The Hummingbird Whisperer: Meet the UCLA Scientist Who Has Befriended 200 Hummingbirds

Common wisdom, and indelible memories of The Birds, warn that feeding seagulls, pigeons and other creatures who travel in flocks is a can of worms best left unopened.

But what about hummingbirds?

Melanie Barboni is research geochemist in UCLA’s Department of Earth, Planetary and Space Sciences. Near the UCLA Court of Sciences she took a break from volcanos and the moon long enough to hang a feeder filled with sugar water outside her ground floor office window.




This complimentary buffet proved such a hit, she hung up more.

Two years later, Barboni is serving a colony of over 200 hummingbirds from four 80-ounce feeders. Their metabolism requires them to consume 8 to 10 times their body weight on a daily basis.

Barboni’s service to her tiny jewel-toned friends extends well beyond the feeders. She’s diverted campus tree trimmers from interfering with them during nesting season, and given public talks on the habitat-destroying effects of climate change. She’s collaborating with another professor and UCLA’s Chief Sustainability Officer Nurit Katz to establish a special garden on campus for hummingbirds and their fellow pollinators.

The intimacy of this relationship is something she’s dreamed of since her birdwatching childhood in Switzerland where the only hummingbirds available for her viewing were the ones in books. Her dream came true when a fellowship took her from Princeton to Los Angeles, where hummingbirds live year-round.

Some longtime favorites now perch on their benefactor’s hand while feeding, or even permit themselves to be held and stroked. A few like to hang out inside the office, where the warm glow of Barboni’s computer monitor is a comforting presence on inclement days.

She’s bestowed names on at least 50: Squeak, Stardust, Tiny, Shy…

(Show of hands from those who wish she’d named them all after noted geologists: Mary Anning, Eugene Merle ShoemakerCecilia Helena Payne-Gaposchkin...)

Get to know the UCLA hummingbirds better through Melanie Barboni’s up-close-and-personal documentary photos. Learn more about the species itself through the National Geographic documentary below.

via The Kids Should See This

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Watch Tom Petty (RIP) and the Heartbreakers Perform Their Last Song Together, “American Girl”: Recorded on 9/25/17

It was already a terrible day. Then came the news (retracted, then later sadly confirmed by The New York Times and the BBC) that Tom Petty has passed away at the age of 66. The cause, apparently a heart attack. This summer, I traveled to Philadelphia to see my first Tom Petty show, knowing it might be, as he said, his "last trip around the country," the final big tour. And I'm so glad I did. What more could I say? It was a wonderful show, a magical two-hour singalong, which ended with "American Girl," one of my favorites.

Above, you can see Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers play their last song together--again "American Girl"--at their final gig at the Hollywood Bowl. This video was recorded just last week.

If you've never given their music a serious listen, just click play on the playlist below. It might be one of the best wall-to-wall hours in music.

via Rolling Stone

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An Intimate Look at Alberto Giacometti in His Studio, Making His Iconic Sculptures (1965)

A visit to an artist’s studio can shed light on his or her work.

The British Arts Council’s short film above affords an intimate glimpse into Alberto Giacometti’s studio in Montparnasse circa 1965, the year when he was the subject of major retrospectives at both the Tate Gallery and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

The artist passed most of his working life in cramped space at 46 rue Hippolyte. Early on, he entertained plans to relocate “because it was too small – just a hole."




Others visitors to the studio described the artist’s environs in more literary terms:

In a charming little forgotten garden he has a studio, submerged in plaster, and he lives next to this in a kind of hangar, vast and cold, with neither furniture nor food. He works very hard for fifteen hours at a stretch, above all at night: the cold, his frozen hands – he takes no notice, he works. Simone de Beauvoir

And:

This ground floor studio... is going to cave in at any moment now. It is made of worm-eaten wood and grey powder.... Everything is stained and ready for the bin, everything is precarious and about to collapse, everything is about to dissolve, everything is floating.... And yet it all appears to be captured in an absolute reality. When I leave the studio, when I am outside on the street, then nothing that surrounds me is true. - Playwright Jean Genet

And:

The whole place looking as if it had been thrown together with a few old sticks and a lot of chewing gum.... In short, a dump. Anyway he said come in when I knocked.... He turned and glanced at me, holding out his hand which was covered in clay, so I shook his wrist.... He immediately resumed work, running his fingers up and down the clay so fiercely that lumps fell onto the floor - Essayist James Lord

These impressions paint a portrait of a driven, and disciplined artist, who logged untold hours modeling his formes elongee in clay, unceremoniously crumpling and rebuilding in the pursuit of excellence.

The camera documents this intensity, though his untranslated remarks suggest a man capable of taking himself lightly, certainly more so than the accompanying narration does.

Like the narration, Roger Smalley's dissonant score lays it on thick, the sonic equivalent of heads like blades and "limbs bound as though bandaged for the grave." Perhaps we should conceive of the studio as a scary place?

In actuality, it proved a hospitable work environment and the impulse to relocate eventually waned, with the artist observing that “the longer I stayed, the bigger it became. I could fit anything I wanted into it.”

Explore the recent Tate Modern Giacometti retrospective here and take a closer look at the studio via Ernst Scheidegger’s photos.

"Giacometti" will be added to our list of Free Documentaries, a subset of our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Hugh Hefner (RIP) Defends “the Playboy Philosophy” to William F. Buckley, 1966

"Mr. Hefner's magazine is most widely known for its total exposure of the human female," says William F. Buckley, introducing the guest on this 1966 broadcast of his talk show Firing Line. "Though of course other things happen in its pages." Not long before, publisher and pleasure empire-builder Hugh Hefner's Playboy magazine ran a series of articles on "the Playboy philosophy," a set of observations of and propositions about human sexuality that provided these men fodder for their televised debate. Hefner stands against religiously mandated, chastity-centered codes of sexual morality; Buckley demands to know how Hefner earned the qualifications to issue new codes of his own. Describing the Playboy philosophy as "sort of a hedonistic utilitarianism," Buckley tries simultaneously to understand and demolish these 20th-century revisions of the rules of sex.

"The Playboy founder is no match for the Catholic who snipes him at will with 'moral' bullets," writes the poster of the video. "The acerbic, dry Buckley is on attack mode with a conservative audience, in moral panic, behind him. The Catholic had the era of conservatism behind him. [ ... ] In the 21st century though, Buckley would have a harder time defending morality with Hefner." One wonders how Buckley and Hefner, were they still alive today, might revisit this debate in 2017. (Buckley died in 2008, and Hefner passed away yesterday at the age of 91.) Times have certainly changed, but I suspect Buckley would raise the same core objection to Hefner's argument that loosening the old strictures on sex leads, perhaps counterintuitively, to more satisfied, more monogamous pairings: "How in the hell do you know?" Though this and certain other of Buckley's questions occasionally wrong-foot Hefner, the faithful can rest assured that he keeps enough cool to fire up his signature pipe on camera.

Note: This post first appeared on our site back in 2012. We brought it back today for obvious reasons, and updated it to reflect Hefner's passing. Since 2012, a huge archive of "Firing Line" episodes have been put online. Get more on that here.

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Jack Kerouac Meets William F. Buckley (1968)

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.

Hamilton Mania Inspires the Library of Congress to Put 12,000 Alexander Hamilton Documents Online

Remember when bloody, bloody Andrew Jackson seemed like a shoe in for Best Sepulchral Historical Figure Brought Back to Life by an American Musical?

Alas for the 7th President, a little juggernaut called Hamilton came along, and just like that, it was the first Treasury Secretary and author of the Federalist Papers who had a fan base on the order of Beatlemania.

Teachers, historians, and librarians thrilled to reports of kids singing along with the Hamilton soundtrack. Playwright and original star Lin-Manuel Miranda’s clever rap lyrics ensured that young Hamilfans (and their parents, who reportedly were never allowed to listen to anything else in the car) would become well versed in their favorite founding father’s personal and professional history.




Out of town visitors who spend upwards of a month’s grocery budget for Broadway tickets voluntarily side trip way uptown to tour Hamilton Grange. The insatiable selfie imperative drives them to Central Park and Museum of the City of New York in search of larger than life sculptures. They take the PATH train to Weehawken to pay their respects in the spot where Hamilton was felled by Aaron Burr

Hamilton merchandise, needless to say, is selling briskly. Books, t-shirts, jewelry, bobble heads commemorative mugs…

The Library of Congress is not out to cash in on this cultural moment in the monetary sense. But "given the increased interest in Hamilton," says Julie Miller, a curator of early American manuscripts, it's no accident that the Library has taken pains to digitize 12,000 Hamilton documents and make them available on the web. The collection includes speeches, a draft of the Reynolds Pamphlet, financial accounts, school exercises and correspondence, both personal and public, encompassing such marquee names as John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, the Marquis de Lafayette, and George Washington.

One need not be a musical theater fan to appreciate the emotion of the letter he wrote to his wife, Elizabeth Schuyler, on the eve of his fateful duel with Aaron Burr:

I need not tell you of the pangs I feel, from the idea of quitting you and exposing you to the anguish which I know you would feel. . . . Adieu best of wives and best of Women. Embrace all my darling Children for me.

Explore the Library of Congress’ Hamilton collection here.

And enter the online lottery for $10 Hamilton tickets because, hey, somebody’s got to win.

via Theater Mania

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Marie Curie Invented Mobile X-Ray Units to Help Save Wounded Soldiers in World War I

These days the phrase “mobile x-ray unit” is likely to spark heated debate about privacy, public health, and freedom of information, especially in New York City, where the police force has been less than forthcoming about its use of military grade Z Backscatter surveillance vans.

A hundred years ago, Mobile X-Ray Units were a brand new innovation, and a godsend for soldiers wounded on the front in WW1. Prior to the advent of this technology, field surgeons racing to save lives operated blindly, often causing even more injury as they groped for bullets and shrapnel whose precise locations remained a mystery.




Marie Curie was just setting up shop at Paris’ Radium Institute, a world center for the study of radioactivity, when war broke out. Many of her researchers left to fight, while Curie personally delivered France’s sole sample of radium by train to the temporarily relocated seat of government in Bordeaux.

“I am resolved to put all my strength at the service of my adopted country, since I cannot do anything for my unfortunate native country just now…,” Curie, a Pole by birth, wrote to her lover, physicist Paul Langevin on New Year’s Day, 1915.

To that end, she envisioned a fleet of vehicles that could bring X-ray equipment much closer to the battlefield, shifting their coordinates as necessary.

Rather than leaving the execution of this brilliant plan to others, Curie sprang into action.

She studied anatomy and learned how to operate the equipment so she would be able to read X-ray films like a medical professional.

She learned how to drive and fix cars.

She used her connections to solicit donations of vehicles, portable electric generators, and the necessary equipment, kicking in generously herself. (When she got the French National Bank to accept her gold Nobel Prize medals on behalf of the war effort, she spent the bulk of her prize purse on war bonds.)

She was hampered only by backwards-thinking bureaucrats whose feathers ruffled at the prospect of female technicians and drivers, no doubt forgetting that most of France’s able-bodied men were otherwise engaged.

Curie, no stranger to sexism, refused to bend to their will, delivering equipment to the front line and X-raying wounded soldiers, assisted by her 17-year-old daughter, Irène, who like her mother, took care to keep her emotions in check while working with maimed and distressed patients.

"In less than two years," writes Amanda Davis at The Institute, "the number of units had grown substantially, and the Curies had set up a training program at the Radium Institute to teach other women to operate the equipment." Eventually, they recruited about 150 women, training them to man the Little Curies, as the mobile radiography units came to be known.

via Brain Pickings

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Her interest in women's wartime contributions has manifested itself in comics on "Crazy Bet" Van Lew and the Maidenform factory's manufacture of WWII carrier pigeon vests. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Lynda Barry on How the Smartphone Is Endangering Three Ingredients of Creativity: Loneliness, Uncertainty & Boredom

The phone gives us a lot but it takes away three key elements of discovery: loneliness, uncertainty and boredom. Those have always been where creative ideas come from. - Lynda Barry

In the spring of 2016, the great cartoonist and educator, Lynda Barry, did the unthinkable, prior to giving a lecture and writing class at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

She demanded that all participating staff members surrender their phones and other such personal devices.

Her victims were as jangled by this prospect as your average iPhone-addicted teen, but surrendered, agreeing to write by hand, another antiquated notion Barry subscribes to:

The delete button makes it so that anything you’re unsure of you can get rid of, so nothing new has a chance. Writing by hand is a revelation for people. Maybe that’s why they asked me to NASA – I still know how to use my hands… there is a different way of thinking that goes along with them.

Barry—who told the Onion’s AV Club that she crafted her book What It Is with an eye toward bored readers stuck in a Jiffy Lube oil-change waiting room—is also a big proponent of doodling, which she views as a creative neurological response to boredom:

Boring meeting, you have a pen, the usual clowns are yakking. Most people will draw something, even people who can’t draw. I say “If you’re bored, what do you draw?” And everybody has something they draw. Like “Oh yeah, my little guy, I draw him.” Or “I draw eyeballs, or palm trees.” … So I asked them “Why do you think you do that? Why do you think you doodle during those meetings?” I believe that it’s because it makes having to endure that particular situation more bearable, by changing our experience of time. It’s so slight. I always say it’s the difference between, if you’re not doodling, the minutes feel like a cheese grater on your face. But if you are doodling, it’s more like Brillo.  It’s not much better, but there is a difference. You could handle Brillo a little longer than the cheese grater.

Meetings and classrooms are among the few remaining venues in which screen-addicted moths are expected to force themselves away from the phone’s inviting flame. Other settings—like the Jiffy Lube waiting room—require more initiative on the user's part.




Once, we were keener students of minor changes to familiar environments, the books strangers were reading in the subway, and those strangers themselves. Our subsequent observations were known to spark conversation and sometimes ideas that led to creative projects.

Now, many of us let those opportunities slide by, as we fill up on such fleeting confections as Candy Crush, funny videos, and all-you-can-eat servings of social media.

It’s also tempting to use our phones as defacto shields any time social anxiety looms. This dodge may provide short term comfort, especially to younger people, but remember, Barry and many of her cartoonist peers, including Daniel Clowes, Simon Hanselmann, and Ariel Schrag, toughed it out by making art. That's what got them through the loneliness, uncertainty, and boredom of their middle and high school years.

The book you hold in your hands would not exist had high school been a pleasant experience for me… It was on those quiet weekend nights when even my parents were out having fun that I began making serious attempts to make stories in comics form.

Adrian Tomine, introduction to 32 Stories

Barry is far from alone in encouraging adults to peel themselves away from their phone dependency for their creative good.

Photographer Eric Pickersgill’s Removed imagines a series of everyday situations in which phones and other personal devices have been rendered invisible. (It’s worth noting that he removed the offending articles from the models’ hands, rather that Photoshopping them out later.)

Computer Science Professor Calvin Newport’s recent book, Deep Work, posits that all that shallow phone time is creating stress, anxiety, and lost creative opportunities, while also doing a number on our personal and professional lives.

Author Manoush Zomorodi’s recent TED Talk on how boredom can lead to brilliant ideas, below, details a weeklong experiment in battling smartphone habits, with lots of scientific evidence to back up her findings.

But what if you wipe the slate of digital distractions only to find that your brain’s just… empty? A once occupied room, now devoid of anything but dimly recalled memes, and generalized dread over the state of the world?

The aforementioned 2010 AV Club interview with Barry offers both encouragement and some useful suggestions that will get the temporarily paralyzed moving again:

I don’t know what the strip’s going to be about when I start. I never know. I oftentimes have—I call it the word-bag. Just a bag of words. I’ll just reach in there, and I’ll pull out a word, and it’ll say “ping-pong.” I’ll just have that in my head, and I’ll start drawing the pictures as if I can… I hear a sentence, I just hear it. As soon as I hear even the beginning of the first sentence, then I just… I write really slow. So I’ll be writing that, and I’ll know what’s going to go at the top of the panel. Then, when it gets to the end, usually I’ll know what the next one is. By three sentences or four in that first panel, I stop, and then I say “Now it’s time for the drawing.” Then I’ll draw. But then I’ll hear the next one over on another page! Or when I’m drawing Marlys and Arna, I might hear her say something, but then I’ll hear Marlys say something back. So once that first sentence is there, I have all kinds of choices as to where I put my brush. But if nothing is happening, then I just go over to what I call my decoy page. It’s like decoy ducks. I go over there and just start messing around.

Related Content:

How Information Overload Robs Us of Our Creativity: What the Scientific Research Shows

The Case for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts & Doing Valuable “Deep Work” Instead, According to Prof. Cal Newport

Lynda Barry’s Illustrated Syllabus & Homework Assignments from Her New UW-Madison Course, “Making Comics”

Lynda Barry, Cartoonist Turned Professor, Gives Her Old Fashioned Take on the Future of Education

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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