Cluster Map

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Pollyanna is glad to be back with you

Pollyanna wants to wish all her US friends and readers a happy Fourth of July and a happy Canada Day to those north of the border. Enjoy your holiday weekends. Drive carefully and avoid firecrackers.

For starters, let us refer you to the Miriam Shlesinger Human Rights action blog. As the weeks and months go by without Miriam, we continue to realize what we have lost. She got us into the human rights struggle. Please act on behalf of people who are so much in need of support in their trials and tribulations at the hands of oppressive regimes and corporations.

Pollyanna grieves for the 19 firefighters who lost their lives fighting the forest fire in Arizona.It is very sad that such people who devote their lives to serving the community and protecting people fall victim to the forces against which they are struggling. These "Hot Shots" are the bravest of the brave.
arizona memorial
Nineteen crosses and American flags adorn the fence outside of Station in Prescott, Arizona. Photograph: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Pollyanna also notes with sadness the death of Sarah Guyard-Guillot, who fell 15 meters to her death during a performance of Ka by the Cirque de Soleil in Las Vegas.

Sarah Guyard-Guillot, left, in a previous performance of Ka. Photograph: Leila Navidi/AP

 The circumstances are now under investigation, but it would appear that she accidentally slipped her safety wire while being lifted. She was a mother of two children. Guyard-Guillot had been with the original cast of Ka since 2006, and had been an acrobatic performer for more than 20 years. It is a most tragic event.

Pollyanna wishes His Holiness the Dalai Lama all the best on the occasion of his 78th birthday. He is one of the true holy people in this world. We had the privilege of meeting him and speaking to him on one of his visits to Israel. Truly he is a great man. May he be blessed with long life and success in helping his oppressed people in Tibet.

You will recall the story of the Christian girl in Pakistan who was falsely accused of desecrating a Koran and held in prison.
Pakistani security personnel move Rimsha Masih (2L), a Christian girl accused of blasphemy, to a helicopter after her release from jail in Rawalpindi on September 8, 2012.
Rimsha and her family received death threats and were forced into hiding
Pollyanna is pleased to learn that after living in hiding for several months, the family is now safe, somewhere in Canada. Rimsha is learning English and adjusting to her new environment. We wish her well and wish even more that countries like Pakistan would repeal their harsh blasphemy laws that are totally inconsistent with the democratic values that we believe should dominate the modern world. Alas, the chance for that are vanishingly small.

This incident in which a lioness rescued her cub from a life-threatening situation was sent to us by several sources and is booming around the Web. It is heartwarming and nice to see.

Stephen Fry gives us his take on snobbishness in language. We are not sure that we agree with him totally. Modern Hebrew as spoken on the street is sloppy and a pain to our pedantic ears. The English we see written and hear over the media is not much better if at all. As Pooh-Ba says "pardon us if we decline.." Maybe we are snobs or just old whatevers.


Recently we celebrated the centennial of Pollyanna's arrival on Earth. This year also marks a century since Niels Bohr, the great Danish physicist, published his first papers on quantum theory. In the years that have passed since then quantum mechanics has made great strides and certainly the initial work of Bohr cannot be called the cutting edge. Even though the technical details of Bohr’s model turned out to be wrong, he had grasped the essential idea for understanding atoms: abandoning common sense in favor of the crazy rules of quantum theory. Bohr saw more deeply than others of his time that embracing quantum physics was the key to unlocking nature’s hidden truths. While quantum confusions drove other physicists to despair, Bohr pursued the path into the quantum world. He foresaw the role of entanglement and his famous debates with Einstein moved physics along towards the promised land. One of the most best-known exchanges of this discussion was Einstein's famous quote that "God does not play dice with the universe," to which Bohr is said to have replied, "Einstein, stop telling God what to do!" (The debate was cordial, if spirited. In a 1920 letter, Einstein said to Bohr, "Not often in life has a human being caused me such joy by his mere presence as you did.")

Pollyanna is happy to learn that a technique known as 'reverse vaccination' has passed some tests with humans and appears to be a means of curing type I diabetes. It suppresses the immune reaction that kills insulin producing cells. The researchers designed a molecule that contained the gene for making proinsulin, the precursor to insulin. The molecule also included instructions for triggering the killer cells' response and then shutting it down. It worked in mice and now has worked in humans. It looks promising indeed.

The Opportunity rover on Mars has set a new record for travel off world. This is not in itself of major importance, but it is in general exciting that the robot vehicles on the surface of Mars, Opportunity and Curiosity,  are providing precious scientific information.

Opportunity pops a ‘wheelie’ on May 15, 2013 (Sol 3308) and then made history by driving further to the mountain ahead on the next day, May 16 (Sol 3309), to establish a new American driving record for a vehicle on another world.  This navcam mosaic shows the view forward to Opportunity’s future destinations of Solander Point and Cape Tribulation along the lengthy rim of huge Endeavour crater spanning 14 miles (22 km) in diameter.  Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Kenneth Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo.
 The Holy Grail of course is to find evidence of past life on Mars. The vehicles also show, in our opinion, the great advantage of robots over human flight and activity in space. We refer you to the Curiosity page for fascinating images and results.

Elsewhere in the Solar System our old Voyager friends (with whom we worked during the planetary phase of the mission) are moving onwards.. Both of the spacecraft are forging ahead to leave the Solar System as defined by the extent of the heliosphere and are moving on to be first man-made objects in interstellar space. All of us are thrilled by this prospect and the new scientific knowledge that will come our way. You might  wish to track them with this real time odometer provided by NASA.

We have not had a book review for a while. One of our favorite authors, Ian McEwan
Ian McEwan
Ian McEwan: 'tricksy'. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod
 has come out with a Cold War retrospective spy novel, Sweet Tooth, reviewed in the Guardian by Justin Cartwright. It is not the usual cloak and dagger thriller and is said to contain surprises and twists. May well be worth your time. The title should not put off those who are waiting for the diabetes cure mentioned above.


What If? is as usual a good introduction to silly time. It asks what would happen if you dropped 3,000 bouncy balls from a seventh floor window onto a passerby. This reminds us of Avenue Q, a musical that we saw last year in New York. In the story, a penny is dropped from the top of the Empire State Building and causes grievous harm to a character in the play. Of course, because of the viscosity of air, a penny that has little mass and a relatively large surface area would not be going very fast at the surface, but for art we suspend our critical faculties.

We were never offered the option of 3D television and frankly we never cared for movies that required special glasses. We note that it is now phasing out and the only fan left is our dear little Cynthia.

Barney & Clyde Cartoon for Jun/30/2013

There is a long-running Web comic called Ph.D for Piled Higher and Deeper that chronicles the trials and tribulations of graduate students. We enjoy it and indeed are nostalgic only for the youth of graduate school years and not for the stress and uncertainty in which we lived. Here is an example:

The site itself is worth a visit for anyone who has ever been a graduate student or who has ever supervised one. It is written and drawn by Jorge Cham.

For many years we were one of the faculty members charged with teaching graduate students at Tel Aviv University to write scientific papers in English. Since only people competent in English were accepted to our course (required of all whose dissertations were to be evaluated abroad), the problem was just inability to write in any language. We attribute that to the failure of the education system to impart such basic skills. The following saga tells the tale:


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