Folio Awards Video, Fast Chats with the Fair Media Council

Fair Media Council Logo

We are grateful to all who are carrying on virtually! Here’s some incredibly touching and informative video from The Folio Awards.

While nothing replaces getting to connect with the folks that our sponsor The Fair Media Council normally brings together to highlight the best in local media, the online event was time well spent and we appreciated the virtual networking session held afterward.

Did you know WLIW now has a radio station? That’s how we learned! That and a whole lot more!!!

We are further excited by FMC’s endeavors to adapt and excited about their virtual event lineup featuring notables in news, media and business.

“FMC Fast Chat” is a live talk show on Zoom where the audience drives the conversation by asking questions in advance (during registration) or during the show via the Q&A box. The recorded version becomes a podcast available on the C-Suite Radio Network, as well as iTunes, Google Podcast, Spotify, Stitcher and TuneIn.

Expect real, powerful and relevant conversations with notables in news, media and business that put you in the know in just 30 minutes.

The events are free to attend, but preregistration is necessary to ensure a seat for the live shows.

October 6th: This already occurred but you can sign up for the podcast on The FMC Website: America’s Growing Need for Public Service & Volunteerism with RITA COSBY, Emmy-Winning TV Host, Female Legend of the Year in Radio, Best-Selling Author & Chair, Global Service Institute at LIU

October 27th: GARY VAYNERCHUK, chairman of VaynerX and CEO of VaynerMedia on how to do business right, right now.

November 10th: How did the media cover the Election? That’s the focus of this Fast Chat with BRIAN LEHRER of The Brian Lehrer Show, WNYC.

December 8th: Get the inside skinny on how to get your opinion heard on CNN, directly from CNN Opinion Editor RICHARD GALANT.

To register for any of these shows, please visit

More Fast Chats are continuously added. The best way to stay up-to-date is to sign up for the Fair Media Council’s weekly newsletter, The Latest, which comes out on Thursdays (Be sure to whitelist it).

Subscribe to FMC Fast Chat and you can also hear past episodes featuring Jeffrey Hayzlett, Chair and CEO, C-Suite Network, on how to do business during COVID19; Allison Gilbert, journalist and grief expert, on how to deal with loss and find comfort, and Ben Smith, media columnist, The New York Times, on the state of the news media today.

Spencer’s Picks: Overcoming Pandemic Fatigue; Art, Science & Suggested Solutions; The Happiness of a Dog

Dr. Spencer Thomas atop the Uffizi in Florence, Italy

Photo of Dr. Spencer Thomas atop the Uffizi in Florence, Italy. Photo by Katheryn Laible


As usual, when he’s not scrying into the mysteries of metals at the atomic level, or pondering puzzles of more efficient means of tapping energy, Dr. Thomas is bringing some light into our life. Here are a few of the things he’s brought to our attention:

Now that we’re about a month into the college semester with social distancing and remote learning, a lot of people I know are feeling a bit of a drag. You are not alone: Lonliness at Pandemic U: 14 tips for college students and their parents

Along similar themes, but more for everyone:: Your Surge Capacity is Depleted. This is Why You Feel Awful (and a couple good things you can do about it)

One thing that’s helpful is — to help! Here is a heartwarming and inspiring story from one of my very favorite professors from back in my undergrad time at Stony Brook. Bente Videbaek is an amazing person who has been working hard to make sure people have masks Facebook Page: “Humans of Mather Hospital”

When you feel a bit grounded and ready to stare some of the bigger challenges facing humanity in the face: Countdown is a global initiative to champion and accelerate solutions to the climate crisis. One of the speakers, Dr. Rose Mutiso, is a friend of mine – we were graduate students together. She’s the incredible CEO of the Mawazo Institute, which supports women scientists and leaders throughout East Africa. She has also spoken at TED and written in Scientific American about the challenges that people in Africa face building digital and clean-energy infrastructure.

One for the Coltrane fans out there: The most feared song in jazz, explained. It’s not too hard for a layman to follow this breakdown of “Giant Steps,” even as it’s still among the most challenging things a musician may face

Finally, no big point here, but a bit of joy for you since we could all use it: The happiness of this dog after they put prostheses on

Spencer Thomas received his PhD in Materials Science and Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania. After some time at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, we are DELIGHTED to welcome him back to Long Island as a researcher at Stony Brook University. He also happens to be Katie’s brother. For a time, Spencer studied metals at the atomic level; the way atoms are arranged in a material can change its properties; one can take ordinary metals make them stronger, more flexible, corrosion resistant, even radiation resistant. We’re still endeavoring to understand what he’s doing now well enough to explain it so simply.

Spencer believes that no matter who you are, good communication can put scientific concepts within reach. The modern world demands scientific literacy and it is the responsibility of scientists to make that possible.

Fair Media Council Offers Guidance, Asks How Else it Can Help

Fair Media Council Logo

We are grateful for all who are dedicated to advancing the integrity of journalism, and helping us all be smarter, wiser consumers. Our sponsors at the Fair Media Council specialize in this.

Here is some good advice they offered on navigating the news today.

We also appreciate these archives of “The Latest” Jaci Clement’s commentary on media and culture.

If you have a few minutes, they’d love to hear from you. Here’s a quick, painless, seven-question survey to find out how FMC can help you and your organization be as successful as possible in the new normal.

BTW…Check on your local paper, will you? They need us and we need them. If you have the means, now is the time to advertise…not only are times like these hailed as the best time to reach out to the masses, these folks could REALLY use our ad dollars.

Our thoughts on that were fueled by this article by Steven Waldman and Charles Sennott in The Atlantic (which has taken its own big hits lately) “The Coronavirus is Killing Local News”, and Mark Bowden’s piece in the same publication “Small Towns Won’t Know They’re Infected Until Too Late”

Having experienced news deserts first hand, we have long been grateful for LI’s wealth of local media (and the local nature of some of the world’s most esteemed publications). They’re not immune to this either, though. Please support them. It’s important.

On Sunflower’s Golden Spirals

Photo credit: Esdras Calderan/wikipedia (CC BY 2.0)
I’d like to talk about patterns. In particular, the pattern that you might see if you look at the sunflower above.*
(Photo credit: Esdras Calderan/wikipedia (CC BY 2.0) )

Before you even think about it, I’m sure you can see spirals. Maybe you see them whirling clockwise, maybe counter-clockwise. Let your eyes refocus and another set of spirals will appear. They almost seem to pop out in your vision, but hang on; which is it? Are they going left or are they going right?

We have an incredible talent for picking out patterns out of noise; you can recognize a friend in a crowd or a familiar song over construction noises without thinking about it. Our sense for patterns is so sharp that we see faces in the moon or in potato chips, or shapes in the clouds. This is probably for the better; thinking you saw some food, some hidden danger, or even a friend where there is none is a lot safer than missing the one that actually is there, so I’d definitely take some silly crossed signals in exchange for this power of ours.

These are harmless examples, but there is a dark side. Gamblers see patterns in their wins and losses and make catastrophic bets. Con-artists exploit us, claiming to tell the future or read minds. Confirmation bias is a dangerous habit that has pervaded our political discourse, where we pick out evidence and patterns in data that suit our preferred answer. We don’t do this with ill-intent; it’s something our patterned-tuned brains do beyond our control. We can only fight it if we watch ourselves, think twice, and double check the news we forward it to our friends.

We also see patterns on another level; we find curious connections throughout the world, linking ideas that don’t seem related. Sometimes it looks like magic, others like design. Sometimes, it’s our minds searching for something that’s not there. As a scientist, this can be frustrating for me. I see articles about psychic powers and fake science, dangerous alternative medicine, and this prevailing tendency to make science mystical and unknowable. I think many people would be surprised as to how much they can understand with a little patience. We don’t need to scrutinize every detail in our experience, but I don’t like it when people assume that that is beyond them. Sometimes, with some care, the microscope lets us peel back the veil of nature and find the truth behind a pattern.


Photo credit: Max Ronnersjö/wikipedia (CC-BY-SA-3.0)
The Fibonacci sequence and the Golden Ratio are patterns that pop up all the time in nature and in media. The Fibonacci sequence follows a simple rule; I start with the first two numbers, 1 and 1. If I add these numbers I get 2. If I add the 2nd and 3rd numbers (1 and 2) I get three. Add the 3rd and 4th I get 5, etc. The sequence looks like , etc. It sounds like the kind of thing a bored mathematician would do for fun, but it has a peculiar habit of showing up all over nature. Plants seem especially fond of it; you can see it in the arrangement of leaves on a stem, the scales of pineapples, and as it happens, the florets of a sunflower. If you go back to that first picture of a sunflower and counted the spirals in the seeds, you’d notice something interesting. I can pick out spirals at a bunch of different angles and directions, but the number is always a Fibonacci number.


Photo credit: Esdras Calderan/wikipedia (CC BY 2.0) Fibonacci Spirals added by Spencer Thomas

This is a peculiar quirk of the way these florets grow. The plant spirals out as it produces them, following a rule – each seed is some angle from the last. This angle happens to be a full  divided by , where  (the Greek letter ‘phi’) is the Golden Ratio, about equal to 1.618.

Like the Fibonacci sequence, the golden ratio appears everywhere in nature. People have known about this number for a very long time; the ancient Greek sculptor Phidias (400s BCE) worked it into much of his art. A quick google search will tell you how people have associated it with the ratios of beautiful faces, sections in pieces of music, etc. The ratio itself also has some neat properties, for example  (in fact  is sometimes likened to ’s little brother).

So what does  have to do with Fibonacci number? The two are intimately related. If I divide the 1st and 2nd Fibonacci numbers (1 and 1), I get 1. The 2nd and 3rd (1 and 2) give me 2, the 3rd and 4th give me 1.5, then 1.666…, then 1.6, etc. If I keep picking later and later Fibonacci numbers, I get closer and closer to . That’s that mystery solved, but why does a sunflower care? Sunflowers probably don’t know math, but they’re also not stupid. They’re carefully optimized by evolution to make the most out of what they’ve got; their mission is to fit as many seeds as possible onto their face. As a material scientist, I could tell you the very best way to do that looks like this:



Diagram provided by Spencer Thomas

It looks a lot like a honeycomb and that is no mistake. This is how bees achieve the same goal, but the sunflower kinda wrote itself into a corner. The spiraling mechanism that sunflowers use to grow can’t make a honeycomb; it’s terrible at making packed arrangements, always leaving some empty space. Instead of completely altering how the sunflower grows to solve this problem, evolution tuned it to do the very best with what it has, and  with its Fibonacci spirals happens to be the optimal turning angle.

It was shown by J.N. Ridley**  that this is the best possible way to pack seeds on a sunflower’s disc and this video is a beautiful demonstration of the idea. What it comes down to is that  is almost 21/34, and it’s almost 34/55, and almost almost 55/81, but these are all really bad estimates. By comparison, 22/7 is a pretty good estimate for Pi. You need really large numbers to get a ratio that’s close to, so a turning angle of  is a sunflower’s best hope at making the messiest spirals it can.

Give yourself some credit; that sunflower is doing everything it can to hide its spirals, but you can still see them clear as day!

Spencer Thomas recently received his PhD in Materials Science and Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania. He is now doing his Postdoc at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. He also happens to be Katie’s brother. Spencer studies metals at the atomic level; the way atoms are arranged in a material can change its properties; one can take ordinary metals make them stronger, more flexible, corrosion resistant, even radiation resistant.

Spencer believes that no matter who you are, good communication can put scientific concepts within reach. The modern world demands scientific literacy and it is the responsibility of scientists to make that possible.


Guest Post by Jed Morey: We’re Not Here for Long. Let’s Do Better. Together.

Photo of soaring gull by Katheryn Laible

A couple of days ago I joined the chorus of self-righteous outrage and posted the image of the now infamous MAGA hat wearing kid and Indian activist face-to-face. It’s been years since I posted anything purely political and I rarely, if ever, post something without context. But this image stuck with me. So I posted it without commentary, context or linking it to an article. Just the photo. What ensued on my wall happened all around the country on social media, at dinner tables and on television.

Continue reading