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Michigan plants 1,000 'happy trees' to honor Bob Ross

Trees rising from the canvas to the sky.

Wikimedia Commons
  • Michigan state parks have partnered with the Bob Ross artist's estate for its reforestation efforts.
  • The trees were grown by prisoners in the correctional facilities' educational program.
  • Hundreds of volunteers have planted them in state parks denoted with signs of Ross' likeness and famous tag lines.

An eclectic combination between a cultural icon and prisoner reforestation efforts has led to a commendable new initiative in Michigan. Since May of 2019, hundreds of volunteers have planted 1,000 "happy little tree" saplings across Michigan State Parks. Honoring the late painter Bob Ross, the original program was first known as "Prison Grow."

Ross came to prominence as the host of The Joy of Painting, an art program that aired on PBS from the early '80s to mid-'90s. He died a year after the program ended. He was known as the soft-spoken and calm painting guru, often comically anthropomorphizing his paintings as he went along.

His videos populate Youtube today and he's since become a cultural icon as people discover his soothing and generous demeanor. Ross' likeness and signature hairdo has been plastered over countless shirts, mugs, and his imprints are instantly recognizable.

Happy little trees

From the great beyond, Ross still teaches people how to paint "happy little trees— now, he'll also be the face of a project aimed at planting real ones. The new initiative stems from a partnership between Bob Ross Inc. and Michigan's Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Ross' organization has agreed to let the state use his likeness and taglines to promote the state's Prison Grow program in his honor.

Each year, inmates from three different Michigan correctional facilities assist in growing around 1,000 trees. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources' Parks and Recreation Division gathers volunteers to go out and plant these new trees.

The new trees are used to replace those in state parks that have become diseased or intentionally damaged. In 2019, 22 out of Michigan's 103 parks will receive new trees grown in correctional facilities. The program takes native seeds from the local region so that the replacement trees will be able to survive and grow healthy.

Prisoners part of the program consist of people who were successful in the prison's career and technical education program. Here they learn horticulture skills and how to care for and nurture growing trees.

This meshes well with the philosophy of Ross. The painter understood the healing force of nature imbued within his work. A large part of Ross' popularity stems from the contact joy people get from watching him teach and create.

Michelle Coss, coordinator for the DNR's Parks and Recreation division, explains to the magazine Roadtrippers how the whole partnership got started.

"I was thinking about trees leaving prisons and going to a campground and that they're happy and it came to me: 'happy little trees…' Well, wouldn't it be cool if we reached out to Bob Ross Inc. and asked if we could use that moniker for the program? So we did, and they loved it."

DNR's Michelle Coss standing beside new sign indicating the reforestation effort.

Image source: Michelle Coss / DNR

As part of the initiative, which originally launched on Arbor Day, Ross' likeness appears on the signage at the parks and on volunteer t-shirts. Coss says that over 500 people signed up to help them plant the trees.

The stewardship of the park is a noble endeavor. Volunteers gather seeds from native plants, remove invasive plant species, clean up overgrown areas and, of course, plant the new trees. These are essential functions of maintaining and managing the areas within state parks.

This happy forest can serve as an example to all of us. As an homage to Bob Ross, this reforestation effort will elicit real healing change. With collective effort, environmental mistakes can be remedied.

From the brushstrokes of his happy little canvas and the image of life he left behind, new arboreal life will flourish.

Hulu's original movie "Palm Springs" is the comedy we needed this summer

Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.

Gear
  • Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
  • As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
  • The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
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Two MIT students just solved Richard Feynman’s famed physics puzzle

Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.

Surprising Science

Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.

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Our ‘little brain’ turns out to be pretty big

The multifaceted cerebellum is large — it's just tightly folded.

Image source: Sereno, et al
Mind & Brain
  • A powerful MRI combined with modeling software results in a totally new view of the human cerebellum.
  • The so-called 'little brain' is nearly 80% the size of the cerebral cortex when it's unfolded.
  • This part of the brain is associated with a lot of things, and a new virtual map is suitably chaotic and complex.

Just under our brain's cortex and close to our brain stem sits the cerebellum, also known as the "little brain." It's an organ many animals have, and we're still learning what it does in humans. It's long been thought to be involved in sensory input and motor control, but recent studies suggests it also plays a role in a lot of other things, including emotion, thought, and pain. After all, about half of the brain's neurons reside there. But it's so small. Except it's not, according to a new study from San Diego State University (SDSU) published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

A neural crêpe

A new imaging study led by psychology professor and cognitive neuroscientist Martin Sereno of the SDSU MRI Imaging Center reveals that the cerebellum is actually an intricately folded organ that has a surface area equal in size to 78 percent of the cerebral cortex. Sereno, a pioneer in MRI brain imaging, collaborated with other experts from the U.K., Canada, and the Netherlands.

So what does it look like? Unfolded, the cerebellum is reminiscent of a crêpe, according to Sereno, about four inches wide and three feet long.

The team didn't physically unfold a cerebellum in their research. Instead, they worked with brain scans from a 9.4 Tesla MRI machine, and virtually unfolded and mapped the organ. Custom software was developed for the project, based on the open-source FreeSurfer app developed by Sereno and others. Their model allowed the scientists to unpack the virtual cerebellum down to each individual fold, or "folia."

Study's cross-sections of a folded cerebellum

Image source: Sereno, et al.

A complicated map

Sereno tells SDSU NewsCenter that "Until now we only had crude models of what it looked like. We now have a complete map or surface representation of the cerebellum, much like cities, counties, and states."

That map is a bit surprising, too, in that regions associated with different functions are scattered across the organ in peculiar ways, unlike the cortex where it's all pretty orderly. "You get a little chunk of the lip, next to a chunk of the shoulder or face, like jumbled puzzle pieces," says Sereno. This may have to do with the fact that when the cerebellum is folded, its elements line up differently than they do when the organ is unfolded.

It seems the folded structure of the cerebellum is a configuration that facilitates access to information coming from places all over the body. Sereno says, "Now that we have the first high resolution base map of the human cerebellum, there are many possibilities for researchers to start filling in what is certain to be a complex quilt of inputs, from many different parts of the cerebral cortex in more detail than ever before."

This makes sense if the cerebellum is involved in highly complex, advanced cognitive functions, such as handling language or performing abstract reasoning as scientists suspect. "When you think of the cognition required to write a scientific paper or explain a concept," says Sereno, "you have to pull in information from many different sources. And that's just how the cerebellum is set up."

Bigger and bigger

The study also suggests that the large size of their virtual human cerebellum is likely to be related to the sheer number of tasks with which the organ is involved in the complex human brain. The macaque cerebellum that the team analyzed, for example, amounts to just 30 percent the size of the animal's cortex.

"The fact that [the cerebellum] has such a large surface area speaks to the evolution of distinctively human behaviors and cognition," says Sereno. "It has expanded so much that the folding patterns are very complex."

As the study says, "Rather than coordinating sensory signals to execute expert physical movements, parts of the cerebellum may have been extended in humans to help coordinate fictive 'conceptual movements,' such as rapidly mentally rearranging a movement plan — or, in the fullness of time, perhaps even a mathematical equation."

Sereno concludes, "The 'little brain' is quite the jack of all trades. Mapping the cerebellum will be an interesting new frontier for the next decade."

Economists show how welfare programs can turn a "profit"

What happens if we consider welfare programs as investments?

A homeless man faces Wall Street

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A recently published study suggests that some welfare programs more than pay for themselves.
  • It is one of the first major reviews of welfare programs to measure so many by a single metric.
  • The findings will likely inform future welfare reform and encourage debate on how to grade success.
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