Those Giant Christmas Ornaments at the Mall

Christmas Decoration at Barton Mall
Christmas Decoration at Barton Mall

I’ve been thinking about those large spherical Christmas ornaments on display at Barton Creek Square Mall. Are they rigid, or do they somehow fold into a smaller shape for storage?

Recently I saw one in a non-spherical status, and that explained everything. They are inflatables, like the Santa on my front lawn.

The fan is in the top, hidden by the red ribbons. Power for the fan comes from above.  Internal access is accomplished (probably) by a zipper under the flap of material to the right of the top. The ball is held open by air pressure.

I doubt that many others wondered about this, but it has puzzled me for at least 2 years. Now I know.

Lifetime Learning Institute of Austin, A Valuable Resource for Persons Age 50+

LLI LogoLifetime Learning Institute of Austin ( has been in operation for over 40 years, providing economical classes on an eclectic range of topics. The primary group served is persons 50+.

Registration for the Spring 2019 semester opens on January 16, but it’s not too early to take a look at the classes that were offered in the Fall because many will also be available in the Spring.

Many LLI classes fill up within hours, so it pays to register as soon as possible. You can take a look at the list here to see which Fall classes filled (shown in red) and which still had room.

I usually take 2 or 3, sometimes 4, LLI classes each semester. My favorites are T’ai Chi (Taiji) and Qigong, and Yoga Fit. This time I enrolled in classes about American Comedy Films, Exercise for Men and Women, and India. My other recommendations are How to Listen to Classical Music, and Geology.

LLI is run as a non-profit by volunteers, and part of what keeps Austin wonderfully weird.

Austin Classes for Retired Seniors

Lifetime Learning Institute LogoAustin is home to to the Lifetime Learning Institute (LLI), which offers educational classes on a variety of subjects at the bargain price of just $20 per course. The Fall list of classes is out, and online registration starts tomorrow, August 15.

Lifetime Learning Institute runs on volunteer labor, as it has for over 40 years. The teachers are often retired UT professors or other educational professionals. With a few exceptions, each course consists of 8 sessions, one session per week. Classes are held in churches or similar locations that offer free parking.

Perhaps the most popular LLI class is “Hiking Austin Trails”, which meets Mondays at 9:30 AM.

You can see a simple list of the classes here, but it’s better to go to the actual LLI website and see full descriptions. Printed class catalogs are available in Austin libraries…look for the bright green cover.

We are so fortunate to have a resource like LLI in Austin! I take several classes in the Fall and also in the Spring.

Free Seminar for Seniors in Austin Next Tuesday (April 10)

Commission on Seniors

Community Interest Announcement

Livability for Longevity: A Symposium Connecting People, Process and Policy for Healthy Aging in Austin
Tuesday, April 10, 2018 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Bass Lecture Hall, LBJ School of Public Affairs
Located on the lower level of Sid Richardson Hall (SRH)
2315 Red River St.
Austin, TX 78712-1536
Free and open to public

Drones Drones Drones at Austin Forum Tonight (April 3)

Austin Forum LogoAustin Forum is a monthly gathering where an expert (often more than one) discuss a topic related to technology, medicine or society. Admission is free and open to the public.

“Drones: Changing Business, Agriculture, Security and More” is the subject of tonight’s meeting (April 3, 2018) in the downstairs room of the new Austin Public Library downtown. Craig Nehrkorn, formerly with DJI and IBM and now Drone Dynamics, is the presenter.

See the deets at

Expand Your Brain for Free at UT

UT’s Environmental Science Institute publishes a weekly email listing campus environmental science and sustainability events. To be added to the email list, just visit the website or email the Institute.

To show the breadth and depth of the topics offered, here is the list of events for this week:

Monday, March 19
IB Seminar
Peter Chesson, University of Arizona

Hosted by Caroline Farrior, Peter Chesson of the University of Arizona will give a talk on

“Replacing the Local Community Concept in Ecology”
Moffett Molecular Biology Building (MBB) Room 1.210 @ 3:00 – 4:00 pm

Wednesday, March 21
Otis Lecture: Environmental justice, racism, and health disparities
Sacoby Miguel Wilson, PHD
Environmental racism is a pervasive issue that leads to environmental injustice and health disparities. The social work profession is increasingly becoming involved in environmental justice issues as they are intrinsically connected with social justice. In the 2018 Otis Lecture, Sacoby Miguel Wilson will discuss the intersection between race, place, hazards, vulnerability, and disasters. He will also discuss how to use citizen-science approaches to help address environmental justice and health issues, and how to use community-engaged research to “inpower” populations impacted by environmental injustice.
Sacoby Wilson, PhD, is an associate professor with the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health and Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, School of Public Health, University of Maryland-College Park. Wilson has over 15 years of experience as an environmental health scientist in the areas of exposure science, environmental justice, environmental health disparities, community-based participatory research, water quality analysis, air pollution studies, built environment, industrial animal production, climate change, community resiliency, and sustainability. He works primarily in partnership with community-based organizations to study and address environmental justice and health issues and translate research to action.
UTIG Brown Bag Seminar
Dr. John Kappelman
Please join us for UTIG’s first floor seminar for next week’s Brown Bag Seminar. Dr. John Kappelman will be talking about the geology of Northwestern Ethiopia in a lecture entitled “Hard rock to soft rock and (nearly) everything in between: Explorations with drill, hammer, and trowel in northwestern Ethiopia.”
J.J. Pickle Research Campus 10100 Burnet Road, Bldg. 196/ROC Seminar Conference Room ROC 1.603 @ 12:00 – 1:00 pm

Thursday, March 22
Research Colloquium: Changes in Time Use and Their Effect on Energy Consumption in the United States 
Dr. Ashok Sekar presents, “Changes in Time Use and Their Effect on Energy Consumption in the United States.” Research colloquiums are a series of brown bag events held on Thursdays from 12:15-1:30 p.m.
Sid Richardson Hall (SRH) Room 3.122 @ 12:15 – 1:30 pm
IB Faculty Recruitment Seminar
Dr. Elizabeth Hobson, Santa Fe Institute 
Hosted by Mike Ryan, Dr. Elizabeth Hobson of the Santa Fe Institute will lead a talk on “Understanding the evolution of social knowledge through conflict.”
Norman Hackerman Building (NHB) Room 1.720 @ 2:00 – 3:00 pm
DeFord Lecture Series  
Jackson Geosciences Building (JGB) Room 2.324 @ 4:00 – 5:00 pm
Dean’s Scholars Distinguished Lecture Series
Dr. Carole Baldwin
The Dean’s Scholars Distinguished Lecture Series is excited to welcome Dr. Carole Baldwin, renowned marine biologist and Curator of Fishes at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History!
If you could dive to depths below shallow coral reefs, what would you see? Do reefs and their inhabitants persist or do shallow reefs transition into deep-sea life? Join us as Dr. Baldwin describes her exploration of Caribbean depths down to 1,000 ft. using a state-of- the art manned submersible. Too deep to access using scuba gear and too shallow to be of interest to deep-diving submersibles, depths just below shallow reefs have been overlooked by science. Yet, they may be home to the most diverse underexplored ecosystems in the ocean.
Eight years into directing the Smithsonian’s Deep Reef Observation Project (DROP), Dr. Baldwin explores the biodiversity, eco-evolution, and long-term changes on Caribbean deep reefs, ecosystems that may play a significant role in the survival of declining shallow reefs globally. Through DROP, Baldwin and her team have discovered a plethora of new fish and invertebrate species and documented the first case of invasive lionfish preying on unknown biodiversity. Co-author of One Fish, Two Fish, Crawfish, Bluefish-The Smithsonian Sustainable Seafood Cookbook, Baldwin promotes making wise seafood choices, such as invasive lionfish, that are good for the ocean.
This event is free and open to the public!
Visitor Parking is available at the Brazos Garage, 210 E Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, Austin, TX 78712
All minors must be accompanied by an adult.
Student Activity Center (SAC) Ballroom @ 5:00 pm

Friday, March 23
UTIG Seminar Series
David Talmy, MIT
David Talmy is a research scientist at MIT in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. He is a part of the MIT Darwin Project, an initiative to advance the development and application of novel models of marine microbes and microbial communities, identifying the relationships of individuals and communities to their environment, connecting cellular-scale processes to global microbial community structure. His talk is titled:
What controls virus dynamics in global ocean microbial ecosystems?
Viral infection in microbial ecosystems influences carbon and nutrient flow throughout the global ocean. In this presentation, simple biophysical and metabolic controls on viral interactions with bacterial and algal hosts will be considered. These insights will be used to explore virus dynamics in a microbial ecosystem model, embedded in a global ocean general circulation framework. The model predicts virus abundance patterns qualitatively consistent with large-scale variation in ocean color, and primary productivity. Results will be presented from a case study in the North Atlantic, exploring competition among viruses that infect the marine calcifier Emiliania Huxleyi. The coupled framework is a base on which to consider virus impacts on global carbon cycling and biogeochemistry.
J.J. Pickle Research Campus 10100 Burnet Road, Bldg. 196/ROC Seminar Conference Room ROC 1.603 @ 10:00 – 11:30 am
BBE Seminar
Elinor Lichtenberg, UT
Elinor Lichtenberg of UT will be giving a talk on “Alternative Food Handling Tactics and Exploitation of Pollination Mutualisms: Bumble Bee Nectar Robbing Decisions”
Moffett Molecular Biology Building (MBB) Room 1.210 @ 12:00 – 1:00 pm
Environmental Colloquium
Drs. Greg Okin & Paolo D’odorico
Dr. Greg Okin, UCLA: Professor with research interests in geomorphology, plant-soil interactions, arid environments, nutrient cycling, spatial modeling, and remote sensing. Professor Okin teaches courses in Physical Geography, Soils, and Remote Sensing.

Dr. Paolo D’odorico, UC Berkeley: Professor with research focusing on the role of hydrological processes in the functioning of terrestrial ecosystems. Through the analysis of the soil water balance he has highlighted important nonlinearities in the coupling between soil moisture dynamics and plant water stress, biogeochemical cycling, land-atmosphere interactions, plant community composition, and soil susceptibility to wind erosion.

Liberal Arts Building (CLA) Room 0.128 @ 3:00 – 4:00 pm

Vaudeville! Exhibit at UT’s Harry Ransom Center

Vaudeville PosterUntil July 15, 2018, you can visit the Vaudeville! exhibit at the Harry Ransom Center (HRC, corner of 21st & Guadalupe) on the UT campus. Parking is a problem, of course, so you will probably need to pay at one of the commercial parking garages. Admission to the HRC is free.

“For more than a century, vaudeville was the most popular form of American entertainment and one of the country’s largest cultural exports. Performances on the vaudeville stage included comic sketches, acrobatics, animal tricks, magic, blackface performance, celebrity appearances, early film, and more. Shows featuring immigrant acts, racial stereotypes, and frequent appeals to nationalism defined a complex and often problematic sense of American identity at the turn of the 19th century.

“The exhibition features the Ransom Center’s extensive holdings of Harry Houdini, Tony Pastor, and Florenz Ziegfeld, among others, to show the development of vaudeville’s highly organized form and its long-lasting impact on contemporary film, television, and comedy.”

You can watch a video here.

HRC hours are:
10 a.m.–5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday
10 a.m.–7 p.m. Thursday
Noon–5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Austin Forum, Tuesday, March 6

Austin Forum LogoThe Austin Forum is a series of presentations about technical, medical, musical and social topics. Admission is free, nothing is for sale, and meetings are held in the ground-floor meeting room of the new Austin Public Library downtown.

The next meeting will be this coming Tuesday, March 6, 2018. The topic will be ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE: HOW MACHINE LEARNING WILL CHANGE (ALMOST) EVERYTHING.

From the Austin Forum website:

Artificial intelligence has been a vision almost since the dawn of computing, but has been stymied by technology limitations, as well as lack of understanding of how human intelligence works. However, one approach — machine learning — has gained tremendous traction in the past two decades, aided by advances in our ability to collect digital data and in the algorithmic techniques of developing systems that learn from data.

More recently, the explosive upturn in digital data production and the exponential increase in computing power, enabled by computing processors, has enabled researchers to develop and optimize algorithms in deep neural networks on rich data to achieve astounding successes in AI.

From systems that can now recognize objects and speech better than humans can, to systems that can out-strategize experts in complex games such as poker, chess, and go, the new AI applications are exceeding human performance in many areas — and we’re at the very beginning of the revolution.Android

AI is considered by many to be the most the most important technology of our time, and will disrupt, transform, and accelerate almost every field, from healthcare to transportation, retail to finance, manufacturing to agriculture… everything. Come learn what AI, machine learning, and deep learning are, why they are so important (and will be even more so), and the opportunities for Austin to be a leader in the AI revolution.

Get the deets and register at

Hint: Follow @AustinForum on Twitter, so you will be eligible to win some very nice prizes at the presentation.

Free Environmental Science and Sustainability Events in Austin

The University of Texas continues its series of free events relating to the environment. Here is the schedule for the remainder of this week:

Tuesday, February 20
DeFord Lecture Series
Brady Foreman, Western Washington University
Brady Foreman will be giving a lecture on stratigraphy and sedimentology of siliciclastic systems, stable isotope geochemistry at this week’s DeFord Lecture Series. Cookies and coffee will be provided around 3:30 PM.
Jackson Geological Sciences Building (JGB) Room 2.324 @ 4:00 – 5:00 pm

Thursday, February 22
DeFord Speaker Series
Katherine Stack Morgan will be discussing “Exploring the evolution of an ancient lake basin on Mars with the Curiosity rover “–all about sedimentary geology, stratigraphy, martian sedimentary deposits, Orbital image-based geologic mapping, and Mars-Earth analogs.
Jackson Geological Sciences Building (JGB) Room 2.324 @ 4:00 – 5:00pm
UT Energy Symposium 
Rohit Chandra, Kennedy School at Harvard
This week at the UT Energy Symposium, Rohit Chandra will give a talk titled “Coal in India: History and Persistence.”
Rohit Chandra is a doctoral student at the Harvard Kennedy School, studying energy policy and economic history. His dissertation is a political and economic history of the Indian coal industry from 1960-2015. In the past, he has worked with the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, Center for Advanced Study of India in Philadelphia, and Brookings India. Abstract: Like many other countries, India’s industrial base and electricity system has been built largely on the back of coal-based power generation. Since nationalization in the early 1970s, Coal India (CIL) has weathered many political and economic obstacles in trying to deliver on the nation’s coal demands. In all the recent euphoria about renewable energy, the deep historical connections between the Indian state and the coal industry seem to be unacknowledged. Both financially, and politically, the Indian state is deeply invested in coal and coal-based power generation. This is likely to make the transition to renewable energy gradual, not precipitous, as many have been predicting. In this talk, Rohit will give a brief historical sketch of the Indian coal industry, and then discuss some of the reasons why coal and its downstream use in power and other industries is likely to persist in India for the foreseeable future.
The UT Energy Symposium meets every Thursday during the long semesters. Come early to attend a networking session before the talk: refreshments will be served at 4:45 p.m. in the POB Connector Lobby outside the auditorium.
Peter O’Donnell Jr. Building (POB) Room 2.302 @ 5:00 – 6:15 pm

Friday, February 23
UTIG Seminar Series
Doug Brinkerhoff, University of Montana

“Ice and mud: how sediment dynamics drive periodicity in tidewater glaciers”

Abstract: Many tidewater glaciers in Alaska, such as Hubbard, Taku, and Yahtse, are growing despite a warming atmosphere and ocean. At the same time, close neighbors such as Columbia glacier are undergoing dramatic retreats, which cannot be accounted for by climate change. What drives this apparent disparity in glacier behavior? A hypothesized process known as the tidewater glacier cycle provides an explanation: movement of sediment by subglacial streams produces a shoal at the glacier front, decreasing the amount of iceberg calving and allowing the glacier to advance over several hundred years. Eventually the glacier becomes overextended, floats, and quickly retreats to its initial shape. In this talk, I will show (with the help of computer model) that simple interactions of ice, water, and erosion can produce tidewater glacier cycles like the ones that are observed in coastal Alaska, and that these cycles occur even in a static climate and persist with warming. I argue that these cycles drive natural shifts in marine habitat and the fjord landscape at large and must be accounted for in interpretations of glaciers as climate proxies.
Pickle Research Center (ROC) Room 1.603 @ 10:30 – 11:30 am

Roses Are Red…And Cheap for Amazon Prime Members!

Roses at Whole Foods Market
Roses at Whole Foods Market

The downtown Austin Whole Foods Market is running a promotion on roses. Two dozen for $19.99, but only for Amazon Prime members and only until Valentines Day (Feb. 14, 2018).

This deal is probably available in other Whole Foods stores also.

Slowly, Amazon is integrating itself with Whole Foods.