A few years ago, the town of Winter Harbor, Maine, nearly razed Hammond Hall. The lovely wooden building—home for a century to town meetings, potlucks, plays, even half-court basketball when a backboard and rim were nailed to the balcony—had gone neglected and was now too costly to maintain. Someone suggested the fire department burn it down as a training exercise.
Instead, concerned townspeople rallied, launched an arts organization that could use (and was willing to repair) the building, and rekindled, so to speak, the local love for Hammond Hall. They saved a structure and strengthened a community.
Meanwhile, halfway around the world, two Tokyo-based architects, Astrid Klein (who's Italian) and Mark Dytham (British), were inventing an engaging, quick-paced new format through which young architects could present their overlooked ideas to an audience. Klein and Dytham called the format Pecha Kucha (pronounced something like pa-chok-u-cha, spoken really fast), which is Japanese for "chit-chat." Using PowerPoint software, each presenter could show 20 slides and talk for only 20 seconds per slide. Total time: 6 minutes, 40 seconds. Before and after, the presenters and the audience could mingle, network and discuss the subjects in more detail.
Pecha Kucha became a trademarked franchise. It spread beyond Japan and outside the world of architecture. In scores of cities around the world, Pecha Kucha nights are now a forum for sharing smart, creative ideas and experiences of many types. People who attend them have a blast.
I somehow had never heard of Pecha Kucha until two weeks ago. Mary Laury, executive director of Winter Harbor-based Schoodic Arts for All, happened to visit The Naturalist's Notebook and invited Pamelia and me to an all-Maine Pecha Kucha night that her organization was hosting at Hammond Hall. We were intrigued.
And so we drove an hour up the coast on what would become a snowy evening and settled into our folding chairs at Hammond Hall. The high school cooking club had set up a table to sell homemade cookies and muffins. Show-and-tell artifacts from the nine presenters were spread across other tables around the edge of the room. The lights dimmed and the fun began.
The inspiring group of presenters included whale and seal researcher Gale McCullough, artist/inventor/sailor Steve Callahan—author of the 1986 bestseller Adrift: 76 Days Lost At Sea, the tale of how he survived for 11 weeks on an inflatable raft after something big, possibly a whale, ran into and sank his sloop in the Atlantic off Africa—and former Peace Corps volunteer Florence Reed, the founder of Sustainable Harvest International, a Maine-based program that in 14 years of work in Central America has planted three million trees, reduced slash-and-burn farming and improved the lives of poor families—all to help save the region's species-rich but rapidly disappearing tropical forests.
Samuel Johnson once observed that when a man knows he is to be hanged, "it concentrates his mind wonderfully." Having to present vast amounts of information to an audience in just six minutes and 40 seconds can have the same effect. Each Pecha Kucha speaker was concise and insightful. Some, like Callahan, were lyrical; he spoke poetically of how his brush with death changed his approach to life and creating art. Others were humorous, most notably Blake Hendrickson, who is a creativity guru and a hilarious keeper of a herd of miniature moose. Yet others were visionary; a young whiz named Oren Darling described a future in which millions of us would have home 3-D "printers" (fabricating machines for which the technology already exists) with which we could manufacture our own chairs, tables, drinking cups and other objects as we needed them, thus radically changing the global economy and the dissemination of creative designs.
It was clear that we still have a lot to learn about the world. McCullough, the oceanographer, reminded us how recent it is that we have begun learning about many of the planet's largest creatures. Before 1975, scientifically speaking, "we knew almost nothing about whales," she said. Jacques Cousteau and the College of the Atlantic's Allied Whale research branch helped launch research efforts and increase awareness about cetaceans, and today we know that, for example, each whale has unique markings on the underside of his tail fins (his flukes) that enable scientists to track specific individuals over time. That has been crucial to studying migration patterns and other habits.
Speaking of Food, You Might Be Buying Honey That's Not Honey
Thanks to Notebook friend Betsy for passing along this link about stores that are selling honey that has been so thoroughly filtered and cooked (and in some cases diluted) that it no longer legally qualifies as honey under the FDA's definition of that liquid gold. I'm not sure what you call honey that's not honey. High-fructose corn syrup? http://www.hellawella.com/some-not-so-sweet-news-about-honey/3527
Divide and Conquer
You might find this either useful or useless, but it's certainly fun. A friend reminded me last night of a math trick involving the number nine: If you want to find out if a number can be divided by 9, just add the digits of that number and see if the total can be divided by 9. Just look at the numbers that are divisible by 9. They all fit the rule:
18 (add 1 + 8 and you get 9, which can be divided by 9)
27 (2 + 7 = 9, again divisible by 9)
36 (3 + 6 = 9, again divisible by 9)
45 (4 + 5 = 9, again divisible by 9)
54 (4 + 5 = 9, again divisible by 9)
skip ahead to other random numbers that can be divided by 9...
108 (1 + 0 + 8 = 9, again divisible by 9)
279 (2 + 7 + 9 = 18, again divisible by 9)
44,919 (4 + 4 + 9 + 1 + 9 = 27, again divisible by 9)