Cluster Map

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.