Cluster Map

Friday, February 15, 2013

Pollyanna thinks, therefore she is..

Pollyanna is back and is very glad that our celestial visitor 2012 DA14, an asteroid about 45 m in size and about 130,000 tons in mass, passed by on Feb. 15 but did not drop in.
On Feb. 15, the small asteroid 2012 DA14 will pass the Earth, similar to this artwork (which uses a real image of both Earth and the asteroid Matilde).
Image credits: Earth: ESA/Rosetta; asteroid Mathilde: NASA/NEAR

It flew past inside the belt of communication satellites that occupy the synchronous or stationary orbit. (A geostationary orbit (GEO) is a circular geosynchronous orbit in the plane of the Earth's equator with a radius of approximately 42,164 km (26,199 mi) (measured from the center of the Earth). A satellite in such an orbit is at an altitude of approximately 35,786 km (22,236 mi) above mean sea level.) Our asteroid friend came in at about 27,000 km from the surface.
Credit: Guardian graphics

There is enough to worry about without having to consider an asteroid impact, even if you are not a dinosaur. Pollyanna  was also pleased with President Obama's State of the Union speech which had some good news  for us liberal types.

This just in--a large meteor has exploded over Russia and hundreds of people were injured. This is not connected with the asteroid just described. It was apparently a bolide, an extraterrestrial body ranging in size from 0.6 to 6 miles, or 1-10 km across that hits Earth at velocities faster than a speeding bullet. It may have been caused by the breakup of a small asteroid.
As usual, we refer you to our Miriam Shlesinger Human Rights Action blog. Please open it and help the people who are so much in need of support in their trials and tribulations at the hands of oppressive regimes and corporations.


As you know, both Titan and Pollyanna rant about the war on women and about what is happening to women around the world whether or not you get tired of it. If it really bores you, then go out and do something about it in your environment. This week, we return the focus to Latin America and call your attention to the plight of women in Mexico and Colombia.
Women demonstrating in Colombia
We note that the 204th birthday of Charles Darwin took place on February 12. By coincidence, Abraham Lincoln was born on the same day. It seems that 1809 was a bumper year for great babies since Felix Mendelssohn was also born during that year. In 2009, the inaugural Darwin Day was established, celebrating the bicentennial of the naturalist’s birth, and the sesquicentennial (150 year anniversary) of the publication of his landmark treatise, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.

For those who would like a less dumbed-down biography of Darwin, click here.


 If anyone is looking for a job, one has become vacant in Rome with the resignation of  Pope Benedict XVI .
Pope Benedict XVI delivers the Urbi et Orbi (to the city and to the world) Christmas Day message from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City on December 25, 2012. UPI/Stefano Spaziani
Pope Benedict XVI delivers the Urbi et Orbi (to the city and to the world) Christmas Day message from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City on December 25, 2012. UPI/Stefano Spaziani

The job includes luxurious housing, but entails celibacy which might not sit (or lie) well with some possible applicants. 
Of course, the food is good as well.  The resignation of a pope is rare, but not unprecedented. In fact, it has happened  nine times in the past   The last instance was that of Pope Gregory XII who abdicated in 1415 to end the Great Western Schism.

The fortune cookie provided at the end of a meal in Chinese restaurants was supposed, among other things, to be a predictor of getting laid after dinner. No longer-the fortune cookie has been cleaned up and will no longer contain sexually suggestive messages. This is a result of complaints of parents who thought the messages their children were getting to be inappropriate. We recall that our Maya, at age two, got a cookie that told her the truth, "you are surrounded by those who love you." The comedian Alan King claims to have found the message, "help, I am being held prisoner in a Chinese bakery."

The question is raised what is the longest word in English and Clyde thinks he has the answer.

Unfortunately, we are told by Michael Quinion that a longer word has popped up in the meantime. We quote, for those too lazy or busy to follow the link: "The word’s main function is to be trotted out as an example of a long word (it was the longest in the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary but was edged out in the second by pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis). " Take a deep breath before starting to say it...

Several years ago vandals in Winnipeg smeared tar on the sign outside a Jewish day care center. The teacher dissolved it easily with Coca Cola which tells you something about that stuff. We wonder why there was any at hand in a day care center, but that is another issue We note  that a coroner's jury in New Zealand has held the drink responsible for the death of a 30-year old woman. Of course, the lady drank 10 liters per day of the junk.  We think that  much can be said for water and fruit juice.
The coroner called on soft drinks firms to carry more warnings about the risks of sugar and caffeine

 The company of course claims that there is no real proof of the complicity of their product in the death.

You might  find it interesting to read about a little parasite known as Toxoplasma gondii that can invade the brain of a human being and subtly influence the personality of the host.

T. gondii parasites hunkered down in a brain cyst (shown in a mouse) can keep an infection alive.
 It can be lethal for mice since it causes them to lose their fear of cats.

Cells containing DNA have emerged as the first evidence of life in a subglacial lake in West Antarctica. On January 28, a U.S. research team retrieved water from Lake Whillans, which sits 800 meters below the ice surface. The water hosted a surprising bounty of living cells. These cells join a large panoply of living entities in extreme environments such as the organisms discovered deep under the sea floor. One day, analyzing the deep biosphere may help NASA and other space agencies in their hunt for life elsewhere in the solar system. At North Pond, (a region in the Pacific about 22 degrees north of the equator) expedition scientists have tested out a new tool that, once lowered into a borehole, illuminates the hole’s walls using ultraviolet light. Because living cells turn fluorescent at specific wavelengths, the light can be used to spot films of organic matter coating the hole. This probe, or some elaboration on it, could end up flying on future space missions. And then the intraterrestrials could help scientists find extraterrestrials.

Genetic evidence shows that there must have been some interbreeding between us and our Neanderthal predecessors.

The length of time modern humans (Homo sapiens) and Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) overlapped in Europe has been a keenly debated topic in recent times. When did you last date a Neanderthal? (Fifth amendment protection is not provided.) A long overlap raises important questions about the extent to which we might have interbred with them, and possibly even contributed to their eventual demise. Analysis of the Neanderthal genome indicates that as much as 4% of our genetic makeup can be attributed to them.
Gibraltar Neanderthal skull
DNA studies confirm there was some mixing between Neanderthals and modern humans

The lowly neutrino, long considered a mere curio of particle physics, has been making a spectacular return to center stage. New data appear to indicate that it played a significant role in the early universe and may provide the answer to one of the most vexing questions in science, namely why are we here? If the early universe consisted of roughly equal portions of matter and antimatter, one might have expected them to annihilate one another and leave a sterile world of radiation. Obviously this did not happen and the neutrino may hold the key to the victory of matter over antimatter.
View larger image | One of the surprising properties of neutrinos is their ability to switch identities, or oscillate, over time. Antimatter versions also oscillate.

  This lovely animated video was sent to us by Yosefa, thank you very much.

What If? asks: If the Hubble telescope were aimed at the Earth, how detailed would the images be? The answer is not very good. Military spy satellites view the Earth much better.

 How many of us spend too much time at the computer, doing things like writing blogs as Pollyanna and Titan dictate etc. It is a fairly common problem.
 Dilbert for 2/10/2013

We suspect that Gene Weingarten must have raised a daughter up to her teens at least. We dedicate this sequence to all such fathers:

Friday, February 1, 2013

Pollyanna in the rain

Pollyanna, like the rest of  us, is drenched with rain these days, but has hopes for blue skies to come.

We will settle for this

Pollyanna is back and would like to cheer you up by pretending we did not have an election and that the world is full of things that we can be glad about--OK, that is a Pollyannaism and that is what we do on alternate weeks. Titan did enough reality last week to keep you depressed for a few millennia. Pollyanna counters that all these troubles are small when compared to the largest object in the universe. An international team of astronomers, led by academics from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), has found the largest known structure in the universe. The large quasar group (LQG) is so large that it would take a vehicle traveling at the speed of light some 4 billion years to cross it.

skydist small-LQG CCLQG
The coloured background indicates the peaks and troughs in the occurrence of quasars at the distance of the LQG. Darker colours indicate more quasars, lighter colours indicate fewer quasars. The LQG is clearly seen as a long chain of peaks indicated by black circles. (The red crosses mark the positions of quasars in a different and smaller LQG). The horizontal and vertical axes represent right ascension and declination, the celestial equivalent of longitude and latitude. The map covers around 29.4 by 24 degrees on the sky, indicating the huge scale of the newly discovered structure. Credit: R. G. Clowes / UCLan

Pollyanna calls your attention to the Miriam Shlesinger Human Rights action update blog. Please click and write as called upon for people whose basic rights are being denied and violated.

Our beloved Miriam was a professional translator and taught the subject for many years at Bar Ilan University. She would often regale us with gems from her pupils or from misuse of English in Israel. Of course, they are only funny to people who know Hebrew and can understand the Sabra mind: translate back beauties such as "I felt like a light bulb in the doll house" or canned plums that assured you of "new fear of foreskin" while enjoying a cup of "tonsil-flavored" cappuccino. It was also nice to be told that your train to Tel Aviv was a collecting train to Ben-Gurion Airport until someone straightened them out. Yosefa sent us a NYTimes article by Andy Martin about translation. We are sure that Miriam would have loved it.

If you think your phone company is ripping you off and indeed that may be true, think of the French lady who received a bill for closing her account before the end of the contract. It came to the whopping sum of €11,721,000,000,000,000 or 11.721 petaeuros (fun to write such a word for 10^15).
Customer service told her that there was nothing to be done, but she could arrange a payment schedule. The sum is greater than the annual GDP of France and indeed cooler heads prevailed at the phone company. In Psalms 146:3 we are told "Do not trust in princes-in man who has no salvation"
אַל-תִּבְטְחוּ בִנְדִיבִים--    בְּבֶן-אָדָם, שֶׁאֵין לוֹ תְשׁוּעָה
and Pollyanna suggests that we do not trust in computers.

At one time in history (12-15th centuries) Timbuktu  was a major Islamic cultural center and a trading emporium at the edge of the desert.
A vintage map of the Sahara desert with "Timbuctoo" located on the southern edge.
A vintage map of the Sahara desert with "Timbuctoo" located on the southern edge.
Nicholas Belton /
 It was known as as source of salt to the Africans and of gold to Europeans. We were, therefore, alarmed to receive reports that the famous library with its ancient manuscripts had been burned by the Islamists. Pollyanna is very relieved to learn that most of the manuscripts are safe. We were of course reminded of the destruction of the huge Buddha stations in Afghanistan by the Taliban. Kudos to Capetown University for its role in helping fund the preservation of the documents.

These Tibetan animals, the analogue of the North American bison, were hunted to near extinction in the last few centuries. It is, therefore, good news that makes Pollyanna glad to learn that their numbers are increasing in the Tibetan plateau in response to a Chinese government conservation program. They prefer the vicinity of glaciers, where food is more abundant and the herd is estimated to be as large as a thousand individuals.
Wild yaks at foot of glacier in Tibet, Credit: Joel Berger -- WCS/University of Montana

We humans tend to regard ourselves as the epitome of creation. It is indeed somewhat humbling to learn that the humble dung beetle Scarabaeus satyrus uses the Milky Way for navigation at night and thus finds the most direct way to bring his ball of excrement home to the family.
Researchers fitted dung beetles with tiny blinders for experiments showing that the feces-eating insects can use the Milky Way to orient themselves. Credit: Marcus Byrne
 It is a nice experiment which provides insight into how all creatures manage to adapt to their environment and find use for it. As so aptly said by Oscar Wilde:

The former PM of Israel Ariel Sharon has been in a coma for the past seven years. We are now told that activity has been detected in his brain by FMRI which is of major research interest. There is little hope that Sharon will recover, but the advances in technology that enabled these detections may enable communication to be established with comatose people. Pollyanna cannot help being reminded of the great Almadovar firm, Talk to Her.

Pollyanna and Titan have both been remiss in updating you about the world of literature. We shall try to compensate by bringing a few books to your attention. We start with a scholarly  book on the history of sex in the Graeco-Roman world, The Joy of Sexus - Lust, Love and Longing in the Ancient World by Vicki Leon. It got in general good reviews-the reviewers seem to have enjoyed their task. It is the book of the month on the Scandalous Women blog of Elizabeth Kerri Mahon and seems to be a good read. The blog also looks interesting. After all, "Well-Behaved Women don't make History" according to  Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. Ms Mahon hosts Vicki Leon for a guest post that details the illicit affair between Aspasia
 and Pericles 

in ancient Athens.

We next move on to congratulate Hilary Mantel for her book, Bring Up the Bodies
 which became the first work to win the Costa Book of the Year as well as the Man Booker Prize. She won the Man Booker Prize in 2009 for Wolf Hill, the first book in her planned trilogy on the life of Thomas Cromwell. Bring Up the Bodies  finds the chief minister to Henry VIII in 1535 after the king has broken with Rome to marry Anne Boleyn. The third book is due out next year and is called The Mirror And The Light. Mantel is yet to tire of her protagonist. She said: “He's very much a work in progress, he's got four more years to rise to the top of the tree then we'll see his very sudden fall." She feels no need to apologize for winning two prizes in one year. This year is unprecedented for the Costa Prize because women won in all five categories. This year's awards were also notable as the non-fiction prize was awarded to a graphic novel. Mary Talbot's work Dotter of Her Father's Eyes, which was illustrated by her husband Bryan, examines two father and daughter relationships: James Joyce and his daughter Lucia, and Talbot's own, a Joyce scholar.

Also recognized this year was The Innocents by Francesca Segal, which won the prize for first novel. Inspired by Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence, the judges described it as “affectionate and witty”.

Sally Gardner won the Children's prize for Maggot Moon. The author was once described as “unteachable” because of her severe dyslexia and was 14 before she could read at all. She said winning the prize was an inspiration “for anyone who dreams”.

Now we move from praise to brickbats. We have enjoyed several books by Jared Diamond
Jared Mason Diamond is an American scientist and author best known for his popular science books 
 including Guns, Germs and Steel, Collapse and Why Sex is Fun. His newest book, The World Until Yesterday is criticized strongly by Wade Davis in the Guardian
Aborigine man at Uluru
Matrix of connectedness' … an Aborigine man at Uluru. Photograph: Alamy
 and savaged by Stephen Corry in The Daily Beast. Stephen Corry is the director of Survival International and author of Tribal peoples for tomorrow’s world. Davis' point is that Diamond is limited by his failure to grasp that cultures reside in the realm of ideas, and are not simply or exclusively the consequences of climatic and environmental imperatives. He proceeds to take him to task for what he considers shallow thinking. Corry goes further and says that Diamond is simply wrong. Diamond argues that industrialized people (‘modern’) can learn from tribal peoples (‘traditional’) because they show how everyone lived until a few thousand years ago. Corry agrees that ‘we’ can learn from tribes, but counters that they represent no more of a throwback to our past than anyone else does. He shows that Diamond’s other—and dangerous—message is that most tribes engage in constant warfare. According to Diamond, they need, and welcome, State intervention to stop their violent behavior. Corry argues that this is merely a political opinion, backed by questionable and spurious data. He sees Diamond’s position as one of supporting colonial ideas about ‘pacifying savages’ and claims it is factually and morally wrong. The comments in the wake of Davis' review are interesting as well. We leave it to you to judge.



As you all know by now, we are tenants of a dog named Murphy

who believes that he was put on earth to chase cats. We now think, thanks to a picture sent to us by Richard (thank you), that we know how he was thus indoctrinated.

We like to keep the cats around because they are useful to keep our yard free of rodents and snakes. It is not clear what the hierarchal relations are, but we manage. Indeed  it is good that we had cataract operations and now can identify them:

SMBC presents a new idea for implementation in the academic community:

What If is fun this week, how to fly an airplane on different bodies in the Solar System. We can assure you that the planetary science is right.

Gene Weingarten has a not so subtle comment about what billionaires tend to expect from their trophy wives, with apologies to Lucretia who is smarter than she trys to look.
We wind up with Wally the benefactor of the children of the world.
The Official Dilbert Website featuring Scott Adams Dilbert strips, animations and more

and with technology crushing Sesame Street: