Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Oysters in New York City?

International Year Of Biodiversity

Stephanie Perez inspects an oyster at New York Harbor School on Governors Island

This is unusual.

"At the New York Harbor School, Growing Oysters for Credit"


David Kamp

June 29th, 2010

The New York Times

BENEATH a floating dock off Governors Island, tucked behind the squat octagonal white ventilation tower for the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, there are oysters growing in New York Harbor.

And not just any oysters. These little bivalves, 500,000 strong, make up the largest concentrated oyster population that the harbor has seen in perhaps a century.

On a recent spring day, Pete Malinowski, who tends to these oysters, removed one of the metal grates that have been fitted into the dock’s surface, revealing a series of silos, as he calls the 60-gallon plastic tubs in which his charges live. He plunged his hand into a silo and pulled up a few specimens for examination. They were small, maybe an inch and a quarter long, but they looked like normal oysters: ridged, craggy and tightly shut — not the grotesque mutant mollusks that the words “cultivated in New York City waters” might suggest.

“I was skeptical about their rate of survival because they all came in at two millimeters, when they’re pretty vulnerable,” Mr. Malinowski said. “But look at this, the papery-thin part.” He pointed to the outer rim of a shell, thin and translucent like the tip of a fingernail. “That’s new growth, which is awesome.”

Mr. Malinowski, 27, is a second-generation oysterman whose parents, Sarah and Steve, run the Fishers Island Oyster Farm in Block Island Sound. If you’ve ordered oysters in a New York City restaurant, chances are you’ve eaten ones from Fishers Island, whose longtime champions include the chefs David Bouley, Michael Lomonaco and Alfred Portale.

But Mr. Malinowski is not farming oysters for commercial purposes, and the person to whom he reported this growth data was not some leathery old sea dog in a woolen cap but a fresh-faced 17-year-old from Canarsie, Brooklyn, named Jeptha Sullivan.

Mr. Malinowski is an aquaculture teacher at the Urban Assembly New York Harbor School, a part of the city’s public school system. Mr. Sullivan just completed his senior year there with the distinction of having been named the school’s most experienced diver.

To see these young men working together is to witness the confluence of two extraordinary narratives: that of the Harbor School, 85 percent of whose students come from families living below the poverty line; and that of the New York Harbor oyster, the briny, bountiful staple that gave the city much of its flavor, literally and figuratively, until it was done in by overharvesting and pollution.

Last Friday was graduation day for Mr. Sullivan and his 60 or so classmates. Their commencement ceremony was the first official event held at the Harbor School’s striking new campus on Governors Island. Until now, the school, which opened in 2003, had been in the landlocked neighborhood of Bushwick, Brooklyn.

The school’s new home, where classes will begin in September, is in a location that befits its name: on the harbor in a large, handsome brick building on the west side of the island that used to be a Coast Guard hospital. There are views of the Statue of Liberty across the Upper Bay.

The building, with a 432-student capacity, has been retrofitted with state-of-the-art facilities, including a fin-fish and shellfish production lab, a large room dominated by a Wonka-esque network of tubing and tanks in which scallops, mussels, clams, horseshoe crabs and blackfish, among other indigenous harbor species, will be cultivated.

There is also a marine-tech wood shop where students will build 21-foot sloops, and there will soon be an organic garden and an aquaponic freshwater system for farming tilapia; that is, for raising the fish symbiotically with plants.

In keeping with the school’s overall green ethos, students and faculty members will eat together in the expansive dining hall using washable, reusable plates and trays and metal cutlery. The school secured an industrial dishwasher, a rarity in the city school system. Harbor School students do not pay for their meals, in accordance with federal policy, since 70 percent or more of the student body qualifies for free lunch.

If the aquaponic system works to Mr. Malinowski’s expectations, the students will dine on tilapia and tomatoes they will have raised themselves. (The lab’s saltwater species will be raised strictly for educational and habitat-restoration purposes.)

But the oyster is the Harbor School’s calling card, the symbol of its goals. Every incoming freshman, as if pledging a fraternity, must swallow one — though it must be noted that these initiation oysters come from Mr. Malinowski’s parents’ place 100 miles away. Eating a New York Harbor oyster is forbidden and potentially illness-inducing. Which is both sad and the whole point.

On Governors Island last month, a group of seniors was helping Mr. Malinowski install a series of tanks and pumps at the end of Lima Pier, which juts off the island’s southern tip. This is one of two off-campus sites — the other being the eco-dock, as the floating dock is called — where oysters (their seed also donated by the Malinowskis) are being raised in harbor water.

“Here I am, talking about salinity, turbidity and nitrates,” said Janique Moore, 18, who lives in the Starrett City apartment complex (now known as Spring Creek Towers) in East New York, Brooklyn, and is contemplating becoming an environmental lawyer or a marine biologist. “But I’ll admit that when I was little, I didn’t think there were animals living in these waters. I didn’t even think of New York as a harbor-y kind of city.”

Three hundred years ago, the lower Hudson River estuary was home to 350 square miles of thriving oyster beds, their harvest enjoyed by Native Americans and European settlers alike. Right up until the end of the 19th century, lower Manhattan was rife with inexpensive oyster cellars where a nickel or two bought you dozens of oysters, raw, stewed or fried.

But greed and carelessness proved to be the urban oyster’s undoing. Dredging and raw sewage in the 19th century and industrial pollution in the 20th destroyed its natural habitat. The few wild oysters that survive in New York Harbor are inedible.

Enter Murray Fisher, 35, the program director of the Harbor School. Raised on an organic cattle farm outside Richmond, Va., Mr. Fisher spent much of his childhood outdoors, a preservationist ethic ingrained into his being at an early age.

In 1998, fresh out of Vanderbilt University, he went to work for Riverkeeper, the environmental organization devoted to protecting the Hudson. It was there that he had the idea for a city school devoted, as he put it in an interview, “to a curriculum that’s restoration-based and makes kids feel that they’re valuable contributing members of society.”

“At the very least,” Mr. Fisher said, “it would give them a relationship with a marine environment, which hardly anyone has in New York City.”

Oysters would be central to this curriculum, and not just for historical reasons. In a healthy marine ecosystem, oysters are a keystone species. As they spawn and multiply, they form beds that expand into reefs, and these reefs in turn become hospitable habitats for all manner of marine life: crabs, fish, ribbony eelgrass.

What’s more, each oyster is a natural water-filtration system, pumping between 20 and 50 gallons of seawater through its gills each day and extracting algae and phytoplankton for its food.

Despite his inexperience, Mr. Fisher, through innate political savvy and sheer bullheadedness, willed the Harbor School into existence. Crucially, he forged an alliance with the Urban Assembly, a nonprofit organization that has created 22 small, theme-based public schools in low-income areas that are otherwise served by large, underperforming city schools.

Mr. Fisher said he hoped that the Governors Island oysters would ultimately be the Adams and Eves of a marine-life renaissance in the harbor. If multiple oyster reefs are successfully established throughout the Hudson River estuary — a long-range goal the Harbor School is trying to realize in partnership with NY/NJ Baykeeper, a partner organization of Riverkeeper — the environmental impact could be significant.

Already, an experiment very much like this is under way, conducted by Bart Chezar, 63, a former engineer for the New York Power Authority who has spent his retirement establishing his own oyster colony (with the city’s and state’s permission) in the Bay Ridge Flats, a large area of shallow water off the coast of Red Hook, Brooklyn.

In May, several Harbor School students joined Mr. Chezar at the site, helping lay down 500 oyster shells with live oyster spat attached. (Spat are immature oysters that have ended their free-swimming larval phase and have attached permanently to something.) The shells were fastened with plastic loops to two-foot-square grids that had been fashioned from PVC pipes filled with sand to weigh them down. These grids were then placed on a bed of empty Fishers Island oyster shells.

Several weeks later, Mr. Sullivan dove into the murky waters of the Bay Ridge Flats and emerged holding up one of the grids for examination. The progress was promising: the spat, which in May looked like mere dots, had already grown into recognizable oysters: tiny, but with little hinged shells.

Back on the shore, he considered his own progress.

“I never even knew how to swim until a few years ago,” he said. “I had a near-drowning incident when I was around 10. But since my sophomore year I’ve been a certified Open Water Diver, which my mother likes to tell everybody,” he said, smiling sheepishly.

Mr. Sullivan lives with his mother, who makes ends meet as a baby sitter; his father is currently unemployed. This fall, he will attend Hobart College in Geneva, N.Y., where he plans to major in environmental studies.

“What’s great about this experience is that it gives a kid so many clear career pathways that he might otherwise not be exposed to,” Mr. Fisher said. “The oyster thing alone, it’s not just about oysters. It’s about policy, technology, permits, aquaculture. We need people to become scuba divers, boat drivers, photographers, scientists, lawyers, lawmakers, marine-policy experts.”

The Harbor School program, like the seafaring life, is physically demanding. Merely commuting to the school from eastern Brooklyn — first by subway to the South Ferry station in lower Manhattan, and then by ferry, followed by a brisk cross-island walk to the campus —will be a taxing task in the dark, wind-whipped mornings of winter.

“We tell the students there’s no bad weather, only bad clothing,” said Jennifer Ostrow, the school’s assistant principal.

With the water warming up, the mature oysters in the eco-dock will soon be spawning. Still, the persistent presence of heavy metals and PCB’s in the harbor will probably preclude the school’s students from eating city-bred oysters within their lifetimes.

But it’s not inconceivable that one day, a child of Jeptha Sullivan will be able to sit down at the counter of the Grand Central Oyster Bar and order a half-dozen Bay Ridges, a half-dozen Staten Islands and maybe a couple of TriBeCas.

Yukiya Amano...International Atomic Energy Agency

"Nuclear watchdog has personal stake in his job"

International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano is haunted by the bombings that killed tens of thousands of his fellow Japanese


Borzou Daragahi

June 30th, 2010

Los Angeles Times

He was born two years after the United States dropped atomic weapons on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. And like many Japanese of his generation, Yukiya Amano is haunted by the bombings that killed tens of thousands of his countrymen, irradiated two Japanese cities and launched the anxieties of the nuclear era.

"I have a very strong feeling against nuclear weapons," Amano, who was named head of the International Atomic Energy Agency in December, said this month in a rare interview in his Vienna office. "We have the experience of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and that feeling is very widely shared among the Japanese people, including myself."

A low-key veteran of Japan's diplomatic corps, Amano brings a quiet urgency to his job. He assumes command of the world's top nuclear watchdog agency at a time of heightened concern about proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Middle East and the Korean peninsula, as well as a renewed drive by the Obama administration to reinvigorate long-dormant disarmament efforts.

But Iran's nuclear program remains his agency's No. 1 priority and his biggest challenge. The collapse of two versions of a proposal first floated last year to swap Iran's enriched uranium stockpile for fuel to power a Tehran medical reactor has left the international community with little space for a deal.

"The proposal, as was proposed in October without any change, will not be agreed" upon, the diplomat said.

Amano succeeded Mohamed ElBaradei, the outspoken and charismatic Egyptian Nobel Peace Prize laureate who regularly made waves by opining on broader diplomatic issues, especially regarding the Middle East.

Amano, a 30-year veteran of Japan's Foreign Ministry, is cut from different cloth. He is cool and cautious, circumscribing his agency's mission with an officiousness that has rankled even some of his Western supporters, who whisper that they would like him to be more personally engaged.

"We have two aspects: nuclear disarmament and nuclear nonproliferation," Amano said. "But both have one common aspect: to be against nuclear weapons."

Amano attends commemorations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki annually and has communicated with the victims of the bombings and their families, who've passed on words of encouragement in his fight against the spread of nuclear weapons.

"The expectations are high," he said.

Though not a nuclear weapons power itself, Japan has one of the world's most advanced atomic research programs. As his nation's longtime envoy to the atomic agency, Amano uses that experience to assess the needs of other countries striving to establish nuclear programs.

"I have good knowledge of nuclear laws, of nuclear power plants, nuclear applications," he said. "It is not only buying the sophisticated equipment. It's training, social acceptance, maintaining, safety. Equipment is a small part of the story."

Some nations are rushing to advance their atomic programs in what is dubbed by specialists as "a nuclear renaissance," prompting fear that a small a number of "virtual nuclear weapons states," such as Japan or Brazil, could quickly turn their peaceful civilian programs into war machines.

Amano dismisses such worries. He divides the world into responsible nuclear states and those that refuse to play by the rules, such as Iran and North Korea.

"Regarding this notion — of virtual nuclear weapons states — there isn't such a concept in the IAEA," he said. "There are those countries which apply fully comprehensive safeguards and other obligations. And there are some other countries that do not."

Israel, India and Pakistan, which are not signatories to the international Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, are not subject to the same safeguards as Iran, which is. But there remains a longstanding point of disagreement between the agency and Tehran over those rules, stemming from different interpretations of whether the Islamic Republic is obliged to adhere to a set of additional rules that it signed on to — provisionally, it now says — in 2003.

At the start of last month's meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors, Amano labeled Iran a "special case" because of its refusal to fully implement those additional rules and for defying six United Nations Security Council resolutions calling on it to halt its enrichment of uranium.

"I'm not saying that Iran has a nuclear weapons program," he said. "But there are issues that need clarification. Iran has past activities which were not declared. All of these aspects are specific, special to Iran. We don't find other countries that are in the same situation."

Amano's tough line has angered Iranian officials, who this year began personally denouncing him as a tool of Western powers. Amano fought a tough battle for leadership of the board against the South African diplomat Abdul Samad Minty, who was backed by the developing world, in what many analysts saw as a battle between the nuclear haves and have-nots.

As Amano has singled out Iran, officials in Tehran have targeted Amano, characterizing him as a stooge of the West and criticizing the agency's work as politicized. Iranian officials recently denounced a particular section of his agency's May report as inaccurate and they barred two inspectors, accusing them of lying and leaking information to the press.

Amano maintains that he has good relations with Iranian officials, but he acknowledged that his "inspectors' work in Iran is not easy."

Before Zahi Hawass...Gaston Maspero

Gaston Maspero
June 23rd, 1846 to June 30th, 1916

Long before Zahi Hawass [current Secretary General of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities] there was Gaston Maspero a French Egyptologist and director general of excavations and antiquities for the Egyptian government.

Gaston Maspero [Wikipedia]

Manual of Egyptian Archaeology and Guide to the Study of Antiquities in Egypt

History of Egypt, Chaldea, Syria, Babylonia, and Assyria

Volume I [Chapters I, II, and III]

Volume II [Parts A, B, and C]

Volume III [Parts A, B, and C]

Volume IV [Parts A, B, and C]

Volume V [Parts A, B, and C]

Volume VI [Parts A, B, and C]

Volume VII [Parts A, B, and C]

Volume VIII [Parts A, B, and C]

Volume IX [Parts A and B]

[Unfortunately, volumes X, XI, and XII are not yet available.]

Fragility of the human species--Tunguska [1908]

In 1908, at around 7:15 am, northwest of Lake Baikal, Russia, a huge fireball nearly as bright as the Sun was seen crossing the sky. Minutes later, there was a huge flash and a shock wave felt up to 650 km (400 mi) away. Over Tunguska, a meteorite over 50-m diameter, travelling at over 25 km per second (60,000 mph) penetrated Earth's atmosphere, heated to about 10,000 ºC and detonated 6 to10 km above the ground. The blast released the energy of 10-50 Megatons of TNT, destroying 2,200 sq km of forest leaving no trace of life. The Tunguska rock came out of the Taurid Meteor storm that crosses Earth's orbit twice a year. The first scientific expedition for which records survive was made by Russian mineralogist Leonid Kulik in 1927.

Tunguska [Wikipedia]

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Archimedes' "burning mirror" thought to be just a "steam cannon"

I would rather to think of it as a "death ray".

"Archimedes' flaming death ray was probably just a cannon, study finds"

Archemedes' burning mirror, a device that was thought to concentrate the sun's rays into a laser beam that repelled an invading Roman fleet in 212 BC, was more likely a steam cannon, new research suggests.


Jeremy Hsu

June 29th, 2010

The Christian Science Monitor

Greek inventor Archimedes is said to have used mirrors to burn ships of an attacking Roman fleet. But new research suggests he may have used steam cannons and fiery cannonballs instead.

A legend begun in the Medieval Ages tells of how Archimedes used mirrors to concentrate sunlight as a defensive weapon during the siege of Syracuse, then a Greek colony on the island of Sicily, from 214 to 212 B.C. No contemporary Roman or Greek accounts tell of such a mirror device, however.

Both engineering calculations and historical evidence support use of steam cannons as "much more reasonable than the use of burning mirrors," said Cesare Rossi, a mechanical engineer at the University of Naples "Federico II," in Naples, Italy, who along with colleagues analyzed evidence of both potential weapons.

The steam cannons could have fired hollow balls made of clay and filled with something similar to an incendiary chemical mixture known as Greek fire in order to set Roman ships ablaze. A heated cannon barrel would have converted barely more than a tenth of a cup of water (30 grams) into enough steam to hurl the projectiles.

Channeling steam power

Italian inventor Leonardo da Vinci sketched a steam cannon in the late 15th century, which he credited to Archimedes, and several other historical accounts mention the device in connection with Archimedes.

Indirect evidence for the steam cannon also comes from the Greek-Roman historian Plutarch, who tells of a pole-shaped device that forced besieging Roman soldiers to flee at one point from the walls of Syracuse.

The Greek-Roman physician and philosopher Galen similarly mentioned a burning device used against the Roman ships, but used words that Rossi said cannot translate into "burning mirror."

Rossi calculated that such cannons could have fired a cannonball weighing roughly 13 pounds (6 kilograms) at speeds of roughly 134 miles per hour (60 meters per second). That allowed the cannons to possibly target troops or ships at distances of approximately 492 feet (150 m) while firing at a fairly flat trajectory to make aiming easier.

"As far as I know, it is the first paper about that use of a steam cannon by Archimedes," Rossi told LiveScience.

Past investigations by Greek engineer Joannis Stakas and Evanghelos Stamatis, a historian, showed that a parabolic mirror can set small, stationary wooden ships on fire. MIT researchers carried out a similar demonstration more than three decades later in 2005.

But whether mirrors could have maintained a constantly changing curvature to keep the right burning focus on moving ships seems doubtful, Rossi noted. He added that ancient sailors could have easily put out any fires that started from a slow-burning mirror.

By contrast, Greek fire emerged in many historical accounts as a deadly threat for ancient warships. The unknown chemical mixture reportedly burned underwater, and saw most use by the Byzantine Empire that dominated the Eastern Mediterranean starting in A.D. 330. Other records mention earlier versions of the burning mixture.

Recreating the past

The steam cannons only represent the latest historical investigation by Rossi. He previously coauthored the book "Ancient Engineers’ Inventions: Precursors of the Present" (Springer, 2009), along with military historians Flavio Russo and Ferruccio Russo.

The trio plan to meet up with other historians in the future and possibly reconstruct versions of the ancient weapons. Flavio previously built several working reconstructions of ancient Roman artillery weapons, and Ferruccio specializes in 3-D virtual reconstructions of mechanical devices.

Some of Rossi's other work looked at ancient motors that may have moved siege towers used by the Greeks and Romans. The likeliest motors may have relied on counterweights, and emerged in records as the invention of Heron of Alexandria in the first century.

Such devices could have been placed inside the protection of the towers themselves, Rossi noted. He pointed to an account by the Roman general Julius Caesar, who told of using such towers against a town defended by Gallic tribes in modern-day France. The sight of towers appearing to move by themselves frightened the defenders into negotiating for surrender.

A research paper on the siege towers was presented alongside Rossi's recent work entitled "Archimedes' Cannons against the Roman Fleet?" at the International World Conference held in Syracuse, Italy from June 8-10. The conference proceedings appear in a book titled "The Genius of Archimedes -- 23 Centuries of Influence on Mathematics, Science and Engineering" (Springer, 2010).

In the end, the engineering talents of Archimedes did not save him from death when the Romans finally stormed Syracuse. But at least a love of history among Rossi and his colleagues may lead to the resurrection of some of his ancient devices.

Miss Pykowski...listen's okay to daydream

Unfortunately, she is probably deceased. She was my 4th grade teacher who was constantly reprimanding me for "daydreaming"...[about her] and other things...Robin Hood [was he ethical], the planets [was Pluto really a planet?], my lead soldier collection [are they toxic?], or when will my new refractor telescope arrive? So now, "daydreaming" is beneficial.

"Discovering the Virtues of a Wandering Mind"


John Tierney

June 28th, 2010

The New York Times

At long last, the doodling daydreamer is getting some respect.

In the past, daydreaming was often considered a failure of mental discipline, or worse. Freud labeled it infantile and neurotic. Psychology textbooks warned it could lead to psychosis. Neuroscientists complained that the rogue bursts of activity on brain scans kept interfering with their studies of more important mental functions.

But now that researchers have been analyzing those stray thoughts, they’ve found daydreaming to be remarkably common — and often quite useful. A wandering mind can protect you from immediate perils and keep you on course toward long-term goals. Sometimes daydreaming is counterproductive, but sometimes it fosters creativity and helps you solve problems.

Consider, for instance, these three words: eye, gown, basket. Can you think of another word that relates to all three? If not, don’t worry for now. By the time we get back to discussing the scientific significance of this puzzle, the answer might occur to you through the “incubation effect” as your mind wanders from the text of this article — and, yes, your mind is probably going to wander, no matter how brilliant the rest of this column is.

Mind wandering, as psychologists define it, is a subcategory of daydreaming, which is the broad term for all stray thoughts and fantasies, including those moments you deliberately set aside to imagine yourself winning the lottery or accepting the Nobel. But when you’re trying to accomplish one thing and lapse into “task-unrelated thoughts,” that’s mind wandering.

During waking hours, people’s minds seem to wander about 30 percent of the time, according to estimates by psychologists who have interrupted people throughout the day to ask what they’re thinking. If you’re driving down a straight, empty highway, your mind might be wandering three-quarters of the time, according to two of the leading researchers, Jonathan Schooler and Jonathan Smallwood of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

“People assume mind wandering is a bad thing, but if we couldn’t do it during a boring task, life would be horrible,” Dr. Smallwood says. “Imagine if you couldn’t escape mentally from a traffic jam.”

You’d be stuck contemplating the mass of idling cars, a mental exercise that is much less pleasant than dreaming about a beach and much less useful than mulling what to do once you get off the road. There’s an evolutionary advantage to the brain’s system of mind wandering, says Eric Klinger, a psychologist at the University of Minnesota and one of the pioneers of the field.

“While a person is occupied with one task, this system keeps the individual’s larger agenda fresher in mind,” Dr. Klinger writes in the “Handbook of Imagination and Mental Simulation”. “It thus serves as a kind of reminder mechanism, thereby increasing the likelihood that the other goal pursuits will remain intact and not get lost in the shuffle of pursuing many goals.”

Of course, it’s often hard to know which agenda is most evolutionarily adaptive at any moment. If, during a professor’s lecture, students start checking out peers of the opposite sex sitting nearby, are their brains missing out on vital knowledge or working on the more important agenda of finding a mate? Depends on the lecture.

But mind wandering clearly seems to be a dubious strategy, if, for example, you’re tailgating a driver who suddenly brakes. Or, to cite activities that have actually been studied in the laboratory, when you’re sitting by yourself reading “War and Peace” or “Sense and Sensibility.”

If your mind is elsewhere while your eyes are scanning Tolstoy’s or Austen’s words, you’re wasting your own time. You’d be better off putting down the book and doing something more enjoyable or productive than “mindless reading,” as researchers call it.

Yet when people sit down in a laboratory with nothing on the agenda except to read a novel and report whenever their mind wanders, in the course of a half hour they typically report one to three episodes. And those are just the lapses they themselves notice, thanks to their wandering brains being in a state of “meta-awareness,” as it’s called by Dr. Schooler,

He, and other researchers have also studied the many other occasions when readers aren’t aware of their own wandering minds, a condition known in the psychological literature as “zoning out.” (For once, a good bit of technical jargon.) When experimenters sporadically interrupted people reading to ask if their minds were on the text at that moment, about 10 percent of the time people replied that their thoughts were elsewhere — but they hadn’t been aware of the wandering until being asked about it.

“It’s daunting to think that we’re slipping in and out so frequently and we never notice that we were gone,” Dr. Schooler says. “We have this intuition that the one thing we should know is what’s going on in our minds: I think, therefore I am. It’s the last bastion of what we know, and yet we don’t even know that so well.”

The frequency of zoning out more than doubled in reading experiments involving smokers who craved a cigarette and in people who were given a vodka cocktail before taking on “War and Peace.” Besides increasing the amount of mind wandering, the people made alcohol less likely to notice when their minds wandered from Tolstoy’s text.

In another reading experiment, researchers mangled a series of consecutive sentences by switching the position of two of nouns in each one — the way that “alcohol” and “people” were switched in the last sentence of the previous paragraph. In the laboratory experiment, even though the readers were told to look for sections of gibberish somewhere in the story, only half of them spotted it right away. The rest typically read right through the first mangled sentence and kept going through several more before noticing anything amiss.

To measure mind wandering more directly, Dr. Schooler and two psychologists at the University of Pittsburgh, Erik D. Reichle and Andrew Reineberg, used a machine that tracked the movements of people’s eyes while reading “Sense and Sensibility” on a computer screen. It’s probably just as well that Jane Austen is not around to see the experiment’s results, which are to appear in a forthcoming issue of Psychological Science.

By comparing the eye movements with the prose on the screen, the experimenters could tell if someone was slowing to understand complex phrases or simply scanning without comprehension. They found that when people’s mind wandered, the episode could last as long as two minutes.

Where exactly does the mind go during those moments? By observing people at rest during brain scans, neuroscientists have identified a “default network” that is active when people’s minds are especially free to wander. When people do take up a task, the brain’s executive network lights up to issue commands, and the default network is often suppressed.

But during some episodes of mind wandering, both networks are firing simultaneously, according to a study led by Kalina Christoff of the University of British Columbia. Why both networks are active is up for debate. One school theorizes that the executive network is working to control the stray thoughts and put the mind back on task.

Another school of psychologists, which includes the Santa Barbara researchers, theorizes that both networks are working on agendas beyond the immediate task. That theory could help explain why studies have found that people prone to mind wandering also score higher on tests of creativity, like the word-association puzzle mentioned earlier. Perhaps, by putting both of the brain networks to work simultaneously, these people are more likely to realize that the word that relates to eye, gown and basket is ball, as in eyeball, ball gown and basketball.

To encourage this creative process, Dr. Schooler says, it may help if you go jogging, take a walk, do some knitting or just sit around doodling, because relatively undemanding tasks seem to free your mind to wander productively. But you also want to be able to catch yourself at the Eureka moment.

“For creativity you need your mind to wander,” Dr. Schooler says, “but you also need to be able to notice that you’re mind wandering and catch the idea when you have it. If Archimedes had come up with a solution in the bathtub but didn’t notice he’d had the idea, what good would it have done him?”

MU lab explosion update

"UPDATE: Four injured in lab explosion at MU"


Nicholas Jain, Erica Hunt, Krista Schmidt and Emily Smoucha

June 29th, 2010


Four people were injured when a lab device on the third floor of MU's Schweitzer Hall at 503 S. College Ave. exploded Monday afternoon.

"Certainly this was an accidental explosion, but the lab looks like a bomb went off," said Columbia Fire Department Capt. Eric Hartman, who was on the scene.

In a news release, Hartman said the explosion was caused by human error in operating an anaerobic hood — an oxygen-free chamber used for working with bacteria that can't survive in oxygen. Hartman said lab personnel ignored a "warning system" designed to tell researchers when too much hydrogen enters the chamber and becomes flammable. An explosion resulted when the gas came into contact with an ignition source, the release said. The source of the ignition remains unknown.

A 2,000 pounds per square inch hydrogen tank did not explode, as first reported. Investigators said it remained intact.

The lab technician working with the anaerobic hood suffered a life-threatening impact injury to the chest in addition to burns, Hartman said. That person was transferred to University Hospital by ambulance after the explosion, as were two others with moderate injuries; the fourth person with minor injures was transferred to the hospital via a "private vehicle," Hartman said.

One person suffered difficulty breathing related to asthma, Hartman said. The four suffered various impact and shrapnel injuries in addition to burns.

As of 5:45 p.m., according to an MU News Bureau release, three of those injured had been treated and released. The fourth person remained in the hospital and was listed as being in good condition. The bureau did not specify which of four injured people remained in the hospital.

Hartman said one graduate student and two postdoctoral students were among the people injured in the explosion. Both the fire department and the University of Missouri Police Department declined the release their names, referring reporters to the university. MU spokesman Christian Basi said he did not have the names and didn't know when they would be made available.

Hartman said the number of injuries was "certainly reduced" because of MU being on summer break, which meant fewer people working in the facility.

The lab belongs to MU biochemistry professor Judy Wall, Basi said. Wall could not be reached for comment.

Wall's lab was used for experiments with bacteria. Hartman said he was unsure whether the 2,000 psi hydrogen tank was being used at the time of the explosion. He said the department is taking precautions against any potentially hazardous chemicals.

He said the ceiling in the lab collapsed but that the building remained structurally sound.

After the explosion, the building was evacuated, and Hartman said the fire was contained in about 10 minutes. Fire crews then began working to ventilate chemicals. The fire alarm was triggered and the building's fire sprinklers activated, extinguishing most of the fire, Hartman said in a release.

The building's central staff were allowed to re-enter the building, Hartman said at around 4:15 p.m.

Seventeen windows were blown out in the third-floor explosion. The room's number was not yet available.

Phil Leibu was working in the basement of Schweitzer Hall when he heard an explosion and saw debris falling on the ground through his window.

Jeanie Phipps, an administrative assistant in Mumford Hall, said she heard a loud boom.

"I didn't really look. I thought it was something with a truck," she said, citing the heavy roadwork on campus.

She received an e-mail alert about the explosion and went outside to see what was going on. Several small groups of people were watching the scene while the fire department was investigating, she said.

There was significant damage to the building with glass and debris falling to the ground, Hartman said. All the windows on one corner of the building were broken.

Basi said no one other than the fire department would be allowed to access the lab until further notice, and cleanup in the lab would start later Monday night.

Explosions in anaerobic chambers are not unprecedented, according to a research paper written by Mike Cox of Anaerobe Systems in San Jose, Calif.

Cox — who previously experienced two small anaerobic chamber explosions — wrote that when a chamber is transitioning to an oxygen-free state, specific combinations of oxygen and hydrogen can become flammable, making an explosion possible if something ignites the gas.

MU is expected to investigate the explosion and take steps to avoid a future incident, the fire department said in its release.

"'Human error' blamed in Schweitzer Hall blast"

Two post-doctoral students, one graduate student among injured.


Janese Silvey

June 28th, 2010

The Columbia Daily Tribune

Four people were injured Monday after gas from a 2,000-psi hydrogen tank ignited on the third floor of Schweitzer Hall on the University of Missouri campus. Columbia fire investigators said Monday night that the explosion was caused by "human error" during an experiment in a biochemistry lab.

The Columbia Fire Department responded to the building at 503 S. College Ave. at 2:20 p.m. for a report of a structure fire. When they arrived, they saw signs of an explosion, Capt. Eric Hartman said.

"Glass and debris from the third floor Biochemistry Lab had rained down onto the sidewalk, courtyard, and driveway to the building," Hartman said in a statement released at 10 p.m. Monday. Seventeen third-story windows were blown out.

Crews went up to the lab and found a small fire, which they quickly extinguished. "Most of the fire had been extinguished by the automatic sprinkler system which had been activated by the explosion," the statement said.

Fire crews found four injured victims. One had life-threatening injuries, two had moderate injuries and one had minor injuries. Among them were two post-doctoral students and one graduate student. The fourth person, who was working with the lab's hood, suffered the life-threatening injury. Hartman said as of Monday night he was unsure if that person was faculty or a student.

All four were transported to University Hospital. Their injuries ranged from "impact" and "shrapnel" type injuries to burns and respiratory distress, the statement said.

As of 10 p.m. Monday, three of the victims had been released from the hospital. The fourth was admitted to the burn unit, and his or her condition was upgraded to "good," the statement said.

Hartman said the hydrogen tank is intact. Columbia fire investigators determined the cause of the explosion to be "human error during an experimental process."

"Lab personnel turned on the hydrogen tank supply to an anaerobic hood, and due to not being familiar with the warning systems designed to alert them when the hydrogen level was approaching explosive limits, the gas was left on," the statement said. "Once the gas reached an ignition source, it ignited and the explosion occurred."

Hartman said the University of Missouri is conducting additional investigations "to determine what additional steps should be taken to avoid a similar incident." He said the university will be releasing the victims' names.

The lab was used by Professor Judy Wall, MU spokeswoman Mary Jo Banken confirmed this afternoon. Wall was in her office across from the lab and was not injured in the blast.

Schweitzer Hall is home to the Department of Biochemistry, which is part of the School of Medicine and the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.

Built in 1912, the building is named after Paul Schweitzer, the first full-time professor of Chemistry and the chairman of the Department of Agricultural Chemistry, according to the MU website.

Lab explosion at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri

A worthy blog..."Golden Age Comic Book Stories"

Pulp magazines, comic books, art, science fiction, adventure, still photos...this is a cool blog. Make a whisky and spend some time there.

Golden Age Comic Book Stories

NOTE: For some reason the blogger has removed the blog.

Obama's National Space Policy

Makes sense but still full of rhetoric. We will see what happens as this policy unfolds.

"Obama unveils annual National Space Policy"


David Jackson

June 28th, 2010


President Obama submitted the annual National Space Policy today, one devoted mainly to what he called "a burgeoning commercial space industry."

The goal is "to rapidly increase our capabilities in space while bolstering America's competitive edge in the global economy," Obama said in a written statement issued by the White House.

Obama also said:

"We are proposing improved observation of the earth, to gain new insights into our environment and our planet. We set ambitious goals for NASA: ramping up robotic and human space exploration, with our sights set on Mars and beyond, to improve the capacity of human beings to learn and work safely beyond the Earth for extended periods of time."

"And this policy recognizes the importance of inspiring a new generation of young people to pursue careers in science and engineering. For, ultimately, our leadership as a nation -- in this or any endeavor -- will depend on them."

Babylon's Nineveh, Austen Henry Layard, asteroid

Austen Henry Layard
March 5th, 1817 to July 5th, 1894

In 3123 BC, a Sumerian astronomer saw a devastating asteroid, perhaps a half-mile wide, according to an interpretation of a clay tablet, made by researchers from Bristol University, reported in The Times on 31 Mar 2008. The ancient date was indicated by a computer recreation of the night sky using symbols on the tablet recording the positions of constellations The Planiform tablet found by Henry Layard at Nineveh, likely a 700 BC copy of the astronomer's notes, described in cuneiform a "white stone bowl approaching" that "vigorously swept along." The asteroid probably crashed into the Austrian Alps, leaving a swath of cataclysmic damage such as, for example, the Genesis destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

"Clay tablet holds clue to asteroid mystery"


Nic Fleming

March 31st, 2008

British scientists have deciphered a mysterious ancient clay tablet and believe they have solved a riddle over a giant asteroid impact more than 5,000 years ago.

Geologists have long puzzled over the shape of the land close to the town of Köfels in the Austrian Alps, but were unable to prove it had been caused by an asteroid.

Now researchers say their translation of symbols on a star map from an ancient civilisation includes notes on a mile-wide asteroid that later hit Earth - which could have caused tens of thousands of deaths.

The circular clay tablet was discovered 150 years ago by Sir Austen Henry Layard, a leading Victorian archaeologist, in the remains of the royal palace at Nineveh, capital of ancient Assyria, in what is now Iraq.

The tablet, on display at the British Museum, shows drawings of constellations and pictogram-based text known as cuneiform - used by the Sumerians, the earliest known civilisation in the world.

A historian from Azerbaijan, who believes humans originally came to Earth from another planet, has interpreted it as a description of the arrival of a spaceship. More mainstream academics have failed to decipher its meaning.

Now Alan Bond, the managing director of a space propulsion company, Reaction Engines, and Mark Hempsell, a senior lecturer in astronautics at Bristol University, have cracked the cuneiform code and used a computer programme that can reconstruct the night sky thousands of years ago to provide a new explanation.

They believe their calculations prove the tablet - a copy made by an Assyrian scribe around 700 BC - is a Sumerian astronomer's notebook recording events in the sky on June 29, 3123 BC.

The pair say its symbols include a note of the trajectory of a large object travelling across the constellation of Pisces which, to within one degree, is consistent with an impact at Köfels.

Mr Hempsell said: "All previous work has drawn a blank on what the tablet is about.

"It is such a big jigsaw and the pieces we have found fit together so well that I think we have a definitive proof."

The Köfels site was originally interpreted as an asteroid impact, however the lack of an obvious impact crater led modern geologists to believe it to be simply a giant landslide.

However, the Bond-Hempsell theory, outlined in their book published today, A Sumerian Observation of the Köfels Impact Event, suggests that the asteroid left no crater because it clipped a mountain and turned into a fireball.

Mr Hempsell said: "The ground heating, though very short, would be enough to ignite any flammable material, including human hair and clothes.

"It is probable more people died under the plume than in the Alps due to the impact blast."

He added that extreme changes caused to rock and other substances at the site had previously led to the Köfels impact being erroneously dated to around 8,000 years ago.

Austen Henry Layard [Wikipedia]

It has been noted that Austen Henry Layard put the "adventure and romance" in archaeology.

Here are a few of Layard's works...

His autobiography...

Volume I



Volume II



A Popular Account of Discoveries at Nineveh



Discoveries among the ruins of Nineveh and Babylon



Early adventures in Persia, Susiana, and Babylonia...



Nineveh and Babylon; a narrative of a second expedition to Assyria during the years 1849, 1850, & 1851



Nineveh and Its Palaces...



Nineveh and Its Remains...



Outline of the history of Assyria...



The Buried City of the East, Nineveh...



The Ninevah Court in the Crystal Palace



Monday, June 28, 2010

KCMO's "Science City" [old Union Station] has new planetarium

I seriously doubt that this will save the behemoth Union Station. Union Station is one of a few old massive train stations that has been saved. It has had nothing but problems [management and maintenance] over the years and despite a bistate tax [shared by Missouri and Kansas], a periodic quality and popular touring venue [The Dead Sea Scrolls], and some nice static displays [trains] it may face closure.


"It’s ‘a new beginning’ for planetarium"


Matt Campbell

June. 28th, 2010

The Kansas City Star

With the star ball banished, the sky’s the limit now for the Gottlieb Planetarium.

A new 360-degree and 3-D projection system now operating in the funny-shaped building next to Union Station is hoped to bring back audiences and send them to the moon and beyond.

And the best part is that the system was assembled by local talent at a fraction — no, a fraction of a fraction — of what it would have cost to purchase from a planetarium vendor.

“We now, for the first time, have the capacity for shows that the public will want to come see,” said Tim Kristl, vice president of the Astronomical Society of Kansas City.

It will be easier to create planetarium programs that tie in with Science City and with traveling exhibits at Union Station. They can also be customized to match school curricula.

“Modern planetariums are able to reach out and away from just astronomy,” said Damon Bradshaw, Science City’s planetarium specialist. “They can get into history and culture and even biology and chemistry. This sort of projection system gives us the capability to do that.”

Local astronomers worked with Science City and Union Station to devise the new system, along with financial assistance from the Arvin Gottlieb Charitable Foundation.

The planetarium opened a decade ago with a traditional star-ball projection system, which was essentially a hollow sphere with a bright light inside and holes to cast a star field onto the dome above. But it was already old when it was installed and never really worked properly.

“It’s been a monster to keep running,” said Jeff Rosenblatt, director of Science City.

Last fall the star ball broke for the last time and officials began looking for a modern, digital system. The astronomical society, which had had a strained relationship with previous Union Station management, approached new station CEO George Guastello about a partnership.

Together, they consulted vendors who either had no experience with such a large planetarium — Union Station’s is 60 feet in diameter — or were too expensive.

One price quoted was $766,000, Rosenblatt said.

Obviously, for cash-strapped Union Station, that was out of the question.

But research by Rick Henderson, an electronics professor and member of the astronomical society, along with expertise gleaned from the professional vendors and from local company Harvest Productions, led to a much cheaper solution.

They ended up buying, on their own, an extremely bright projector and a delicately polished, curved mirror that was custom-made in Australia. They coupled them with a Mac Pro computer and special software to create a system that, they say, is every bit as capable as the more expensive ones.

The price: about $27,000.

“The results are way better than we expected,” Henderson said. “Anything you can show on the computer you can show on the dome.”

Bradshaw explained that the digital images are intentionally distorted so that when they are projected onto the mirror and reflected back on the dome, they appear in proper shape and proportion.

Bradshaw and Rosenblatt said many smaller planetariums have similar systems, but it is unique for one as large as Science City’s.

Because it was assembled in-house, the system does not have a name. So they dubbed it the BRT, for the three men who were most instrumental in putting it together: Bentley Ousley and Rick Henderson of the astronomical society and Tom Deffet, a software writer.

The Gottlieb Foundation gave the planetarium $30,000 late last year and will donate up to $100,000 more this year. That money will help staff the planetarium and subsidize school field trips, Guastello said.

The planetarium’s new system currently shows just one program about the history of the telescope. But officials plan to expand offerings soon with other shows purchased commercially or produced in-house.

The astronomical society will create a series of shows about the night sky as seen from Kansas City during different seasons; it is working on one about the fall stars now. Images from the Hubble Space Telescope and other NASA products are in the public domain and available for free.

The planetarium may be able to tap into live cable feeds, whether from NASA or from a solar eclipse happening on another side of the planet.

The dome is also capable of showing theatrical movies, and the space can be rented for private parties or events. It recently was host to a New Age music concert and light show.

Henderson said the Gottlieb Planetarium has suffered from management, equipment and money problems over the years.

“I’m very hopeful this is going to be the turnaround,” he said. “I’m hopeful this is a new beginning.”

University of Louisiana's Northwestern State University following a trend--academic cutbacks

"NSU looking to cut degree programs"

June 28th, 2010

Leesville Daily Leader

Northwestern State University received approval for an extensive academic reorganization from the Board of Supervisors for the University of Louisiana System to help curtail operating costs in the wake of substantial reductions in state funding.
Under the proposal, Northwestern would eliminate eight bachelor’s degree programs, one master’s degree offering, 12 academic minors and five concentrations in baccalaureate degree programs.

Northwestern President Dr. Randall J. Webb said students will be able to continue studies in many of the academic areas in which specific degree programs are being eliminated because of the consolidation of those programs with other academic offerings.

The proposal for academic reorganization comes after a comprehensive review of academic programs that began in July of 2009 and continued through March of 2010, Webb said. The university’s Program Review Committee was comprised of representatives from each academic college and the NSU Faculty Senate.

All academic programs were reviewed in the process that involved faculty and staff from all levels, the Northwestern president stated, and a campus forum was held in the spring semester to inform students about the program review.

Webb said proposals to eliminate or consolidate programs were based on “costs, efficiency, completion rates, semester credit hour production, ties to the University Core Curriculum, enrollment and other pertinent factors.” He added that annual reviews of remaining academic programs “will be conducted to evaluate retention, student success, recruitment and the overall effectiveness of the programs.”

Academic reorganization was necessary, Webb said, because of $9.7 million in state budget cuts over the past 18 months and projections of additional reductions in state funding of up to $10 million during the next year. State allocations to the university have been cut by 19.5 percent since July of 2008.

Northwestern has eliminated 160 positions through layoffs and abolishing vacant positions since the 2007-08 fiscal year, reducing the size of the faculty and staff from more than 960 positions to just over 800.

The academic realignment plan submitted to the board this week will result in the elimination of an additional 21 positions by the end of the new fiscal year beginning July 1. The positions of three academic deans, four department heads or directors and three program coordinators will be abolished.

Webb said program elimination and other aspects of academic reorganization will result in cost savings of approximately $2.5 million. The 160 positions that were previously abolished “reduced personnel costs by some $5 million,” Webb stated.

Degree programs that would be eliminated under NSU’s proposed reorganization are the master’s degree in heritage resources and bachelor’s degrees in physics, physics education, chemistry, chemistry education, heritage resources, journalism, sociology and political science.

Existing minors to be eliminated include aviation science, geology, physics, chemistry, journalism, sociology, German, French, historic preservation, philosophy, political science and food and nutrition. Concentrations in aviation science, recreation administration, fashion merchandising and housing and interiors, economics and German would also be eliminated.

The proposal to eliminate academic programs must also be approved by the Louisiana Board of Regents.

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