SeanChron | Stephen Hawking (1942-2018)

Image credit: "Physicist Stephen Hawking in Zero Gravity", NASA; Jim Campbell/Aero-News Network.

I finished my evening run and returned to a phone full of notifications about the passing of Stephen Hawking. I was never lucky enough to attend one of his lectures but I, like so many, know his work well, have watched many videos, and have many of his books. He's an inspiration on so many levels. He's beat physical challenges, faced intellectual challenges to his theories, and - like Einstein and other great minds - has boldly crossed over into non-science topics, including art, politics, and religion. He helped us understand the universe and, in many ways, ourselves. If there are aliens watching us, they undoubtedly understand the huge loss that our planet is now experiencing...whether we humans realize the enormity of the loss or not.

Dispatch Dot Earth | Vilnius: an Old City in a Young Country

Street art as seen across the street from the old train station market, Hales Turgas, in old town Vilnius.

Dispatch Dot Earth is a collection of feature travel articles. The future may take us to Mars and beyond, but sometimes there's nothing like exploring our good old Earth.

In a quiet, less explored corner of northern Europe, Vilnius buzzes with the hum of city life mixed with deep ties to a culture established nearly 700 years ago. The capital of Lithuania, Vilnius tends to fly under the radar as a destination despite its many draws. Brimming with unique history, lovely Baroque architecture, and a thriving university scene, Vilnius is an old city in a young country. Remnants of a past Soviet era are still visible around its edges, but the rich heritage of this town shines through in its glowing, colorful churches, its burgeoning art and music scene, and its winding old town streets.
by Vanessa Bassett

As one of the last countries in Europe to be Christianized, Lithuania's pagan roots are held more closely in recent collective memory than other western countries. Some pagan sects have even carried on to the present day, despite the abundance of churches and cathedrals to be found at nearly every turn in Vilnius. While the city's energetic feel is forward moving, the stark memory of World War II's concentration camps and the remnants of Jewish ghettos still hover in certain shadowy corners. Memorials paying tribute to the thousands of Vilnius Jews who were murdered during Nazi rule can be seen throughout the old town, commemorating people and places who should not be forgotten.

But bold as ever, a bright street art scene has emerged, providing thoughtful surprises when you least expect them. Buildings flash grinning faces from high above the street, and walls confront you with colorful motifs as soon as you step around a corner. Revitalized, with it's UNESCO status old town thoughtfully preserved, Vilnius has become a cultural superstar on the map of Europe. Between its treasure trove of Orthodox churches, its unexpected architectural delights, its expansive arts scene and its charming, inviting old town, Vilnius cements its status as one of the jewels of the Baltic.

The Gate of Dawn is the only remaining gate still ensconced in the original city wall of Vilnius. Built between 1503 and 1522, the gate is also home to a chapel which contains an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary, said to have miraculous powers.

Interior of the Orthodox Church of the Holy Spirit. In addition to its dazzling iconostatis and its multitude of candles and religious images, the relics of three medieval saints rest at the center of this historic shrine.

All Saints Church in Vilnius old town. One of many candy-colored churches in the area, this Baroque style church was built between 1620 and 1630.

Vilnius Cathedral. In 1322, King Gediminas dreamt of an iron clad wolf on a hill, howling as though it were 1000 wolves. One of his pagan priests, Lizdeika, told him the dream meant that a city should be built at that exact place. Thus, Vilnius was born.

Vilnius street art. There is no shortage of thought-provoking art around town.

St. Paraskeva Eastern Orthodox church. The original structure was built in 1346, on the site of a temple to the pagan god Ragutis. After several fires and renovations, the present day structure, seen here, was completed in 1949. According to legend, the African prince Hannibal was baptized here in 1705.

Street art, as seen outside of the old town, in a more modern area of Vilnius.

St. Nicholas Eastern Orthodox Church. The first wooden chapel was built on this same site in 1340, though the present day structure was completed in 1866.

The Apia Hotel. A nice example of the colorful, historic stylings of old town Vilnius.

St. Anne's Roman Catholic church. An important piece of Vilnius fabric, the 500 year old church is a contributing landmark which helped the old town gain UNESCO heritage status in 1994.

Miss Next Century 2018 | Kára McCullough

Image credit: Miss Universe

Kára Deidra McCullough is an American physical scientist and emergency preparedness specialist. McCullough is also the winner of the 2017 Miss USA pageant and represented the USA in the 2017 Miss Universe contest where she was a top 10 finalist.

McCullough was born in Naples, Italy to US military family but spent most of her childhood in Virginia Beach. Her mother's role as Chief Petty Officer in the US Navy gave Kára the opportunity to travel and learn about diverse cultures in places like Hawaii, Japan, Sicily, and South Korea.

McCullough often speaks about her interest in science from a very young age. Her interest continued to grow so pursuing a career in sciences was a clear choice for her. McCullough earned her Bachelor of Sciences in Chemistry with a focus on radiochemistry at South Carolina State University where she also first became a member of the American Chemical Society, the Health Physics Society, and the American Nuclear Society. She was also inducted into the Golden Key International Honour Society and the National Society of Black Engineers. At the time of the Miss USA pageant, McCullough worked at the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Office of Nuclear Security and Incident Response as an emergency preparedness specialist.

McCullough interest in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and math) led her to create an outreach program called Science Exploration for Kids (SE4K) that she funds herself. SE4k creates interactive activities celebrating and cultivate a passion for STEM subjects among children. As Miss USA, McCullough plans to expand her program throughout the country

McCullough is also a great example of the importance of being well-rounded in interests and activities. In addition to her professional career and her work to inspire young minds to study STEM subjects, her personal love and participation in sports led her to coach a girls youth sports program in while she lived and worked in Washington, DC. She loves cooking Italian and soul food and she's making the most out of her new life in New York city by exploring the Big Apple on her bike or rollerblades.

McCullough was named Future-ish's 8th Miss Next Century in 2018.

Below is a video of McCullough talking about her love for science and starting Science Exploration for Kids (SE4K):

Dispatch Dot Earth | The Middle East: an adventure in history, culture, and connection

The Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem, Israel

Dispatch Dot Earth is a collection of feature travel articles. The future may take us to Mars and beyond, but sometimes there's nothing like exploring our good old Earth.>

When I visited Israel, Palestine, and Jordan, I didn’t go with any preconceived notions on what these countries would be like. As with most of my travel I went with an open mind and an open heart, ready to receive the experiences and adventures that a new part of the world would give me. What I found in this diverse Mediterranean-desert region was a mixture of people, history, and experiences, all delicately intertwined with past and current politics, all nearly impossible to separate.
By Vanessa Bassett

Old City of Acre, Israel
The first part of the trip brought me to Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Acre, all on the western coast of Israel. I would argue that all three cities are brief but important “background learning” for the cultural smorgasbord that lies ahead. Tel Aviv provides an impressive amount of art and history, folded neatly into small neighborhoods and unsuspecting streets. Haifa and Acre are home to the holiest sites in the Baha’i faith, and both cities contain other significant historic sites from crusader ruins to Christian mysticism. Because Haifa and Acre are further north and geographically closer to the border of Lebanon, you might notice more Lebanese and Arabic influences in the people, food, and culture of these cities. Personally I was very moved by the kindness of strangers in these places. Locals happily helped me decipher maps and welcomed me cheerily to their country.

The Western Wall and Temple Mount complex, Jerusalem
After wrapping up on the west coast, a short train ride east brought me to Jerusalem. Being a bit of a history buff I knew I was in for some impressive sites, but I was taken aback by just how rich, how rewarding, and how meaningful this visit was. Most of us know that Jerusalem shelters important historic and religious sites for Christians, Muslims, and Jews, but we aren’t always told how deeply intertwined these sites are in the daily lives of Jerusalem’s citizens. These three groups (in addition to several minority religious groups) interact with each other on a daily basis, passing in the streets, dealing in business, and living together just as those in less controversial cities might live. One of the most poignant moments for me was witnessing a Christian nun and a Muslim woman, both dressed in the clothing of their traditional faiths, stop to greet each other on one of the streets of Jerusalem’s old town. The women greeted each other with smiles and warm words, and kissed each other on the cheek before departing, each traveling in the opposite direction. To me, this was a perfect illustration of how the many cultures and people of the Jerusalem weave their lives together. Clearly these were both serviceful women devoted to their faith traditions, yet had found some common ground between them. What it was I will never know, but there was no mistaking their connection as one of familiarity and love.
The Orthodox neighborhood of Jerusalem, Israel
The Western Wall, Jerusalem

Old City of Jaffa, Tel Aviv, Israel

Jerusalem, Israel

Young military service members
along the Via Dolorosa, Jerusalem
During my stay in Jerusalem, I took a city bus to Bethlehem, which is located in the Arab state of Palestine. It was here that I experienced a similar mash-up of people and cultures that I experienced in Jerusalem, but with a more clearly dominant Arab-Muslim population, and no Jewish element that I could see. One of the most noticeable things to see on my arrival was the assembly of a giant Christmas tree in the middle of Manger Square, the traditional location revered by Christians as the birthplace of Jesus. As I walked around the square, I saw monks of different monastic orders walking to and from the various churches in the area, clearly juxtaposed against the Arabic shopkeepers whose stores faced the square. I had positive and memorable interactions with the locals of Bethlehem. I was welcomed to their homeland, and felt safe walking around and seeing the different sites and storefronts. At one point I came to a small open air market, up the street from Manger Square. There were some small food stalls, and I stopped to get a falafel sandwich at one. The woman who served me was clearly Arab and Muslim, but greeted me in French. In my very limited French, I was able to convey “please” and “thank you” and make my falafely request. What I must impress upon you about this interaction is the warmth with which this woman smiled at me, and how the grace and open-heartedness with which she served me left a deep, indelible impression on my heart. Though it was a brief exchange, it is one that I recall as very human, and etched in compassion and understanding. It was such a clear reminder that humanity transcends borders, cultures, and politics, and that the richness of life is often contained in the heartfelt connections we have with others.

A monk at the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, Palestine

King Herod's fortress, Masada, Israel
My next stop was Masada, the remarkable desert fortress of King Herod, where Jewish rebels made their last stand against the advancing Roman army in AD 73. This site was another surprise, as I again came with no expectations, open to learning about the history of this significant place in Jewish history. This remarkable site wraps in its walls an event so significant, the eerie vibrations of its history seep out of the crumbling stone walls. The mass suicide of the rebel Jewish forces who retreated here haunts the silent mountaintop which tourists now daily walk and photograph. Being on top of this site, which the Jewish people hold so closely in their cultural memory, brought me face to face with the dynamic importance of this land which so many people call home.

Masada, Israel
The next stop on my Middle East trip was Jordan, to see the famed Nabataean city of Petra. After what I can only describe as a delightful border crossing experience where I was warmly greeted and joked with by friendly Jordanian border guards, I was welcomed by a tour guide and taken to the ancient city. While I acknowledge that I visited as a tourist, my experience in this Arabic country was nothing short of warm and hospitable, with an overall feeling of good cheer. I am an experienced enough traveler and a sensitive enough person to pick up on negative expressions in a host country. I have been in situations where I have felt unwanted and even unliked for being a tourist and an American. I can surely say that Jordan was not one of those places. There was a general acknowledgement of “yes, this is very much a tourist destination and we are in the customer service industry”, but more than that, Jordanian people seemed open and perhaps even mildly interested in who I was and where I was from. My answers to their questions were usually met with smiles and further friendly chatter. My time in Jordan was a wonderful introduction to a new culture that I had not experienced before.
The Monastery, Petra, Jordan
The Treasury, Petra, Jordan
Traveling to the Middle East was a wonderful, enriching, safe adventure, one which I would not hesitate to repeat should I get the chance. The people I met were diverse, yet it was easy to see that we are all humans having an expedition on this planet. Being in these special locations, so charged with history and emotion, enhanced my appreciation for the diversity of life. Being on the hallowed ground of so many different faith traditions has a way of imparting the weight and intensity of tremendous love and devotion that has been poured into them over the millennia. The treasure trove of this trip will stay with me for a long time to come.

New friends at the Treasury in Petra, Jordan


Each year, we change things up a bit and refresh the website with the PANTONE color of the year. For 2018, the PANTONE color of the year is Pantone 18-1838 Ultra Violet.

From the PANTONE press release:
"A dramatically provocative and thoughtful purple shade, PANTONE 18-3838 Ultra Violet communicates originality, ingenuity, and visionary thinking that points us toward the future."

"Enigmatic purples have also long been symbolic of counterculture, unconventionality, and artistic brilliance. Musical icons Prince, David Bowie, and Jimi Hendrix brought shades of Ultra Violet to the forefront of western pop culture as personal expressions of individuality. Nuanced and full of emotion, the depth of PANTONE 18-3838 Ultra Violet symbolizes experimentation and non-conformity, spurring individuals to imagine their unique mark on the world, and push boundaries through creative outlets."