Tuesday, January 31, 2023

A Legend Explored: Portugal Pavement Art

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Wildlife, Nature, Biodiversity, Culture, Society, Art & Environment

Ed Hessler 

It is not known whether "The Surprising Story of a 16th Century Rhino Called Ganda" told in a BBC's Reel (7 m 54 s) under the heading of Myths and Legends is fact or fiction.

Records of that legend are found "beneath the feet of everyone who visits the city of Lisbon, Portugal" where "lie hidden gems - floor mosaics made with limestone." According to legend, "in the 1500s, a rhino sent from India, and the first ever seen in Europe," led to the "Portugal pavement art tradition." Its truth or fiction seems much less important today for "this art form may be close to disappearing."

You may be interested in taking another look at Albrecht Durer's 1515 woodcut, "The Rhinocerous," based only on a description and sketch. He had never seen one. Ganda (in Gujarati it is genda) is included in a Wiki discussion of Durer's The Rhinocerous.

Traditional Medicine and Science, Uganda

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine, Science & Society, Culture, Nature of Science, History of Science 

Ed Hessler

Natural-products research scientist Grace Nambatya Kyeyune works at the Natural Chemotherapeutics Research Institute (NCRI), Ministry of Health in Kampala, Uganda. She also serves as its director of research. 
NCRI is charged with evaluating traditional medicines. A failed treatment using herbals motivated her to do an M. S. and a Ph.D. in medicinal chemistry at Loughborough University, Loughborough, UK. During her graduate school studies and research she learned how to extract drugs from herbs and how they worked in humans.

The journal Nature's Christopher Bendana wrote a story about her which includes an interview. It was published January 20, 2023 and may be read at the journal's website.

Here are Bendana's questions. 

-- How did you first get interested in traditional medicine and using modern scientific methods to study them?

--How is the NCRI helping to ensure that these products are safe and effective?

--You did a lot of benchmarking in several countries. What did you learn that you want to incorporate into traditional medicine in Uganda?

--With funding for clinical trials lacking in many African countries, do you think it is more important to test new cancer drugs or other pharmaceuticals, or to run trials of traditional medicines that are commonly used and more affordable?

-- How will intellectual-property rights be dealt with considering that many of these medicines are based on traditional knowledge passed on from generation to generation?

These are some interesting questions, appear to include major issues and Dr. Kyeyune provides very thorough responses. I found of great interest how she made the decision to pursue her current career. How often one's life turn's on a small event, not the first or last time I will call attention to them.

Monday, January 30, 2023

A Morning of Crystals in Caversham Reading, UK

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Earth & Space Sciences, Earth Systems, Art & Environment, Nature, Wildlife

Ed Hessler

Spacetinkerer.com in Story #6 presents a stunning gallery from a day out and about, camera in hand, in a hoar frost weather event in Caversham, Reading.

After a splendid introduction, the camera let's the natural world shows her stuff.

"The day is December 11, 2022. After a night in thick fog and below-zero temperatures, my neighbourhood in Caversham, Reading was transformed into a World of tiny crystals! I knew I had to do something about it (!) so I grabbed my faithful Nikon D600 camera, put on a reversed lens for macro photography, and stormed towards View Island to capture the tiny crystals on frozen spider webs.

"My favourite photo is the first one. Small, delicate and ephemeral. A miniature of Life itself. Enough said!"

I'm glad the photographer told us his favorite, although instead of the comparison to pearls, I'd have chosen diamonds. The image is my favorite as well but there are close competitors. And all of them reveal that day in different ways.


Sunday, January 29, 2023

Lousiana Coastal Restoration

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Science and Society, Wildlife, Nature, Earth & Space Science, Earth Systems, Sustainability, Watersheds

Ed Hessler

The short story below introduces a BBC video (1 m 57 s) on coastal restoration at the other end of the Mississippi River. The picture at the top of this story is perfect --an oyster fisher's hands with a well used knife for separating the shells. Those worn hands indicate the hard work involved in gathering oysters.

"The Louisiana coastal wetlands are being washed away, leaving the region more vulnerable to hurricanes and flooding. Now, restaurants in New Orleans are recycling their oyster shells so they can be used to build sea walls."

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Today's Time

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Science & Society,Nature of Science, History of Science, Global Change, Climate Change, Biodiversity

Ed Hessler

You'd expect the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to reset its famous clock this year. It has been set at 100 seconds to midnight for both 2021 and 2022.  The new time is 90 seconds before "doom's doorstep."

Reporting by NPR's Bill Chappell is headed by a dramatic picture of the quarter clock face reading "It Is 90 Seconds To Midnight."

Chappel includes some history of the clock, its use by scientists "to alert humanity to threats from within -- the perils we face from our own technologies, particularly through nuclear war, global climate change and biotechnology," the focus of the Tuesday announcement (1/25), its founding by Herr Einstein and a full video of the announcement (51 m 38 s) from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

We have entered another time zone.

Friday, January 27, 2023

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art & Environment, Health, Medicine 

Ed Hessler

[the guideman would want to turn back] is by Kristin Svava Tomasdottir. The poem is written in both English and Icelandic. The link includes a biography of Tomasdottir.

Poetry Daily, 1/22/2023 and Waxwing, Issue XXVIII, Fall 2022.

In my daily copy of Poetry Daily, translator K. B. Thors wrote about the poem.

"The poems in "Herostories" are made entirely of found text from "Íslenskar ljósmæður I-III" ("Icelandic Midwives I-III"), volumes of short biographical articles about midwives who worked around the island from the late 18th to the early 20th century. Published in the 1960s, some Icelandic Midwives entries are memoir by the midwives themselves, some were written by contemporaries or descendants, and some were written by priests gathering the material. 

And from the same issue of Waxwing is information about the accomplished translator.

K.B. Thors is the author of Vulgar Mechanics (Coach House, 2019). Stormwarning, her Icelandic-English translation of Kristín Svava Tómasdóttir’s Stormviðvörun, won the American Scandinavian Foundation’s Leif & Inger Sjöberg Prize and was nominated for the 2019 PEN Literary Award for Poetry in Translation. Her translation of Tómasdóttir’s Hetjusögur, Herostories, is forthcoming from Deep Vellum.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Self Healing Concrete Engineering Development By Romans

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, History of Science, Archaeology

"Concrete, heal thyself" (What a wonderfully playful short lede!) fronting the full title of an essay by Ars Technica science writer Jennifer Ouellette. It is titled "Ancient Roman concrete could self-heal thanks to 'hot mixing' with quicklime."

The essay explains the function of "lime clasts, dismissed as defects," have "a useful purpose."
Ouellette discusses the durability of the Pantheon Dome, the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world, recipes for Portland cement and Roman concrete, recommendations for construction in the  engineering treatise De architecture, written in 30 CE an the studies of the MIT environmental engineer Adam Masic, which led him to new research.

Ouelette concludes that "Masic et al. found evidence of calcite-filled cracks in other samples of Roman concrete, supporting their hypothesis (that the Roman concrete was heated to high temperatures in its manufacture). They also created concrete samples in the lab with a hot mixing process, using ancient and modern recipes, then deliberately cracked the samples and ran water through them. They found that the cracks in the samples made with hot-mixed quicklime healed completely within two weeks, while the cracks never healed in the samples without quicklime."

The link is here and the article contains links to important terms, including some used above. I add two links 1) to Adam Masic's MIT group. (Admir is his first name but he must also be called Adam routinely.) and 2) to this Ars Tecnica profile of Jennifer Ouellette.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Pinker on Denial of Human Nature

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biological Evolution, Behavior, Brain, Science & Society

Ed Hessler

In this Life of the Mind presentation (12 m 01 s), cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker discusses "his most controversial book, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (2003) the fabric of which is human nature's moral, political and emotional colourings.
"He also touches on the numerous aspects of human nature including fear, morality, and finding meaning in life."

For a sense of some of the controversy, read this response by Pinker to reviewer evolutionary biologist H. Allen Orr about in the New York Review of Books. The link to the book at the top also provides a brief peek inside.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Amber Preservation Of A Very Large Flower

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature of Science, Paleontology, Biodiversity, Biological Evolution

Ed Hessler

Amber comes in a variety of colors. My favorite is golden yellow which makes it appear warm and sometimes glowing. When it was a sticky resin it quite often entraps bits and pieces of plants, ants, spiders which sometimes fossilizes, preserving them. Given the right conditions these can last for millions of years.

Museum collections sometimes also "entrap" these fossils for long periods of time  before they are examined closely or can be examined more closely as tools to examine them are developed. When this happens there is often a stir in the research community when a surprisingly well-preserved embedded specimen is found.

Science reporter Jack Tarnisiea has a story in Scientific American about a recent rediscovery. The inclusion had been described more than 150 years ago and was of "a nearly 40-million-year-old fossilized flower...the largest flower ever. The specimen was found near the Baltic Sea, an amber "hotspot." In a study published in Scientific Reports."

What makes this specimen so valuable to science, other than the size (28 mm across; nearly 3" inches. The reported widths are different in the scientific paper and the SA essay.) Furthermore, details of flower structure, including pollen that was preserved are of remarkable quality, sufficient to allow researchers to establish evolutionary relationships. 
In addition, as you will note in the scientific paper is that the researchers were fortunate in the timing of the pollen's preservation. This plant was given a scientific name in 1872, Stewartia kowalewskii in 1872 and then stored. It was recently re-discovered and the quality of the pollen allowed a research team using new scientific tools to study the specimen very closely.

The recent study published in Scientific Reports "proposed," writes Tarnisiea, that "it be renamed Symplocos kowalewskii, making it the first record of an ancient Symplocos plant preserved in Baltic amber." The scientific paper is largely a technical description and you can read it for details. The paper includes many images of the "gold encased flower and flower parts."

The scientific paper briefly mentions that amber has properties that inhibit the degradation process (it turns out is a biocide), making amber an "exceptional preservative."

The scientific paper includes a discussion of the ecology of the area and the authors conclude that S. kowalewskii was likely a constituent of mixed-angiosperm-conifer forests in the Baltic amber source area and supports its affinities to evergreen broadleaved and mixed mesophytic forests of present-day East and Southeast Asia."

Eva-Maria Sadowski, a paleobotanist at Berlin’s Museum of Natural History–Leibniz Institute for Evolution and Biodiversity Science was alerted to this specimen by a retired colleague and Tarnisiea tells us she "immediately knew it was something special, and she jumped at the opportunity to reexamine one of these historical specimens with cutting-edge technology."

For your own benefit, read the Scientific American report for the general and popular story, scan the scientific paper for the photographs but there are other important sections to look at more closely, e.g., the abstract with the paper giving you an idea of the process leading to revision. Revision requires these details which provide the evidence on which the decision was based. 
I like Jill LaPore (The New Yorker, January 16, 2023) description of the process: "painstakingly researched and kept kissing close to the evidence."

Monday, January 23, 2023

Not Meeting Expectations

Environmental & Science Education, STEM

Ed Hessler 

A video by Steve Mould explains why "a ball on a spinning turntable won't fly off as you might expect." Instead, it develops it's own little orbit "that is exactly 2/7th the angular speed of the table."

It is known as "the turntable paradox (9 m 10 s), a paradox until it, physics and scientists meet.

It will not be of surprise to learn once again, that nature rules and can be explained.

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Extraordinary Images of Gravitational Lensing: Early Universe

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Astronomy, Astrophysics, Cosmology, Nature of Science, History of Science

Ed Hessler

Webb is providing many new of opportunities never possible to make the difficult learning curve on the nature of the early universe, less formidable, accessible and understandable.

In this JWST image is an example of one, gravitational lensing, that shows what Hubble revealed as a single source of light (in an amorphous blob) to be a small group of galaxies. It also found different colors than Hubble, "indicating differences potentially in the age of dust content of these galaxies."

Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD), January 18, 2023 features the JWST image of JD objects (last two letters of its astronomical reference). There are three of them, each numbered and with a small box enclosing the objects. Be sure to click on the boxes as you read the explanation.

You may find this short explanation of gravitational lensing from NASA/ESA Hubble which refers to the predictive power of Herr Einstein's theory of general relativity.

I'm reminded almost every time I read about this kind of research of the testimony of FermiLab Director R. R. Wilson's Congressional testimony, April 1969 on the value of funding for the construction of Fermilab's first accelerator. To read the entire entire testimony and the excerpt preceding the full testimony about the value of this investment see here. At least read the excerpt at the beginning although the complete testimony is worth the time.

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Unexpected Clouds Found Toward M31

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Astrophysics, Astronomy, Cosmology, Nature of Science, History of Science

Ed Hessler

A feature "toward the Andromeda Galaxy" were both first discovered and confirmed by amateur astronomers in 2022. 

The origin of the blue gas arcs discovered have two main hypotheses discussed in Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) for January 17, 2023. 

I think  M31, aka Andromeda Galaxy) is one of the most beautiful I know but it has a lot of competitors. And this is a spectacular addition.

What's ahead? More research, models, simulations, calculations, observations in the interest of gathering evidence strong enough to support a tentative hypothesis.

There is a full explanation, including the reason amateur astronomers are more likely to make such discoveries. It has to do with a phenomenon I'll call "patch size," a reference to how large an arc of the sky is being examined.

A good story about the nature of science, the incessant interaction between science and engineering/technology, and, of course, the drive to understand and know, too.

Friday, January 20, 2023

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art & Environment

"Evening Walk" is by Charles Simic who died January 9, 2023.

Here is NPR's Scott Simon remembering him.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

The Most Murderous Animal Is?

Environmental & Science Education. STEM, Behavior, Science & Society, Nature, Wildlife, Biodiversity, Nature of Science, History of Science

Ed Hessler 

--Help! Murder! Police!  My wife fell in the grease.  I laughed so hard, I fell in the lard.  Help! Murder! Police! -- Children's rhyme. source not known or is it's regional distribution.

Take a guess one informed by whatever evidence you think it based on before you look at the video below.

In a 4 minute video, The Atlantic science writer Ed Yong, takes viewers through  the complex question of "which animal murders the most?", one based on data.  The obvious answer by many is US? Yong basis his comments on research "looking at the rates of lethal violence across one thousand species" (considerable sample) and them "breaks down the list of the most murder mammals and he explains how humans stack up..

See it here.

And the epigraph? It flashed into my head when I read this story. Perhaps I should have let it flash out.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

England's Lake District: LEGO Model

Environmental & Science Education, Art & Environment, Earth & Space Sciences, Models

Ed Hessler

This short video 2 m 05 s from the BBC features artist Jon Tordoff, "who made (a) 100 sq ft (9.2 sq m)... a LEGO model of the England's Lake District." He plans to continue expanding it.

This is a video I wish were longer.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Backyard Woodpeckers: Two Resources

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature, Wildlife, Biodiversity

Ed Hessler

The publication of  "Seven birds you might see here and how to tell them apart" (StarTribune, January 4, 2023. Paywalled), especially in its organization reminded me of a treasured resource for bird watchers, The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology website All About Birds.

Cunningham included biographies of the most common tree pecking birds which hang around in the the winter: Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and the Red Headed Woodpecker.

For each species,  size, range, habits and habitat, markings and call were listed and described. Cunningham's reporting was beautifully illustrated with 5 of the 7 birds described in the. In addition, Cunningham included population estimates for each from Partners in Flight

Downy woodpecker 13 million

Hairy woodpecker 8-9 million

Red-bellied woodpecker 16 million

Northern flicker 11 million

Yellow-bellied woodpecker 14 million

Red-headed woodpecker 1.8 million

All About Birds includes this biographic information: overview, ID information, life history, maps and sounds. You probably know that its list is not complete including 600+ birds of North America but it is a good place to start. Having access to the calls adds considerable value to the site.

It is worth checking this site for birds you see and might be unsure about, want to know more about or wanting to see whether the call you heard is one the bird makes.

I received an announcement (January 7 2023) from The Cornell Lab's Bird Academy in which are note noted a replayable quiz for two of the birds Cunningham described. A happy coincidence. Both Downy woodpecker and Hairy woodpecker fall into the "can be tricky to tell apart" category. It includes a listing of visual cues (illustrated), ID keys, and a test of your woodpecker ID skills.

The Star Tribune writers who report on what's on feathered wings are both 5 star columnists.

Thanks once again to them and to The Star Tribune for publishing their informed work.

Monday, January 16, 2023

Martin Luther King Day

Environmental & Science Education, Miscellaneous 

On Martin Luther King day I listen to his powerful "I Have a Dream Speech."

You may watch and listen to it on YouTube (6 m 46 s) It is also subtitled.

A Biological Story About Bumble Bees

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Behavior, Nature, Wildlife, Biological Evolution, History of Science, Nature of Science

Ed Hessler

A weekly feature on the website of the University of Chicago's Emeritus Professor Jerry Coyne is "Reader' Wildlife Photos."  Contributor Athayde Tonhasca Junior always provides a story. This one is on bumble bees (Bombus). 

The title, "To Boldly Go Where No Insect Has Gone Before" suggests what is ahead and he begins with a striking story about the behavior of one bumble bee. What a glorious invitation to read on.  We learn some things, too, about insect dispersal.

"In April 2016, a birdwatcher on the Dutch coast spotted a buff-tailed bumble bee queen (Bombus terrestris) flying in from the sea. Then another bee, and another, then a wave of bees. Altogether, several hundred bees arrived at the Dutch shore (Fijen, 2020). What probably made the birdwatcher stop watching birds to count bees was the fact that as the bee flies, the nearest land eastwards is England, 160 km across the North Sea."

Here is the link to the photo-essay

It is an extraordinary story and I'm grateful for his contribution to my understanding of how the natural world works and how scientists work.

The comments are always good, too even when they go off-topic.

Curiosity-driven; evidence based. 

Thanks again, WEIT!


Sunday, January 15, 2023

Where Life's Chemical Elements Came From

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Astrophysics, Cosmology, Nature of Science, History of Science, Models, Maths

Ed Hessler

A periodic table for the "best guess" origin of the elements -nuclear creation or nucleosynthesis - essential to life's functioning was featured on Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD).

The explanation provides explanations and current understanding, noting, too, that the nuclear origin of some, pointing out copper as an example, "are not really well known and are continuing topics of of observational and computational research."

Saturday, January 14, 2023

CG4: An Odd Cometary Globule

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Earth & Space Science, Astrophysics, Cosmology

Ed Hessler

Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD)  features a gas cloud known as a cometary globule. This one, known to astronomers is CG4, and is unusual in that its "head" has ruptured and the result is a menacing looking jawed creature.

The background for this image is brightly dotted with a variety of objects also includes, purely by chance, a galaxy that appears closer to these menacing jaws than it really is. 

Another spectacular image of the features "far out," about which an amazing amount is known through the investigations of scientists.

Friday, January 13, 2023

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art & Environment

Ed Hessler

"Glad to be Gone" by Ann Turner is nicely introduced by the poetry editor of 3QuarksDaily (3QD). 

Mr. Culleny cites the publication where it can be found. Here is the entry from Goodreads.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Building Living Shorelines: Port of San Diego

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biodiversity, Nature, Sustainability, Climate Change, Global Change, Earth Systems, Science & Society

Ed Hessler

 A conservation land manager at the Port of San Diego, CA is the feature of  "Where I Work" entry, December 16, 2022.

Nature writer Kendall Powell introduces us to one of Eileen Maher's projects. This one is designed to "prevent erosion and attract oysters as part of her work to manage tidelands around" the busy port. The link to Mayer is long 57 m 08 s and the action begins at ~3 m 13 s. 

My intent in the above is to provide an overview of what Eileen Maher does other than the project featured in the Where I Work segment above. She has considerable responsibility and a busy work life.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

On The COVID-19 Drug Paxlovid

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine, Science & Society, Nature of Science

Ed Hessler

Because I took the drug Paxlovid when COVID-19 and I collided, this essay in Nature grabbed my attention. Writer Max Kozlov explores what has happened since following its description as a game-changer (that phrase is way overused in my opinion).

The return of COVID-19 symptoms following recovery and declining concern about COVID-19 caused illness. Kozlov writes,  "As a result, physicians have prescribed the drug in only about 0.5% of new COVID-19 cases in the United Kingdom, and in about 13% * in the United States, according to a report by the health-analytics firm Airfinity, based in London, UK."

He also reports that "Sentiment against the drug has persisted even as regulators globally have rescinded authorizations for monoclonal antibodies against  COVID-19, leaving Paxlovid as one of the only tools to prevent death in high-risk individuals, says Davey Smith, an infectious-disease physician at the University of California, San Diego. 'It’s a game-changer drug that has good efficacy, even in the  setting of Omicron,' says Smith. 'But rebound has been tagged as a reason not to take the drug, which is a shame.'"

Among the issues discussed by Kozlov are Paxlovid's inititial provision of premium protection, the fact that both those who use and don't use the drug suffer the rebound effect, its strange taste to some patients which varies (I occasionally experienced the tinny metallic taste.), and health system issues which I summarized in one word, infrastructure. The comments on infrastructure are very much worth reading.

Kozlov closes his reporting that "COVID-19 isn’t going away," one expert said, "so it's important to develop other antiviral drugs.  Paxlovid could soon have competition: in November, Japan authorized ensitrelvir, a once-daily antiviral made by the Japanese pharmaceutical company Shionogi...". 

Please read the article which NatureNews tells me will take about 5 minutes. It is also a great report.
* My primary care nurse is an experience PA and interestingly she told me that she didn't think I needed to take Paxlovid given my symptoms. However, she also said if I requested it she would prescribe it. Now, I think she was right.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Human Spine Formation In A Model System

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Evolutionary Biology, Nature of Science, History of Science, Science & Society, Models

Ed Hessler 

The editor of Nature News wrote the following to describe a short article and laboratory film (2 m 37 s).

Artificial human embryos allow scientists to watch how a lump of tissue lengthens and segments to form a spine. The embryo surrogates are created from pluripotent stem cells, which differentiate into embryonic structures when exposed to chemical signals. The researchers were able to model human congenital spine diseases such as scoliosis by disrupting the artificial spine’s development.

This very short article in today's issue of Nature includes the link to the video.  The article includes definitions or description of major terms used in the film that are likely to be new.

The research is awesome. I never imagined it would be possible to actually see "how" a human spine forms in an embryo.

Monday, January 9, 2023

Decoding Cave Drawings

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Archeology, History of Science, Nature of Science

Ed Hessler

Ben Bacon, a London furniture conservator and amateur archeologist, has "teamed up with...(a) professor from Durham University and a professor from University College, London, in the writing of a paper* about the meaning of markings long-observed on cave drawings "dating back at least 20,000 years." Mr. Bacon whose full first name is Bennett, is the lead author. 

The BBC reported on the research in a recent, well illustrated article. That those markings meant something had "long been suspected" and now it appears "that the markings related to animal life cycles." 

Mr. Bacon earned a degree in English but decided on a different career. The BBC reported on what he said about the amateur side of his career.  "The meaning of the markings within these drawings has always intrigued me so I set about trying to decode them, using a similar approach that others took to understanding an early form of Greek text.

"Using information and imagery of cave art available via the British Library and on the internet, I amassed as much data as possible and began looking for repeating patterns.

"I reached out to friends and senior university academics, whose expertise was critical to proving my theory.

"It was surreal to sit in the British Library and slowly work out what people 20,000 years ago were saying but the hours of hard work were certainly worth it."

There is a discussion at the end of the BBC report about "visual paleopsychology," a field new to me, a comment by researcher Tony Freeth, University College, London on his first meeting with Mr. Bacon, and Mr. Bacon's plans for what he hopes to do next.

*The scientific article is titled "An Upper Palaeolithic Proto-writing System and Phenological Calendar" and was published in the Cambridge Archeological Journal and may be read in its entirety. I strongly urge the reading of the abstract which includes a description of the most frequently occurring signs, the discussion of the author's hypothesis (scroll down) and how it was tested, and the section titled "Discussion and conclusions: a phenological/meteorological calendar, but is it writing?" 

The paper also includes quite a few images of the markings.
If you are interested in learning more about phenology, the study of periodic events in organism's life cycles, see the Wiki entry.


Sunday, January 8, 2023


Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Astronomy, Solar System, Earth & Space Science

Ed Hessler 

In just one image you can view all the full moons of 2022, each with a traditional name and the date of the event on a clock face from Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD)

Details are explained, too.

There will be no clock face for 2023 because it has 13 full moons. January 6, 2023 was the first (5:07 pm, Central Time Zone).

Saturday, January 7, 2023

Spectacular Cone Fossil

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Earth & Space Science, Geology, Earth Systems, Paleontology

Ed Hessler

A photo of an opalized fossil of a cycad cone may be seen at Earth Science Picture of the Day (EPOD)

For information about opals see here and here

EPOD also includes a video of the opalized fossil of the cycad and clips of a modern cycad (5 m 44 s. The music added nothing for me and I turned the volume down immediately. The video includes all possible views, showing the distribution of opal over the surface. It is a gorgeous find.). 

For information about cycads see here.

Friday, January 6, 2023

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art & Society

Ed Hessler 

"and a tree" is by Kate Wakeling.

The link to the poem includes information about this commissioned poem as well as its author. 

In addition, I include access to her home page.

Thursday, January 5, 2023

Book Recommendation

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Behavior, Nature, Wildlife, Nature of Science, History of Science

Ed Hessler

This is a strong book recommendation. Gracefully written, it is one to be savored and revisited. I make no attempts at reviewing it but include a few comments. It is a book as Andrea Wulf (The Invention of Nature) notes on the dust cover, one of "buckets of wonder."

Take it from there.

All critters, i.e., all living organisms live, as Ed Yong tells us (An Immense World, Random House) in bubbles, sensory bubbles.

The book is about how organisms perceive the world. In one word, differently from us. Our tendency is to think that many organisms perceive it as we do and this greatly limits our understanding and appreciation of the "others" with which we share this magnificent planet.

Yong discusses the pioneering work of zoologist Jacob von Uexkull (1909) who described these sensory bubbles as the organisms Umwelt. It means environment, but Yong calls much needed attention to what Uexkull meant: "an Umwelt is specifically the part of those surroundings that an animal can sense and experience--its perceptual world world (my emphasis).

The idea of the Umwelt was, Yong writes, "radical at the time." I think if you read Yong's book, you can, through the references and scientists get an idea of when it became a mainstream research area, years after its first description.

Yong quotes Uexkull's comparison of  "an animal's body to a house. 'Each house has a number of windows , which open onto a garden: a light window, a sound window, an olfactory window, a taste window, and a great number of tactile windows. Depending on the manner in which these windows are built, the garden changes as it is seen from the house. By no means does it appear as a section of a larger world. Rather, it is the only world that belongs to the house--it [Umwelt], The garden that appears to our eye is fundamentally different from that which presents itself to the inhabitants of the house.'"

The book is about."about animals as animals" (not as models and other motivations for studying them) and how they slice and dice the environment. It is also a book on how scientists do science, how they design experiments, how they challenge their own thinking, how they selected a particular research organism - some love them like no other organism* - to spend a career researching them as well as the history of science.
Yong closes with a discussion on threatened sensescapes: quiet and the dark of night. Our increasingly lighted lands have deep and widespread effects, e.g., bird migration (survival as well as navigation), survival of newly hatched sea turtle, and pollination of plants. Yong writes that "The boundaries of our own Umwelt corral our ability to understand the Umwelten of others." Researcher Travis Longcore adds an emphasis: "'We too quickly forget that we don't perceive the world in the same way as other species, and consequently, we ignore impacts that we shouldn't."

One of the charges of The Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division of the National Park Service (NPS) is "to safeguard the United States' natural soundscapes." This first required mapping them and Kurt Fristrup and his colleagues found that human activity has doubled the background noise levels in 63% of protects spaces, and increased them tenfold in 21 percent" (~500 sites around the nation).

This affects animal calls and songs (how far they can be heard, how loud they now have to be), the timing of morning bird choruses, reproduction in birds (not being able to attract a mate, communication in whales (distances--their calls once stretched from one ocean border to another),and life history features of sea organisms. Yong notes the dimensions of this problem writing that "personal responsibility cannot compensate for societal responsibility.

It surprised me to learn that Jakob von Uexkull wrote a second book that included this observation "about the Umwelt of the astronomer." This is what he said. "'Through gigantic optical aids,' our eyes 'are capable of penetrating outer space as far as the most distant stars. In its [Umwelt], suns and planets circle at a solemn pace.' The tools of astronomy," Yong notes, "can capture stimuli that no animal can naturally sense--X-rays, radio waves, and gravitational waves from colliding black holes. They extend the human Umwelt across the extent of the Universe and back to its very beginning (emphasis added).

Near the end, Yong points out one of our talents, namely the "ability to dip into other Umwelten is our greatest sensory skill." Take a moment to let that sink in. At the end of the book, Yong writes about this skill and its gift to us. "We may not ever know what it is like to be an octopus, but at least we know octopuses exist, and that their experiences differ from ours. Through patient observation, through the technologies at our disposal, through the scientific method, and, above all, through our curiosity and imagination, we can try to step into their worlds. We must choose to do so, and to have that choice is a gift. It is not a blessing we have earned, but it is one we must cherish."

Yong is a writer I deeply admire and so do other science writers. "What would we do without Ed Yong?," asks Rebecca Skloot (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks) in another dust jacket quote. By the way, all of the dust jacket quotes were useful, each has a sense of authenticity, of the writer having read the book and each provides an angle or angles that told me something about the book. So read them, too.

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

The Damascus Rose

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biodiversity, Agriculture, Nature, Society, Culture

Ed Hessler

The Damascus Rose and its various products are new to me. They are the subject of a recent essay (see below). 

The "Damascus Rose, a two-meter tall hybrid with the botanical name Rosa x damascena ... was born by chance" writes Tristan Rutherford, "on the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan border an estimated 7,000 years ago. Following that last Ice Age, Rosa gallica--one of Rosa x damascena's three parent species was blown east to Central Asia. Rosa fedschenkoana--and even rarer species--migrated north over the Himalayas as the climate warmed. Here Rosa gallica and Rosa fedschenkoana met a wild Himalayan rose, Rosa moschata, and together they produce a hybrid--indicated by the 'x' in its scientific name that produced a uniquely fragrant perfume."

The essay traces the long history of distilling, early stone presses, medicinal uses of rose water (relief of menstrual cramps and use in childbirth where it serves as a muscle relaxant), the rose's latest cultural home of Bulgaria (with a map), introduces a "new museum dedicated to the history of roses (Kazanlak Rose Museum) and some of the displays, to some of the farmers and harvesters (3000 Kg or about 6614 pounds of rose petals are required to distill a single kilogram of rose oil; a good picker can pick 100 Kg (~220 pounds) of buds per day and is paid about 50 cents U.S.), the rose queen event (dating from 1903) in Kazanlak, the current effects of climate change on the growing season, and the business side of their growing and harvesting.  As usual the essay is lavishly illustrated.

Here are three quotes that I liked.

--"In the middle of the Valley of Roses, rows of Rosa x damascena shrubs are marked with labels in Crylilic script that translate 'experience' and 'control'."

--The main fear of Filip Lissicharove, "president of the distillery for Bulgaria's leading rose oil explorer" is that young people who learn rose picking from their parents have a telephone in their pocket with Instagram. My question is: Will roses become part of their family tradition like their grandparents? This isn't like working in a gas station. It's not a business, it's our life'."
--"By mid-morning giant sacks will be rushed to tractor to Valley of Roses's seven large distilleries...."

"The Long Wandering of the Damascus Rose" by Tristan Rutherford, photographed by Rebecca Marshall, Aramco World - November / December 2022 may be read on-line.
I'm glad it wandered my way or that I wandered its way.
Another gift of the planet's ice age history, biodiversity, society and culture.