Cluster Map

Friday, August 2, 2013

Pollyanna is back

Pollyanna greets you all. As Ramadan draws to a close, she, her brother Titan and their friends YandA wish all their Muslim friends Eid Saeed--a bit early for August 8, but it is her only chance.  Let us hope for peace by the next Ramadan.

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.

How You Can Protect a Girl.
Because she is a girl she can be stolen from her mom and dad, and forced to be someone's slave. She can be made to do hard labor from morning until night.
This week it is Pollyanna's turn to promote a charity. Her choice is "Because I am a Girl" which supports the empowerment of girls and young women to take charge of their lives. The Web site offers many ways to participate in this campaign. Choose what you think is important and donate whatever you can.

Virginia E. Johnson, the female half of the Masters and Johnson scientific research duo that in the late 1960s redefined sex as a quantifiable, perfectible pleasure of human life to be pursued without guilt or fear, died July 24 in St. Louis. She was 88.
Virgina E. Masters in 1997 (AP Photo/James A. Finley, File)
Their work made a major contribution to the quality of life of many people. They debunked many misconceptions such as the idea that sex was off limits for the elderly and that the size of the male organ was critical. The ads that we get on the Web show that the latter idea has not reached a large part of the population. The Washington Post has a detailed obituary of Ms Johnson, linked above. RIP


Maria Mitchell was born on August 1, 1818, in Nantucket, Massachusetts. She was a famous astronomer, the first female professional in the field, during a time in which women were not encouraged to enter the sciences. As a young woman she discovered a comet by means of a telescope and was awarded a medal by the King of Denmark. Her life can serve as an inspiration to any young woman seeking a science career.
Pollyanna will use her rant this time to call upon you to make an effort to protect the Great Barrier Reef from the irresponsible idiots of the coal mining industry in Australia. They want to run coal ships through the reef. Please join the protest of AVAAZ to the Prime Minister of Australia. The reef is too valuable a resource for humanity to be allowed to die.


The recent pronouncement "who am I to judge?" by the Pope with respect to gay people is a pleasant surprise. We have become used to homophobia from the religious establishment based on Leviticus XX, 13 that prescribes the death penalty for male homosexual actions. The Bible says nothing about lesbianism. In any case, the relatively liberal attitude of the Pope may engender a backlash, but should open the Church to LGBT people. Orthodox Judaism is adamantly homophobic, but there are gay synagogues, the first of which Bet Chayim Hadashim, which also includes straights, was  founded in 1972 in Los Angeles.


The universe appears to be crawling with planets.
We have now firm evidence for thousands of planets, around thousands of stars. We also know something about these worlds, their sizes, their orbits, often their ages. In a handful of cases, for planets of Jupiter’s or Neptune’s size, we have even measured the temperature of their upper atmospheres and sniffed at their gaseous chemistry, finding substances like sodium, methane and water.
One out of seven of these should, statistically, be an Earth-like object in its star's habitable zone. The implications of this are blowing Pollyanna's mind.

Phil Plait whose Bad Astronomy blog is on our margin loves illusions. Incidentally, the link to Phil now goes through Slate webzine and you can get strange things. Just hit the health and science tab and you will find his great stuff. We are including a special now, illusions of the moon, and we do not mean the lunar-induced idea of going to bed now with her/him. Phil shows us how our brains can play tricks on us when we look at things, in this case domes that look like craters and craters that look like domes.

If anyone tells you that planetary astronomy is a piece of cake, believe it. A Jupiter cake was created by Rhiannon, an Australian woman trained in zoology but clearly with a knack for baking (she has a blog and a Facebook page which you really need to look through if you like yummy beautiful desserts).
Jupiter cake
It's delicious, by Jove!
Photo by Rhiannon at

Thanks again to Phil for finding her and her baking artistry. I wonder if she could bake the satellites as well. Her version of Io would be fascinating.

We are confirmed Mozilla Firefox users, but never thought  that the Creator would use the logo to adorn the universe until Phil pointed it out. The similarity is compelling.

In 1989 we participated as members of the Plasma Science team on Voyager 2 in the encounter with Neptune. We focused on Triton, the big moon with the retrograde revolution (just revolves around Neptune in the opposite sense to the rotation of the planet, our moon is prograde with the Earth), but we trusted our buddies on the imaging squad to find all the moonlets and junk in orbit. It appears that one satellite, about 20 km in size, escaped their scrutiny and has only now been found by Mark Showalter in Hubble images of Neptune. Cheers to Mark and to little S/2004 N 1, moon number 14, which now has a name after 4.6 billion
years of anonymity.

Medical MRI Image Showing Brain and Skull
Medical MRI Image Showing Brain and Skull
Photo by iStockphoto/Thinkstock

The advent of functional NMR or MRI if you prefer has led to many interesting breakthroughs in neuroscience. Unfortunately the field has been overhyped, not by the excellent scientists doing groundbreaking work in biomedical science, but by all kinds of hucksters who see in it a way to a quick buck. A recent Slate article by Daniel Engber reviews a new book by Sally Satel and Scott O. Lilienfeld entitled Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience, what Engber calls a well-informed attack on the extravagances of “neurocentrist” thought. We’re living in dangerous era,
the authors warn in the book’s introduction. “Naïve media, slick neuroentrepreneurs, and even an occasionaloverzealous neuroscientist exaggerate the capacity of scans to reveal the contents of our minds, exalt brain physiology as inherently the most valuable level of explanation for understanding behavior, and rush to apply underdeveloped, if dazzling, science for commercial and forensic use.” Others have also rushed to attack brain science, often in a manner totally unfair to scientists. Even Satel and Lilienfield agree as to the value of the research, but question whether the brain is indeed the mind. Certainly mental functions can be understood by looking at the functions of the brain. No one, least of all the scientific community, will miss the brain entrepreneurs and snake oil men, but the pejorative "mindless brain science" is certainly out of place. There may be legitimate debate about methodology, but we cannot avoid the impression that more attention is being paid here to off the cuff comments than to substantive issues of the scientific work. What do you think?

Wild bottlenose dolphins (one shown) respond to hearing their "signature whistles," specific high-pitched tunes that may serve as the animals' names.
Courtesy of V. Janik, University of St. Andrews
We have long known that dolphins are intelligent, self-aware creatures. That is why the film The Cove (2010 Oscar for best documentary)  about slaughter of dolphins for the Japanese food market so outraged us. New research by scientists from St. Andrew's University in Scotland indicates that dolphins identify themselves by a signature whistle that amounts to a name. This ability to name individuals appears unique to humans and dolphins.
Bones, discovered recently in a cave in South Africa have ignited a major controversy in the paleontology community. The question is who is the ancestor of the homo lineage. The fact that there is a controversy is good for the science and eventually new data will resolve things.
A partial reconstruction of A. sediba from multiple specimens reveals a creature that was a hodgepodge of human and ape features.
Courtesy of L. Berger/Univ. of the Witwatersrand

Animals, including us, must eat and carnivores must prey to do so. In 2004 we took our grandson Joey to Kruger Park in South Africa where we saw an example of it in action. The injustice is that the waterbuck fawn was killed by a leopard who needed food for her cubs, but she was chased off by hyenas who enjoyed the spoils.
When the rangers had a controlled brush burn, our guide took us there to see birds coming from all
around to feast on the insects driven from the burning brush. We would like to share a couple of  videos of predation attempts on sea and land, failed and successful. We hope you are not squeamish. First we show
what happens when a great white shark is foolish enough to attack an orca whale calf. Mama is having
none of it and her big mammalian brain gives her the win. Sharks would do well to stick to seals as a
food source.

On land we see what happens when a hippopotamus and her calf have the misfortune to run into a pride of lions. One might think this would be prey too large for the lionesses and indeed they call in His Nibs to help with the hunt and kill.   

What If asks what material should be used to prevent an airplane from taking off. It is an interesting question and the answers are amusing.


 Barney & Clyde for 7/31/2013
Dilbert is just as bad, or rather our friend Wally:
 Dilbert for 7/31/2013

The late Israeli playwright Hanoch Levin wrote a play that we saw and appreciated  entitled "Everyone Wants to Live." The deputy angel of death shows up to pick up the protagonist whom we have already learned to hate but is thwarted by a typo in the bill of lading for the soul. The victim is given a reprieve for 24 hours to find someone to take his place. Levin gives us the full benefit of his satire and wit. SMBC seems to have caught the principle.

Zack Weiner also understands the difference between mathematics and physics. How many of you have used Mathematica? It is software that does the drudgery part of calculations, bless it. Maple does the same.
We love them all.

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