Cluster Map

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Pollyanna is back, December 25, 2010

Xmas Day 2010 Happy New Year to all.
It has been a long time since I last blogged for Pollyanna and
I hope you enjoyed the respite. We are approaching the end of
this disgusting year and I think this is a good time to return
to the blogosphere with some optimism..  We can start with some heavenly delights from Bosch.
In the spirit of optimism as the New Year approaches, I would like to call your attention to the many apocalyptic predictions made over the centuries that the end of the world was at hand.    Obviously that has not happened so let us all keep a stiff upper lip and slog on.  In my other blog, I detail the ghastly things that happen.  Let us here concentrate on some good things.
Since the world has not ended, it is interesting to note that it may have ended and rebooted many times in the past and the universe as we know it is just one in a series of Big Bangs
 Dark circles indicate regions in space where the cosmic microwave background has temperature variations that are lower than average. The features hint that the universe was born long before the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago and had undergone myriad cycles of birth and death before that time. .  This is a proposed interpretation of radio astronomy data that I find intriguing.  The jury is still out on this hypothesis, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, the Large Hadron Collider has been making little bangs with interesting results.  There have been the usual crackpot rants that this will make a black hole and devour the universe.   Instead we are getting exciting results including trapped antihydrogen.  Physicists at CERN have taken a big step towards making the first spectroscopic measurements on a beam of antihydrogen atoms. The antihydrogen atoms, which consist of an antielectron orbiting an antiproton, were made by members of the lab's ASACUSA group. The beams could be used to carry out the first detailed studies of the energy levels in antihydrogen. The antihydrogen is on the cusp.  For details of this fascinating result, go to the blog at Physics World.
I am proud to know two people who are involved in this research, Katia Gomboroff and Jon Wurtele.

Apropos black holes, a laboratory analogue has been developed by a Canadian group using nothing more exotic than water.  It generates a white hole, i.e. something that excludes rather than sucks in and can provide an acoustic analogue to Hawking radiation that is supposed to be emitted by black hole escapees.  The real radiation from astrophysical black holes is too weak to detect at cosmic distances, which makes the analogues important.

A black hole escapee Particle-antiparticle pairs pop in and out of existence at a black hole’s edge. If one particle falls in, the other can fly away as Hawking radiation   
Back to astronomy and let us welcome a possible new guest in our galaxy.  An exoplanet orbiting a star that entered our Milky Way from another galaxy has been detected by astronomers.  This Jupiter-like planet is unusual because it is orbiting a star nearing the end of its life and could be about to be engulfed by it.   Over the last 15 years, astronomers have detected nearly 500 planets orbiting stars in our cosmic neighborhood, but none outside our Milky Way has been confirmed.
Visible light view of the star
 For details go to this interesting article.

Odd things are happening in physics, in the cosmos and in the lab.  One of the weirdest set of phenomena is associated with entanglement and totally counter intuitive things in modern quantum physics.  I refer anyone interested to the November 20 Science News which devotes a section to articles on spooky topics.

Let us wind up with something exciting from biology.  It is claimed that bacteria found in Mono Lake in California substitute arsenic for phosphorus in their complement of elements necessary for life along with carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen and sulfur. 
The researcher in action.

NASA made a big noise about it but since then the research and its interpretation have encountered criticism in the scientific literature.  Again, we shall wait and see.. 

Let us wind up with some Walter Mitty fantasy  from our hero Gene Weingarten.  Pocketa peep....

Friday, October 15, 2010

Here comes Pollyanna again-October 15, 2010

This time we are bringing out the blogs on  Friday because it is World Bloggers Day.
I want to refer you to the nasty blog because it has a long post dealing with water.  The bloggers of the world chose water  as this year's topic.  I do not want to repeat the long rant I put there about access to clean water as a human right, but would like to ask you to read it.
Of course, the most Pollyanna event one might think of happened before our eyes as 33 trapped Chilean miners were brought to the surface after 69 days underground.  I have incredible admiration for these men who managed to survive and get along with one another during this terrible time of burial.  I also salute the Chilean engineers and technicians who brought them up.  It is all a tribute to the human spirit.
This is Nobel Prize season.  The Peace Prize is dealt with on the other blog as well because it involves a major human rights issue.  We will start here with the  prize for medicine given to the man who pioneered in vitro fertilization and enabled countless childless couple to become parents.   Cheers for Dr. Edwards!
The prize of physics went to the developers of graphene which is a fantastic form of carbon, one atom thick that may yet revolutionize technology.  Kudos to Drs. Drs. Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, for brilliant work.  Just for the record, Andre Geim was involved in an Ignobel prize  project ten years ago, the levitation of frogs by magnetic fields. .
The literature prize went to a Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa  who is another example of a dissident being recognized more abroad than at home. 

Our Neanderthal cousins have long had a bad press.  It is nice to hear that anthropologists are rethinking the stereotype and are drawing different conclusions.  The Neanderthals were apparently capable of making adjustments to environmental changes without the example of modern humans.

Artists Adrie and Alfons Kennis crafted this re-creation of a Neanderthal woman whose subspecies roamed Eurasia for almost 200,000 years. (Joe Mcnally/getty Images)  

New research is looking into the cerebral means of choosing right or left, albeit not in politics.  It seems that our brains have mechanisms for choosing which hand we use for a given task.

Recently I watched a television program featuring Steven Hawking talking about the universe.  He was fascinating and brilliant and laid out what we must do in order to survive in the long term, i.e. time scale much greater than the 5 billion years we have left to enjoy our Sun and Solar System.  He is a practicing atheist whereas Sir Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal who has just completed a term as President of the Royal Society believes in a peaceful coexistence between science and religion.  He gave an interview that is of interest.
Let us wind down with a new take on evolution from Andy Borowitz    
I also owe you two does of Below the Beltway of Gene Weingarten.  In one of them our hero tries his hand at doggerel poetry  and in another he goes in for a bit of philosophy about mortality 
in a cemetery that is respectfully used as a canine latrine.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Moadim L'Simcha, Happy Holidays and some fun

We are reaching the end of the fall Jewish Holiday season with  Succot and Simhat Torah
Succot  is a holiday on which we are commanded by God to be happy and
we do our best. We eat in tabernacles, little huts designed to
remind us of how our ancestors in our mythic history lived in
huts in the desert.

This week is marked by people traveling
around, camping, enjoying nature, all very nice. Thursday we
have the holiday of the Eighth Day, which here in Israel
coincides with Simhat Torah, the rejoicing of the completion of
the annual cycle of reading the Torah in the synagogue.
Actually in our little Reform synagogue we read the Torah in
three years, a third of each weekly portion each week. In any
case, people will dance with the scrolls and children will wave

The flags have pictures of little boys carrying Torah
scrolls. My granddaughter Maya asked a rabbi why there are no girls carrying scrolls. I doubt that she got a satisfactory answer.

The strip Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal to which Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy introduced me has a posting  starring him on how to debate with creationists, i.e. do not even try. One should never give them the legitimacy of sharing a platform. I get calls occasionally from local community TV stations to appear with Gaists, astrologers or creationists and I always refuse. This is why:
you should never appear with them

If any of you worry that our atheist friends are left out of all
the fun,  rest assured.   The strip Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal to which Phil Plait
of Bad Astronomy introduced me has good news about their faith.
The strip in general is funny and to the point, such as this
comment on how scientists can raise money to fund their labs.
It is more or less how we write proposals.

OK, enough fooling around and let us get on to the serious
stuff that Polyanna likes such as science and good news. Of
course, science can provide disturbing news as well such as the
forthcoming solar maximum in 2012-13 that should provide us
with some space pyrotechnics that will be beautiful but also
destructive. The Sun has an eleven year cycle in its activity
and during most of this decade we have been going through a
deep minimum which has been a bounty for solar physicists who
are busy learning more and more about our local star. The next
maximum will have fewer than usual sunspots, but they will be
more intense than usual and the flares caused by their merging
(they come in pairs of opposite magnetic polarity) will be
Active Sun
ferocious. Such events have happened in the past, in 1859 when
telegraphy was knocked out and 1921 when radio communications
were affected,
Now we have much more sensitive electronic and
digital infrastructure and things will be tough. For detail
look at this report

and a bit more from NASA


It appears that a magazine called Urban Realm that deals with
architecture awards a prize called the Carbuncle Award to a
town designated as the most dismal place to live in all of
Scotland. This year's "winner" was John o'Groats which declined
the Plook on the Plinth, but the runner up Denny claimed it
with eagerness.  I wonder at the
inertia that causes people to stay in such places, but on the
other hand, all the nice places would be overcrowded if all
fled the plooks. I wonder what Pollyanna would have said about
these places. BTW, I recommend a google search for plook.


The existence of water on the primordial Earth has been
attributed to comets that bombarded it. Not astronomers have
found the minerals that form in the presence of liquid water in
the dusty disks surrounding young stars. This can provide a
clue as to how the phyllosilcates came to Earth. Science News
also gave the article a catchy title.
In two weeks, I shall participate on my other blog in the WATER DAY of the world blogger
community whose subject this year is water.
 In WWII near the end the Germans came close to putting up an
 aircraft that might have changed the course of the war.  It is
 both frightening and  fascinating to read about it now.
 They also had a jet fighter and bomber of conventional design,
 but by the time there were ready to go into production Germany
 had run out of pilots to fly them and could not train them
 fast enough.  In general, fuel and other resources ran out and
 the Reich collapsed, thank God.  Thanks to Yoav for calling
 this story to my attention.

In the last blog I complained, with documentation, about the
prevalence of smoking in public places in Israel. It appears
that the prohibition if enforced properly can have major
positive public health effects. In Scotland the incidence of
asthma among children has decreased in the wake of the 
smoking ban

A MAGIC HAND Some of us were at some stage in our lives faithful readers of a little magazine called
MAD. It features great political satire and a character called Alfred E. Neuman--of course, just like
the samizdat, but in America out in the open, it was a mostly Jewish send up of the establishment of the
day. One of the greatest cartoonists of MAD was Al Jaffee, still around at 90. A  biography of his mad
mad life has just been published. I append a review  from Forward. I intend to get the

JUPITER IS NEAR or relatively so. We are having an opposition and since the orbits of both Earth and
Jupiter are slightly eccentric, the distances can vary.. This is as close as we have been since 1951 or
will be until 2022; Read all about it and go outside after sunset and gaze at the eastern sky. With
binoculars you might get a glimpse of Uranus as well.


Each blog I try to dig up something in science that challenges
conventional and received wisdom. Today it is the barium  that
is located in a star that has no business containing it because
the star is too old. I admire the people who do the analysis to
come up with results that that make scientists scratch their
heads and go back to the proverbial drawing board. Indeed, the
issues of the fine structure constant and radioactive decay
rate variation are still up in the air and confirmation is
still pending. On the other hand, careful isotope analysis with a
very sophisticated instrument
of an old star gives a solid result that has to be explained and
indeed some explanations are coming up.

It is great news that the genome of
chocolate has been mapped and we addicts can feel at home. It
is indeed not a trivial matter and it is hoped that the
information gleaned will be useful for protection of the cacao
trees and helpful to the economic well being of the farmers in
the Third World who produce it.

This blog has become too long and perhaps I should go back to
weekly posting. Comments are invited. In the meantime, join a
political protest that Pollyanna would have liked--Andy
 Borowitz has the details. Gene
Weingarten has some sad words on the demise of English. He
should come to Israel where Hebrew after being a dead language
for 2,000 years was resurrected for a while and has died again,
Let us close with a 130 year old picture, the first taken
of the Orion Nebula.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Pollyanna prepares for Yom Kippur

Ashkenazi Jews at Yom Kippur in 19th century Central Europe from a painting by Gottlieb.

Yom Kippur is coming up and traditionally Jews go to synagogue, vid. this image and think about their actions during the past year.  This shows a 19th synagogue in Europe.  There is another tradition that has grown up in Israel amongst those who do not participate in the religious aspects of the holiday.  Since no one drives on this day except for ambulance and fire truck drivers, the highways are empty and are filled with bicycle riders.  Here is a shot of the Ayalon Freeway in Tel Aviv near the crossing of the Yarkon River.
This is also a form of introspection.
Thanks to Hadass for a very appropriate Rosh Hashana card:

OK, that is as much as I am going to copy from the nasty blog.  You may read my comments on my personal Yom Kippur   there if you wish.



As most of you know, my daughter Zohar is a faculty member in the Department of Psychology at Haifa University where she researches brain function and cognition.  A few years ago she did some work on the cognitive burden of learning to read Arabic and the research has now generated a major splash.  As you may imagine, I am extremely proud of her. For details of the research, I refer you to Science Daily  which is one of the many media outlets that picked up on the story.  You can find the original articles by means of Google Scholar.

Have you ever walked in the woods in the Northland with a partner and wondered why the mosquitoes prefer you to her?  Of course DEET puts them off and if both of you are sprayed then it should not put you off one another.  Now our friendly folks of biology have delved into the issue and have come up with what the little critters do to make their choice of whom to bite.   It appears that they have olfactory sensors that enable them to spot the potential victim. as described in this somewhat humorous but quite informative article.   For the record, I am a very tasty host and when I am around Yosefa gets off.  Sexism?

Before heading off to the world of astronomy, here again is something new of biological interest.  It appears that one of the well established theories of how evolution works, kin selection,
Honeybees, a big happy family
has come under attack and the community is in a furor, which is of course good for science.  As a biology layman, I would not care to comment one way or the other, but the issue is most interesting.

These days many strange things come up in physics and established concepts are challenged very often.  One concept with which we have all grown up is that radioactive decay rates are constant.  Now some data have come up that would, if validated, indicate otherwise and possibly involve previously unknown particles from the Sun.  One of the people connected with the strange story is an old colleague of mine, Peter Sturrock a solar physicist  from Stanford, also an emeritus now.
Peter came into this story by accident, but is now quite engrossed.  It has to do with radioactive dating by  anthropologists and it may lead to a revolution in physics.  It also may lead nowhere if the results turn out to be an artifact of data analysis.  Stay tuned!

While we are into the possible lack of constancy of the constants of physics,  we must consider the fate of another pillar--the fine structure constant.  It is essential that it be constant if physics is to be the same in the entire universe.  Now there are some results that appear to indicate otherwise.
Naturally the result is controversial and also may be related to errors in data analysis.  Much more study is required before the community will accept this phenomenon as real.

  We are told that diamonds are forever, which is probably true since the theory of proton decay has not been verified.
   Now a star has been discovered with  a mass of a bit less than that of the Sun and it is just one huge chunk of compressed carbon, i.e. a diamond of about 10^33 carats.  Astronomers have decided to call the star "Lucy" after the Beatles song, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.
  The BBC has details of the discovery.

We have been having company.  Two small asteroids flew between the Earth and the Moon within hours of each other on September 8.  It may sound a bit uncomfortable, but this happens all the time.
and there are dedicated telescopes and cameras on asteroid patrol.  The media made more of it than the asteroid research community did.


I find the new images of Dione, a satellite of Saturn that has undergone eons of meteorite and asteroid bombardment, to be more interesting.  In the stellar world, we have something quite surprising to the professionals, gamma rays from a garden variety nova, i.e. a small exploding star.  These highly energetic rays have always been associated with supernovae, the big guys that really whack the galaxy. A recent discovery has shown that nature can always surprise us.  It is also a sign of our times that new discoveries of this type, which are impossible from the ground, are made by telescopes in space and we regard that as commonplace.
I hope I have not bored anyone with this stuff which is what helps to keep me happy and full of hope in this non-Pollyanna world.  Let us wind up with Andy Borowitz and Gene Weingarten to introduce a lighter element

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Pollyanna is back from her happy vacation, September 1, 2010

שנה טובה
عيد  سعيد

Happy Holidays Rosh Hashana and Eid to all who celebrate at this time of year.

Yes, we are back with Pollyanna here and the bad guy over there.
We can start with a five part series from the NYTimes that we found of interest and we hope you do as well.  I will not spoil your enjoyment by commenting.  It indeed gives much food for thought.

Now that you have spent some of your precious time reading the above, we can go on to keep you happy and out of mischief.  Before that, however, I am going to include a beef and rant here about something that many of us dislike and suffer--passive smoking.  Even Pollyanna would not be glad about this.  In Israel, it is out of hand in too many places.  Yes, we have more or less cleaned out universities and some restaurants, but if you want to hear good jazz you usually have to put up with poisoning by your neighbors.  In Germany, smoking has been outlawed on railway ramps and in the US in stadia.  Here you are invited cordially to choke.  For a documented rant I refer you to this article in the Jerusalem Post.

Field Medal:
For the first time ever an Israeli mathematician has been awarded the prestigious Field Medal.  Congratulations of all the medalists.  The father of the Israeli winner was a classmate of mine, i.e. he studied math while I studied physics at the Hebrew University in the late 1950's and early 1960's.  Eilon Lindenstrauss and the Israeli science Nobelists are the products of an education system that is no more.  In the interest of egalitarianism, the governments of the last few decades have systematically degraded the level of education  in the country.  There is, however, some hope that this trend may be about to be reversed.  
Let us all hope this is true and that things will improve for the next generation of children growing up in our country.
I would like to share a few thoughts of the woman who took some Palestinian girls for a fun day in Tel Aviv.  This is not political, just some nice thinking. and maybe a hope for our future.
 There has been much discussion about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.   There are new studies that indicate that this is an overused diagnosis.  I do not claim to be anything of an expert, but I am posting this in the hope that someone may find this article interesting and comment.

Missing matter can be a problem if you are trying to manage a universe.  The search for it can take you to some very strange places and you never know what you might find.   Let us wish them good luck in their search.
The floods in Pakistan have killed over a thousand people and displaced millions.  Please take a minute, open your heart and pocket to help these victims.
For those of us who like science fiction (not scientific fiction), Ray Bradbury has long been an iconic figure.  He just had a  birthday (90) and it was marked by the Planetary Society and people from around the world.  I join in the good wishes to someone who has given me a great deal of pleasure over the years.


We all remember the Winnie the Poo story  of how our little bear friend got his head stuck in a jar of "hunny" and had trouble getting it out.  We have a story of such a case from the real world and it is worth a read.

Little Jarhead from Florida would have died of starvation if the plastic jar into which  he had poked his silly little head  had not been removed.  The video is interesting as well.  Kudos to the good people who saved his life.

Steven Hawking has come out with a warning that we soon will not have a planet on which to live.  Indeed we have overpopulated it, exploited it and polluted it.  His solution to the problem is very drastic, i.e. get out of here, but his point is well taken that we are in serious danger of extinction.  I know Pollyanna would not agree, but even on this blog we need to face reality.

Andy Borowitz  is a worthy competitor to Gene Weingarten so I will give you both.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Last blog before Canada! July 6-8, 2010

LAST BLOG FOR A FEW WEEKS:  (I apologize for the crazy fonts, this blogger software has a mind of its own.)

We are going off to Canada on Sunday to spend some time with Hadass, David and kids at Riding Mountain National Park in Manitoba

 It should be a nice relaxing experience for all of us and we are looking forward to it.  For ten days we will not see a newspaper with a quote from Lieberman.  If we blog with the Acer, it will be on the YandA  blog and people who are interested will be informed of posting and can log in and be bored.

The world cup is down to the  finals with the Dutch and the Spaniards squaring off on Sunday, while we, alas, fly over the Atlantic.  Maybe Air Canada will show us the match--watch a FIFA slide show.  I agree with Roger Cohen that there is something attractive about the ethnically diverse German team that sent the stars of Latin America packing.  Still, I have some residual sympathy for The Netherlands with memories of visits there when Hadass was a student.   Poor Uruguay carried a heavy burden for a whole continent.but it comes down to Europe this time.  The match between Spain and Germany surprised a bit.  The Germans did not seem to be the same players who trashed England and Argentina.  The Spaniards are the European Champions and showed the quality.
It really comes down to money--you see the best players from all over the world playing in the Premier Leagues of Europe because that is where the money is.  There are European players, such as Beckham, who play in the MLS in the USA  but for them it is mainly a retirement league.

Before we continue with nice things, I would like to share with you an interview with the filmmaker
Michael Moore

He makes a valid point that being a citizen in a democracy automatically involves being an activist.  Without activism, there is no democracy.  Tom Paine had the same idea.  So let us wish a happy birthday to a great activist whom I have long admired, His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Please sign the greeting provided by our friends from AVAAZ.

Two more birthdays fall this week on July 7.  Gustav Mahler age 150  and Ringo Starr age 70.
As we know, Gustav wrote some cool drum music, but he never got the marketing opportunities that Ringo has enjoyed over the years.


I have some interesting links for you for the next few weeks

With the 4th of July just behind us, it is interesting to see what analysis of the
original of the Declaration of Independence can tell us of the mindset of Thomas Jefferson
as he wrote it. 

The Planck Orbiting Observatory has just released its picture of the galaxy-for more details see the Bad Astronomy blog along side.  Planck observes the sky from the far infrared all the way out to near radio frequencies, detecting cold gas and dust, star forming regions, and even the subtle and cooling glow of the background fire from the Big Bang itself. In this image, infrared is blue, and the longer wavelengths (out toward the radio part of the spectrum) are progressively more red. It shows the whole sky, which is why the image is an oval; that keeps the map from getting too distorted (like how maps of the Earth are distorted near the edges).
  Because this picture records only light at long wavelengths (microwaves to the very far infrared), what we actually see are not stars at all.  Rather, what we see is the stuff that goes into making stars - lots of dust and gas.Of particular note are the huge streamers of cold dust that reach thousands of light-years above and below the galactic plane.
"What you see is the structure of our galaxy in gas and dust, which tells us an awful lot about what is going on in the neighborhood of the Sun; and it tells us a lot about the way galaxies form when we compare this to other galaxies," observed Professor Andrew Jaffe, a Planck team member from Imperial College London, UK.
But as beautiful as the Milky Way appears, its emission must be removed if scientists are to get an even better view of its mottled backdrop, colored here in magenta and yellow 
Too wonderful for words.

In the meantime, we still do not know whether the Japanese comet sample return mission was successful--we are eager to see if Hayabusa brought home the goodies. 

From the Big to the small, inside us in fact:  For the past few blogs I have been telling you how physics is being stood on its head.  It now appears that biology and biochemistry will have to revamp their  picture of 
how enzymes function inside a cell.  
As Alice said, everything is getting curiouser and curiouser  It seems that even evolution can happen faster than ever believed
given the right stimulus, such as the need for adaptation of Tibetans to altitude and our tolerance of lactose..
Dreams have long been a mystery.  Freud wrote a book about them as have many others since.  Even in the Bible, Pharaoh's dreams had political results.  Now there is new research about dreams
and their role in problem solving in the waking world. 
Bad news for folks  with blood pressure issues.   
Fructose may be another source of trouble.

Bouncing Feynman around
This is a cool experiment
that Feynman would have liked even if it proved him wrong and here is something close to home
that is of particular interest to us.

Bob Park rants, but he rants on something non-political, so I put him here
to continue to spread the world on cell phones and fairy tales. 

 The rant blog was terrible, as it is every week.  Even   Below the Beltway is 
a bit sad this week as we see another legend of our past get trashed, this time literally.  

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Nice blog for end of June, June 29, 2010

 For the nasty stuff  go to  the old blog...


The round of sixteen, or what some call the 1/8 final, has provided some great football to watch.  It has also shown some rather poor  officiating.  The NFL in the USA (American football) has gone hot and cold on instant replay technology  Now a coach has two challenges per half and is sanctioned if he loses the challenge.  A similar debate on goal line technology has been raging on BBC and elsewhere.  I think a small camera could be embedded in the goal post and be used to confirm all goals, as needed.  OTOH, I do not think we should interrupt the flow of the game for every tough and possibly illegal challenge.  What do you think??  Was a Spanish player off side when the goal against Portugal was scored? 

The French team showed us how not to play in a Mondial.
and how not to behave in public.  Now Sarkozy is just making it worse.
I would hate to see French football suspended from international play because of political interference.

There have been questions raised about the ball used in this World Cup tournament.  Science at CalTech is having  its say about this...It really should not matter for the results since both teams play with the same ball, but perhaps some of the goalkeeper mishaps can be blamed on the ball..  I am reminded of a statement on a can of Wilson tennis balls, "victory with Wilson balls," as if the opponent were playing with Spaldings....
I doubt whether an event like the World Cup tournament could ever be held without complaints about a multitude of sins.  

Have you ever wondered where a word comes from?  Is a preposition a good word to end a sentence with?  Are you saying fiddlesticks as you read my nonsense?  Go to Michael Quinion's blog and enjoy cool stuff.


We have some good news from AVAAZ about the IWC meeting.  This is usually on the rant blog, but I will put it on both this week and hope folks will come up with some cash for the cause.  of protection of whales.
The picture shows our petition being delivered to the Australian  environment minister

Normally the rants go on the bad  blog, but there are three  issues here that are not political and are worthy of attention.  One is the anti-vaccination movement that has struck down
new victims in California,  
another is  the superstition about cell phone dangers and the third is the real danger of genetically modified food.


Now we can get on to the nice stuff.  People have long wondered about the French paradox--why they eat all that good fatty food and the Brits and Yanks get cholesterol and heart attacks.  It has been proposed that speaking English will do you in, but now some light has been shed on a component of wine, resveratrol found in grapes, peanuts and wine   which is apparently  the agent of benefit.   I shall watch the Mondial with wine and peanuts instead of beer and popcorn.  Well, maybe the next games...

Neutrinos are funny little critters and have bugged physicists for a long time.  Now they appear about to stand particle physics on its head.  As if we did not have enough confusion with entanglements and causality in big trouble as I reported a few weeks ago;  Now new experiments are making life interesting for physicists. 

Beware the Pee
Biologists have long noted that different challenge stimuli evoke different reactions in animals in conflict situations.  It now appears that the signals  are in the urine protein composition and the same protein evokes a different reaction according to its source.  Mice will flee from rat or cat protein, but if they sense it from another mouse, they prepare to fight.  Lab mice that have never encountered a cat, for countless generations, panic when exposed to cat MUP (major urinary protein). 

It is nice to report the release of a Sri Lankan journalist who was sentenced to a long prison term for telling the truth about the civil war.  The world wide outcry led, among others, by Amnesty International, caused the government to back down. 

Let us wind up with Below the Beltway and the sort of commencement address I never received.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Happy Birthday Ari, June 22, 2010

THIS IS THE HAPPY HALF of my weekly blog, designed for people who like Polyanna would prefer not to be subjected to the seamy side of our life, at least not by me.  Nonetheless, the other side exists and I have a need to write it, as best expressed by the Noble Prize winning physicist, James Franck, who tried to maintain a moral world after he had participated in the Manhattan Project.  I quote him:

 In February 1946 Franck wrote to Max Born, in English, about
his reluctance to become involved in political matters.

    I would be quite content . . . if only my conscience would
    not force me to take a stand on a few political issues. I
    hate to be involved in anything political; I hate
    publicity, but I just cannot retire into the ivory tower of
    free research and forget about the world. And, of course,
    at our age we are probably more pessimistic than the young
    people. Even I am not consistent in my pessimistic point of
    view, because I have an elementary joy in each new
    grandchild, and feel that whenever I have the opportunity I
    am a kind of professional grandfather.

Last week we announced Ari's forthcoming birthday, but we can do it again
and wish him all the best.  For those of us who recall his difficult entry into the world, it is as true source of delight to see this wonderful (objective grandpa, right?) 11 year old.

Valery was an old friend and I am sorry about her death.  She had a long and good life despite living in the USSR.  She was always nice and friendly to me despite the fact that to her bosses all Israelis were lepers.  I pass on an obituary from Margy Kivelson:
From: Margaret G. Kivelson

With great sadness, we report that our colleague, Valery
Troitskaya, passed away in Melbourne, Australia, on January 22,
2010, at age 92. Valeria died at Kew Gardens Retirement Village
in Melbourne, Australia where she resided with her husband
Keith Cole. She was a well known Russian scientist, respected
and loved all over the world. She understood early that much
could be learned about space plasmas by characterizing their
natural oscillations and devoted her scientific career to
exploiting that perception.

Born in Petrograd (St. Petersburg) on November 15, 1917, in the
Soviet era, Valery obtained a Masters in Geophysics from
Leningrad State University in 1940 and a Ph.D. from the
Institute of Physics of the Earth in Moscow in 1953,
specializing in the study of geomagnetic micropulsations
(magnetic pulsations in current parlance) - naturally occurring
Ultra Low Frequency (ULF) sinusoidal variations of the
geomagnetic field with periods of about one second to ten
minutes as recorded on ground-based magnetic instrumentation.
She remained at the Institute of the Physics of the Earth until
1989, serving as Chairman of the Electromagnetics Department
for the last 27 years.

Valerie was active in many international scientific
organizations including IAGA (International Association for
Geomagnetism and Aeronomy), IUGG (International Union for
Geodesy and Geophysics) and COSPAR (Committee on Space
Research). Author of more than 300 scientific articles, Valery
received many awards at home and abroad.

Valery's first husband was Alexander Waisenberg, a noted
nuclear physicist. They had twin children, Katia and Peter. Her
husband died in 1985. Some years later (1989), she married the
well-known scientist, Keith Cole, and moved to Melbourne,
Australia where she became an Honorary Professor at La Trobe

Valery's many admirers will remember her for her scientific
acumen coupled with deep concerns for the welfare of her
friends and colleagues. Messages of condolence may be directed
to Keith Cole (Kew Gardens Aged Care Facility, 22-24 Gellibrand
Street, Kew, Victoria 3101, Australia or by email care of his
son and to Valery's daughter, Katia
Nazarova (

[This announcement with the photo is available online at .]

This past week was marked by much beautiful music.  On Thursday night we went to the Enav Center to hear a group called the Israel Chamber Project.   Go to their Web site for videos.
This is a group of young musicians who gave us a modern Israeli piece, some Debussy, a Martinu sonata and the Archduke himself.  We followed it up with the canonical ice cream cones at the wonderful gelato place across the street on Ibn Gavirol.

Saturday night it was the Israel Philharmonic's turn to make us happy.  Emmanuel Ax came to play and we heard:
Series: Gala
Conductor: David Robertson
Soloists: Emanuel Ax, pianist
Prokofiev: Symphony no. 1 ("Classical")
Chopin: Piano Concerto no. 2
Ligetti: Concert Romanesque
Szymanowski: Symphony no. 4 for piano and orchestra

It was amusing that they changed the order of the pieces with Prokofiev at the beginning, Chopin at the end and the modern pieces in the middle to keep our "open minded" Tel Aviv audience in the hall. 
A beautiful experience.

I  had a nice skype with Hadass and Shira.  They all started their Maya fix on Sunday.  We will get her later in the week.


It appears that our neighboring planet might have been a nice place in the past.  We have two indications of past water, one from analysis of surface features
and the other from chemistry at Spirit. 
which is somewhat more convincing.  The probe itself
is still stuck in sand, but the data are there to be mined for treasure.


Some new experiments are giving us insight into how life might have come about on Earth and how it might come about elsewhere.  I find this mind-boggling.
I expect that some of our more literal-minded religious friends might not like this.  I know that Origin of Life research at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, where God is the President, is disguised by other names such as crystal formation etc.  That was not a rant!

Who needs soccer when you can play dominoes?  Will we soon have world tournaments in tiddly winks?

As you all know I earn my pension from Saturn/Cassini research.  I would like to share with you something that my imaging team colleagues came up with a few years ago.  They asked the public to vote for the most stunning image of Saturn.  I append the results of the contest.
which I am sure you will enjoy.  This image was the winner,

a solar eclipse seen from Saturn with the Earth in the rings.  And to wind things up, here is Gene Weingarten in
Below the Beltway
to keep you happy.  I even put it him on the nasty blog for the jaundiced souls who read only the mean stuff.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Introducing the Pollyanna blog of nice things

The most notable pleasant events coming up this month are the
arrival of Maya (she has changed a bit since this photo was taken)

for her home leave visit from Oregon and 
the 11th birthday of Ari

on June 21. Maya will be in Winnipeg
on the birthday and then fly home. We are looking forward to
seeing her. I most strongly recommend taking a look at her blog
entitled Ma'am right alongside this one.

OK, let us start with some fun with science:

I  suspect that all of you have lost sleep wondering how salt water
crocodiles that are very poor swimmers managed to populate so many islands
scattered all over the oceans.  Well relax, the answer has been found and indeed they surf.

Look what a cute creature he is.


Here is a little capsule with a  big story.  It is the sample return package of the Hayabusa
asteroid mission carried to asteroid Itokawa.  Some ten years ago a NASA spacecraft NEAR landed on the asteroid Eros (on Valentine's Day 2000),  but  this is the first asteroid sample return.  This is extremely important since while there is scant probability of an asteroid collision with Earth, the results of such an event would be so cataclysmic that we have to know how we might divert an asteroid.  We already know from NEAR that asteroids are fluffy which means that mounting rockets on them will not do the trick nor will blowing them up.  So kudos to the Japanese Space Agency JAXA and their NASA collaborators.  The links tell the story better than I could.  It had a spectacular return to Earth.    It is great news that the capsule has been recovered in the Australian Outback.  and is on its way home to Japan.  More on this blog from Emily Lakdawalla .  Of course there is always suspense until the capsule is opened.  Let us hope material was taken despite a malfunctioning at the time.
Follow the official blog.

There have long been claims that we Jews are some sort of Europeans or mixed breed and do not belong here.  Recent genetic studies appear to refute that and show that both Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews trace back to ancient Near East populations.  Of course, we have also intermarried with our neighbors over the centuries, but the unique genetic markers seem to be holding.  


I have long been a drinker of green tea both because I like it and because I have been told it is good for me.  It is now becoming known how good for us it really is.
So pour out the green tea and enjoy with dark chocolate which is also good for you...


Of course all of us have had the experience of a sudden insight in which a problem that had seemed intractable suddenly clears up and things fall into place.  We call it the aha moment and it is really great when it happens, alas too seldom.  It is nice to know that someone had some sudden insight into sudden insight and devised an experiment to test it.  It appears that we share these glorious moments in our lives with laboratory rats, but so what.
why deny the little critters their share of the fun.
Of course, you might get a different insight if you smoke a bit of pot that the doctor ordered for you...

It has generally been accepted that predators on land and sea move around randomly until they stumble upon a prey cue.  Now there is evidence that sharks use fractal mathematics to find dinner which is quite interesting.  You can imagine that this would be an adaptive advantage in the evolutionary sense and the trait would survive.  There is still debate about the finding,

but it is fascinating to think about.

We can wind this up with some deep philosophy by Dr. Gene Weingarten of Below the Beltway fame

OK, this is my second stab at a happy blog.  The masochists among you are invited to the nasty stuff at the arkee-titan blog.
Comments on the new split format are welcome on either blog.  Thank you Maya and Judy for your kind words.