Linda in Northfield, Mensagenda Editor
Minnesota Mensa published Vol. I, No. 1 of our newsletter, then called the Minnesota Mensa, in June of 1965. Approaching six decades later and winning awards along the way, we continue to provide a monthly publication, now called Mensagenda.
As expected in a newsletter, we inform our local membership with organizational updates and provide details about our events. The real benefit is that, just like our events, Mensagenda is for our members, by our members.
The love of learning in Mensa is not just about supporting our scholarship but in enriching your own mind and sharing your knowledge, skills, and interests. Read articles and regular columns ranging from scientific explanations to humor in everyday life. Check out our members’ photography, drawing, painting, knitting and quilting, and crafting skills.
What would you like to share? Do you have expertise in a particular field of study or hobby? Want to express your opinion? Have you traveled recently? Do you write poetry? Can you create word games, numerical puzzles, or trivia questions? What could you say about…well, you get the picture.
Mensagenda is another way that Minnesota Mensa provides “a stimulating intellectual and social environment for its members.” What could you contribute if you joined Mensa?
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Featured Cover Art
Flower Power. Needlework by Marcia in San Antonio.
The cover picture is the pattern Flower Power, by Crossed Wings Collection. The stitched area is 35. 5inches long by 21. 5 inches high. It will be framed at a slightly larger size, as a couple of inches of fabric will show around the stitched area. This took me years to work. If you Zoomed into Sharp Women SIG last year, this was the project I was working. It’s so exciting to finally be done with it.
This embroidery is counted cross stitch. Instead of matching a design stamped on the fabric, you follow a printed pattern. Because this is not stamped, I can use a fabric I like instead of one the designer picks. There are several different fabrics that are recommended for this type of cross stitch. Aida and linen are two of the most popular. I like to use linen.
How does one do counted cross stitch? Choose a pattern you like. Read the pattern to determine what size of fabric you need and gather together the flosses the pattern calls for. Floss is a six-strand thread specifically for embroidery. Decide if you’re going to start at a corner or in the middle. Look on the pattern for that point, figure out what color floss you need, pull it out, thread your needle, and start. (This is the very quick and dirty version.)
The pattern is a black-and-white grid with a variety of symbols, a different one for each color of floss that is used to stitch the design. One cross stitch per square. You count threads of the fabric to make each stitch. Most of this is done two over two, which means I use two strands of embroidery floss and each stitch crosses two threads of the fabric diagonally (up and across). The flowers and hummingbirds are all done this way.
The backstitching is a line on the pattern, with a list of which colors to use to back stitch something. All the flowers and leaves are backstitched, as you can see in the detail picture. Parts of the hummingbirds and butterflies are backstitched as well. Backstitching helps to define the picture. A finished picture will look more like an impressionist painting without backstitching. When I get ready to backstitch, I will highlight the pattern in different colors for the different colors of floss.
This detail picture shows Columbine, Shasta Daisy, and Foxglove flowers.
The pattern called for French knots in the Columbine flowers. I hate doing French knots. So I found a bead that is a close match for the color called for in the pattern and used that instead. To give you an idea of the scale, the white petals of the second Columbine from the top measure 1-3/8 inches wide and 1-3/16th inches tall.
The insects are one over one, which is more difficult to stitch. I have a lighted magnifying glass on a stand that helps me see what I am doing but there were a few times when I ended up looking like a mad scientist because I put ‘cheater’ readers on over my eyeglasses to increase the magnification (yes, still looking through the lighted magnifying glass). One over one is where you use one strand of floss over one thread of fabric. It gives you four times more detail. The butterflies look wonderful because of that.
I did make some changes to this pattern. It has two bees and a gnat on the chart, which I refused to do. I like honey but I don’t like stitching bees. I had to redraw part of one of the flowers because a bee was on it. I also used a hand dyed floss in the Shasta Daisies instead of plain white and a different hand-dyed floss for the white Coneflowers.
I started this a long time ago (think 1990s). I got about 1/5 of it done, became discouraged with how long it was taking to make any visible progress, and just rolled it up and put it away. For a couple of decades. When we moved and I had a dedicated craft space, I pulled it out again. And decided that if I was ever going to finish it, I needed to start working on it.
As I was stitching on it this last year, I thought about what color fabric I might have put it on if I had started it after hand-dyed fabrics were available. And I still do not have a colored fabric that I think would look better than the fabric I’ve used, because there are so many different colors in the flowers and the hummingbirds. I don’t like when the stitching blends into the fabric.
It stitched up faster this time, though I still worked on it for the last three years.
On a Whim by Mat in Vadnais Heights.
Sometimes I don’t know where these articles are going to wind up. I sat down this month with a vague idea to write something about the phenomenon of vision. It’s a pretty wild subject if you think about it—an organ that uses the light bouncing around your environment to build a map of the world, including things too far away for you to interact with directly. Then I stumbled across a page about scallop eyes (I didn’t even know scallops had eyes) and the fact that instead of lenses they incorporate teeny little mirrors made of guanine crystals to focus light. Unbelievable! And before I know it, three or four Internet rabbit-holes later, I am off on a completely different arc altogether.
It was the guanine that did it. See, I only know of guanine from one other place. It is one of the four nucleotides found in DNA. Oh, and that its name derives from the fact that it was first isolated from guano. A lowly beginning. But anyway, the fact that there were bodies out there incorporating guanine crystals kinda threw me for a bit. But then it occurred to me that, well, my skeleton contains lots of calcium crystals in the form of hydroxyapatite (yeah, I looked up the name—can’t memorize everything) and that got me to wondering what else pops up in living things that you might not expect to find there.
The bulk of your basic biomass is made up of just four elements: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. Nearly 97%, in fact. The remaining trace elements are things like the iron in your blood, the calcium in your aforementioned bones, and various other elements found frequently in the enzymes that catalyze your body’s chemical reactions.
As a side note, did you ever wonder why radium is so alarmingly dangerous? Well, apart from the fact that it is fiercely radioactive, it also appears in the same column of the periodic table as calcium. And if you remember high school chemistry, elements in the same column of the table have very similar chemical properties. That means that if you accidentally ingest some radium, your body will mistake it for calcium and happily incorporate it into your bones. That means a) your own skeleton will start irradiating you from the inside and b) your bones will get extremely brittle, because radium does not have the same structural strength that calcium has.
If you count them up you will find that 36 of the chemical elements, well over a third, are known to be incorporated into some form of life somewhere. A few of the more surprising are arsenic, which is vital in small quantities to the human nervous system; strontium, which some radiolarians use instead of calcium to build their skeletons; tungsten, which appears to be necessary for ATP metabolism in some thermophilic archaea; and even uranium, which some bacteria use as a “terminal electron receptor,” whatever that is.
Looping back around to the major players—carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen—you might wonder why life-as-we-know-it is invariably referred to as “carbon-based,” when in fact it is oxygen, at 62%, that makes up the bulk of living matter. The reason has to do with the way carbon bonds with other atoms. Atoms bond with each other via their electrons, and carbon has sort of the perfect storm of properties for connecting its electrons up to those of other atoms and to itself; it is neither electropositive nor electronegative, so it is more likely to share electrons than gain or lose them; it has a maximal number of electrons, four, available to bond with other atoms; and it tends to form bonds in geometric configurations that are very stable. That means you can build up quite large, intricate, and stable molecules on a framework of carbon. And large, intricate, stable molecules are exactly what living systems need.
Are there any other elements that fit the bill? Well, maybe. It has been suggested many times that silicon might do. It also forms four covalent bonds with other atoms, just like carbon, and it is ubiquitous in Earth’s crust. The main impediment seems to be that the bonds in question are not as strong as those of carbon, though they might endure through a wider range of temperatures. This has led lots of sci-fi writers to speculate about the possibility of silicon-based life, though the hacks among them always seem to wind up with a kind of lumbering rock monster. This makes about as much sense as claiming that a carbon-based lifeform would have to be a lumbering diamond monster. The whole point of silicon is that it makes lots of interesting molecules with wildly varying properties. One of those molecules is silicone, which is fer cryin’ out loud used as an industrial lubricant. That’s not something you build out of boulders! Use your imagination!
Okay, I have wandered rather far afield from where I started. As I recall, that was with the scallops and their wonderful eyes made of guanine-crystal mirrors. That sounds like pure sci-fi right there, but it is just one little example of the riotous variety of life on Earth. The point, I guess, is that there is virtually no end to the use-what’s-at-hand philosophy of evolution. Need a scaffold to hang your squashy bits on? Grab some calcium. No calcium handy? Meh, strontium might do. Need to focus light within your eyeballs? Build a lens. No infrastructure compatible with lenses? Mirrors focus light, and hey, guanine forms nice, shiny convex crystals. Why not? I think that as long as we keep hunting around for new and interesting stuff within biology, sci-fi is going to have to work hard to keep up.