of materials in industrial and infrastructure assets such as bridges, ships, oil & gas refineries, and more. For example, we test the thickness of steel or the protective coating of a bridge to ensure it is structurally sound.

The Apellix SmartBee™ platform provides the capability for multiple types of Nondestructive Testing. One example, designed for a ship manufacturer, conducts dry-film thickness (i.e. paint thickness) testing pursuant to SSPC-PA2 standards on vertical ferrous surfaces at height. The aircraft is piloted manually to the initial test location where the computer operator (pilot) engages the software using our PC / tablet-based user interface, and a pre-programmed sampling process begins. All actual testing is conducted under 100% computer control. During the sampling process, test results are provided in real-time to the operator on the base station (computer laptop or tablet), displaying the actual paint thickness measurement and whether the surface is compliant. Once the sampling is complete, the aircraft returns to a safe position and awaits pilot commands to direct it to the next location. For each measurement, environmental data, GPS positioning, project data, photo confirmation, and related aircraft data are stored for one-step download to an Excel spreadsheet (csv). Aircraft performance and use data are also tracked via Internet of Things (IoT) for predictive maintenance and development purposes.

5.  Why did you choose the robots to be aerial rather than placing them on scaffolding or some other fixed structure where they could move back and forth, but not have to be airborne? 
By freeing robots from the ground and allowing them to operate in 3-dimensional space, we have created a set of affordances not available to ground-based or place-bound robotics. One example of this would be painting a large cargo or cruise ship. Currently, to paint the side of a ship, it takes a crew of 30 workers 4 to 5 days to set up the scaffolding, paint, and remove the scaffolding. The paint is applied is 6 to 8’ sections (the length of a painter’s reach without moving to a new section of scaffolding) and “feathered” to ensure proper coverage at the edges of where a person can reach. This results in a large number of areas where the paint is overlapped. A tethered aerial robotic system, with paint and power on the ground, would allow painting to start in the far-left corner of the ship’s hull, move horizontally to the far-right corner, and turn off the paint. It would then move down to allow a 12” overlap, turn on the paint and proceed horizontally to the left. This efficiency enables a much better paint job with fewer potential failure points.

Apellix has conducted proof-of-concept testing in which our aerial robots successfully delivered water-based coatings using 3300psi industrial airless pump systems on vertical surfaces. We have tested at flow rates up to 1.6 gallons per minute. Apellix is currently conducting proof of concept testing where our aerial robots provide no-touch cleaning using non-combustible cleaning solutions and pressurized water rinsing. We expect to expand testing to include limited blasting as well. Apellix is currently seeking industry partners to support this additional testing and development.

6.  How do you compensate for wind and humidity when you are working on large ships, equipment, bridges, etc?
Apellix aerial robotic systems use large, computer-controlled, heavy-lift multi-rotor drones outfitted with various sensors and functions to allow precisely controlled flight close to structures. Manual control of such systems is unable to accomplish the precise flying and maneuvers required, thus software-controlled flight is crucial. While drones often operate in 15-knot winds, their operations are confined to keeping a tight camera focus on the target, so wind moving the drone a foot or two in any direction is not critical. In an aerial robotic system, such as those used by Apellix, flying inches from a structure a sudden gust of wind can be catastrophic.

The amount of time it takes to see something and move your finger is approximately two-tenths of a second. In that amount of time, a computer with a standard Intel Core i7 or similar processor can make 63 million calculations (~315,000 millions of instructions per second – MIPS), thus computer control can allow an amazing degree of control and stability, even in high winds.

As I like to say, aerial robots (and drones) are flying computers and, with the right sensors, they are data gathering machines. Each Apellix aerial robot has a full onboard computer with an Intel x86 processor, a full server-based operating system, and a custom-built Apellix sensor board, giving it the ability to collect a lot of real-time data, including environmental variables such as ambient air temperature, barometric pressure, relative humidity, atmospheric levels of oxygen and gases and more.

The Apellix WorkerBee™ is under development to enable aerial applications for cleaning and for spraying paint. Part of the efficiency of painting is what’s called the transfer efficiency ratio (Transfer Efficiency (TE)  = Weight of Material on the Target (WT) / Weight of Material Sprayed (WS) x 100%). For example, the average material loss is 30%, but moving the spray nozzle 7” from the optimal distance changes material loss to 50% or more. By knowing the humidity, temperature, recommended application rules, and more, we can calculate the optimal distance for the spray nozzle from the structure being coated, thus minimizing over-spray and under-spray.

7.  How do you overcome the limitations of a) battery life; and b) weight of the cargo.  Paint is heavy... 
Paint is heavy, and so are batteries. Our solution, in addition to the software-controlled aerial lift platform (the drone,) is to keep them on the ground and utilize an umbilical cord to send power and material up to the aerial systems. This allows for theoretical all-day operations, something needed in an industrial aerial robotics system. Of course, depending on the use case and customers’ requirements, we can also offer a non-tethered system for small touch-up or repairs.

8.  What have your experiences been thus far? 
The interaction of people and robots is complex and growing more sophisticated all the time. Apellix painting platforms are run by operators on the ground. They work at heights, without putting the operator in danger, and allow the work to be performed to greater precision via software control than a human can do. It replaces hours of work by humans. But it doesn’t take human control out of the loop.

It does change lives. Robotics are reducing occupational hazards. They’re saving our tax dollars for the corrosion prevention of public assets, such as highway bridges and battleships. They’re saving private dollars on protection of buildings, ships, above-ground storage tanks, and oil rigs.

Executives from around the world are flying into Jacksonville, Florida to speak with us about our innovations, we’re winning local, state, national, and international startup and robotic competitions, and industry awards such as a 2017 Innovation of the Year from the National Association of Corrosion Engineers (NACE).

It’s amazing working with magical flying machines every day. The technical work we do at Apellix today is possible due to the great work and science of those that have come before us. But more importantly, to me personally, the most memorable experience can be summed up from a recent conversation I had with the CEO of a company in the oil & gas space who said; “Bob, I’ve had to tell 5 mothers their sons are never coming home again”. If we can engineer out the risks of falls, injuries, and deaths from the job site and prevent these types of conversations from happening, that is a win for everybody.

Perhaps most satisfying to the A Team (Team Apellix) is that we’re adding to the greater body of knowledge, specifically data on the maintenance of expensive assets. We’re helping to save lives. And we’re at very least winning battles in the never-ending war on corrosion.

9.  What is the future for Apellix? 
Apellix will continue to work on and refine its SmartBee™ and its WorkerBee™ platforms and add additional features and functions. For example, now that we control, with great precision, the flight of an aerial robotic system in close proximities of structures and even touch structures we can add most any type of end effector or tip to the robotic arm. Thus, devices that are currently handheld and touched to the concrete on a bridge to measure corrosion of the rebar embedded into the structure can be placed on the Apellix aerial robotic system. This eliminates the need to rappel down a structure or utilize cranes or scaffolding to climb up to areas of the structure to take the readings.
As the advantages of the Apellix aerial robotic platform become more widely known and understood we fully expect to learn of a multitude of items of different types that can create value when carried or added to the platform.

The future is bright, keep your eye on Apellix.

Visit the Apellix YouTube Channel or follow them on Twitter

Monday, February 12, 2018

Rochelle Owens: Fragmentations and Unifications of Vision

Rochelle Owens has made a name for herself for her avant-garde plays and her poetry which take the reader into uncomfortable territory of taboo, flesh, violation, body fluids, and life.  The graphic nature of her imagery has been the “shiny object” that generally captures the critic’s attention, and unfortunately the sometimes shocking nature sometimes blinds them to the work’s philosophical complexity and her subtle commentary on how we see reality, beingness, and becoming in a world that contains intersections of imaging technology and the body / person herself.

Hermaphropoetics: Drifting Geometries is a collection of poems describing a series of stills in videos depicting the same object (a person).  To summarize, Hermaphropoetics is about the fragmentation of unity and/or the deconstruction or deliberate disassembling of unity.

The various poems illustrate how there are many ways to see the same thing. Owens takes a series of still photos that comprise a video and describes them individually. However she does not say where exactly they fit within that series of images. Observing one still after the other creates a historical continuum from the first videographers, the Lumiere Brothers, to today’s high-tech videographers. Rochelle’s emphasis on the fragmentation of video and the dissolution of a recorded event also brings to mind today’s more or less omnipresence video making abilities in the form of smart phones.  We are reminded that the technology has made us tend to forget that video still is a series of single frame images.

The parallel with language is clear. Language creates a reality and the words (parole) are the individual stills. Take them out of sequence and the reality they create is mediated – always – by the reader / audience.  On a cellular level we like to think that the raw images create reality.

Rochelle Owens shows us that once you stop the flow  - image after image after image, you suddenly find yourself unable to actually connect with the reality until you place it within a narrative which by definition includes language. That language does not necessarily have to be verbal but there is a language nonetheless.

So Owens considers video stills. We can say that they must exist in a certain order to gel into meaning(s). The stills constitute the words and the parole of the grammar of visual discourse.

The sequence of video stills demonstrates that all meaning is in essence a construct that is constantly being deconstructed and reconstructed.

The repetitions of images are like incantations. They rip open and expose the heart and a sense of life. When Rochelle discusses exposed flesh she’s also talking about the private laid bare in the raw, painful moments where one is subjected to the indignity of the gaze.

The camera is invasive. It creates in the subject a profound level of humiliation that has to do with one’s autonomy. The individual in fact is a being, and that beingness is suddenly stripped away and placed in the hands of the individual who has the capability of ordering the series for sequences of images and also to create a narrative that describes what is happening.

In addition to creating sequences, Rochelle Owens creates fragments and in doing so reveals how it is possible to cast the meaning-making process into indeterminacy.

In doing so, she seizes upon the nature of what it is to create art. There is the artifice of becoming and the frames seem to be becoming something, but the frames can never become anything without the reader’s externally imposed narrative.

We crave explanations and we want a sense of the whole but the parts do not and cannot add up because the video stills that come together to make a narrative are inadequate to keep the mind of the post-postmodern reader in a single track.

The objectification of that frozen moment of death, nakedness, vulnerability and exposure is what Rochelle Owens has created.  Owens's avant-garde plays and poetry have always had a way of making reader feel vulnerable and awkward. On one level, that emotional response is in part about the process of coming to grips with indeterminacy.

The camera is in essence the technology of object-making. The accompanying consumption occurs by creating the tools by which the reader enters and then slowly moves into a state of self-fragmentation. Self-fragmentation is painful at first, but after 10, 20, 30, 40, and 50 repetitions profound desensitization occurs and one enters into almost an almost trance-like state.

Each camera technique offers its own slow trajectory. Life’s puzzle pieces are meaningless when scattered out of order. Repetition, despite J Hillis Miller and his notion that there is no meaning without repetition, does not necessarily hold water. Simple repetition does not make meaning. Patterns are patterns.

The assignation of value that is to assign value to the pattern -  whether denotative or aesthetic - is arbitrary. Nevertheless, there can be a sense of urgency if the pattern has some kind of consequence in the phenomenal world, such as being run over by a car or the likelihood of certain aggressive behaviors of dangerous people.

Rochelle Owens shows the absolute arbitrariness of life force elements that we generally consigned to the sacred.


Owens, Rochelle. Hermaphropoetics: Drifting Geometries. San Diego: Singing Horse Press, 2017. 173 pages. ISBN: 978-0-9356-58-5

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Interview with Raylene Whitford, Canative Energy. Innovators and Visionaries Series

Improving the lives of indigenous peoples, establishing economic development programs, linking native peoples across country boundaries, and launching environmental restoration efforts are just a few of the projects launched by Canative Energy's Proyecto Fenix in Ecuador. Welcome to an interview with Raylene Whitford, head of Canative Energy in Ecuador.

1.  What is your name and your background?  Raylene Whitford.  I am a Métis Canadian from Edmonton.  I am a Chartered Accountant and have an MBA in Oil and Gas Management.  I currently live in Ecuador and run Canative Energy, a social enterprise dedicated to economically empowering indigenous communities impacted by the energy industry.

2.  What is Proyecto Fenix?  Proyecto Fénix is the name of Canative Energy’s first proposal to the national oil company of Ecuador.  We proposed to work directly, hand-in-hand, with a number of communities who were given resources by the government in compensation for the activity in the area.  We are currently focused on communities in the Oriente.

3.  What motivated you to launch this visionary project?  I received a tonne of support from my community at home when I was going through university.  As I was the first in my family to go to university, and only 17, I found the transition very difficult.  I nearly failed out of the faculty of engineering when I received a bursary for my studies. It was a bursary set up by (now) one of my mentors – Herb Belcourt as part of a foundation called Canative Housing. At the time I couldn’t believe that someone would actually give money to a failure, but I took it anyways, changed my courseload and started studying subjects I actually liked: Business.  It was so important to me to know that my community believed in me, even when I felt like I was at my worst

 I carried that feeling long after I moved to London to train to be a Chartered Accountant, and by chance, I got to meet Herb as he was passing through London.  I couldn’t believe it. To be in the presence of someone who did so much in his life!  He told me one thing I would never forget; he said, “Go, see the world, get experience you couldn’t get at home, and then give back to the community”. That stayed with me.

 Fast forward to June 2017 – I had moved to Ecuador (for some “crazy” reason… I was actually following my gut) and I was searching for the reason I felt like I needed to be there.  I was heading back to Canada to speak at the Indigenous Energy Conference on the topic of Indigenous Women in the sector and I met someone for a coffee (who very shortly after that meeting took a powerful political position). I remember asking them about the indigenous peoples in Ecuador’s involvement in the sector, and he told me that it was very limited. They did have employment in the sector, they often worked as underpaid subcontractors and often without the appropriate PPE.  I was disappointed.

The conference was such a juxtaposition: over the two days I met so many successful and awe-inspiring indigenous people who were contributing to the sector and helping their communities. I was convinced that I could return to Ecuador and make a meaningful change.

 A few months later Canative Energy was born!  Over a period of six months we made for trips to the Amazon and met 11 communities were affected by the activities in the oil sector. Are the community has had similar issues they were given resources by the government but they didn’t have the business knowledge on how to monetise them.   That is where I saw the opportunity.

4.  Do you see similarities between the indigenous peoples of Canada and those of Ecuador?  What are they? First of all they look the same!  Every time I go to the Amazon am dumbstruck by how similar the people I need there look like my family at home.   The communities which we met and have worked with have the same values the same hopes for their children.  The same hopes that only the indigenous people of Canada halve but also any parents around the whole world.

Clean water is an issue unfortunately for both groups. As well as access to education. From what I’ve seen and from the communities that we are working with their 100% committed to developing businesses in order to secure their future income, and not rely on government handouts.   There is real wish to  live a prosperous life whilst respecting the traditional ways.

 5.  How will you provide education that will help indigenous businesses thrive?   In each project are can you give team have defined certain milestones which we will meet during the project. Some of these milestones relate directly to for example holding workshops where are we will educate their members of the community in areas such as strategy, planning, accounting etc.   However most of the education, as I expect, will be informal because we will spend up to 50% of our time working hand-in-hand with them in their communities.

6.  Please describe a few specific projects. We have two major projects at the moment.   One is and ecotourism hotel which the government gave to the community in compensation for a activity on their land.   Up to 90 families rely on the income from this hotel, however it served 20 tourists last year.   We are working closely with the community to identify the market segment that they wish to target, develop a marketing plan, input the appropriate processes and systems in place in order to execute that plan.

 The other community recently received a barge from the government in order to offer transport services on the river.   This community was only recently affected by the industry activities therefore the community is only beginning to understand what is going on around them. Our challenge is to not only build a sustainable river transport system but also to identify other opportunities for the community to provide services or sell products which are outside of the energy industry.

 7.  What are your next steps?   The next step is to show that we can do what we said that we can do!  The Canative Team is fully committed and is working hard to make sure that we have everything that we need to succeed. The team is incredible and is the determining factor to success -  they have the energy, the commitment and heart to make meaningful change in these communities.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Interview with David Scherrer, Arcademics Multi-player Edu-Gaming. Innovators in E-Learning Series

Game-based e-learning continues to boom as students respond with true engagement and high scores. Welcome to an interview with David Scherrer, founder of Arcademics, a leader in multiplayer edu-gaming.

1.  What is your name and your relation to e-learning?
I’m David Scherrer, owner of – the leader in multiplayer edu-gaming. I’m passionate about using e-learning games as a powerful tool engage and motivate students.
David Scherrer
2.  What is Arcademics?  
Arcademics is a powerful approach to learning basic math, language arts, vocabulary, and thinking skills using research-based and standards-aligned games. Arcademics motivates students in grades K-6 to improve their skills in a friendly competitive environment, and teachers gain access to a database of critical insights into performance trends and measurable improvement in skills.

3.  What is your vision for the event and how are you developing games to improve math performance?
The annual Arcademics Cup is an international multiplication competition for traditional and homeschool students in grades K-6. More than 10,000 students are expected to compete during the two-day competition Feb. 1-2, 2018. Students will race against each other to solve math equations in Grand Prix Multiplication. The game’s multiplayer function allows students to race in groups of four as they answer basic multiplication problems for numbers one through 12.

The 2017 Arcademics Cup saw students play more than 325,000 games and correctly solve more than 10 million multiplication problems. Last year, teachers saw a 5 percent increase in accuracy and 10 percent increase in answer rate, or the number of correct answers per minute. In addition, students that began the Arcademics Cup with an 80 percent or lower accuracy experienced an average 19 percent accuracy increase and 34 percent increase in answer rate.

While participants progress through the Arcademics Cup, they are rewarded with power-ups and cosmetic items for their racecars, as well as a chance to win prizes – such as pizza parties and Arcademics Plus subscriptions – for their class, grade, or school. Students typically solve 30 multiplication equations per race and have unlimited access to Grand Prix Multiplication during the two-day competition.

By tracking data points such as accuracy, answer rate, and the number of correct answers per minute, we’re able to provide measurable ROI to teachers, parents, and students.

4.  Please describe three or four of your games. What do they do?  Who are they for? How do they work?
We have a range of free, research-based math and language arts games that help students improve skills such as multiplication, money, fractions, spelling, geography and more. The games challenge students to respond quickly over a series of short, timed trials. The student’s goal, and the goal of the game, is to increase their rate of correct responses and decrease error rate. The games help improve student performance through increased time on task, increased motivation and engagement, and increased corrective feedback.

We offer free, multiplayer games for grades K-6. Some of our most popular games include:
Grand Prix Multiplication (Multiplication)
  In this game, students race against each other in groups of four to solve basic multiplication problems for numbers one through 12.
Spelling Bees (Spelling)
 Four students aim to spell four-to-eight-letter vocabulary words correctly and quickly to build beehives. The game functions as both a spelling and typing game.
Capital Penguins (Geography)
 In this timed game, solo students guide their penguin to state-shaped ice floes based on the state capital prompt.
Puppy Chase (Decimals and Fractions)
 In groups of 12, students race as puppies around a track by correctly converting fractions to decimals.

5.  Please describe some of the winners of Arcademics. 
Roosevelt Elementary School Fifth Grade Teacher Christopher Lombardi participates in the Arcademics Cup each year, and his entire school is heavily involved. Students frequently practice various games in order to prepare for the Cup, and they have had multiple winners over the years.

Lombardi’s focus is on his students achieving their personal best time, and he has seen steady improvement month-to-month and year-to-year. For example, last year a student was ranked 98th in the school’s Arcademics Cup competition, and this year has improved to a third-place ranking! Lombardi especially enjoys the tangible results the students can see from their hard work, all of which he can track in the teacher’s dashboard.

6.  What are your plans for the future? 
In the near future, we are excited to host the 2018 Arcademics Cup and hope to help students and teachers alike start their year strong. Looking forward, we plan to add more games across multiple categories and look forward to continuously increasing participation in the Arcademics Cup.

Monday, January 01, 2018

The Victorians’ Opioid Epidemic

The Victorians had an opioid epidemic at home. They caused an opium epidemic in China. And, they spawned destructive mono-economies in India and Afghanistan, corruption in the ports, and vast networks of shipping, financing, and service companies all founded on the medicinal properties, but above all, the miraculously addictive properties of opium.

Victorians of the British Empire had their own opioid epidemic and opium trading of truly global extent, with repercussions that persist even into our own times.

The Victorians wrote about their own addictions, and there is surprisingly little glamorization. There is no “heroin chic” – instead, there is an awareness of the fleeting relief that opium (mainly laudanum, liquid containing 10% opium). The most famous (or infamous) is probably Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan,” supposedly written about an opium dream, which was written in 1797, but not published until 1816. Coleridge alludes to his addiction and suggests a dialectic between vice and virtue in his Biographia Literaria  (1817).

There is also Thomas DeQuincey’s autobiographical Confessions of an English Opium Eater (1821). In one famous passage, “The Pains of Opium,” DeQuincey describes the horrors of withdrawals and the desperate need for more laudanum, a temporary relief, followed by self-loathing.

Some poets focused opium in the domestic sphere, and using opium poppies for medicinal uses for the family. In “To Opium,” Henrietta O’Neill’s “Ode to the Poppy,” Anna Seward’s “To the Poppy,” and Sara Coleridge’s “Poppies,” incorporate opium use into the domestic hearth, its medicinal effects aiding in their wifely and motherly duties" (Freeman, 2012, p. 1). Within Victorian women poets who used opium, there was a longing for romantic escape. "Even though the women opium poets seek escape, they are, nonetheless,  concerned with their duties to their children and their place within the  household, making the opium poems an amalgam of escapist and familial  impulses” (Freeman, 2012, p. 1).

Elizabeth Barrett Browning suffered from pain in her neck and spine, and started with laudanum, but ultimately became addicted to pure morphine. Due to her frail health, Browning was reclusive and stayed at home where she had an extensive library. Quite fortunate in that she had independently inherited money and property from her grandmother and her uncle, she was able to live in a comfortable home and devote herself to reading and writing in French and English. Her work did not directly relate to addiction to morphine, but the desire that is so tacit in Sonnets from the Portuguese (1850), relates to the love that Browning felt for her husband, and also to a darker longing, even a craving, that is never permanently satisfied.

Wilkie Collins, of The Moonstone (1868) and The Woman in White (1860) wrote novels that were shot through with laudanum dreams, addictions, and hints. Collins was, like his friend, Charles Dickens, regularly used laudanum, supposedly to ease the pain of gout, but more probably as the addiction took hold, to ease the pain of withdrawals.

In Armadale (1866), the murderous anti-heroine, Lydia Gwilt, is a charming and deeply damaged femme fatale, who maintains a diary in which she opens up her heart and writes frankly of her passions, her rage, her obsessions, her calculating progress toward her ultimate goal (seducing and then killing for money, which is intermixed with self-loathing, jealousy, desire, and a weirdly pure love). The is one of the rawest, most honest voices in Victorian fiction, and it’s fascinating to read her diaries. What is more remarkable is that her voice was written by a man, Wilkie Collins. Perhaps the only other conniving femme fatales who approach Miss Gwilt’s melodramatic voice are the heroines (anti-heroines) of another sensation novel writer, Mary Elizabeth Braddon.

In Armadale, Lydia Gwilt mesmerizes with her self-awareness, and her intentionality when she reflects on how she impacts people upon first sight. Lydia is Machiavellian, but in her cold calculations are rage and despair; revenge and craving for love. The idea that she must regularly rebuild her own essence reminds one of Lacan’s notion of the looking glass self; a sense of identity built on what one sees reflected in another’s eyes). She uses her understanding for evil, of course, and very quickly learns how to skillfully apply makeup to appear much younger, and also how to preserve her angelic face and slim, youthful figure.  Her plan is to lure a man she has hated since childhood to his death. In the meantime, she wrestles with herself as she addresses her own doubts and misgivings, framed in her addiction to laudanum, which she uses to assuage pain – her psychic, soul-hurt pain. p. 272

Opium addiction did not confine itself to the literary world. Victorian England was awash with not just laudanum, but all kinds of remedies and drinks meant for all age groups (including fussy or colicky babies). There was a significant mortality rate, but there was little public alarm or outcry. England was much less regulated than today, and there were many vested interests in the opium trade.

Opium came to England primarily from Turkey, where it was considered the highest quality.  Other opium sources were Afghanistan and India, which supplied raw materials to Anglo-Indian companies, mainly trading companies, who wished to export it to the enormous market of eager potential consumers, China.

Many of heard of the Opium Wars fought by the British on Chinese soil. Few, however, recognize that these wars were fought in order to force China to participate in free trade and to allow imports. The main product that the British wanted to be able to export to China was opium from India and Afghanistan. The Chinese rulers of the Qing Dynasty were resolutely opposed to allowing opium to enter the country, and issues many statements explaining their belief in the pernicious effects of opium on the people (Fay, 1977, p. 21). They resisted, and thus the First Opium War was fought from 1839 – 1842.

The Stacking Room: Opume Factory at Patna, India
Storage of opium at a British East India Company warehouse, c. 1850  

Unfortunately, the Chinese ruling elite could not overcome local corruption, particularly on the level of port authorities and customs officials (Havia, 2003, p. 215). Opium flowed into China through ports such as Shanghai, with terrible results.  According to some estimates, some 90 percent of men under the age 40 in the coastal area were in some degree addicted to opium.  The profits soared for the Anglo-Indian companies exporting to China. Corrupt officials lined their pockets.

[In an Opium Den, Shanghai:  Wikimedia Commons image:]

A second Opium War was fought with England and France uniting against China in order to open trade, of which opium was a very important (although not the only) piece. It lasted from 1856 – 1860, and in the middle of it, opium trade was officially legalized. Opium imports and addiction skyrocketed. By 1880, China was importing more than 6,500 tons of opium a year. Addiction continued, and opium trade-related crime made Shanghai notorious (Macauley, 2009, p. 12). People were kidnapped and transported as slave labor to the American West (railroads), to the point that “Being Shanghaied” became common parlance.

The addiction and attendant corruption and crime were so prevalent that they led to the collapse of the entire Qing Dynasty. When the Qing Dynasty fell in 1914, it was easy for the Japanese to occupy China and the continue the opium trade, continuing to enrich the traders while maintaining a weakened, humiliated populace of addicts, criminal gangs, and corrupt officials.  In fact, the degradation was so complete that it became one of the rallying cries and points of unity of the Communist Party, which pointed to “foreign devils” who were allowed to destroy China’s heritage, culture, and people (Macauley, 2009, p. 12).

In the meantime, back in England, opioids such as laudanum, along with other medicines were regulated, and the unofficial use of the drugs was criminalized.  Laudanum was no longer easily accessible, and the opiates were taken out of products intended for daily use.  In the 20th century, opium addiction flared up again, but opioid use was in no way so commonplace as it was in the 19th century, and further, the 20th century variants (heroin, prescription pain medication, powerful synthetic concentrates of opioids) were more likely to incapacitate and kill, rather than allow respite from pain and at least a level of creative productivity. The opium dens which were made illegal in China reemerged in the post WWI Paris described Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge.

French Opium Den

The Parisian opium dens became a place of self-abasement and degradation as in the case of Sophie, a woman traumatized after the loss of her husband and baby after being hit by a drunk driver who becomes an addict and prostitute in a Parisian opium den, and a symbol of post-WWI Lost Generation nihilistic self-destruction.

****ANNOUNCEMENT:  Texture Press will be issuing a Call for Submissions for an anthology of addiction, dealing with theory (theoretical foundations which include the commodification of addiction, consumer culture and addiction, short fiction, essays, poetry, black and white photography, sketches / cartoons). ***


Browning, Elizabeth Barrett. (1850) Sonnets from the Portuguese.

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. (1817)  Biographia Literaria.

Coleridge, Sara (1855). “Poppies” PoetryExplorer

Collins, Wilkie.  (1866) Armadale.

DeQuincey, Thomas. (1821) Confessions of an English Opium Eater.

Fay, Peter Ward. (1977) Was the Opium War of 1840-42 a Just War?  Ch'ing-shih wen-t'i, Volume 3, Supplement 1, 1977, pp. 17-31

Freeman, Hannah Cowles (2012) "Opium Use and Romantic Women's Poetry" South Central Review, Volume 29, Number 1 & 2, Spring & Summer 2012, pp. 1-20

Havia, James Louis. (2003) "Opium, Empire, and Modern History" China Review International, Volume 10, Number 2, Fall 2003, pp. 307-326.

Macauley, Melissa. (2009) "Small Time Crooks: Opium, Migrants, and the War on Drugs in China, 1819–1860" Late Imperial China, Volume 30, Number 1, June 2009, pp. 1-47

O’Neill, Henrietta. (1785) “Ode to the Poppy” All Poetry

 Seward, Anna. (1799) “Sonnet: To the Poppy” Poetry Foundation.

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