Cluster Map

Friday, October 25, 2013

Pollyanna greets the autumn season

Pollyanna is back, and hopes that all have recovered from the Jewish and Muslim holidays. Now we can all have some peace and quiet until Hannuka and Thanksgiving barge in together. In the meantime, as you can see below, our colleagues in the scientific community are back at work.  Broadcasting of The Big Bang Theory resumes in Israel on Saturday night and we welcome back Sheldon and the gang.

For starters, let us refer you to the Miriam Shlesinger Human Rights action blog. Now that a year has gone 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 Reporters without Borders, a France-based international non-profit, non-governmental organization that promotes and defends freedom of information and freedom of the press. The organization has consultant status at the United Nations. The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has joined them in the role of "ambassador".
Ai Weiwei – ambassador for Reporters Without Borders
Reporters Without Borders has two primary spheres of activity: one is focused on Internet Censorship and the New Media, and the other on providing material, financial and psychological assistance to journalists assigned to dangerous areas. Its missions are to:
  •   monitor continuously attacks on freedom of information worldwide and denounce any such attacks in the media;
  •  act in cooperation with governments to fight censorship and laws aimed at restricting freedom of   information;
  • morally and financially assist persecuted journalists, as well as their families; and offer material assistance to war correspondents in order to enhance their safety.
Pollyanna recommends a visit to their Web site, linked above.  She thinks it is worthy to support their causes and to donate to support their activities.

All over the world people, especially children in the Third World suffer and die because of vitamin A deficiency. A genetic modification in rice replaced one of the genes intended to produce beta carotene. The original gene, which makes an enzyme called phytoene synthase, came from the narcissus flower, and was replaced with one from maize that is far more efficient. It produced 20 times more beta carotene, the molecule from carrots that combines with a second molecule of itself once inside our bodies to make a molecule of vitamin A, The GMO rice has been steadfastly opposed by Greenpeace and other environmental organizations. Indeed we have long been negative about GMO mainly because of Monsanto and their foul manipulations to make farmers dependent on them. If this is a real benefit for people suffering from vitamin A deficiency, perhaps we should rethink our position on GMO and look at things on a case by case basis.. What do you think?

As you all know Pollyanna rants about matters concerning women and girls. Now she is ranting about the people, mostly women and girls, who were victims of the Rana factory building collapse and the more recent Aswad fire that killed 10 people in Bangladesh. The Guardian reports that this factory was not included in the work safety inspection plan.

The main beneficiaries of the cheap labor in unsafe conditions in Bangladesh are Western companies. Buyers of clothing made in Aswad include Wal-Mart ("George" clothing line), Gap, UK's Primark, and two Canadian companies ── Hudson's Bay Co. and Loblaws Inc., owner of Joe Fresh. Many companies have signed on to a compact to inspect work safety in Bangladesh, but Walmart and Gap have come up with something much weaker. Gap has issued a pious press release, but so far only 6% of the victims of Rana Plaza have been compensated. Pollyanna is far from glad, in fact she is furious and suggests that we all think a bit before buying brand name clothing from companies that risk the lives of their workers for filthy lucre.


Carolyn Porco brings us northern hemisphere springtime at Saturn and gives us a peek at the lake region. With northern spring in full swing, the liquid methane and ethane seas and lakes that are found in Titan's north polar region have finally come under the watchful gaze of Cassini's remote sensing instruments. Infrared images reveal new clues about how the lakes formed and about Titan's Earth-like "hydrologic" cycle, which involves liquid hydrocarbons rather than water.(Image Advisory can be found here.)  Pollyanna's brother Titan has some cool stuff.
Dark Lakes on a Bright Landscape (NASA Cassini Saturn Mission Image)
Dark lakes on a bright landscape

At least we do not expect the lakes and seas on Titan to be full of fish. Alas, the Pacific Ocean here on Earth is apparently equally dead. An Australian sailor saw no marine life and tons of rubbish on a 37,000 km voyage from Australia to Japan. The sea is overfished and garbage and debris make sailing an obstacle course. It is indeed tragic that we have so badly fouled our nest.

The practice of phubbing, i.e. messing with your smart phone and ignoring the real person you are with has become an epidemic. Hadass, bless her, has raised this issue in her blog (alongside) and refers us to an Australian site that deals with the phenomenon. Indeed phubbing can be quite obnoxious, but we cannot avoid thinking of people who cannot interact otherwise, such as our dear beloved Raj and his sweetheart Lucy. For them, a texting date in a library is just perfect. Of course, even they have  reached the point of speaking to one another, despite her habit of escaping via the window of the ladies' room.

We are great fans of Stilton cheese, one of the brands of "walking" cheeses that we love for breakfast. We are now told that the owner of a pub in the town of Stilton has been ordered to refrain from using the name of the town for the cheese he makes there. It is a technical issue having to do with EU naming rules. Stilton cheese is made in certain counties, none of which contains the town of Stilton, where it was said to have been invented in the 18th century. Weird things happen. Good luck Mr. Pubmaster McGivern.

We are sure that most of you have seen one production or the other of the musical Fiddler on the Roof, based on the Tevyeh story cycle by Shalom Aleichem.

Sam Falk/The New York Times

Rehearsals for the 1964 Broadway debut of “Fiddler on the Roof,” with Zero Mostel pulling the cart. He sometimes clashed with the show’s director and choreographer, Jerome Robbins, standing to the left onstage. (Both won Tony Awards for the show.)

It describes life in the late 19th and early 20th century Jewish towns in the Pale of Settlement in Czarist Russia. We saw it in 1964 in its pre-Broadway run in Washington. It was a colossal success. Thank you Richard for calling our attention to this article in the NYTimes giving a bit of the history of the production. Zero Mostel was superb as Tevyeh. Indeed he was a marvelous actor. We also saw him in the role of Pseudolus the slave in A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum. Here we see him as Tevye asking God to make him rich.


 The ESA Rosetta spacecraft is en route to a rendezvous with comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. It was launched in 2004 and in August 2014 will meet the comet and drop a lander on the nucleus.
Rosetta mission milestones 2014-2015
 In a few months, in January, it will be aroused by a command from Earth to end its hibernation and to start warming up for its task. In the nine years that it has been in space it has executed a convoluted orbit that includes three flybys of Earth and one of Mars to get the boosts needed to make the trip. See the video in the link. Thanks to Ray for bringing these details and the link to our attention.

An ancient tomb dating back to about 2500 BCE has been found near Cairo. It appears to be that of the doctor who took care of the royal family. The region where it was found south of Cairo is a known ancient burial site for the pharaohs of the very early dynasties. We have visited Egypt and indeed the necropolis areas in which the ancient kings are buried are most impressive.
A picture taken on October 22, 2013 shows Egyptian hieroglyphics on a 4,000 year old tomb which was discovered by archaeologists in Abusir on the outskirts of the Egyptian capital, Cairo
Entrance to the tomb

Samantha Harper asks What If, If an asteroid was very small but supermassive, could you really live on it like the Little Prince? The answer is nice.

Dilbert discovers that courtship in the Facebook era is not easy at all:
Dilbert Cartoon for Oct/20/2013

and then there is perception :

At the last EMMY awards ceremony, the MC opened by explaining to the younger people that television is something that you watch on your telephone. Indeed, the world is changing but also remaining the same:
Barney & Clyde Cartoon for Oct/25/2013

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Pollyanna salutes the 2013 Nobel Laureates

 Pollyanna is back with you again and would like to share some nice things with you. We are past the holiday season and are back in our routine.
Pollyanna too will be a scientist
For starters, let us refer you to the Miriam Shlesinger Human Rights action blog. A year has gone  by without Miriam, and  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 Mercy Corps a most worthy NGO that helps people in disaster areas or who have had traumatic experiences. They work in failing states like Somalia and Zimbabwe,  conflict zones like Afghanistan, Congo and Iraq. and countries that have endured natural disasters like Indonesia, Pakistan and Haiti. You are welcome to support their work via their Web site. Pollyanna would like to remind you why she and Titan decided in their get together on Vesta to set up this corner. They feel strongly that too much money in well-intentioned charitable donations goes to unworthy places such as NGO's that do more harm than good (vid.some of the organizations operating in Haiti), or corrupt entities such as the Israeli Army that is swimming in money but yet has the chutzpa to ask for donations from naive people who think they are helping Israel.

Pollyanna, Titan and YandA are delighted to congratulate and salute this year's class of Nobel Laureates:

The Nobel Prize in Physics 2013 was awarded jointly to François Englert and Peter W. Higgs "for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles, and which recently was confirmed through the discovery of the predicted fundamental particle, by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN's Large Hadron Collider"

Peter Higgs and Francois Englert, winners of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics
Peter Higgs (left) and Francois Englert won the Nobel Prize in Physics 50 years after theorising the field that gives fundamental particles their mass. Photograph: Getty

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2013 was awarded jointly to James E. Rothman, Randy W. Schekman and Thomas C. Südhof "for their discoveries of machinery regulating vesicle traffic, a major transport system in our cells".
James E. Rothman

James E. Rothman

Randy W. Schekman

Randy W. Schekman

Thomas C. Südhof

Thomas C. Südhof




The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2013 was awarded jointly to Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel "for the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems".

Martin Karplus

Martin Karplus

Michael Levitt

Michael Levitt

Arieh Warshel

Arieh Warshel




At the risk of appearing provincial, we note that some of them have connections to Israel and to Israeli scientific institutions.

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2013 was awarded to Alice Munro "master of the contemporary short story".

Alice Munro

Alice Munro


The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2013 is to be awarded to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) for its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons

We also tip our hats to the young Pakistani advocate of education for girls for winning the Sakharov award. European lawmakers awarded their top human rights prize Thursday to Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, who last year survived a Taliban assassination attempt because of her outspoken support for girls' education.
malala Sakharov Award

In the wake of the dastardly attack on a church in Peshawar by Taliban thugs, hundreds of Muslim people formed a human chain around the church during Mass this last Sunday. Pollyanna and her cohorts say God (whichever if any you chose) bless you wonderful human beings. Their action helps to restore our faith in humanity
men holding up hands

Joseph Ow  for The New York Times
Bonnie Fleming, the second tenured woman in Yale’s physics departmen
As usual, Pollyanna takes her turn ranting about bad things that affect women and girls. Today she is calling your attention to a problem that concerns highly educated women in First World industrialized countries, in particular, the United States. She points at the question raised in an important NYTimes article by Eileen Pollack,  in which she asks why there still are so few women in science. Pollyanna recommends the article to you consideration. There is much food for thought there.

Cheers for Curiosity and her support team for finding water on Mars. For details, if you have access, see the paper in Science.

The Juno spacecraft en route to a pole-to-pole orbit around Jupiter whizzed past Earth on Wednesday for a gravity boost to the speed it needs to move the probe onward to the largest planet in our solar system.  The spacecraft went into a precautionary safe mode  shortly after completing the speed-boosting flyby of Earth. While Juno's handlers are still trying to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it, they are hopeful that the problem won't threaten the $1.1 billion mission.

"We believe we are on track as planned to Jupiter," Juno project manager Rick Nybakken, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., told the Associated Press. He described his level of concern as "moderate."

The Juno mission launched in August 2011 and is slated to arrive at the Jovian system in July 2016. The probe is so heavy — about 8,000 pounds (3,267 kilograms) — that its Atlas 5 rocket couldn't send it all the way  by itself, so mission planners devised the Earth flyby to finish the job. The path looks like this:

The flyby, which was highlighted by a close approach that brought Juno within just 347 miles (558 kilometers) of Earth at 3:21 p.m. EDT (1921 GMT), was designed to boost the probe's speed from 78,000 mph (126,000 km/h) to 87,000 mph (140,000 km/h), mission officials said.

Once Juno enters orbit around Jupiter, it will study the gas giant's atmosphere, gravitational field and magnetic field with nine science instruments over the course of a full Earth year. Scientists hope the probe's observations will reveal insights about Jupiter's formation, structure and composition, including whether or not the planet possesses a solid core.

Pollyanna and her crew sincerely hope that Juno will survive the glitch, whatever it was. Our experiment on Cassini around Saturn went off last year because of electronic failure. We also would like to mention that a few decades back  we took part in a workshop at UCLA organized by our dear colleague Fran Bagenal to make up a wish list for Juno and to fantasize that the mission might someday be real. We wish all the best to Scott Bolton our friend and colleague, who is the   project scientist and to the entire Juno team.


Pollyanna strongly approves of the idea of smart cities that conserve energy, water and other resources. A new wave of urban infrastructure technology, making inroads in Israel, will go on display at the water and waste water management conference next month in Tel Aviv. Cheers.

The southern parts of Tel Aviv that border on Jaffa have been neglected for far too long. Recently some interest has arisen in renewal of the region and a community center is planned for the old Aliya Market. We link you to an interview with the two young architects who won the competition for the design of the community center.

Model of Ha'aliyah Market community center.
Model of Ha'aliyah Market community center in south Tel Aviv. Photo by Tsionov Vikton Adar
WoW prayer service, Oct. 4, 2013.
Members of the Women of the Wall group take part in their monthly prayer session at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City October 4, 2013. Photo by Reuters
The women who have been struggling for years to break the Orthodox monopoly on prayer at the Western Wall have agreed to a compromise plan that involves the establishment of a separate place near the Well for egalitarian prayer. In our humble opinion, the struggle for Jewish pluralism transcends the Wall. We need recognition of alternate forms of Judaism--as you know we belong to the Reform Congregation of Natanya, Kehilath Natan-Ya. We need the same level of government support that is given to the Orthodox. We now have local government salaries for rabbis in rural regions, but not yet for cities. The struggle must go and be more focused.


What If asks If wind speed reached 500 mph(800 kph) would it pick up a human being? The asker is seven years old. The answer is interesting.

Our hearts go out to our friends and family in the US who are living without a government. Andy Borowitz informs us that now the Republicans are closing down the frontal cortex!

Yes, we waste our precious time sitting in front of a TV screen watching a bunch of millionaires bashing each other to pieces in order to make trillionaires of their billionaire bosses. We admit this in shame, but go on with our depravity. We are pleased to be informed that racism in the NFL is on its way out since the Washington Redskins have been renamed the D.C. Redskins.
The Onion also tells us that the future of the league is being insured by collecting sperm from the players. It reminds us of a reaction in Israel several years ago when the then tennis superstar Pete Sampras offered to come to Israel to train tennis coaches and players. Someone suggested that instead he send his father to stud a new generation of star players. Alas, this is supposed to be a family blog.

Pollyanna has only praise for the Ministry of Transport of Spain who have provided the La Mancha region with the most appropriate traffic signs:

 Barney & Clyde for 10/6/2013

Exoplanets are really exciting

In another week we shall read in the Torah a report on two crimes. In one, a man kicked out a woman and child although the woman was his concubine and the child his. In the next chapter, the same miscreant came close to murdering the remaining son. Here is the transcript of the police interrogation of the suspect with respect to the planned murder:
Abraham Leading Isaac to Sacrifice, 1602, oil on copper.


Here is a link to the lyrics.