Saturday, August 30, 2008

Sailing the Racetrack Playa of Death Valley, California

No, this isn’t another travel post… It’s rocks doing the “sailing” this time.

These are moving rocks, also known as sailing stones, that mysteriously move across the surface of the Racetrack Playa, a seasonally dry lake (or playa) in the Panamint Mountains, Death Valley National Park. Most of the racetrack rocks originate from the nearby hillside of dark dolomite on the south end of the playa. As they move without human intervention, the rocks leave long tracks behind them, often tens of hundreds of feet and typically less than an inch deep. The rocks move once every two or three years and most tracks last for just three or four years. Rocks with rough bottoms leave straight striated tracks while those with smooth bottoms wander.

During periods of heavy rain, water washes down from the nearby mountain slopes onto the playa and form a shallow short-lived lake. Soon, the thin veneer of water evaporates and leaves behind a layer of soft gooey slippery mud. As it dries the mud shrinks and cracks into a mosaic of interlocking polygons.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Waves, Spirals and the Face of God

I wasn’t home a week from my American book tour when the family motored north to do some boating along the British Columbia coast to our usual haunts: Cortes Island and Desolation Sound. Named so by Captain George Vancouver in 1792 due to some bad luck, poor weather and its remoteness, Desolation Sound is far from desolate. During the summer, it offers one of the best cruising grounds in the world, drawing boaters from all over the planet to its clear and warm waters, exceptional scenery and a kayaker’s paradise at the northern tip of the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia.

Despite years of practice with my husband and his family, I’m not a very good boater. As much as dark clouds and thunderstorms draw me on land, they send me cowering in the hold on water. Waves and I just don’t get along. You guessed it: we had wind and we had waves. I’ve said before that I usually don’t dream. Well, I dreamt that night.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Review of Darwin's Paradox

Aaron Wilson, book and story reviewer at the Soulless Machine, recently did an in-depth review of my science fiction eco-thriller, Darwin's Paradox by Dragon Moon Press.

"Munteanu’s idea of how humanity will evolve to be able to communicate with machines is a deeply fascinating one," said Aaron. "Munteanu’s prose is tightly woven and written without apologies for the complex language and scientific terms that are bounced around, which is refreshing. She assumes a smart reader, a reader not afraid to pick up a dictionary, or at least flip to the back of the book to see she included it in her glossary of terms. I particularly enjoyed the in depth discussion of Chaos Theory and how it played out in the plot."
Aaron ends with, "if you are interested in the evolution of the Human and AI, then this is a must for your collection."

If you're interested, go here for his review in its entirety. And while you're at it, you might want to read his reviews of some of my short stories (Butterfly in Peking, Julia's Gift, and Virtually Yours) or check out his reviews of stories and books by other writers.

The Soulless Machine is a great site for reading well-written reviews of the story, whether long or short. As his mission statement attests, Aaron is dedicated keep the short story alive. For instance, his latest post reviews a collection of short stories by William R. Potter called Lighting the Dark Side. Aaron also posts a good list of online short story sites (mostly science fiction) and websites of interest, as well as a good selection of what he calls "bookish blogs".

There aren't too many sites that devote themselves with such dedication to reviewing the short story form; partly because this form, sadly, isn't as popular with readers. The irony is that this form is often the most interesting, unique and sharply compelling ... skating the edge of mainstream with new ideas, sometimes outrageous, always diverting. I thank Aaron on behalf of all short story authors for his attention to this form.

This is what Aaron Wilson says about himself: "I live in Minneapolis with my loving wife, 9 to 5 Poet, two cats (one good and one bad)." I had to like him right away for that admission.

For a look at his publications, go here.

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit Visit for more about her writing.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Car Trouble in Butte, Montana—“Tap ‘er light!”

Known as "Big Sky Country" for obvious reasons, Montana offers 147,000 square miles of terrain and about 69,000 miles of public highways and roads to explore, including some of the most breathtaking scenery in North America (e.g., Beartooth Highway, Glacial National Park and Going to the Sun Road: West Glacier to Saint Mary's Lake, West Yellowstone, Madison River Country, the Bitteroot Valley, just to name a few).

Well, my delay in Montana had less to do with the weather than with my own neglect (I let the oil dwindle to nothing); although the heat may have conspired in my longer than intended stay in Montana. After lingering longer than I should have in Bozeman, I stopped in Butte for the night.
Butte was once considered the “richest hill on Earth”; it came into existence because of gold and is still an active mining community of copper, manganese and zinc as well as gold and silver. “You can see it in the smooth, worn streets, and the billboard images ghosted on brick hotels,” says the town’s visitor’s guide. The people who live and work in this worn-down but friendly town are proud of their mining history and culture. As a result of its mining heritage, Butte has even developed its own unique vernacular: mine-speak, which Kevin Shannon and Jim Edwards have documented in their book, Memories of a Mining Camp. For instance, instead of saying, “Take it easy” they say “Tap ‘er light,”, an old expression that goes back to hand drilling the holes for the dynamite in the mines. One guy would hold the steel and turn it while the other would pound it to bore the hole. The guy holding the steel would constantly worry about getting his hand whacked. Ouch!

The following morning, Chelsea, my trusty 1988 Plymouth Acclaim—after serving me for close to 9,000 km (5,592 miles) across America—refused to start.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

From Cooking South Dakota to Storming Wyoming

As I drove the wind-swept plains of South Dakota that rolled gently into the sweltering heat of the open plateau, I recalled telling my friend in Kentucky on the phone earlier that there wasn’t a speck of shade to be had—whereupon she’d laughed and reminded me that she’d warned me of just that very thing: east of Rapid City and the Black Hills there is no shade to be found. The next day, as I adjusted my Armstrong Air-Conditioning (e.g., I opened all the windows of the car), I had to laugh out loud when I spotted a sign on the interstate that advertized trees and shade. It was so hot that even the chocolate biscuit of my ice cream sandwich melted! When I checked later I found that the temperature had been in the mid nineties (34 degrees Centigrade), which is nothing compared to the record temperature for that time period of 109 degrees F (and that was just last year!).

As I entered Wyoming I almost immediately got into some "weather". I was barely past the welcome sign when I spotted a weather-advisory sign and remembered that I wasn’t far from “Tornado Alley” in eastern Wyoming. No sooner had I seen the sign when the wind picked up and dark clouds swept in toward me. Lightning struck several times. It began to rain. Then it pelted.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Lightning Bugs & More Lightning in Kentucky

Nicknamed the "Bluegrass State" for its prevalent bluegrass, Kentucky is also known for its horses, with possibly more per capita than anywhere else in the world, according to my Kentucky friends. And there is no better representation than the Kentucky Derby, called “the most exciting two minutes in sports.” But, my best memories of Kentucky don’t lie with its bucolic scenes of pastures and horses; rather with its wildlife and natural phenomena.

One of my favorite experiences in Kentucky was being lulled to sleep by the swelling rhythm of cicada “chatter”. Their synchronous lullaby sang me to sleep every night.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Traveling Sales Ants & Swarming Robots

“Swarm intelligence” is a term used to describe the self-organized collective behavior of social insects. For instance, one ant following the trail of another eventually provides the colony the shortest route among the countless possible paths to a food source. In an article in Scientific American, Eric Bonabeau and Guy Théraulaz report on how computer scientists use these social insects as models to solve complex problems. The foraging of ants, for instance, has led to a novel method for rerouting network traffic in busy telecommunications systems.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Biomimicry: Nature as model, measure and mentor

Several years ago, I picked up a book called Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature by Janine Benyus. Biomimicry was a term I’d not heard of before and I was intrigued. Benyus invented the term to describe a new discipline that studies nature’s best ideas and then imitates these designs and processes to solve human problems. A nature writer and champion of nature-inspired innovation, Benyus defines the quest of biomimicry as “the conscious emulation of life’s genius. Innovation inspired by nature.” Examples include:

    energy efficient buildings inspired by the passive cooling of termite mounds
  • non-toxic fabric finishes inspired by water-repellant lotus plants
  • durable and resistant materials based on spider silk
  • biomimetic robot designs based on animal and insect anatomy

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Chambord Liqueur Royale Deluxe—The Taste of Luxury

While visiting in Louisville, Kentucky, I was introduced to some of Kentucky’s finest bourbons; the drink is named after Bourbon County in Kentucy, after all. This distilled spirit, made primarily from corn, packs a lovely punch, whether drunk on the rocks or neat.

However, while in Louisville, I also serendipitously discovered an exquisite French liqueur to die for: Chambord Liqueur Royale. I say serendipitous, because Louisville is named after King Louis XIV and he supposedly discovered this unique raspberry liqueur— produced in the Loire Valley of France in the 17th century—during one of his visits to the Chateau de Chambord. Chambord Liqueur Royale is currently made by Charles Jacquin Et Cie in Chambord, France.

Monday, August 4, 2008

America, You’re Beautiful!—Part 4: Bozeman, MT, and The Leaf & Bean Coffee House

The look on the street is Carrie Bradshaw in country boots. No need to pack a blow-dryer; the Keep it Wild philosophy extends from nature to hair, which is also left untamed—Travel & Leisure Online

The visitor’s guide describes Bozeman, Montana, as “a charming town. In a John Wayne—Norman Rockwell—Bob Marley sort of way.” No where is this more apparent than in the heart of Bozeman’s historic downtown, along Main Street, near its intersection with Wilson Avenue. This area features a relaxed funky atmosphere, an exciting commingling of southern wild west and northern yuppy vogue.

A cross between Louisville’s bohemian Bardstown Road and Victoria’s attractive Government Street, Main Street of downtown Bozeman is a memorable walk. Lamps adorned with colorful bouquets of local flowers line the downtown street. Most of the buildings are heritage-style brick facades with original signage. Among the galleries (like the Beatnik), antique stores and movie theatre, I spotted several music shops, like Cactus Records, which sells international and local music and equipment. Main Street is an attractive retail corridor that houses more than 100 shops and restaurants, including those selling sporting goods, clothing, furniture, kitchen equipment, and technology. Remember, Montana has no sales tax.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Nina’s American Book Tour: Bozeman, Montana

The Barnes & Noble book store in Bozeman, Montana, is located on Main Street, a hip and funky street that gets downright interesting by the time you hit 10th Avenue (more on that in a later post). I signed several copies of Darwin’s Paradox last week at the store and must thank Jeni, Karen and Louise (hope your ankle is better, Louise!) for their help in setting everything up on such short notice. If you live in or near or are simply passing through this cool city in the Montana mountains and gateway to Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park, drop in to Barnes & Noble and pick up a signed copy. Last I heard there were still some left.

Bozeman itself is a colorful and attractive city with cultural diversity and a level of “coolness” that comes from being a university town set amidst lofty mountains with a western flavor. Bozeman is located in the Gallatin Valley, surrounded by magnificent mountain ranges. North of the city, the Bridger Mountains attract thousands of skiers each winter. The Gallatin Range and the Madison Range, south of Bozeman, rise more than 10,000 feet and have peaks covered with snow much of the year. Montana State University is located in Bozeman, with a very attractive campus and programs that range from agricultural sciences, engineering to the fine arts. I spent some time there, particularly in the student union building, where the bookstore and the pub were. I would so enjoy teaching here; I just might…My son wouldn't mind it too much either. According to "this is place to go if you love to be outdoors and bums are all over the campus and so are the hippies...its a true party college." The Museum of the Rockies, located on campus, features many wonderful paleontology exhibits. Jack Horner, the world's top dinosaur hunter and an adviser to the movie "Jurassic Park," works at the Museum. Occasionally, Museum visitors see Professor Horner inspecting the Museum's latest exhibits.

The visitor’s guide describes Bozeman as “a charming town. In a John Wayne—Norman Rockwell—Bob Marley sort of way.” The town’s history goes back to the time when Gallatin Valley (where Bozeman lies) was used by Indian tribes, including the Flathead, Sioux, Shoshone, Nez Perce, and Blackfeet, who all hunted for game and edible plants. According to tribal lore, Indians agreed not to fight in the Gallatin Valley, instead conceding to share the area’s beauty and resources with one another. European fur traders came in the 1700s, with Lewis and Clark leading a historic expedition to the Three Forks of the Missouri in 1805. Mountain men roamed through the area trapping beaver and acting as guides.

The town is named after John Bozeman, a Georgian who’d left his family to find fortune in the West. The town was named in his honor in 1864, shortly before he was killed near Yellowstone under mysterious circumstances.

Yellowstone National Park, just south of Bozeman, was created in 1872 and is the first and oldest national park in the world. Bozeman is often referred to as the “Yellowstone Connection”. After an unsuccessful bid to become the state capital, Bozeman was chosen as the site for the new agricultural college, which became Montana State University, home of the fighting Bobcats.

Bozeman currently supports a population of 30,000 interesting "urban cowboys" from young to old and funky to intellectual. From appearance, dress, comportment and speech I was treated to an attractive and exciting commingling of southern wild west and northern yuppy vogue. Travel & Leisure Online wrote: “The look on the street is Carrie Bradshaw in cowboy boots. No need to pack a blow-dryer; the Keep it Wild philosophy extends from nature to hair, which is also left untamed.” I felt at home.