Cluster Map

Friday, June 21, 2013

Pollyanna says Hi

Pollyanna is back and hopes you have all recovered from the last tirade from Titan. She will  try to be as nice as she can. Judy sent us a quote that seems to describe our situation in the world and in our little part of it:"they told me to cheer up, things will only get worse. I cheered and they did." Thank you for the optimism Judy.   Let us have some empathy for a dying star.
When a star reaches the end of its life cycle it can shuffle off this mortal coil in a variety of ways, which depend inter alia on its mass. The big guys explode as novae or supernovae whereas the smaller ones fade out. The Very Large Telescope in Chile has caught the death throes of an old star that is fading out by means of a planetary nebula. It is giving off a bright green sheen that will go on for about 10,000 years. The color indicates that the object has a high abundance of oxygen.

A glowing bubble of gas, called a planetary nebula, surrounds a dying old star located 3,300 light-years away in this image captured by the Very Large Telescope in Chile.
Courtesy of the European Southern Observatory

Pollyanna along with Titan and YandA send Happy Birthday greetings to our grandson Ari who turned 14 today.


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.

Not everything that Pollyanna tells you has to do with pleasant things. On matters involving women and girls she is just as much a ranter as Titan. Again we see attacks against women and girls designed to prevent them from obtaining education and empowerment in society. This seems to be inherent in male-dominated religions in particular fundamentalist Islam. Women suffer discrimination in other faiths, but only in Islam does it reach the level of murder. In the city of Quetta in Pakistan, the violence started on Saturday when a bomb exploded on a bus carrying students to Sardar Bahadur Khan Women's University. When survivors were brought to a medical center, suspected suicide bombers stormed the building and started shooting indiscriminately. In total 25 people were killed in the two attacks. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni Muslim militant group blamed for a string of sectarian and high-profile terror attacks, has claimed responsibility for this attack. Pollyanna is outraged as you should be as well.  

Civilians emerge from the hospital attacked in Quetta, Pakistan, 15 June
People in the Pakistani city of Quetta are in shock after Saturday's double attacks. Here, civilians are seen emerging from the hospital which was attacked.
Apropos, the right to education, Pollyanna is pleased that in Israel the Education Ministry will allow the haredi (ultraorthdox) school system four months to reach an understanding with the State regarding core studies – else, the government will impose State school guidelines on the haredi schools, including tests examining schools' efficiency and growth measures (known as Meitzav tests). These religious schools do not teach the basic curriculum i.e. math, science, English etc. that are required of all schools. They are funded by taxpayer money, but prefer to deny their children the skills needed to function in the modern world. Bad as it is for boys, it is even worse for girls. When a Bais Yaakov girls school set up a program for high school diplomas for girls a few years ago, the big shot haredi rabbis went apoplectic. Cheers to IRAC, the legal arm of Reform Judaism in Israel that brought the issue to court.

Let us move on to happier things. Pollyanna is delighted that the US Supreme Court has ruled that genes cannot be patented.This ruling has broad implications and can help make genetic testing for breast cancer risk cheaper and more available. We quote an expert:“The Supreme Court got it exactly right,” said Eric Lander, the president of the Broad Institute, a genetic research center affiliated with Harvard and M.I.T. “It’s a great decision for patients, it’s a great decision for science, and I think it’s a great decision for the biotechnology industry.”

While most agree with the Court, the Washington Post points out in an editorial that this cannot be the last word on the subject. "Congress must explore how to encourage useful genetic research while allowing the fruits of that inquiry to be used as freely as possible." Indeed things that occur in nature cannot be patented. The editorial makes a silly analogy to Isaac Newton, gravity and the apocryphal falling apple. A more apposite analogy would be to say that while Herz could not have patented electromagnetic waves that he discovered, Marconi could and did patent his radio transmitter and receiver.

Yosefa passed this on from Phil Plait. A supercell is a form of extreme thunderstorm generated when air masses of different characteristic collide. They can give rise to tornados. Here is a beautiful video of such an entity:

A supercell near Booker, Texas from Mike Olbinski on Vimeo.

Indeed, going to gym and jogging give us great health benefits, yet we all prefer to sit on a couch and watch millionaires exerting themselves on a field or court for our entertainment. Daniel Lieberman, an evolutionary biologist, discusses the adaptive value of our physical fitness and why we hate to run. Pollyanna, Titan and their imaginary playmates YandA go to gym faithfully. On Sunday, Y does a treadmill run while A goes to Pilatis core workout with a trainer. Meet Adi

Would you think that beneath that charming exterior there lurks someone who stresses your internal muscles as she smiles? During the week, Y works out with Batya in a group in Kiryat Onno while on Thursday A falls into the hands of one of these two weight trainers--Dana and Shira.
Shira left, Dana right
Certainly we like to go to gym.

Titan keeps himself fit by orbiting Saturn at a neat clip of 5.6 km/s and, despite your impressions from his blog, he has very little eccentricity.  Pollyanna as a young active lass is in fine shape.


She has a story that should serve as an inspiration for all of us and Pollyanna is not a purveyor of cliches. This woman is for real. She is an American-born soprano and a recipient of two double lung transplants. Charity has performed across the United States, Europe, and Asia in venues as diverse as the Rose Theater at Lincoln Center in New York City; The Kennedy Center in Washington, DC; Severance Hall in Cleveland, Ohio; Il Giardino Di Boboli in Florence, Italy; the National Palace of the Arts in Budapest, Hungary; the Tel Aviv Opera House in Israel; the American Embassy in Beijing, China; the United Nations in New York; and National Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol. She has collaborated and performed with noted conductors and musicians including Eva Marton, Bruno Rigacci, Joela Jones, Marvin Hamlisch, Bono, Zoltan Kocis, Joan Dornemann, and former Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice. Some of her operatic roles have included Titania in A MidSummer’s Night Dream, Gilda in Rigoletto, Violetta in La Traviata, and Ophelia in Ophelia Forever. Charity has also performed for numerous presidents, prime ministers, members of Congress, and world dignitaries.

Her story is wonderful and we are going to link you to her TedMed lecture so you can hear it from her.

Yosefa has called to our attention a study that shows that since the introduction of the vaccine against human papillomavirus in the US, there has been a significant decrease in the incidence of infection with the viral strains that cause cervical cancer. The rate of infection dropped to 3.6% among girls ages 14 to 19 in 2010, from 7.2% in 2006. Pollyanna calls on all of you who have teenage daughters to get them vaccinated pronto.


Thank you Yosefa for calling Pollyanna's attention to this new development. It should be a major step forward in the enabling and empowerment of blind people.

Neils Bohr, a founding father of quantum mechanics once said, "How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress.".Prof. Bohr would be happy now. There is a rock known as NWA (North West Africa) 7325 that is causing quite a tizzy in the world of meteorite researchers. It has characteristics that indicate that its source was the planet Mercury. The chemistry is convincing to some but not to others. The discussion is most interesting although the issue may never be resolved since a sample return from Mercury does not seem to be in the offing.

Unearthly green rocks (one shown) found in the western Sahara last year may hail from Mercury.
S. Ralew

We have long suspected that heading a soccer ball countless times will take a toll on the functioning of the player's brain. Indeed, the youth leagues in the US do not allow heading by players under the age of 18. It now has been shown in a recent study that heading the ball, while not causing concussion, can effect subtle changes in the brain that interfere with memory function. We think that the introduction of helmets would help. Helmets encountered resistance among ice hockey professionals, but are now standard. FIFA, are you listening?

An ancient city over a millennium old has been discovered in Cambodia near the Angkor Wat temple, by means of  LIDAR (light radar) by Australian archeologists. It is an amazing finding. The stunning discovery of the city, Mahendraparvata, includes temples hidden by jungle for centuries - temples that archaeologists believe have never been looted.

Before we move on to our silly section, we would like to give you a book review, which we have not done for a while We have read both of Khaled Hosseini’s first two novels, “The Kite Runner” (2003) and “A Thousand Splendid Suns” (2007), and understand well why they spent a combined total of 171 weeks on the bestseller list. His newest book
Khaled Hosseini
Riverhead. 404 pp. $28.95

received an enthusiastic review from Marcela Valdes, in the Washington Post. We have every intention of reading it.

What if? This week it is for the rowing enthusiasts among us, especially those with exotic tastes.

Pollyanna is a bit amused by complaints that the pace of modern life is destroying the quality of our lives. She thanks xkcd for helping to put this in perspective.

We dedicate this strip to Yosefa who has to put up with similar things in the real world:

Barney & Clyde Cartoon for Jun/21/2013


Barney & Clyde Cartoon for Jun/16/2013


Thursday, June 6, 2013

Pollyanna will try to be nice this week


Last week brother Titan was particularly nasty and he promises to be even worse next week because of the stuff that keeps coming up. Pollyanna sympathizes with him, but will try to do her bit to show that the world is not all bad things.

For example, we had a visitor from the universe
At its closest, the asteroid  passed within a distance of about 6 million kilometres
that flew by at a respectable distance but helped to remind us  that there are dangerous things out there and we should watch them carefully. This one was big., 2.7 km in dimension. It is even massive enough to trap and hold a moon.

We also went to a concert with our grandkids and heard the William Tell Overture which certainly shows that one should have faith, as WT's kid did. 

Of course, some  of us associate the overture with the Lone Ranger radio and TV adventure stories, but it really means being an American of a certain age, not young at all.

OK, enough of being silly and on to serious stuff,

Pollyanna also asks you to click on the Miriam Shlesinger Human Rights action blog and to do your bit for human rights.

Consider the five great mathematicians who made the greatest difference to our lives. Pollyanna knows that to many of you math is anathema and invokes traumatic memories of old school days. Nonetheless, the cell phone you use, the car you drive and the medicine that cures your ills, all are available because of mathematics. In addition, it has a beauty of its own and would be a worthy subject of  research even without its myriad applications in the real world. In a blog post, Suburban Lion proposes introducing advanced  mathematical concepts into school curricula. The idea makes sense.

Something that math and physics can do for us is to give us an idea of the galaxy in which we live. Phil  Plait in Bad Astronomy tells us about new research that explains how our Milky Way galaxy developed its spiral arms and maintains them. It is nice that although we are inside the galaxy, modern observing techniques and powerful computer simulations tell us what the galaxy is like. Pollyanna says we should want to know because we do live here.
A map of our galaxy, including the new measurements of the Local Arm. Click to galactinate.
Illustration by Robert Hurt, IPAC; Bill Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF

The Hula Painted Frog, long considered extinct, has been discovered living in the Hula bog. Since it is the sole living member of a family Latonia, which went extinct 15,000 years ago, is has been classified as a living fossil. Its habitat had been nearly destroyed when some idiot decided to drain the Hula swamp in Northern Israel. Reflooding of part of it seems to have helped these tough little survivors.

The Hula painted frog was last seen in Israel the 1950s - until it was found again in 2011 by a park ranger

While we have long regarded our Murphy as the epitome of canine wisdom, it appears that a border collie bitch seems to have figured out grammar, whereas Murphy just knows a few simple commands and is trying to understand why picking up tortoises is not a means of gaining popularity. The collie, Chaser, owned by psychologist John Pilley of Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C. can understand nouns and verbs She demonstrated her grasp of the basic elements of grammar by responding correctly to commands such as “to ball take Frisbee” and its reverse, “to Frisbee take ball.” for example. Murphy is most impressed as are we.

A border collie named Chaser participates in an experiment testing her ability to understand commands given before she can see any of the objects named in those directives. After hearing a four-word command, Chaser consistently turned around and carried the correct item from the head of the bed to the living room, where she placed it next the appropriate object. Credit: Courtesy of J. Pilley

We love crunchy peanut butter and our lady Yosefa makes it for us at home. We are, however, somewhat surprised and quite pleased to learn that the yummy brown stuff has several non-food uses. We call your attention to the list of ten uses of peanut butter provided by our friends at Care2.

Throughout the world governments and NGO's have been doing their best to remove the scourge of tobacco smoking that causes untold deaths and illnesses. Now Russia has come on board with a new law banning smoking in public places. In the coming years, the law will be expanded further. In Russia, 400,000 people die each year from tobacco-related diseases and President Putin is be to applauded for his efforts to improve public health. The measure has not been received well by the smoking community, who make up 40% of the

If we judge by experience in Israel, real enforcement will take years. Here, the fining of cafe owners for smoking by guests has been effective. It has, however, taken nearly two decades for the public space to become relatively smoke-free. We wish the Russian clean air addicts good luck in their struggle to breathe again. It will require a major increase in taxes on tobacco products if it is to work. In the US, Starbucks has announced a smoking ban within 25 feet (7.6m) of the entrance of any Starbucks cafe. When the ban on smoking in public went into effect in the EU, an Italian interviewed on BBC radio claimed that this would mark the demise of all intellectual activity in Italy. . He seems to have exaggerated just a bit.

.  WHAT IF is a bit fanciful this week, but amusing.

In winter, we like to check the weather radar to see what is coming our way. It is not, according to XKCD, a good idea to be obsessive about it.Weather Radar  
Pollyanna has great respect and admiration for the building trades. We all wonder how they function high up, as we see at lunch time during the building of the Empire State Building in New York in 1930.

Sometimes, however, when things get complicated up there on top, the need for the artistic touch becomes apparent:

Barney & Clyde Cartoon for Jun/05/2013