Cluster Map

Friday, April 29, 2011

Here comes Pollyanna again

You have not had a Pollyanna blog for quite a while.  She went to the US earlier this month as described last week by Titan and will now try to help us all be glad about something.
One thing she certainly is glad about, despite  its political nature, is the Palestinian reconciliation. announced today by Fatah and Hamas.   The concern raised in Israel is not realistic since Abbas will continue to handle the negotiations with Israel.  The talk that this will get Natanyahu off the hook with respect to the occupation and settlement building is IMHO silly.
Pollyanna is upset, as she should be, at what is happening to the beloved and famous Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei

who has been "disappeared" by the Chinese government.  Normally she does not push petitions which is something she leaves to her brother Titan, but she is making an exception in this case.

How let us get on to the things that Pollyanna really likes.  In Egypt a new statue of Pharaoh Amenhotep III has been discovered.  Yosefa and I visited his tomb when we were in the Valley of the Kings a few years ago.  He was the father of Ikhnaton the proto-monotheist Pharaoh and the grandfather of King Tutankhamen known to his buddies as King Tut. 
Meet His Majesty Amenhotep III
Welcome to Lake Vostok in whose icy waters strange creatures lurk.

Scientists who study life in  extreme environments have found microbes  that appear to have two levels of metabolism: a survival metabolism in which they remain alive but become dormant until exposed to nutrients or higher temperatures, or, a maintenance metabolism for steady sustained growth.  Click on the link and read all about it.  Pollyanna and I find it mind boggling.

Physics is weird as we have been saying here for quite a while  We talked in the past about the troubles besetting the incompatible relationship between special relativity and causality.  The search for a Theory of Everything makes looking for  the Holy Grail seem easy.
One of the valiant attempts to make sense of our world lies in SuperString Theory which has yet to find full verification but has many adherents.
 It tries to pull all the forces together. and pins hopes on the Large Hadron Collider. 
Because the LHC and any future colliders can carry physicists only so far back toward the moment just after the Big Bang, science’s understanding of a unified theory is ultimately going to have to come from exploring the vastness of the universe. Some physicists wonder if such a strategy, which relies on finding and interpreting clues left behind by nature, can produce results comparable to the high-precision experimental data that led to the Standard Model during the 20th century.  But string theory is not 20th century science — in fact, string theorist Edward Witten has described it as “21st century physics that fell accidentally into the 20th century.” Now that the 21st century has arrived, it’s string theory’s time to be put to the test.  Pollyanna is eagerly awaiting the results.

If you found the preceding paragraph weird, consider this.  Space and time are things we live with intuitively, yet they are not simple entities.  Einstein showed us that space and time are linked and created a four dimensional entity called spacetime that gave verified predictions and provided a framework for Big Bang theory of the cosmos.  It appear, however, as measurement techniques become more refined, that SpaceTime may not be the  fundamental entity of which the universe is composed.   This interesting article provides a bit of insight about what might constitute the ultimate fabric of the universe in which we live.  At least thinking about this takes your mind off politics which is something about which we may be glad.  Of course, to confuse things and to show that the LHC is not alone in the field. the US Tevatron may have found a new and unknown particle that may indicate a new force in nature, if confirmed of course.
Welcome to the world little eagles! Normally it is not nice to infringe on privacy, but these new parents are probably not bothered by it. It is fascinating to watch the hatching of eagle eggs as observed by a Webcam planted in the nest. A few years ago I saw something similar with storks nesting in the belfry of a cathedral in Prague. Have a peek at Bald Eagle family life.
CONSIDER THE TRAVELING SALESMAN PROBLEM: For a given number of cities, a traveling salesman must plan a route that visits each city once, covering the minimum possible overall distance.  The best human mathematical minds have not solved it when there are many targets, but animals and immune cells in the body manage quite well with it by means of incomplete information and limited cognitive skills.  It is interesting to see see how this works.   I recall seeing long ago an operations research article in the Bell Labs Journal about emptying phone booth boxes in upstate New York.  On one hand it was costly to empty them too often, but the level of customer dissatisfaction also needed to be minimized--nice problem in balancing coupled partial differential equations.
In the past I promised you book reviews of Pollyanna's choice but she has been delinquent.   I would like to call your attention to a new popular book about the seas, written by a prominent NOAA scientist Bruce Parker. It is particular interest in view of the tsunami in Japan that gave us some idea of how puny we are compared to Nature.   Here is the Website with reviews.
A new biography of Amadeo Modigliani by Meryle Secrest has come out and has in general been moderately well received. Unfortunately I cannot share the New Yorker review by Peter Schjeldahl because of their access rules. Subscribers can find it in the March 7 issue or online. . He gives the book a better review than does Holland  Cotter published March 18, 2011 in the New York Times while Christopher Benfey,  posted in Slate Wednesday, March 9, 2011 is quite critical.  Both of the latter two take issue with Secrest's reinterpretation of the role of alcohol and drugs in Modigliani's life  Her idea is that he used them to cover up the fact that he suffered from tuberculosis and thereby to avoid the social ostracism entailed by an infectious disease.    For me Modigliani was an acquired taste. I did not have the teenage epiphany described by both Schjeldahl and Secrest, but came to admire his work later. This picture adorns my office wall at the University:
OK, enough blathering even for Pollyanna.  I will however share the latest birther scandals from Andy Borowitz  and The Onion (thanks Judy) along with Gene Weingarten's dabblings in solipsism .  I might mention that there have been solipsists in my family in the past...

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