Sunday, July 31, 2011

F. ellipsoidea...a huge fungi

"Giant fungus discovered in China"


Matt Walker Editor

August 1st, 2011

BBC Nature

The most massive fruiting body of any fungus yet documented has been discovered growing on the underside of a tree in China.

The fruiting body, which is equivalent to the mushrooms produced by other fungi species, is up to 10m long, 80cm wide and weighs half a tonne.

That shatters the record held previously by a fungus growing in Kew Gardens in the UK.

The new giant fungus is thought to be at least 20 years old.

The first example of the new giant fungus was recorded by scientists in 2008 in Fujian Province, China, by Professor Yu-Cheng Dai of the Herbarium of biology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shenyang and his assistant Dr Cui.

"But the type collection was not huge," Prof Dai told BBC Nature.

However, "we found [the] giant one in Hainan Province in 2010."

The researchers were in the field studying wood-decaying fungi when they happened upon the specimen, which they describe in the journal Fungal Biology.

"We were not specifically looking for this fungus; we did not know the fungus can grow so huge," he said.

"We were surprised when we found it, and we did not recognise it in the forest because it is too large."

The fungus, F. ellipsoidea, is what mycologists call a perennial polypore - otherise known as a bracket fungus.

Being a perennial, it can live for a number of years, which may have enabled it to grow to such large size.

By colonising the underside of the large fallen tree, the fungus also had a huge amount of dead and decaying wood to feed on, helping to fuel its growth.

Fruiting bodies, such as mushrooms and toadstools, are the sexual stages of a many higher types of fungi, producing seeds or spores that produce further generations.

The giant fruiting body of F. ellipsoidea forms a long, brown shape up to 10.85m long, 82-88cm wide, and 4.6-5.5cm thick.

Tests on the density of the fruiting body suggest the whole thing weighs 400-500kg; it is also estimated to hold some 450 million spores.

"A small piece of the fruiting body is almost like my size," said Prof Dai.

The previous record holder was a specimen of Rigidoporus ulmarius, a polypore with a pileate fruiting body found in Kew Gardens in the UK in 2003.

It measured approximately 150cm in diameter with a circumference of 425cm.

After their initial encounter with the new record-breaking fungus, the scientists took samples of it back to the lab where to be analysed.

These tests revealed that the fungus was the species Fomitiporia ellipsoidea, and the researchers made two subsequent trips to study the specimen further.

Incredible...such wealth...Glyndebourne Festival

"Music in a rustic English setting"

Glyndebourne Festival maintains a tradition of fine operatic theater and bucolic picnicking.


Marcia Adair

July 31st, 2011

The Los Angeles Times

It's summer on the Sussex Downs, 50 miles south of London. As the taxi makes its way from the village train station, ancient houses give way to rolling hills, sheep and, rarely for England, lots of trees. Down the hill under the arbor and then, on the left, a charming country house appears. Aside from a few discreet signs, it's only when you're coming up the drive, spot the flywall peeking out over the 700-year-old roofline and catch snippets of singers warming up that you realize the back garden is home to one of the world's finest opera houses.

The Glyndebourne Festival has been delighting opera lovers with first-rate productions since 1934, when John Christie built the a theater as a gift for his opera singer wife, Audrey Mildmay.

The 2011 festival runs through Aug. 28 and presents six operas in repertory: new productions of "Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg" (with Gerald Finley as Hans Sachs) and "Rinaldo," as well as revivals of "L'Elisir d'amore," "Rusalka" and "The Turn of the Screw."

Located on the Christie family estate and now in its 77th season, Glyndebourne boasts an acoustically spectacular 1,200-seat hall, 98% occupancy and an almost legendary reputation among singers.

"The warmth — you really feel as if you are part of the family business when you are singing at Glyndebourne, because everyone is so welcoming, warm and professional," said Swedish soprano Miah Persson. She was Donna Elvira in this summer's production of "Don Giovanni" and is in rehearsals for the August production of "The Turn of the Screw."

"The opera house is perfect! A mixture of great acoustics [and the] ability to create intimacy with the audience because of its size."

Because it is in the country, going to Glyndebourne is an outing rather than somewhere you rush off to after work. As such, the grounds are just as important as the opera house. An 85-minute intermission is designed to allow everyone to picnic in the gardens, by the lake or on the lawn. For foreigners, the sight of a thousand people dressed in black tie eating sandwiches on collapsible lawn chairs is something to behold. It is less peculiar when one considers that picnicking in Britain has traditionally been the preserve of the upper classes, mostly because they owned the land, had time to have a leisurely meal and were far enough removed from laboring to be able to romanticize their surroundings.

Glyndebourne could easily have been just another gentleman's folly, but from the beginning John Christie's aim was not to produce just the best opera he could but the best that could be done anywhere.

Building Glyndebourne's legacy has been the work of three men: John, his son, George, and grandson, Gus. Although he grew up on the estate and joined the board at 25, Gus studied zoology at King's College London and was for 10 years a wildlife cameraman before taking on the role of executive chairman in 2000.

"Inheritance is not always an easy thing to take on, but I had a lot of time to contemplate it while I was sitting in the bush waiting for a lion to wake up. I was very daunted by the idea, but I'm delighted to have made that decision," said Christie, 48.

Is it easier to wrangle lions or opera singers? Christie demurred but happily launched into a comparison of making a wildlife documentary and running an opera house. "It's all about having the right people in the right positions."

As a private opera house, Glyndebourne receives no government subsidy for the summer season, instead relying on ticket revenue, which accounts for 55% of the $34-million operating budget, plus donations and, to a smaller degree, investment income. Staying financially independent is important, so to ensure that remains possible, Glyndebourne has developed a business model that is so simple, it's almost embarrassing: Spend money when you need to and save it when you don't.

Explained Christie, "We've historically been very financially prudent, and there's not a lot of fat in the organization. Everyone who is employed here is absolutely necessary. We set out what we're going to do and we actually do it and produce top quality opera. If that was to slip, we would lose the confidence of our donors. One mustn't scrimp on budgeting. That's very important."

The commitment to leanness carries through to the board level, where there are only five members, all of whom are expected to be strategic thinkers with good business or media sense. In addition, 12 trustees are responsible for fundraising.

Glyndebourne relies on the subscription model much more than U.S. houses. Eighty percent of available tickets are allocated first to members. Associate members, who pay a $815 joining fee and $82 per year to stay on the list get the second look. There is enough demand to have all the tickets taken up wholly by members, but Glyndebourne purposely leaves 20% of the seats available for the general public so that guests can experience the opera and perhaps become members in due course.

With a pair of top tickets going for $815, hardly a season goes by without someone in the British press accusing Glyndebourne of being elitist. It's an easy shot to take, but in order to do so, one must willfully ignore the movie theater simulcasts, discounted nights for people younger than 30 and the more modestly priced standing-room tickets ($16).

There are other private opera houses in Britain (Garsington, Grange Park, Loughborough), but Glyndebourne is the only one that is so intimately linked with the family that owns the estate.

Christie's four young boys and wife, opera singer Danielle DeNiese (who appears in this year's "L'Elisir d'amore"), live at the house full time and share it with 30 or so temporary residents comprised of coaches, directors and pianists for the duration of the summer season.

"I think the fact that there is a house that is lived in by a family is very much part of the heartbeat of Glyndebourne," Christie said. "It would be a very different place without [us]." It's a sentiment that is echoed by many singers who have sung at the Glyndebourne, especially those near the beginning of their careers.

"It shows the spirit of the Christies. They are living and breathing opera," said Jessica Muirhead, this year's cover (understudy) for the Governess in "The Turn of the Screw" and a former member of the Glyndebourne on Tour. "The way they nurture young talent is really unique. The chorus is full of people that could be singing roles on stage, and the covers get four weeks of full rehearsal."

One of Christie's biggest aims since taking over the running of Glyndebourne was to make sure it didn't become a museum. Since 2009, fees collected from associate members have been funneled into a New Generations Programme, which is designed to facilitate the appointment of a composer-in-residence and additional apprentices, the filming of more productions, Web streaming and more programs for young audiences.

In the 1990s, when the old 800-seat theater was replaced by a modern, larger theater that currently hosts the festival, programming became more adventurous in part because there was now the space and technical equipment available to try out new ideas.

"When we do a traditional production, certainly a good proportion of our audience breathes a sigh of relief when the curtain goes up, but when the new productions work, they speak more to a new generation of opera-goers," Christie said. "We are out to entertain, inspire and challenge people. It's a juggling act, [but] there hasn't been any booing … recently."

Sleeze retrospective and upcoming film festival

What a piece of nostalgia. Every major city had at least one such district or theater.

"Cinema of sin: London's old Scala picturehouse"

The antics were X-rated – on screen and in the audience. Tony Paley remembers the sleazy heyday of London's Scala cinema


Tony Paley

July 31st, 2011

The Scala cinema is dead: long live the Scala. The last ticket stub at London's legendary picture house was torn 18 years ago, but like the zombies that often haunted its screen, its influence on movie culture refuses to die.

A seven-week celebration of the cinema, reliving its famous all-nighters and trash/horror/arthouse double and triple bills, begins later this month. The Scala Forever season will feature 111 films screened at 26 London venues, some of them selected and introduced by the film industry people who frequented what became known as the Sodom Odeon in the 80s and early 90s. (Highlights include Tilda Swinton introducing The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, which she first saw at the Scala.)

As well as celebrating the King's Cross venue, organisers hope to draw attention to some of the cinemas, pubs and clubs that specialise in showing classic films today. "The aim is not just the one-off season," says programmer Andy Kimpton-Nye of the Roxy Bar and Screen. "We want to create a legacy, to bring venues together and create a portal for people to discover repertory film."

The Scala was founded by Stephen Woolley in 1979, originally at a venue on Charlotte Street in north London, and then two years later at its long-term home in King's Cross. Woolley – who went on to found Palace Pictures and produce countless films – wanted to create a UK equivalent to the grindhouse venues of Los Angeles and San Francisco, with their eclectic, daily-changing menu of movies. The impressive building, which first opened in 1920, and its location in neighbourhood then largely populated by prostitutes and drug addicts, added to the allure: the atmosphere was a world apart from that of the National Film Theatre.

"It was a thrilling experience," says former programme manager Jane Giles, now head of film and video distribution at the British Film Institute. "Part of that thrill was that you walked out [of the station] into the badlands of King's Cross. You then quite quickly found your way to this palatial building, like some sort of bonkers white castle that you see on the logo of Disney. Going up the marble staircase led you into this massive space. The rake was very steep, the seats bolt upright and I think you sat there for a moment with a sense of incredible anticipation. In addition, the auditorium was dark and, at times, illicit. There was a frisson. A lot of the films were quite explicit, so there was a sexuality about the place that was unusual in cinemas. It all added up to an incredibly potent combination."

Stories surrounding those nights are legion: the dope-fiend projectionist who scratched a CND symbol into a Pearl & Dean army recruitment ad and got the reels in the wrong order at a horror festival; the antics at the gay-themed all-nighters. "We had to try to explain to Serena the cleaner why there were so many used latex gloves on the floor after a lesbian all-nighter," says Giles. "I told her it was a fashion statement."

The cinema's biggest hits were underground classics such as Thundercrack and Cafe Flesh; John Waters's 70s trash trilogy Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble and Desperate Living; and the work of sexploitation king Russ Meyer. These were films other venues simply would not screen; many of them will feature in the upcoming season.

By 1992, however, the cinema was in trouble. Warner Brothers were tipped off about a (then illegal) screening of Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange and sued. This followed a relaxation in the rules on late-night alcohol consumption at non-club venues, which meant the Scala was no longer the go-to place for an after-hours drink; the increasing availability of transgressive films on video was also taking some of the shine off the programming. The Scala lost an expensive legal battle against Warner Bros; plans to convert into a multiplex foundered. The last of the cinema's monthly film-strip style calendars, the format of which has been lovingly reproduced for Scala Forever, was printed in May 1993.

The season will open with King Kong, the first film ever screened at the King's Cross site (home to a primatarium, celebrating all things ape, before the Scala moved in) and close with A Clockwork Orange. The organisers are hoping to recreate some of the cinema's original magic. John Waters, the Scala's "patron saint", vividly recalls his sole visit. "It was like joining a club, a very secret club, like a biker gang or something. I remember the audience was even more berserk than any midnight show I had ever seen in America. Maybe they were on ecstasy, I don't know, but it was a really raucous audience. It was so great – but it was almost scary."


Built to the design of H Courtney Constantine, the Kings Cross Cinema (Scala), was nearing completion when the First World War to began. The partially completed cinema was first used to manufacture airplane parts, and after 1918 as a local labour exchange for demobilized soldiers returning from the war.

Finally completed, the Kings Cross Cinema opened on April 1920. Seating over 1000 people, the auditorium offered a three-hour program, accompanied by a 20-piece orchestra.

At the end of the 1920’s, under the control of Gaumont British Pictures, the cinema staged lavish free Christmas shows for local children - endearing a whole generation.
The King's Cross Cinema was damaged in air-raids during the Blitz. New owners refurbished the cinema, now called the Gaumont, and it reopened in March 1952. In 1962, the Gaumont became the Odeon and continued to screen mainstream pictures until 1970.

In February 1971, the cinema embarked on a short-lived experiment showing adult films. Soon after it reverted to the King's Cross Cinema and mainstream features returned. In addition to the programs of films, the venue became a live, all-night, rock venue. Iggy Pop and Hawkwind have played at the Scala. In 1974, this bold move came to an end when the cinemas late-night license was revoked, petitioned by the local residents. Soon after it closed.

Five years later, the King's Cross Cinema, became a Primatarium. The stalls were reconstructed to resemble a forest. The project failed and on July 1981 the cinema returned as Scala, featuring the classic 1933 version of King Kong on opening night.
The Scala Cinema went on to become one of London's most famous repertory/art house cinemas. In 1993 the Scala Cinema Club went into receivership after losing a court case over an illegal screening of Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange.

Scala reopened in March 1999 after a radical transformation which included an additional 2 floors. King's Cross once again plays host to a vibrant and important cultural meeting place, embodied in which is the long and colorful history of both the Scala Cinema Club and The King's Cross Cinema.

Deceased--Tura Satana

Joe Bonica, Amalia Aguilar...early home entertainment

Kroger Babb and exploitation

Roger Corman--his B-movies

The Vampire Happening

directed by

Freddie Francis


Clyde Tombaugh anecdote

The Pluto building.

"Astronomy lover reached for stars"

July 31st, 2011

The Free Lance-Star Publishing Company

MIDWINTER nights on a mountaintop in Flagstaff could freeze an astronomer.

On a January night in 1930, a young man fresh off the farm in Kansas spent night after night alone in a drafty, unheated building on a hill high above this small northern Arizona city.

His passion was astronomy, and he had wanted to attend college to spend a life studying the heavens. But his family couldn't afford college.

As the story of Clyde Tombaugh's beginnings in astronomy unfolded, a docent at the Lowell Observatory painted a picture so chilling that I doubted the happy outcome, even though I knew it in advance.

Instead of the classroom he had wished for, the determined Tombaugh wrote to the Lowell Observatory asking for work.

Something special about his letter caught the eye of astronomers there, and the 23-year-old farm boy was hired. As a handyman.

Soon enough he was entrusted with scientific work, caught on quickly, and found himself making astronomical images as part of a search for a suspected new planet circling the sun.

Night after night, his day job finished, Tombaugh mounted the narrow circular staircase to the dark room where he conducted his celestial search. The photo with this column shows the observatory today, unchanged from the way it was when the young scientist worked there, including the old telescope and mount.

Tombaugh and the story of his "eureka" moment that bone-chilling night in the small observatory is the stuff of astronomical legend now. But some stories of human struggle and triumph are like fine wines--only improving with age.

Tombaugh discovered Pluto--then the outermost planet--and went on to earn his bachelor's and master's degrees in astronomy. He married, had a son and a daughter, taught astronomy and discovered hundreds of asteroids.

He is gone now--he died in 1997, at 90--and so is Percival Lowell, the astronomer who founded, built and developed what was the first research observatory in the American Southwest.

Poor Pluto has been downgraded, its small size relegating it to a new category of "dwarf planet." But that dramatic and crucial moment in the ongoing story of the Lowell Observatory is a source of pride for the institution in the 21st century.

On a beautiful autumn night long ago I had gone to the Lowell, lured by the prospect of a peek through the eyepiece of its huge 24-inch Clark refractor scope. I was not disappointed.

This time was different. I wanted to see the campus in daytime; take the walking tour; hear the history and more.

It seemed like a different place altogether than it did at night. I saw dozens of interesting things this time--buildings, research equipment and, of course, telescopes.

A staff of 30 scientists works on a wide variety of cutting-edge projects now, including the Kepler satellite's current four-year search for planets with star systems.

Research telescopes for the observatory have been moved to a new campus at Anderson Mesa, 12 miles southeast of the original facility. Skies there are darker, enhancing observing capabilities.

In the cosmos, the search never ends. A few days ago a fourth moon was discovered circling Pluto.

Thousands of visitors--some from other parts of the world--pass by 10 minutes south of this observatory, either on Interstate 40 or Old Route 66, many of them headed for the Grand Canyon.

I wonder how many of them know about this quiet campus with its glistening domes, so close by.


An interesting Moon phenomena.


A moon dog or moondog [scientific name paraselene, plural paraselenae, i.e. "beside the moon"] is a relatively rare bright circular spot on a lunar halo caused by the refraction of moonlight by hexagonal-plate-shaped ice crystals in cirrus or cirrostratus clouds. Moondogs appear to the left and right of the moon 22° or more distant. They are exactly analogous to sun dogs, but are rarer because to be produced the moon must be bright and therefore full or nearly full. Moondogs show little color to the unaided eye because their light is not bright enough to activate the cone cells of humans' eyes.

S. Hawking is moving closer to philosophy

"Stephen Hawking tackles Creation on 'Curiosity'"


Dan Vergano

July 31st, 2011


The most famous scientist in the world, Stephen Hawking, has never avoided the big questions, from the nature of time to the fate of the universe.

But that was just a warm-up. Now he is squaring off with God.

Hawking will kick off Curiosity, the Discovery Channel's weekly look (Sunday, 8 p.m. ET/ PT) at what research says about life's big questions. It starts on Aug. 7., with an episode entitled, "Is There a Creator?" Afflicted with a form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's Disease) while young and now paralyzed, Hawking speaks with the aid of a voice synethesizer, and a narrator on the show.

"I recently published a book that asked if God created the universe. It caused something of a stir," Hawking, 69, begins on the episode. (The "stir", in fact, was religious leaders denouncing his book's conclusion that God was unnecessary to the universe.) On the show, he takes viewers on a walk through humanity's history of appraising our place in the universe, from Vikings facing down eclipses to the laws of modern cosmology, which explain the origin and structure of universe. "I believe the discovery of these laws is mankind's greatest achievement," he says.

Much of the show revolves around themes from last year's look at the cosmos, The Grand Design, written by Hawking with physicist Leonard Mlodinow. Pictured on the cover of the Oxford Dictionary of Scientists with Albert Einstein and Marie Curie, Hawking is scientifically best known for "Hawking radiation," his revelation that black holes are hot (or very cold for the big ones) and small black holes rapidly radiate away their heat to finally evaporate.

In a short, exclusive interview with USA TODAY, Hawking e-mailed his answers to why he is taking on religion to start off the show, and discussed his life and legacy. Here are his answers to some of the questions:

Q: First, we wonder if you could comment on why you are tackling the existence of God question?

A: I think Science can explain the Universe without the need for God.

Q. What problems you are working on now, and what do you see as the big questions in theoretical physics?

A: I'm working on the question, why is there something rather than nothing, why are the laws of physics what they are.

Q: What do you see as your legacy in science or for the people who have become enthusiastic about physics as a result of your work and writing?

A: I think my most important discovery is the fundamental relation between gravity and thermodynamics (the study of how heat moves through matter) which gives a black hole a temperature and causes it to evaporate slowly.

Q: Was there ever anything besides theoretical physics that tempted you as a lifetime pursuit?

A: My father would have liked me to do medicine but from the age of 13 or 14 I knew I wanted to do research in physics.

Essentially on "Is There A Creator?," Hawking notes that on the sub-atomic scale, particles are seen in experiments to appear from nowhere. And since the Big Bang started out smaller than an atom, similarly the universe likely "popped into existence without violating the known laws of Nature," he says. Nothing created the universe, so in his view there was no need for a creator. That is his explanation for "why there is something rather than nothing."

Primo Levi and "The Periodic Table"

Primo Levi
July 31st, 1919 to April 11th, 1987

He wrote: "...conquering matter is to understand it, and understanding matter is necessary to understanding the universe and ourselves."

A Survivor's Tale

Primo Levi A decade after his death, Primo Levi remains one of our century's essential voices

Writer and chemist, survivor and witness, Primo Levi was born in Turin, Italy, in 1919. Like most Italian Jews of his generation, Levi was assimilated to the hilt: "Religion," he later recalled, "did not count for much in my family." In 1938, however, his Judaism became a sudden and serious liability. That year, Mussolini's government enacted a series of anti-Semitic regulations that outlawed mixed marriages, expelled Jews from the universities, and forbade them even to own certain kinds of property.

Despite the so-called racial laws, Levi managed to complete his degree in chemistry at the University of Turin in 1941. But he had difficulty finding work. And two years later, when the Germans invaded northern Italy, Levi fled to the mountains with a pearl-handled pistol, joining an ineffectual band of partisans. "I was twenty-four," he would recall, "with little wisdom, no experience, and a decided tendency--encouraged by the life of segregation forced on me for the previous four years by the racial laws--to live in an unrealistic world of my own, a world inhabited by civilized Cartesian phantoms...." Captured at once by a troop of Fascist militia, Levi soon found himself crossing the Brenner Pass in a cattle car, en route to a location whose name had not yet acquired its terrible, latter-day resonance: Auschwitz.

Out of the 650 Italian Jews in his "shipment," Levi was one of the 20 who left the camps alive. He attributed his survival to luck, to his skills as a chemist (which the Germans utilized in the synthetic-rubber factory attached to the camp), and to the furtive care packages he received from an interned Italian bricklayer. He also had the paradoxical good luck to be stricken with scarlet fever just as the Germans began to evacuate the Auschwitz complex. Left behind for dead, he survived, and was liberated along with a handful of other disease-ridden inmates in January 1945.

Levi returned to Turin, married, and resumed his career as chemist. [Survival In Auschwitz] Yet he felt driven to record his wartime ordeal, and in spare time he composed Survival In Auschwitz. Fantastically enough, his memoir was rejected by several publishers, and when a small press brought it out in 1947, the book disappeared without a trace. Not until 1958, when it was reissued by Einaudi, did Survival In Auschwitz find a wide audience.

Today, five decades after its initial appearance, it continues to astonish. Written in a prose of tactful precision, shirking metaphysics, Levi's account documents the mundane life of the camp, setting out the author's experiences with a modest, appalling dailiness. Even the number tattooed on his arm--which functioned as an impromptu meal ticket--is registered as merely one more fact of life. "Several days passed," Levi writes, "and not a few cuffs and punches, before we became used to showing our number promptly enough not to disorder the daily operation of food-distribution; weeks and months were needed to learn its sound in the German language. And for many days, while the habits of freedom still led me to look for the time on my wristwatch, my new name ironically appeared instead, its number tattooed in bluish characters under the skin."

The late-breaking success of his first book inspired Levi to write another. This was The Reawakening, in which he recounted his long, meandering journey home through the chaos of liberated Europe. Where its predecessor was low-keyed, grave, and exact, this sequel almost sings with comedy, liveliness, an immeasurable gratitude at the mere fact of survival. And yet it concludes with Levi's most fearful dream, one he would share with many survivors: a persistent nightmare that this liberation would dissolve and return him to Auschwitz.

Slowly, Levi's literary reputation grew. He contributed a column to Turin's newspaper La Stampa, and published a series of science-fictional and philosophical vignettes that were later collected in The Sixth Day and The Mirror Maker. In 1977 he retired from chemistry to write full-time, and won a worldwide following during the next decade with the English translation of The Periodic Table.

In the latter book, Levi truly united his dual occupations, using the elements of Mendeleyev's Periodic Table as jumping-off points for autobiographical episodes. Sometimes the element in question plays an overt role: "Nickel," for example, finds Levi extracting traces of that metal from a "slow avalanche of dust and gravel" at an Italian asbestos plant. But often the role is a metaphorical one--an inert gas like argon reminds Levi of nothing so much as his own family, with its tendency to stay on the sidelines and avoid any potentially explosive interactions. Nobody has written more poetically about matter itself, with its "sly passivity, ancient as the All and portentously rich in deceptions, as solemn and subtle as the Sphinx." Nor has anybody made the gap between the "two cultures"--between art and science--seem so irrelevant, or even nonexistent.

All of Levi's books were marked with a wry, heightened sanity--he seemed always to have emerged from the ordeal of the camps miraculously intact, almost devoid of bitterness. Still, Auschwitz had left Levi with indelible scars (some of which grew more visible in his last book, The Drowned and the Saved). As his friend and fellow survivor Jean Amery once wrote: "Anyone who has been tortured remains tortured." Beneath the buoyancy and reason of Levi's books underlay a similar sense of a wound that simply could not be healed. On April 11, 1987, after a period of prolonged depression, Levi toppled over the railing of a stairwell in his Turin home, and died of his injuries. His (apparent) suicide was greeted by many with disbelief, as if it somehow invalidated the serenity found in his work. But the books, of course, remain, and all of Levi's hard-won knowledge and lucidity and gentle wit will survive him, as long as there are readers with the least grain of curiosity about what it means to be human. --James Marcus

Primo Levi [Wikipedia]

The Periodic Table


Primo Levi

ISBN-10: 0805210415
ISBN-13: 978-0805210415

Vintage model oriented

Still a thriving industry despite the fact that some famous names like Strombecker have disappeared. Monogram has joined forces with Revell and still make plastic models of just about everything, including space oriented models. Here are some classic samples.

Predictable writing?

I have heard of this before. It is curious in that students papers could be analyzed to make sure it is authentic of the student's style. Big Brother is closer than you think.

"The Jargon of the Novel, Computed"


Ben Zimmer

July 29th, 2011

The New York Times

We like to think that modern fiction, particularly American fiction, is free from the artificial stylistic pretensions of the past. Richard Bridgman expressed a common view in his 1966 book “The Colloquial Style in America.” “Whereas in the 19th century a very real distinction could be made between the vernacular and standard diction as they were used in prose,” Bridgman wrote, “in the 20th century the vernacular had virtually become standard.” Thanks to such pioneers as Mark Twain, Stephen Crane, Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway, the story goes, ornate classicism was replaced by a straight-talking vox populi.

Now in the 21st century, with sophisticated text-crunching tools at our disposal, it is possible to put Bridgman’s theory to the test. Has a vernacular style become the standard for the typical fiction writer? Or is literary language still a distinct and peculiar beast?

Scholars in the growing field of digital humanities can tackle this question by analyzing enormous numbers of texts at once. When books and other written documents are gathered into an electronic corpus, one “subcorpus” can be compared with another: all the digitized fiction, for instance, can be stacked up against other genres of writing, like news reports, academic papers or blog posts.

One such research enterprise is the Corpus of Contemporary American English, or COCA, which brings together 425 million words of text from the past two decades, with equally large samples drawn from fiction, popular magazines, newspapers, academic texts and transcripts of spoken English. The fiction samples cover short stories and plays in literary magazines, along with the first chapters of hundreds of novels from major publishers. The compiler of COCA, Mark Davies at Brigham Young University, has designed a freely available online interface that can respond to queries about how contemporary language is used. Even grammatical questions are fair game, since every word in the corpus has been tagged with a part of speech.

Suppose we’re interested in looking at past-tense verbs. The most common examples in COCA are nondescript: “said,” “came,” “got,” “went,” “made,” “took” and so on. On the surface, the fiction offerings aren’t that different: “said” is still the big winner, while some others move up the list a few spots, like “looked,” “knew” and “thought.” But ask COCA which past-tense verbs show up more frequently in fiction compared with, say, academic prose, and things start to get interesting: the top five are “grimaced,” “scowled,” “grunted,” “wiggled” and “gritted.” Sour facial expressions, gruff noises and emphatic bodily movements (wiggling fingers and gritting teeth) would seem to rule the verbs peculiar to today’s published fiction.

Beyond the use of individual words, researchers can uncover even more striking patterns by looking at how words combine with their neighbors, forming “collocations.” Dictionary makers take a special interest in high-frequency collocations, since they can be the key to understanding how words work in the world. It’s a particular boon for making dictionaries that appeal to learners of English as a second language. When the lexicographer Orin Hargraves was studying collocations for a project at Oxford University Press (where I previously worked as editor for American dictionaries), he struck upon a trove of collocations that “would not be statistically significant were it not for their appearance in fiction.” And these weren’t just artifacts of genre fiction, like “warp speed” in sci-fi or “fiery passion” in bodice-ripping romance novels.

Using the Oxford English Corpus, encompassing about two billion words of 21st-century English, Hargraves found peculiar patterns in simple words like the verb “brush.” Everybody talks about brushing their teeth, but other possible companions, like “hair,” “strand,” “lock” and “lip,” appear up to 150 times more frequently in fiction than in any other genre. “Brush” appears near “lips” when two characters’ lips brush against each other or one’s lips brush against another’s cheek — as happens so often in novels. For the hair-related collocations, Hargraves concludes that “fictional characters cannot stop playing with their hair.”

“Bolting upright” and “drawing one’s breath” are two more fiction-specific turns of phrase revealed by the corpus. Creative writers are clearly drawn to descriptive idioms that allow their characters to register emotional responses through telling bits of physical action — “business,” as they say in theater. The conventions of modern storytelling dictate that fictional characters react to their worlds in certain stock ways and that the storytellers use stock expressions to describe those reactions. Readers might not think of such idioms as literary clichés, unless they are particularly egregious. Individual authors will of course have their own idiosyncratic linguistic tics. Dan Brown, of “Da Vinci Code” fame, is partial to eyebrows. In his techno-thriller “Digital Fortress,” characters arch or raise their eyebrows no fewer than 14 times.

Brown’s eyebrow obsession may simply signal a lack of imagination, but corpus research can also illuminate a writer’s stylistic creativity. Masahiro Hori, a professor of English linguistics at Kumamoto Gakuen University in Japan, has studied how Charles Dickens breathed new life into literary collocations. In “The Pickwick Papers,” for instance, Dickens played off the idiom “to look daggers at someone” (meaning to shoot a wrathful glare, itself descended from Shakespeare’s “to speak daggers”) by innovatively replacing “daggers” with “carving-knives”: an old lady “looked carving-knives at the hardheaded delinquent.” To be sure, a careful reader might have discerned the originality of the phrase on his own, but corpus analysis allowed Hori to confirm and extend his insights into Dickens’s ­originality.

For David Bamman, a senior researcher in computational linguistics with Tufts University’s Perseus Project, analyzing collocations can help unwrap the way a writer “indexes” a literary style by lifting phrases from the past. Often this can consist of conscious allusions — Bamman and his colleagues used computational methods to zero in on the places in “Paradise Lost” where John Milton is alluding to the Latin of Virgil’s “Aeneid.” Though traditional literary scholarship has long sought to track these echoes, the work can now be done automatically, transcending any single analyst’s selective attention. The same methods can also ferret out how intertextuality can work on a more unconscious level, silently directing a writer to select particular word combinations to match the expectations of the appropriate genre.

When we see a character in contemporary fiction “bolt upright” or “draw a breath,” we join in this silent game, picking up the subtle cues that telegraph a literary style. The game works best when the writer’s idiomatic English does not scream “This is a novel!” but instead provides a kind of comfortable linguistic furniture to settle into as we read a novel or short story. While Twain, Hemingway and the rest of the vernacularizers may have introduced more “natural” or “authentic” styles of writing, literature did not suddenly become unliterary simply because the prose was no longer so high-flying. Rather, the textual hints of literariness continue to wash over us unannounced, even as a new kind of brainpower, the computational kind, can help identify exactly what those hints are and how they function.

[Ben Zimmer is the executive producer of Visual­ and and the former On Language columnist for The Times Magazine.]

Thanks to POSP stringer Tim.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Procreation in space

Jamie Frevele wrote...

So, here we are, the human race, faced with a slight problem if found in the position of having to repopulate in space: we can’t. Astronauts in relationships who are unprepared to start families will rejoice at this! But if the Earth explodes and humans are left without another planet, they may have to scrap “the old-fashioned way” and find another biomedical option.

Scientists at NASA’s Ames Research Center say that the amount of radiation humans are exposed to during space travel would instantly sterilize a newly-conceived space fetus. Not only that, but sperm counts may also be adversely affected by radiation.

Editor’s Note: We’d like to remind our readers that while the hazardous vacuum of space may make for a fine contraceptive, it does not protect against STDs. Side effects can include loss of bone density, severe cabin fever, and alien parasites.

The study also alludes to colonizing Mars:

Dr. Tore Straume, a radiation biophysicist at the centre, said: “The present shielding capabilities would probably preclude having a pregnancy transited to Mars.

Dr. Straume added: “One would have to be very protective of those cells during gestation, during pregnancy, to make sure that the female didn’t become sterile so they could continue the colony.”

So, back to the drawing board on that one!

And Ceridwen wrote...

Scientists have done a bunch of tests and concluded that sex and procreation in space is no easy feat. In fact, it’s really hard. The hardest part? Not the floating copulating, not the gravity-free pregnancy–wow, just typing that feels good– but the cosmic rays. High energy protons could damage male sperm; any fetus that was conceived would not survive the pregnancy. Radiation spewing solar flares would be an issue, too.

To procreate in space, we’d need better insulation. Said NASA biophysicist Tore Straume, “The present shielding capabilities would probably preclude having a pregnancy transited to Mars.”

As for whether sex has actually been attempted in space, NASA isn’t kissing and telling. A husband and wife team did go on a mission together but NASA is not commenting on whether there was any cosmic hanky panky. According to “NASA and the Soviety space agency never revealed whether they conducted tests into orbital procreation. They have what is commonly referred to as ‘relationships of trust’ when it comes to relations between astronauts.” Copulation aside, some of those astronauts orbit for an awfully long time. I’m guessing there’s a highly confidential NASA paper on the subject of stellar ejaculation, floating (sorry) around somewhere.

In any event, I’m sorry to disappoint those of you hoping for some interplanetary conception. I imagine outer space childbirth would be really hard, too– talk about not being able to get into gravity-friendly positions.

The study was published in the peer-reviewed publication, The Journal of Cosmology and is available here .

Use the search engine and enter "sex in space" for more.

Earth and Asteroid 2010 TK7

Asteroid 2010 TK7

Earth has been playing "follow the leader" with a trojan asteroid for thousands of years. The first near-Earth object other than the moon to have ever been identified, TK7 shares the same orbit as our planet but about 50 million miles ahead of Earth.

NASA explains:

Trojans are asteroids that share an orbit with a planet near stable points in front of or behind the planet. Because they constantly lead or follow in the same orbit as the planet, they never can collide with it. In our solar system, Trojans also share orbits with Neptune, Mars and Jupiter. Two of Saturn's moons share orbits with Trojans.

Scientists had predicted Earth should have Trojans, but they have been difficult to find because they are relatively small and appear near the sun from Earth's point of view.

"These asteroids dwell mostly in the daylight, making them very hard to see," said Martin Connors of Athabasca University in Canada, lead author of a new paper on the discovery in the July 28 issue of the journal Nature. "But we finally found one, because the object has an unusual orbit that takes it farther away from the sun than what is typical for Trojans. WISE was a game-changer, giving us a point of view difficult to have at Earth's surface."

The object is about 1,000 feet in diameter and should not come closer than 15-million miles, at least for the next 100 years. Astronomers say such asteroids could be useful in the future for mining precious metals.

Asteroid 2010 TK7 [Wikipedia]

Deceased--Robert C. W. Ettinger

Robert C. W. Ettinger
December 4th, 1918 to July 23rd, 2011

"Robert C. W. Ettinger, 92, Dies; Proponent of Life After (Deep-Frozen) Death"


Paul Vitello

July 29th, 2011

The New York Times

Robert C. W. Ettinger, a science fiction writer and physics instructor whose idea of freezing the dead for future reanimation repelled most scientists, inspired Woody Allen and Mike Myers to some of their best work and persuaded at least 105 game humans to pay $28,000 each to have their bodies preserved in liquid nitrogen at his Cryonics Institute in suburban Detroit, died on July 23 at his home in Clinton Township, Mich. He was 92.

The cause was respiratory failure, said his son, David, who added that Mr. Ettinger’s body was placed in a cryonic capsule and frozen at minus 371 degrees Fahrenheit, after several days of cooling preparation. Mr. Ettinger was the institute’s 106th client, David Ettinger said.

Mr. Ettinger’s ideas, which he popularized in a 1963 book, “The Prospect of Immortality,” spawned what some refer to as the cryonics movement, though by most accounts it is a small endeavor: a scattering of enterprises around the country with dues-paying customers totaling a few thousand, a few hundred of whom have actually been deep-frozen.

The baseball legend Ted Williams, whose freezing at an unrelated Arizona facility in 2002 set off a well-publicized family feud, is probably the most notable cryonics adherent. But Mr. Ettinger’s earnest vision of future scientists cracking the secret of immortality and bringing back to life the deep-frozen dead — curing them and making them young again — struck that sweet spot between kooky and quasi-scientific that television talk-show hosts loved in the early 1960s.

He was on Johnny Carson’s couch a half-dozen times, and also submitted to interviews with Steve Allen, David Frost, Merv Griffin and William F. Buckley Jr.

“Most of them didn’t take my dad seriously,” said David Ettinger, a lawyer in Detroit, “but that never really bothered him. He was an iconoclast. Being treated like a nut just went with the territory.”

Mr. Ettinger’s ideas were widely considered the set-up for the joke at the center of Woody Allen’s 1973 movie, “Sleeper,” in which the hero emerges from “cryostasis” to learn that all his friends are long dead — “But they all ate organic rice!” — and Mike Myers’s Austin Powers series, based on basically the same idea.

While working as a math and physics instructor at a number of local colleges, Mr. Ettinger wrote a second book, published in 1972: “Man Into Superman,” a utopian sci-fi rendering of how the world might look when the cryonic dead are revived. (Among other things, scientists will equip humans with wings and body armor made of hair.) In 1976, after retiring from teaching, he founded the Cryonics Institute, adopting the word “cryonics” from cryogenics, a field of physics that studies how materials behave at very low temperatures.

His mother, Rhea, who died in 1977 at 78, was his first so-called patient.

The bodies of his first wife, Elaine, and his second wife, Mae, were also preserved at the institute’s facility, a large warehouse in an industrial park in Clinton Township, about 20 miles northeast of Detroit.

Besides 106 humans, the plant holds about 80 pets, mostly dogs and cats, according to the institute’s Web site. The institute claims 900 dues-paying members.

In interviews, Mr. Ettinger traced his earliest interest in the possibility of immortality to a story he read when he was 12 in the popular science fiction magazine Amazing Stories. It was about a professor who launched himself in a rocket into deep-frozen outer space, where he remained entombed for 40 million years until an advanced species of men discovered him and revived him.

His interest was confirmed during long stays in various hospitals after World War II, while he was recovering from near-fatal wounds suffered during the Battle of the Bulge. His legs were saved by bone-graft surgery, which was considered experimental at the time.

The miraculous surgery convinced him that there might be a way someday to fix anything, even death. “Life is better than death, healthy is better than sick,” he told the author Ed Regis in a 1990 interview, “and immortality might be worth the trouble.”

While recovering, he wrote a number of science fiction stories on that theme, several of which were published in popular magazines of the 1950s.

Robert Chester Wilson Ettinger was born Dec. 4, 1918, in Atlantic City, one of two children of Rhea and Alfred Ettinger. The family moved in the 1920s to Detroit, where Alfred Ettinger operated a furniture store.

After the war, Mr. Ettinger received master’s degrees in math and physics at Wayne State University, and began teaching. Besides his son, he is survived by a daughter, Shelley, of New York City.

In the last months of his life, Mr. Ettinger and his son arranged for procedures that would have to be done in the first few hours after he died, to maximize the benefits of cryonic freezing.

They notified the funeral home where he would be embalmed with a kind of medical antifreeze to protect tissue from damage. They arranged for 24-hour nursing care, mainly so they would know the exact moment to begin the procedures.

At one point, his son said, Mr. Ettinger allowed himself to think past the technicalities of the freezing to what his life might be like if he were ever unfrozen. Since the war, with one leg shorter than the other, he had not been one for sports.

“So when I come back,” he told his son, “I’d like to try skiing.”

LinkThe Prospect of Immortality


Robert C. W. Ettinger

Download the book.

Robert C. W. Ettinger [Wikipedia]