Cluster Map

Friday, August 30, 2013

Pollyanna says Shana Tova


Shana Tova

Pollyanna is back and wants to wish all our Jewish readers a Shana Tova U'mevurechet, שנה טובה ומבורכת a Happy and Blessed New Year for 5773 that begins next Thursday. Let us all hope that this next year will see a lessening of struggles and bloodshed around the world and a chance for peace. This is the time of year to assess yourself and maybe go to synagogue to think about what being Jewish means. Pollyanna refers you to the Reform Synagogues in Israel, sites in English, Russian and Hebrew. She also wishes a happy Labor Day weekend (Labour Day in Canada) to her North American readers. For the graduate  students going back to school in the Northern Hemisphere, Pollyanna dedicates the following

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.

This week it is Pollyanna's turn to promote a charity. Her choice is Doctors Without Borders, an international NGO that does wonderful work around the world, from Haiti to Congo.
 “Refugee children are incredibly vulnerable to developing vaccine-preventable diseases, so why do we keep hearing the players in the global vaccination community tell us these kids aren’t their problem?” asked Kate Elder, vaccines policy advisor at MSF’s Access Campaign. Read more
 Please donate via the Web site. She also gives a thumbs up to the hospitals and doctors in Israel who are  treating victims of the Syrian civil war.

On August 28, 1913, the great operatic tenor was born. He was one of the truly great ones. Here you can hear him singing Celeste Aida under the baton of Toscanini in 1949

Of course, Pollyanna cannot resist letting you hear Nessum Dorma.

He was also a wonderful cantor, indeed, he started in the synagogue. Here he is singing Kol Nidre which is appropriate for this time of year.

We heard him in Tel Aviv a few times. When Zubin Mehta gave us a bicentennial of Beethoven in 1970, he called on Richard Tucker for the Ode to Joy. Tucker related in a TV interview then that when he first sang Rhadames under Toscanini at the Met, he sang with pathos in the death scene at the end during a rehearsal. Toscanini banged the podium and shouted "You young fool, you are dying with the woman you love, sing with joy!" On Thursday, various events were held around New York in honor of Richard Tucker Day. We remember him fondly.

Pollyanna asks you to join the Amnesty International Campaign for My Body My Rights

This is a campaign about empowering young people, especially women and girls, to make their own decisions about reproductive and sexual health. She also would like to ask people of good will in Israel to show up on Saturday night at 19:00 in Habima Square in Tel Aviv to demonstrate against the forced eviction of 40,000 Bedouin citizens from their homes. In addition, she asks everyone  to sign on to stop the Spanish government from further promotion of bullfighting as a Spanish cultural value.

Each year 250,000 magnificent animals are tortured and killed for human amusement. This is not acceptable.

On August 28, 1963 he delivered his "I have a dream" speech. We have nothing to add to it.

Today there is a black man in the White House. Yes, there are still inequalities and injustices, but the march of progress is there. Note his quotation from the prophet Amos.
ויגל כמים משפט וצדקה כנחל איתן
Let judgement flow like water and justice as a mighty stream.

Pollyanna says thumbs up to the Muslim girls of the UK who have found a simple way to avoid being sold by their fathers into a forced marriage (read abuse and slavery) in the homeland of their parents. A spoon in your underwear, the security magnetometer goes off and you have a chance to tell someone in authority what is being done to you. Bravissima girls. Almost half of the 1,500 cases a year handled by the Forced Marriage Unit involve Pakistan. Bangladesh counts for 11 per cent, and India eight per cent, the remainder being spread across about 60 countries, including Afghanistan, Somalia, and Turkey. The youngest victim they have come across was aged two, the oldest was 71.


The most recent common ancestor of today's women, our mitochondrial Eve, lived about 150,000 to 240,000 years ago. The most recent common ancestor of men had been thought to be much younger. Now Y chromosome Adam has been found to have lived 120,000 to 156,000 years ago. That’s roughly the same time that the last common ancestor of women is estimated to have lived, researchers report. No one says they were a couple, so creationists relax. Another study pushes the Y chromosome age back to over 300,000 years ago. It is  interesting that the this Y chromosome age is much older than the homo sapiens fossil record. This will require more study, stay tuned. Sex with hominids, perish the thought.

The fortuitous discovery of a pulsar in our galaxy whose line of sight to us passes near our local black hole Sagittarius A* gives us a handle on the intensity of the magnetic field of the black hole. The change in the polarization of the waves, known as Faraday rotation, is related to the magnitude of the field. The field near the black hole may be as high as hundreds of gauss although uncertainties remain. Read the Nature article if you can access it. Pollyanna thinks this is cool.

The use of iron extracted from ore is thought to have begun in what is now Turkey in about 1300 BCE. New research indicates that thousands of years before that the Egyptians were using iron found in meteorites to make jewels and ornaments. They even had a word for the material, "metal from the sky." The Egyptians had a passion for jewelery, but use of meteoric iron certainly required the ability to reach high temperatures and contributed to the evolution of metal working and extraction technique

In terms of evolutionary biology, there would appear to be no reason why women should live on past their fertility years. It had long been thought that this was simply an artifact of better nutrition and health care, but now there is evidence that women lived past their childbearing  years back in Stone Age times. There are various theories about it. Our primate cousins do not normally survive their fertile years, but oddly enough killer whales do. It has been proposed that grandmothering contributes to survival of children, i.e. the DNA of grandma survives in her granddaughters. Other theories deal with the apparent preference of human males for younger partners.   Interesting question, not fully resolved.


What If asks :If you could teleport to a random place of the surface of the Earth, what are the odds that you'll see signs of intelligent life? The answer is interesting.

Wally who is the most dysfunctional person in the most dysfunctional company ever created by anyone's
imagination has good advice for us on how to prepare for disaster.

Dilbert Cartoon for Aug/25/2013

Our young friend and gym trainer Shira is studying to be a veterinarian. Pollyanna takes the liberty of pointing out what the profession may entail.

Barney & Clyde Cartoon for Aug/28/2013
We have long been concerned with our living wills. We are glad to see that Maxine has resolved the issues with hers.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Pollyanna marks Erwin Schrodinger's birthday

Pollyanna is back with you and hopes you all enjoyed the Perseid display. She notes the birthday of Erwin Schroedinger, born August 12, 1887-died January 4, 1961.

He is famous as one of the founding fathers of Quantum Mechanics and the formulator of the fundamental wave equation of quantum theory. He shared the 1933 Nobel Prize with Paul Dirac. You will note the Google Doodle in his honor above which shows a cat live at one side of a box and its ghost on the other side. It demonstrates Schroedinger's famous thought experiment in which he pointed out the difficulty of applying quantum mechanics ideas to reality.
Imagine this: A cat is placed inside a box with a flask of poison, a radioactive source, a Geiger counter (to detect radiation), and a hammer for one hour. There is a finite chance that the radioactive source decays within the hour, which would set off the Geiger counter, cause the hammer to smash open the vial of poison, and the cat would die. And there is also a finite chance both the poisonous vial and the cat would come out intact. But can the cat be both dead and alive at the same time? The cat’s status – dead or alive – is only determined once an outside party takes a look inside the box to see how the cat fared. Whereas before, the Copenhagen theory of quantum physics proposed that particles could be in two different states at the same time, Schroedinger extrapolated this theory to something concrete that cannot exist simultaneously as both dead and alive: a cat. It was his reductio ad absurdum of the applicability of quantum mechanics to the real world.While Schroedinger and Einstein, among a few others, criticized the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, it has turned out to be a most successful way of describing the subatomic world. It also is starting to be found in the macroscopic world.  Pollyanna wonders what Schroedinger, who coined the term entanglement ('Verschrankung' in German), would think of the weirdness of modern physics (reverse causality anyone?) or the new vistas of quantum computing which depends on superposition of states of qubits. We have or do not have a cat named Schroedinger among the population of felines we feed in our yard. On Schroedinger and his poor cat in popular culture, more in the Silly Section below.

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.

This week it is Pollyanna's turn to promote a charity. Her choice is the Association for Children at Risk. This nonprofit group supports children in Israel with developmental problems, in particular autism, and their families.
You can go into their Web site in English or Hebrew. One nice option that we pick up every year is to buy their calendars decorated with art by autistic children. Please be generous as the Hebrew New Year approaches. She also points out new research into the connection between autism and gut bacteria. It may be that gastroenterological treatment might alleviate some of the behavioral problems associated with autism spectrum disorders.

Edyie Gorme, the voice of sophisticated pop singing, died this week at age 84.
Blame it on the Bossa Nova was her biggest solo hit
She and her husband Steve Lawrence starred for decades as a singing couple on the Steve Allen Tonight show. Edith Gormezano was born on Aug. 16, 1928, in the Bronx. Her father, a tailor, was from Sicily and her mother from Turkey, but both were Sephardic Jews and spoke Ladino, a language derived from Old Spanish, at home. She married Steve Lawrence, a cantor's son, in 1957. Their marriage lasted for her lifetime. We remember them fondly, for their singing and repertoire preserved quality when rock was taking over. The LA Times obituary quotes Steve Allen on this:
"What has been the nature of their success?" Allen said in a 1996 Times story. "First, the fact that they are a couple has something to do with it. Secondly, they are damned good singers. And thirdly — this has both hurt and helped them — they concentrated for the most part on good music. This lost them the youthful audience, who prefer crap to Cole Porter's music. But it endeared them to people with sophisticated taste."
 Rest in Peace, Edyie z"l. Hear her singing Gershwin

Pollyanna together with Titan and YandA wishes to express her warmest congratulations to the 32 young Israeli scientists who won grants of 1.5 million euros each from the European Union for five years of research.
David Bachar
Anat Hershovitz. "Every scientist is like the CEO of a small company." Photo by David Bachar
 The competition was fierce and Israel did very well. In the case of the Israeli researchers, 31 percent had their applications approved. That put them in third place in terms of the number of grants received, after Britain, with 60 recipients, and Germany, with 46. Germany has a population of 80 million, and Britain’s population is 60 million, so per capita, and by a wide margin, Israel takes first place among the 22 countries. Leading the list of local institutions whose researchers received a grant is, not surprisingly, the Weizmann Institute of Science, with 10 recipients, followed by the Hebrew University (8), Tel Aviv University (6), the Technion Israel Institute of Technology (2), Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (2), Bar-Ilan University (2), Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (1), and Hadassah University Hospital (1). We hope that the new flap about funding for the Occupied Territories does not affect the next seven year program which is still to be signed. We wish all of them success in their scientific endeavors.


Gloria Steinem
President Obama has awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to  a group of people who are household names to Americans. The award is the highest U.S. civilian honor and this year's ceremony is to mark the 50th anniversary of the medal.. One of the honorees is Danny Kahneman with whom we served in the Army. Gloria Steinem, the famous  feminist, was also among the awardees as was former President Bill Clinton.
Princeton’s Daniel Kahneman was among the winners of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Princeton’s Daniel Kahneman was among the winners of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. photo Getty Images
Now let us get on to some science goodies.
SWAP View of Sun space wallpaper
This stunning space wallpaper shows the view of the sun from the SWAP (Sun Watcher using Active Pixel System detector and Image Processing) instrument onboard ESA's Proba-2 satellite.
Credit: ESA/SWAP PROBA2 science centre

The Sun has a period of activity of 11 years and we are now approaching the end of such a cycle, Cycle 24, which as usual will be marked by a flip of the polarity of the solar magnetic field. This last cycle has seen a rather quiet Sun. During the reversal, the sun's polar magnetic fields will weaken all the way down to zero, then bounce back with the opposite polarity. Researchers will keep a keen eye on just how strong this recovery is over the next two years or so.

The Earth also has field reversals. Scientists say earth's magnetic field is weakening and could all but disappear in as little as 500 years as a precursor to flipping upside down. It has happened before—the geological record suggests the magnetic field has reversed every 250,000 years, meaning that, with the last event 800,000 years ago, another would seem to be overdue. When it happens, things will be quite chaotic. The atmosphere will be exposed for some time to the solar wind and many things will be difficult to maintain. The absence of a magnetic field could explain why life does not exist on Mars.

The existence of dark matter is acknowledged by the scientific community but observing it has proven most difficult. The astrophysical community is debating whether a line of gamma rays at 130 GeV (60 billion times as potent as ordinary yellow light) is an indication of dark matter. Up to now dark matter has been thought to interact only via gravity, but since its WIMP component (weakly interacting massive particle) is its own antiparticle (google it) it would self-annihilate in a collision. The feature was found by Christof Weiniger of the Netherlands and much effort is now being devoted to figuring out whether it is real or not. It will involve changes in the observing strategy.  The observations are made by means of the Fermi orbiting observatory which has been mapping the universe in gamma rays since 2008.
All-sky gamma-ray map from Fermi Space Telescope
This all-sky image, constructed from two years of observations by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, shows how the sky appears in gamma-ray light. Brighter colors indicate brighter gamma-ray sources. A diffuse glow fills the sky and is brightest along the plane of our galaxy (middle). Discrete gamma-ray sources include pulsars and supernova remnants within our galaxy as well as distant galaxies powered by supermassive black holes.
Credit: NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration)

If dark matter is not just an amorphous mass, but consists of different types of dark particles, the implications are staggering. There is much more dark matter than light matter in the universe and we may coexist with a dark universe with dark stars, dark planets and dark astronomers debating whether light matter can be observed. Pollyanna likes questions of this type. Have a nice day!

Just to confuse things, astrophysicists have revived interest in wormholes. Black holes are well known,regions of monstrous gravity and mass which are bottomless pits in spacetime. Wormholes on the other hand, whose existence was predicted by Einstein and Rosen in 1935 as a consequence of general relativity, would be bridges from one part of spacetime to another and possibly connectors between universes making up a metaverse (again go google). It is now being argued that what looks like a black hole at a galactic center might really be a wormhole and telescope technology is reaching the stage that might make a detection possible. In the meantime, wormholes provide means of transport in science fiction, but the observation may be around the corner. Wow! says Pollyanna.

At Tel Hazor in Northern Israel the paws of a sphinx statue dating from 2500 BCE has been found. It has an inscription in hieroglyphs naming King Mycerinus. The pharaoh ruled in 2500 BCE and oversaw the construction of one of the three Giza pyramids, where he was enshrined. It is a complete mystery how a sphinx made its way from Egypt to Hazor, which at the time was the main city of Canaan.

In November 2012 commanders in theIndian army mistook Venus and Jupiter for Chinese drones. Fortunately they consulted astronomers and were straightened out. As Phil Plait points out Jupiter and Venus have often been misidentified as UFO's.
Venus and Jupiter by Robert Blasius
Massive worlds ponderously orbiting the Sun, or Chinese drones?
Photo by Robert Blasius
 This kind of ignorance is scary. While the story of the excommunication of Halley's Comet in 1456 by Pope Callistus III, is a legend, when the Earth passed through the tail of P/Halley in 1910 and it was reported that the tail contained cyanide gas, some creative crooks marketed Comet Pills to protect gullible people. When the comet returned in 1986, the Grand Rapids Public Museum and the Roger Chaffee Planetarium sold them as a combined joke and fund raiser. The comet pills were actually a healthful snack of yogurt-covered sunflower seeds that sold for $2 per jar.
Protect yourself from cosmic danger
What If deals with space and orbital velocity and tries to explain by example what is meant by 8 km/s. Elementary, but maybe interesting to some.

The Uncertainty Principle of Quantum Mechanics and the principle of superposition of states which give a
probabilistic view of how the world works can be used in many ways.


 Schroedinger had a complicated life according to Zack of SMBC/.

We all want to do our bit in the war against terror, even Dilbert's boss:
Dilbert Cartoon for Aug/14/2013

and as promised a collection of Schroedinger cat jokes compiled by the Independent.