Scales aquatic 🐟

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All photos by Wells Baum

The logic of aquariums, as with zoos, is the logic of conservation: individual animals must sacrifice their freedom so that the species as a whole can be protected.

Plenty of its creatures seem delighted to be there, as far as one can tell, and others seem perfectly unaware of where they are. No doubt many of these animals live longer and healthier lives than they would in the ocean.

Excerpts from What Is It Like To Be An Octopus?

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‘It is the visually simple that lasts…’

Photos by Wells Baum

Black and white appears to reduce environments down to their most pedestrian form. Instead, the constriction of two hues compels complexity.

”History shows us that it is the visually simple that lasts, and that the simple always appears to have an ease of execution.”

On Being a Photographer by Bill Jay and David Hurn

The often seen; the often heard. It’s the everyday things that are often the most exciting part of any milieu.

Why do we walk past what is so easily noticed?

A window into perception 🚗

All photos by Wells Baum

Outside the windows, where I focus my attention on an overstretched street light backed by a series of palm trees, bicyclists brushing past the American flag on LA’s 405, with vehicles that match camouflage into their immediate surroundings.

Through the lens of a window were sights too commanding, mirroring objects with my third eye.

Structures of the biological world 🔬

All photos by Wells Baum

It is a lesson we could certainly learn from the history of science. Whenever we have ventured into new experimental territory, we’ve discovered that our previous “knowledge” was woefully incomplete. With the invention of the telescope, for instance, we found new structures in space; Jupiter’s moons and sunspots were just the beginning. The microscope took us the other way and showed us the fine structure of the biological world – creatures that looked uninteresting to the naked eye turned out to be intricate and delicate, with scales and hooks and other minute features. We also once thought that the atom lacked structure; today’s technology, such as the particle colliders at the Cern research centre in Geneva and Fermilab in the United States, have allowed us to prove just how wrong that idea was. At every technological turn, we have redefined the nature of reality.

Read Has this physicist found the key to reality?

Journey inwards

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All photos by Wells Baum

Below is an excerpt from my new book Train of Thought: Reflections on the Coast Starlight. You can read it free right here or support my work by snagging a copy on Amazon. Either way, please let me know your feedback on the book on Twitter. Which chapter or line is your favorite? What would you have liked to read more of? Just send a tweet to @bombtune or email me at wellsbaum[at] I’d love to hear from you!

I’ve also submitted this post to this week’s photo challenge given the different landscapes of earth, air, and water I observed on the ride from Seattle to Los Angeles. You can find pictures that accompany each stop along the way in the book. 

Chapter 9: Journey Inwards

The train entered Santa Barbara, still about two hours outside of Los Angeles. To prepare for his final dinner, Paul changed into a clean collared shirt and khaki shorts and went off to the bathroom downstairs to brush his teeth and fix up his unkempt hair. He heard a knob turn on in the next room and rush of water filter through the shower pipes. Paul looked forward to cleaning up at his brother’s place.

The parlor car chairs were all occupied up by the time Paul got back upstairs, but he saw an opening at the end of a booth.

“Excuse me, think I can squeeze in on the end there?” Paul urged the inattentive teenager.  He raised his voice this time and gestured with his finger pointing to the open seat.

With her eyes glazed over Snapchat, so deep in voyeurism, she never even felt Paul’s presence nor saw him in the periphery. Mobile video was the new TV, and it struck the right neurological note.

“Sorry, yes,” she apologized for her dilatory response while pinching the screen to zoom in. Bored, a second later, she swiped right to check out the next video in the queue.

Generation Z lived in their phones absent from the brain platform which they relegated to flesh. They enjoyed being in public but sharing their lives in private, augmenting their personalities in their own virtual world. Paul got text-neck just looking at the girl stare down into her phablet, resisting the original window of life, also known as reality.

“Sorry, I’m in my own world,” she said as if her behavior needed further explanation. She was restless, transfixed on creating and consuming bite-sized rewards. The Instagram heart, the Twitter retweet, the Facebook like, the incoming Snap–she tasted content pellets with her eyes. The only thing that could save her hijacked attention was that of another hunger–food.

“All six o’clock reservations are welcome to come to the diner car,” the conductor announced over the loudspeaker. The primordial food foraging survival instincts still held hegemony over people’s attention.

The only way to get to the diner car was to gallop and prevent yourself from falling by using the walls to stabilize your balance. Paul peeked outside and saw empty warehouses with broken windows, a seemingly artist’s haven, and junkyards full of old cars. The train snaked through the industrial part of Southern California, an hour away from downtown LA.

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The steward sat Paul down in a booth across from Bob and Susy, an older couple from Seattle. They smiled at each other before making introductions.

“So close, yet so far. Enjoying the ride?” asked Bob.

“Definitely. It’s very scenic. I’m looking forward to stretching my legs though. That, and a shower,” explained Paul. They all laughed. Paul spotted a sticker on Susy’s sweater. “Attending an event?” Paul asked.

“There’s a fundraiser at the LA Convention Center,” said Susy. She never mentioned who for, quiet about her partisanship.

The American election season was in full swing, with the country so divided no one talked about it face to face for fear of instant judgment. Instead, voters lived in their social media echo chambers, validating their cognitive bias and openly resharing fake stories.

Susy refrained from stoking the conversation into a political one. She nervously pushed her dark bangs to the side and switched topics.

“We usually fly down for this event, but we saw a friend on Facebook post pictures from of a recent train trip, so we wanted to give it a try.”

Facebook presented the fantasy of the perfect life, and people took the bait. The fact was that Facebook made you miserable while Google search retained the truth.

Well aware of the curated life, Paul switched topics: “Have you spent any time in the parlor car?”

“We passed through it, briefly. Fantastic view.” Bob looked back down at his phone to answer email or continue a crossword puzzle; it was all the same. Everyone checked their phone more than a hundred time a day.

The waiter took their orders. Paul asked for another basket of bread, working his kindness for the entire table. Susy asked for water. Sharing relieved some of the tension.

But Susy still appeared anxious, lost in the pressure of being too present with time. Paul and Tom sat idle. The upcoming presidential election season made everyone uptight.

“So where are you from?” asked Tom.

“Connecticut, by the Long Island Sound. But I’m thinking about moving back to Boston. I went to school there and would love to go back.”

“I worked there for a bit after college. Exciting town but smug: I still prefer the West Coast,” replied Bob, before looking down at his phone again. “I’m just tagging along for the ride. I’m visiting some clients in Hollywood. Susy’s the political junkie.”

Never judge a book by its cover, Paul reminded himself. Genetics, education, experience, income — all these characteristics do is prejudge possibilities. People are complex beings; deep down they know it’s more complicated than the side they end up choosing. But at the end of the day, we are what we say, do, or even tweet. There’s no fence-sitting.

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Paul took the train to comprehend himself, for even he admits there is no first-person point of view. We’re as clueless of ourselves as we are in reading other people.

As much as Paul tried to interpret the mind of others, he admitted his faulty self-awareness. He tried to stay open-minded and give people a chance, fighting the urge to mentally swiping right or left.

“We will be arriving into Los Angeles within the hour,” announced the conductor. “Please make arrangements to clean up any trash. Start organizing your personal belongings for arrival.”

The thought of his unfinished book itched Paul again. To save some time, he wanted to go back to the parlor car and write as much as he could before getting off.

“Well, I need to head back and pack up,” said Paul who brought a little backpack as his suitcase.

“You’re not going to eat?” asked Susy.

“I’ll eat dinner when we get there. I’ll text my brother to grab me In and Out.” Paul winked and waved goodbye. “It was nice meeting you all. Enjoy LA.”

Paul walked back to the parlor car. There were a few open seats this time, but he preferred to keep pace with the running conversation in his head. Instead of sitting down, the aspiring writer strolled up and down the parlor car, his thoughts a form of locomotion. Unable to stand still, he typed a new chapter while pacing up and down the car. Each step prompted another word.

Chapter 3 — New England

The beat tinkered and echoed around the venue. The lights bounced to the rhythm. They were getting brighter with each step the sun went down. The crowd morphed into a quiet rave, head nodding and whipping their heads back and forth. James closed his eyes and followed along, adhering to the patterns of the drum and bass.

“Hey James!” He turned around. It was Anna from camp. The one he liked. Was she here all by herself?

“Excuse me,” a passenger nudged Paul to get by. Paul stopped writing and stepped aside to let a family through. He never flinched, keeping his eyes on the phone, writing and walking at the same time. He zipped inside and outside like food digesting in the esophagus until he felt stagnant in multitasking. Continuous partial attention never led to remarkable discoveries.

Breakthroughs required focusing on one single task at a time. Professional writers did one thing: they matched the fluidity of their prose to the outpouring of their ink, in rhythm and solitude.

Outside turned pitch dark. The only thing Paul could see now was his reflection in the window. Yes, he acknowledged, “I’m still here.” The train conversation grew louder with the anticipation of arrival. The passengers became excited.

Paul felt restless. The images in his head appeared clearer than they did on screen. He’d purge a book out of him before he had to go back to the cubicle to prove that he could defeat the resistance!

But writing didn’t feel natural. Paul forced it. He had imprisoned himself at the expense of enjoying the work and would soon again relinquish the freedom for his day job back in New York.

Perhaps he had already written a book, in his head and his mobile notes but not synthesized on paper. All he would need to do is scan his mental notes and go back through his online archive, connect the dots, and clean it up. It would take a lot of disconnecting, letting go, and being bored.

Then again, he might as well be living the story, progressing with each turning wheel of the train. Although he felt too drained to complete a rough draft, he refused to give up. He’d scratch the itch eventually.

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This is my daily collection of interesting reads and new music. I spend a lot of time digging the web for cool stuff and remixing them here. If you dig the blog, please consider making a donation or buying a book. A cup of coffee to helping out with hosting goes a long way.

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Chaos and order in NYC

Photo by Wells Baum

Below is an excerpt from my book Train of Thought which you can read online for free. If you want to support my work, please snag a copy on Amazon.

Paul tried to make every one of eighty-plus daily phone pickups count. The more he shot, the more photos he had to play with. The only challenge in photographing New York was the bombardment of sensory stimulation; stories oozed with opportunity in every open corner and alleyway, yet nothing, not even Broadway, felt staged. The city thrived off chaos, and it worked like a pre-programmed video game. Those who ignored the beauty of its complexity were the most aloof rats in the cage. The City struck all the right neurological notes, but you had to learn how to see to catch the profound silence in between the disorder. 

From Train of Thought: Reflections on the Coast Starlight

Therapy friends

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You can practice speaking in front of them. You can count them on to keep you in shape. You can always rely on their love and affection.

You may dislike some things about your dog but there are too many benefits that outweigh the costs of their barking and neediness.

My dog Tatlim (Turkish for sweetie) is the bravest Silky Terrier in the world. She is one cool cat…eh, dog, and a best friend.

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Taste the rainbow

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I went to the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington DC a few weeks ago to see the Yayoi Kusama Infinity Mirrors exhibit. Perhaps the most enjoyable part was the end, where you exited through a room with a dense fog of colorful stickers. The panorama shown above makes them look like enlarged skittles.

They gave each visitor three of these circular adhesive gems. I put one on a pair of shoes, the other on a piano, and the final one on a light fixture (not seen in the pictures above).

As for the mirrors, they looked a little something like this:

Infinity mirrors by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama #motionstills

A post shared by Wells Baum (@bombtune) on

More on the gram…