Cluster Map

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.