Failure is the Best Medicine

BUSINESS Frustration and failure fuel Dyson’s success In this terrific interview, Sir James Dyson explains how his innovative designs—the bagless vacuum cleaner made him a billionaire—only succeeded because of his past failures. Discussion ideas: Watch this short video (“Turning Failure into Nobel Gold“), in which chemist Martin Chalfie describes “the real way science is done.” Chalfie’s colleague Osamu Shimomura conducted experiment after experiment where “Nothing worked!” … Continue reading Failure is the Best Medicine

Papua New Guinea Blog 5: Fire Dance

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Jane Fajans is a professor of Anthropology at Cornell University. She
was invited to join the James Cameron expedition during their time in
Papua New Guinea and share her insights into the culture of the Baining
people. Jane conducted fieldwork with the Baining on the island of Papua
New Guinea, near the Mariana Trench in the South Pacific.

On Tuesday, March 6, we drove up to Gaulim to make arrangements for the Baining Fire Dance. This is a traditional dance that is performed at night. The dancers wear big masks and dance around a big fire. From time to time one of the dancers will run into the fire and start kicking logs and embers and sending sparks flying across the area. The dancers are accompanied by a male chorus. The members of this chorus sing in a rapid staccato style and pound a piece of bamboo tubing on top of a large piece of wood. The music is very energetic and the dancers also move energetically–and sometimes frantically–around the dance ground. The shadows of the mask, the sparks of the fire, and the pounding music make this a very dramatic performance.

The village is about an hour from Kokopo, the capital of East New Britain. The road to the village goes up into the mountains and then about halfway down the backside of one mountain. The road is good until about 6 km (3.7 miles) before the village, and then turns into a very rutted track. On Tuesday, the road was dry so we could bump along it up to the edge of the village, but on Friday, when we went back for the actual dance, the road was all mud due to a recent rain.

Because we had called ahead and said we were coming, there were a number of people (men, women, and children) waiting for us in the village. Normally, everyone would be out in the gardens at this time of day. Having cell phones and cell phone coverage is a recent, and very welcome, change in this region. As I found out later, coverage is not available in other parts of the Baining territory.

On the way up to the village, we stopped at a small roadside stand to buy betel nut, the fruit of the areca palm that is widely chewed in Papua New Guinea (and elsewhere in the Pacific and Southeast Asia), and often combined with the fruit of a pepper plant and powdered lime. When mixed together, these three components turn bright red in the mouth and give a slight burst of energy, or buzz. Betel nut is used as a form of greeting among the Baining. Instead of a handshake, people exchange betel nut with one another, and if they have time, chew it together. People say that conversation goes better with betel nut (called “buai” in tok pisin, the local lingua franca). You should not swallow the betel nut, so people spit the red juice that collects in their mouths out on the ground. In many places in town there are signs forbidding the spitting of betel nut, but in the rural areas where the ground is dirt or grass, people just spit wherever they want. When you see people with very red mouths like bright lipstick, it is because of the betel nut.

We came up to the village and James and I (James was our driver) exchanged betel nut with the people in the picture below. The Australians with us did not understand this custom until they saw us do it. When I chewed betel nut with the residents of Gaulim, everyone laughed and the children ran around telling others. It is not common for non-Papua New Guineans to chew it.


villagers outside one house.  Photo by
Jane Fajans.

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Papua New Guinea Blog 4: On Board the Mermaid Sapphire

Jane Fajans is a professor of Anthropology at Cornell
She was
invited to join the James Cameron expedition during their time in Papua
New Guinea and share her insights into the culture of the Baining people.
Jane conducted fieldwork with the Baining on the island of Papua New
near the Mariana Trench in the South Pacific.

On Monday morning I woke up to find a major change in plans: We had expected that the ship would be delayed down at Jacquinot Bay for a few more days while the dives continued [the preliminary test-dives of James Cameron’s DEEPSEA CHALLENGER submarine], but learned that the ship would be heading into Rabaul and would dock in a few hours. They were looking to re-provision the ship and change crews, since the new crew had just arrived in Rabaul (several of the new crew were the friends I had climbed the volcano with). The ship (actually two ships since the main ship, the Mermaid Sapphire, is accompanied by a second ship) would be in the harbor in a few hours. 

Maria Wilhelm, James Cameron’s business strategist and all-around adviser, sent word that I should come aboard. I was very excited and drove to Rabaul with Rob MacCallum, the local coordinator. First, we stopped at the heliport to pick up some groceries that were scheduled to be flown down to the ship, but could now be loaded right onto it. Second, we stopped at a supermarket and ordered lots more groceries. Third, we stopped at a pharmacy (called a “chemist” in Australian and Papua New Guinean dialect) and ordered other supplies. We arrived in Rabaul just as the ship lowered its gangway to allow us to board.

The ship the Mermaid Sapphire.  Photo by Jane Fajans.

mermaid sapphire.jpg

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Imagining the Journey

Shannon Switzer is an award-winning photographer, published
writer, and National Geographic Young Explorer whose work focuses on
ocean conservation.

Diving down in a sub to the Challenger Deep, which James Cameron successfully accomplished Sunday, is pretty incredible. But my dream is to free dive to the bottom and walk along it, exploring with my own two feet and hands, instead of via a machine.

It’s crazy talk, but often the craziest ideas are the most fun to imagine.

Shannon_Jellyfish.jpgTry this with your class: Have them envision a trip seven miles down to the bottom of the ocean at Challenger Deep. Ask them to describe how they would get down there and what they think they might discover, both as they descend and once they’ve reached the bottom. Have them pay attention to specific sensory details in their narrative: the temperature of the water as they go deeper, the colors they see, if they taste anything, and how things feel when they touch them. Encourage them to think about and elaborate on the way they use each of their five senses as they interact with the environment in their story.

To help get their creative juices flowing, conduct a short lesson on deep-sea life that has been documented, showing them photos or illustrations of deep-sea creatures. Encourage them to be as creative and out-of-the-box as they so desire. For example, perhaps they feel like having a conversation with a dumbo octopus at six miles down–great! This is a unique way for them to practice constructing dialogue.

In addition, the exercise provides an opportunity to discuss concepts such as “show, don’t tell,” by encouraging them to use literary devices like similes, metaphors, personification, imagery, and sensory description to create a scene. Write one yourself and share it with the class. Push your students to get as far-out as they like. The more creative they are, the more exciting of a mind journey it will be.

Now let’s go!

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Gadgets And Gizmos Aplenty

Shannon Switzer is an award-winning photographer, published
writer, and National Geographic Young Explorer whose work focuses on
ocean conservation.

The first time I took a non-disposable camera with me underwater, I was studying abroad in Australia on the Great Barrier Reef. I had a point-and-shoot Olympus that was confined to land. After my first dive on the reef, I got an itch to share what I had seen with my friends and family back home. A few days later, I bought a dive housing for my little camera. I loved my set-up. I took pictures of surly sea snakes, turtles, impossibly bright nudibranchs, anemone with their defensive clownfish residents, and candid portraits of my friends looking suave in their dive gear.  

MeWith1stSLR&Housing.jpgSix months later, when I returned from Australia to finish my senior year in Santa Barbara, I started bringing my camera and housing with me into the surf, shooting friends and strangers alike catching waves. I would shoot for hours, until my body was numb to the core and my claw-hands could no longer fire the shutter. A year after that, I bought my first SLR camera and a new (expensive!) housing to go along with it. Since then my equipment has continued to evolve (and get more expensive), but the same sense of excitement that brought me to the water then with camera in-hand is what continues to bring me there now.

Shannon carries her first SLR camera underwater housing while diving above. Photo by Morgan Hoesterey.

For this reason, I find all of the camera gear on the DEEPSEA CHALLENGE expedition fascinating and mind-boggling. On the sub itself, there are two “booms,” which are basically long metal poles. One positions a powerful spotlight and two 2-D cameras that combine to capture 3-D footage, and the other, known as the “manipulator arm,” positions two cameras, which are used independently from one another. One is a wide-angle lens that corrects magnification of objects in the water, and the other films macro footage of small sea creatures. They both serve as an extension of James Cameron’s body, which he moves using hydraulics while he’s confined in the sub. According to Dr. Joe MacInnis, who is on site with the team, these cameras not only record 3-D footage and take high-quality stills, but they also act as Cameron’s eyes to the sea floor. Without them, he is essentially blind.

30502.jpgThe inside of a research submersible vehicle, which today is the only way to explore the deep oceans. Numerous instruments, lights, and cameras are visible on the exterior frame of the submersible. Photograph by Emory Kristof.

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