The Grand Mosque: Art-Unparalleled

The Grand Mosque: Art-Unparalleled

By David Belt copyright 2014

In Abu Dhabi, capitol of the United Arab Emirates, lies a marvel of man and stone. The late President Zayed Al Nahyan gave life to the dream of beauty that is now a temple for his people and the final resting place for his body. The Emirates claim their mosque to be the most beautiful in all the world, and they are not wrong. The people there call it the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque; I call it “Art-Unparalleled.”

As I have said before in my articles on Art in Three Dimensions, art is anything with form and style that influences us on an emotional level. As an artist, it is impossible for me walk away from the beauty of the Grand Mosque and not be impacted by it. The magnanimous artwork contained within its white stone walls is breath taking.

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I have been to the Sistine Chapel and gazed up in wonderment of Michael Angelo’s miracle. The mural of flora that cascades the floors and walls of the Grand Mosque is nothing like Michael Angelo’s work, but then again, its not paint. In fact, there is not a drop of paint anywhere within the mosque.

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77 different types of stone are fused together to create the intricate mosaics. The courtyard alone is over 180,000 sq ft, the largest mosaic in the world.

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Of personal interest to me is the rug of the main prayer hall. I have a few, expensive rugs in my home, so I have acquainted myself the identifying marks of high quality, handmade rugs. Upon close inspection, I was able to tell the rug of the main hall was indeed made by hand, moreover, woven into the rug was a series of running boards designed to allow worshippers convenient marks upon which to line up. Finally, I realized the entire rug was continuous and seamless. The picture I was able to take shows less than a third of the over 60,000 sq ft rug. More than 1200 carpet knotters came to the mosque for 2 years to make the rug in place, tying over 2 ¼ billion knots.

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I am a big fan of Swarovski crystals, and I make point of using them in my jewelry as I have come to count on their quality and excellence, but I never dreamed of making anything as expansive as the chandelier that hangs above the main hall. It is the third largest chandelier in the world and is composed entirely of Swarovski crystals and gold.

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The most amazing thing that art does is that it captivates the mind and brings to the forefront that which we dared not imagine before. As I looked beyond the great chandelier, I could not help but stare in awe of the wall behind. I could not read the Arabic calligraphy that decorated the elaborate display, but I did note their meaning and felt the impact of those words. The words were not merely etched into the solid marble wall. The stone was hollowed out and the words were formed by the negative space left within the stone.

As the art spoke to me, it said that we hold our lives to be solid as stone, but the materialism of our lives is immaterial to God. He exists within the otherwise empty space composed of those boundaries held solid by his presence or left empty by his absence. One does not need to be Muslim or even religious to appreciate and feel the impact of the art captured within the stone. That is what makes art so wonderful. It transcends all boundaries drawn by man.

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I later discovered the calligraphy on the wall was the 99 names for God as written in the Koran.

I am still doing my duty from half a world away, but whenever possible I stop to smell the flowers and take in the sites and see the wonders that can be.

Mornings in a Booky House.

1:30 am? 3:15 am? wee hours of the morning…

I finished Darkover Landfall.

6:15, brushing teeth…
I’d like to read the next in the series but I don’t have that one, I think. But I’ll check.

6:23, coffee…
Nope. I have two copies of the third and three copies of the fourth. What a stupid book collection. Who manages this shitpile? Grump.
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6:27 am: Apple for breakfast and feed dogs…

Ooo! I could finally read more Jo Clayton or Sharon Green! Look! This brilliant book collector has finally found the first for both of these series! 20140409-170019.jpg

6:33 am: find a clean shirt…
Eh. Might be hard to hold a straight face while swinging that cover around. What about some re-reads?
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6:37 am: pack lunch, throw dogs outside to pee…
Aaahh! Decision paralysis! *whimper* maybe some of the new books I bought recently? I bought them, I should read them, right?

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6:41 am: crate dogs, find keys…
Oi! Now I’m late for work. Just take them all. Put them all in a grocery bag, let’s go!

11:35 am, lunchtime.

Brilliant. I have ten books but forgot my lunch. Sigh.

Xenofiction Part 4: life, the universe, and everything

How the Other Half Lives, Part 4: Life, The Universe, and Everything

Copyright David Belt 2014

This is the forth and final part of my series on Xenofiction, stories told from the point of view of something other than human. I am endeavoring to write a story from birth to eventuality of a unique non-human species. Along the way, I have learned a great deal about the process of living in order bring forth something original, yet familiar, plausible, yet fantastic, and humane, yet non-human. Now, I am passing the torch of what has burned in my mind and in my heart that it might shed some light on your own world, be it real or otherwise. This final topic will cover the eventualities of this thing we call life.

Why am I here?

This question is the quintessential quagmire of sentient life as each of us vainly stumbles to answer the unanswerable. Rene Descartes gave us the truth “I think, therefore I am,” but its inverse is just as true, “I am, because I think.” We create our own sense of purpose, our own goals, to give our lives meaning.

What such goals would a non-human culture poses? Would they really be so different from our own? What would make their lives complete? These questions are complex and difficult enough to answer in our own lives, but are too often over simplified in fictitious non-human cultures. Some of the worst abusers of over simplified goals would be in the realm of alien invasion plots. Is really plausible for a species to be so socially unified, technologically advanced enough, and to possess sufficient resources as to conquer an entire world, yet forgo any possibly of peaceful coexistence and immediately jump to war as the first line of diplomacy?

When you rule out the fantastic, the mundane remains, and there is nothing wrong with that. Propagation of the species should be at the heart of any culturally fundamental goals, while individual goals are often more selfish: establishing prominence in society, effecting change in one’s life, or raising a family. The more realistic your characters goals, the more real your characters will be. The Host by Stephanie Meyer is great example of a culturally purposed alien invasion. The Souls require hosts for propagation of their species, and they have developed methods and technologies to allow them to conquer whole worlds in a manner that their entire culture deems “humane” with minimal losses of life or resources.

Once we have our goals established, how do we meet those goals? The acquisition of wealth of often seen as an ever present human goal, but in most cases the acquisition of wealth is not our goal. It is a means by which we achieve our goals, and unfortunately, spend the majority of our time doing. What does your species do, day in and day out, to meet its goals? I want my readers to spend a day in the life of alien culture and experience what it is like to be a species that is not their own. We humans worship ourselves multiple times per day before a visage of our own reflection in small temples called “washrooms.” What sort of rituals does this new culture perform in its quest to achieve its goals?

Life as we understand it has a finite existence. How we view death is at least as important as how we view life and weighs heavily on the values we place on existence. These perceptions of life and death would be equally important in a non-human culture. Such perceptions would determine how a species cares for its own as well as how it would value the lives of other species.

For example: I have created a species with a life span of thousands of years. Births only occur every hundred years. They much reach 1200 years before they can become fertile, and become infertile after 2000 years. Therefore, they place a very high value on the lives of their people. They do not kill their own kind. Any faulted death of one of their species is met with swift and severe repercussions. On the other hand, they place very little value on the lives of those sentient species that live for only a few decades and spawn annually, such lives are so short lived and so busied as be beneath their notice on an individual level.

As I struggle with the idea of ending this series, I realize that There is still so much more to explore. Xenofiction is about the exploration of life and the infinite possibilities therein. It cannot be concluded; it has to be lived.

Winter is coming or going or I dunno what

in that piercing cold, not one of the wolves were abroad; the silence ran from cliff to lightless cliff, an almost tangible property in that dark and desolate world.

-Barbara Hambly, The Armies of Daylight

We often find things in books that we relate to in our own lives (“oh yeah, I work with that guy”), but this was the first time I had a life experience that brought more to the book I was reading.

This last winter was cold. It wasn’t cute or quaint or entertaining. It didn’t snow and then get warm the next day. It was cold without reprieve. This cold was utter, was massive.

An evil Cold.

Deep, dark cold, for a long time. Snow on snow on snow on snow… It was so cold that the snow wouldn’t melt under your feet as you stepped on it. A dangerous cold. Frostbite, frozen pipes, damage to the car.

And silent.

Some days were still, so still, like the earth had stopped breathing, waiting for the Winter Queen to shatter her way into this world.

The characters in Time of the Dark by Barbara Hambly are experiencing this end of the world coldness. They are fleeing a ruined city, trudging through ice and snow to a hidden Keep miles away.

They pass families or parts of – children, goats, elders – who couldn’t keep up with the group and were left frozen on the path.

The Guards continue to practice every day despite the cold, the gnawing hunger mated to that piercing cold for a true testament to willpower.

And when they finally get to this Keep, guess what? It’s cold there too. A different cold. A damp, underground cold, a heat sink as big as their only defense against these Dark Ones.

What a weird sort of escapism this was for me. I would walk to work, thinking about these poor sods slipping and struggling their way to another cold place. Back home and go to bed early – it’s too cold to bother with anything else, really – reading about them again.

It’s Spring now, which is, appropriately enough, the season during which Time of the Dark concludes its story. The Dark have been vanquished, sent on their way and hope and renewal awaken again.

When I walk to work now the world is once again boring concrete and chain link fences and parking lots, the dark of winter has passed like a long ago dream.

Little Free Library

A Little Free Library sprouted in the Olde Towne East community garden late last summer, shortly after Kat mailed me a newspaper article about the initiative.

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We’ve been packing books into it on Sunday afternoons, and it seems to get some use.

People try to use the space for free advertising. There will usually be one or two books that are just trashed (broken in two pieces, covered in goo, etc) but I collect and throw those things away.

Kat mailed me some books to add to the collection after I told her about finding one in our neighborhood. I put out two of those books this last Sunday. We’ll see if they get borrowed!

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X-Space: The Final Frontier

X-Space: The Final Frontier

By David Belt Copyright 2014

REALM Charter School in Berkley, Ca has everything it needs for the secondary education of our future generations, except one thing. Initial school funds opened the school for the business of education, but the students felt the school was lacking one critical element. Eighth grade teacher, Hallie Chen (Ms. Nini to her students) presented her class with this empty room and asked her students, “What do you want out of this space for your school?”

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The students’ answers were unique in thought but united in concept.

“I want have a space to learn and be more focused.”

“I want to learn about music history.”

“I want a place where I can relax and read and discover.”

In short, they wanted a library, but the students aren’t calling it a library. They are calling it the X-Space. From the algebraic variable X, meaning anything (even the imaginary and irrational), the students want to turn this empty room into a space where they can learn anything.

The X-Space

This model mockup shows the students’ vision for the room, but as school funds have run out, the students are turning to Kickstarter in order to raise the necessary $75,000 for books, building materials, computers, software and subscriptions.

You can read more about and contribute to this worthy cause here:

Hyperlink: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1903209704/xspace-a-library-designed-and-built-by-its-student

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The Way It All Began

Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan

Our Long Address

Our Long Address

This week’s post is tougher than I expected. Not because of too little information, but because of so amazingly much of it, so suddenly (from the public’s point of view), on a subject about which human beings might never, ever have learned anything at all.

I mean, of course, the news of four astrophysicists who spent two years in the thin, cold, dry, and therefore very clear air of the south pole, and what they saw.

The timing was dramatic. Just a week before, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson had reintroduced us to Carl Sagan’s Cosmos by teaching us our “long address” in the vast expanse of observable space. And now we have learned that these galaxy-class science nerds have seen to the very ends of it.

In so doing, they have proven yet another of Einstein’s great predictions — the existence of gravity waves — as well as Alan Guth’s inflation theory of the way the universe expanded in the first infinitesimally small slice of a second of its existence.

What they saw, in the words of early-universe expert Marc Kamionkowski of Johns Hopkins University (quoted in the New York Times), was “… a signal from the very earliest universe, sending a telegram encoded in gravitational waves.”

In more technical terms it was, according to Scientific American Magazine, “ … a pattern called primordial B-mode polarization in the light left over from just after the big bang, known as the cosmic microwave background (CMB). This pattern, basically a curling in the polarization, or orientation, of the light, can be created only by gravitational waves produced by inflation.”

What they saw was proof of the Big Bang.

Calling theirs a ‘cosmic’ achievement is no more than literal truth.

Even they were so astonished at the power of the signal that, just to be sure, they spent a whole year double-checking their results before they published. That effort proved their work accurate to so high a degree of probability that, as project leader Dr. John M. Kovac of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics put it, the chance that the results were a fluke was “only one in 10 million.”

Even so, hordes more scientists are already hard at work to duplicate their findings. It’s the way science is done, making every effort possible to assure that theory, backed up by repeatable experiment and observation, produces reliable information about the nature of reality.

Beyond that, there’s little more that can be said in the space here available, except to offer some links for further reading:

New York Times: Detection of Waves in Space Buttresses Landmark Theory of Big Bang

by Dennis Overbye  March 17, 2014

Scientific American: Gravitational Waves from Big Bang Detected by Clara Moskowitz

Earth Takes a Long Distance “Selfie”

Copyright Paula Jordan, 2014

Photo of Earth and Moon from Mars, Courtesy of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Photo of Earth and Moon from Mars, Courtesy of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan

On February 6th, with the help of the Mars rover Curiosity, Earth took a photo of itself across 99 million miles of space. A person with normal vision, standing on Mars, would see Earth and the moon as “two distinct, bright ‘evening stars.’”

Curiosity is operated by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory,  a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/TAMU

 

Mysticon

Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan

MystiConJust a short note today.

I’m doing chores and getting packed up to head out to Mysticon tomorrow.

I’m not on any panels this year …  maybe next year? … but I’ll be wandering around.  Maybe I’ll see some of you there.

I’ll have a Con report on my return.