How genetics works

February 28, 2010

Genetics, how it works - gag photo from 9gagDOTcom 13068_700bReally? 

Really sad thing: This photo’s comic explanation is deeper and more accurate than the average creationist or other denizen of the Discovery Institute.

Tip of the old scrub brush to

Good news from Hawaii: No deaths, little damage

February 28, 2010

Hawaii missed a big tsunami.

That’s probably not entirely accurate, let’s rephrase:  Hawaii didn’t get a significant tsunami from the Chilean quake.  The Hawaiians didn’t miss it at all.  Hawaiians moved to higher ground.  They prepared for disaster.  Then the disaster didn’t occur.

That’s good news, especially since there remains disaster in Chile to worry about.

How long before some yahoo complains we shouldn’t trust USGS, nor NOAA?


Tsunami warnings for Hawaii: How science really works

February 27, 2010

As I write this it’s more than five hours away.

Earthquake map from USGS, showing location of the Chile quake 2-27-2010

Earthquake map from USGS, showing location of the Chile quake 2-27-2010 - click on map to go to interactive version at USGS site

A horrible, devastating earthquake hit Chile last night, on the west coast of South America.  Scientists at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center fear it may have triggered a tsunami that will hit Hawaii today (an AP story says at 5:19 p.m. Eastern; that’s 4:19 p.m. Central, and just after 11:00 a.m. in Honolulu, Hawaii, Hawaiian-Aleutian Standard Time (HAST).

HONOLULU (Reuters) – Hawaii prepared to start evacuations ahead of a tsunami generated by a massive earthquake in Chile, a civil defense official on the U.S. island said on Saturday.

It planned to sound civil defense sirens across the island state at 6 a.m. local time (11 a.m. EST) after the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said a tsunami was generated that could cause damage along the coasts of all the Hawaiian islands,

“Get off the shore line. We are closing all the beaches and telling people to drive out of the area,” said John Cummings, Oahu Civil Defense spokesman.

Buses will patrol beaches and take people to parks in a voluntary process expected to last five hours.

More than an hour before sirens were due to sound lines of cars snaked for blocks from gas stations in Honolulu.

“Urgent action should be taken to protect lives and property,” the Warning Center said in a bulletin. “All shores are at risk no matter which direction they face.”

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

The warning follows a huge earthquake in Chile that killed at least 82 people and triggered tsunamis up and down the coast of the earthquake-prone country.

The center estimates the first tsunami, which is a series of several waves in succession, will hit Hawaii at 11:19 a.m. Hawaii time (4:19 p.m. EST) in the town of Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii, with waves in Honolulu at 11:52 a.m.

Sardina said the Hawaiian islands could expect waves of six feet (two meters) in some places. Other estimates have been higher but he could not confirm those were likely.

Plate tectonics at work — the Pacific plate pushing underneath South America.  The epicenter was 22 miles deep.  We get a glimpse into how geologists and others work with a report from the Times of London:

Several big aftershocks later hit the south-central region, including ones measuring 6.9, 6.2 and 5.6.

The earthquake was caused by the floor of the Pacific being pushed below South American land mass.

This sudden jerking of the sea-floor displaced water and triggered a tsunami, which is now crossing the ocean at a speed of a jet plane.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a warning for Chile and Peru, and a less-urgent tsunami watch for Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica and Antarctica.

A spokesman said: “Sea level readings indicate a tsunami was generated.

Will a potential disaster in human lives be averted?

Isn’t this exactly how science is supposed to work?  Will the anti-science yahoos ignore the warnings?

Woo notice: Our dogs were restless last night.  I had to get up twice to let them out just to bark with the rest of the dogs in the neighborhood, who all seemed to be going nuts at once.  Looking at the news stories, it was just a bit before the big quake hit Chile.  It doesn’t make sense to me that dogs so far away from the epicenter would be affected that way.


Hawaii map and threat map from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center - 2-27-2010

Hawaii map and threat map from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, February 27, 2010. Click on image for current information.

Computer-aided study of the Venus de Milo

February 27, 2010

Oh, sure, it’s on the web more as advertising for Konica/Minolta.  But it’s still cool.

Close-up of arm of Venus de Milo - Wikimedia image

So-called “Venus de Milo” (Aphrodite from Melos), detail of the upper block: join surface of the right upper arm, with mortise; attachment holes, which probably bore a metal armlet; strut hole above the navel, now covered with plaster. Parian marble, ca. 130-100 BC? Found in Melos in 1820. Wikimedia image

Konica/Minolta scanned the Venus de Milo in great detail, and they have put up a Flash multimedia piece exploring the creation of the piece, techniques of sculptors of the time, and, most interesting to most of us, just what the piece was supposed to look like with her arms.

If your school district is nipple intolerant, don’t send your kids there.  If you have AP World History, your kids might benefit from seeing Konica/Minolta’s comments and study — you can check it all out in less than ten minutes.

Quote of the moment: Martin Niemöller, “. . . I did not speak out . . .”

February 26, 2010

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.

— Pastor Martin Niemöller

Martin Niemoller on a postage stamp, painted by Gerd Aretz in 1992 - Wikipedia

German theologian and Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemöller on a postage stamp, painted by Gerd Aretz in 1992 – Wikipedia

It’s spring, and school curricula turn to the Holocaust, in English, in world history, and in U.S. history.

Martin Niemöller’s poem registers powerfully for most people — often people do not remember exactly who said it.  I have seen it attributed to Deitrich Bonhoeffer (who worked with Niemöller in opposing some Nazi programs), Albert Einstein, Reinhold Niebuhr, Albert Schweitzer, Elie Wiesel, and an “anonymous inmate in a concentration camp.”

Niemöller and his actions generate controversy — did he ever act forcefully enough?  Did his actions atone for his earlier inactions?  Could anything ever atone for not having seen through Hitler and opposing Naziism from the start?  For those discussion reasons, I think it’s important to keep the poem attributed to Niemöller.  The facts of his life, his times, and his creation of this poem, go beyond anything anyone could make up.  The real story sheds light.




“Brain rot” in the Lower Merion School District?

February 25, 2010

My Latin is not good.  My high school didn’t offer it, and I couldn’t squeeze it in to college, either.  Tom, one of my study group mates in law school, had four years of Latin with a Catholic priest who was a great and grave taskmaster.  Tom could memorize the hell out of anything (obviously what the priest was trying to instill).

I’ve lost Tom’s address.  I could use his translations now.

Remember the Lower Merion (Pennsylvania) School District?  That’s the one that issued Mac laptops to all the high school kids, and then got embarrassed when it was discovered that the computers came equipped with cameras that take pictures of the kids in their homes, according to the allegations in the complaint that started the federal lawsuit.

Since the lawsuit was filed, the FBI opened an investigation, and the district itself backpedaled fast, claiming that no photos were ever taken except when laptops were reported stolen, and issuing statements that the district and its employees did nothing wrong.  The district also says it has turned off the remote photo devices, and won’t turn them on without notifying parents.

Good.  We’ll watch to see how it comes out.

So, while pondering whether to post a follow up, the logo of the school district caught my eye and my curiosity.

Logo and web letterhead of Lower Merion (PA) School District

What does that Latin stuff translate to?

Okay.  “VE RI TAS” is a very Harvard-like claim of truth.  “Corpori,” obviously means body.  “Menti,” obviously refers to the mind.

“Moribus?”  Something to do with death.

“Body, Mind and Death?”  What sort of a motto is that?  I must have translated something wrong.

Here, I’ll use an on-line translator:  “Fleshly mind to die.”

Fleshly mind to die.  What?  Brain rot?  Does that slogan mean brain rot?

The Welsh Valley Middle School, part of the Lower Merion School District, says the motto means “Body, Mind and Spirit.”  That’s better.

But, “moribus” means “to die, wither away” according to the dictionaries I find.  I get the concept that a spirit remains after death — but is that what they actually say?

Back to the translator, if I ask it to translate “body, mind and spirit” into English, I get “Somes, mens quod phasmatis.” No moribus.

Back to the translator again.  “Spirit” into Latin comes up phasmatis, phasma, spiritus, animus, animositas — nothing about death, no moribus.

Maybe some kid from a Latin class in the Lower Merion schools can tell me how they get “spirit” from “moribus,” or alternatively, just assure me that the motto isn’t supposed to mean “brain rot.”

Did somebody pull a quick one on the LMSD when they adopted their motto?  Could there maybe be a better way to translate it?

Elbow! One day like this . . .

February 25, 2010

Digital television brings us an additional channel with KERA, our local PBS station.   The second channel carries programming from PBS World.

Great stuff, lots of repeats of the science shows, convenient rebroadcasts of The Newshour.  And promos with interesting music.  One promo features a twisting camera with odd angles on two people doing twists on a trampoline.  It looks like they are bungee jumping at first.  It’s got good music that qualifies as earworm stuff, ending with the vocal line, “It’s looking like a beautiful day.”

Finally took the time to track it down.  Elbow is the band, “One Day Like This” is the song.  Live version with the BBC Concert Orchestra and a choir called Chantage, below.  Obviously I’m not the only one who likes the performance.

How did we ever do this stuff before the internet?

%d bloggers like this: