Saturday, November 30, 2013

Perfect Quiddity: Vasili Arkhipov

Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov (Russian: Василий Александрович Архипов) (30 January 1926 – 19 August 1998) was a Soviet Navy officer. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, he prevented the launch of a nuclear torpedo and thereby prevented a nuclear war.
Thomas Blanton (then director of the National Security Archive) said in 2002 that "a guy called Vasili Arkhipov saved the world".

Early Life and Education

Arkhipov was born into a peasant family near Moscow. He was educated in the Pacific Higher Naval School and participated in the Soviet-Japanese War in August 1945, serving aboard a minesweeper. He transferred to the Caspian Higher Naval School and graduated in 1947. He served in the submarine service aboard boats in the Black Sea, Northern and Baltic Fleets.


K-19 Accident
In July 1961, Arkhipov was appointed deputy commander or executive officer of the new Hotel-class ballistic missile submarine K-19 During its nuclear accident, he backed Captain Nikolai Vladimirovich Zateyev during the potential mutiny. While assisting with engineering work to deal with the overheating reactor, he was exposed to a harmful level of radiation. This incident is depicted in the American film K-19: The Widowmaker.

Involvement in the Cuban Missile Crisis

On 27 October 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, a group of eleven United States Navy destroyers and the aircraft carrier USS Randolph located the diesel-powered nuclear-armed Soviet Foxtrot-class submarine B-59 near Cuba. Despite being in international waters, the Americans started dropping practice depth charges, explosives intended to force the submarine to come to the surface for identification. There had been no contact from Moscow for a number of days and, although the submarine's crew had earlier been picking up U.S. civilian radio broadcasts, once B-59 began attempting to hide from its U.S. Navy pursuers, it was too deep to monitor any radio traffic, so those on board did not know whether war had broken out. The captain of the submarine, Valentin Grigorievitch Savitsky, believing that a war might already have started, wanted to launch a nuclear torpedo.

Three officers on board the submarine – Savitsky, the political officer Ivan Semonovich Maslennikov, and the second-in-command Arkhipov – were authorized to launch the torpedo if agreeing unanimously in favor of doing so. An argument broke out among the three, in which only Arkhipov was against the launch. Although Arkhipov was only second-in-command of submarine B-59, he was actually commander of the flotilla of submarines, including B-4, B-36 and B-130, and of equal rank to Captain Savitsky. According to author Edward Wilson, the reputation Arkhipov gained from his courageous conduct in the previous year's K-19 incident also helped him prevail in the debate. Arkhipov eventually persuaded Savitsky to surface the submarine and await orders from Moscow. This presumably averted the nuclear warfare which could possibly have ensued had the torpedo been fired. The submarine's batteries had run very low and the air-conditioning had failed, so it was forced to surface amidst its U.S. pursuers and head home. Washington's message that practice depth charges were being used to signal the submarines to surface never reached B-59, and Moscow claims it has no record of receiving it either.

When discussing the Cuban missile crisis in 2002, Robert McNamara, who was U.S. Secretary of Defense during the crisis, stated that "we came very close" to nuclear war, "closer than we knew at the time."
In Aleksandr Mozgovoy's 2002 book, Kubinskaya Samba Kvarteta Fokstrotov (Cuban Samba of the Foxtrot Quartet), retired Commander Vadim Pavlovich Orlov, a participant in the events, presents them less dramatically, saying that Captain Savitsky had merely lost his temper, but eventually calmed down.

                                                           Rear Admiral Vasili Arkhipov
Later Life and Death

Arkhipov continued in Soviet Navy service, commanding submarines and later submarine squadrons. He was promoted to rear admiral in 1975 and became head of the Kirov Naval Academy. He was promoted to vice admiral in 1981 and retired in the mid 1980s. He subsequently settled in Kupavna (incorporated into Zheleznodorozhny, Moscow Oblast, in 2004), where he died on 19 August 1998. The radiation to which he had been exposed in 1961 contributed to his death.

Friday, November 29, 2013

U.S. Senate Did NOT Abolish Filibusters

Many news media have incorrectly reported that the Senate abolished the filibuster on Thursday. If you want to get picky, it really didn't. It takes a 2/3 majority to change the Senate rules and that didn't happen. What did happen was that majority leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) once again tried to bring President Obama's nomination of Patricia Millet to the D.C Court of Appeals to the floor. To do so, he needed 60 votes. He didn't get them. The vote to take up her nomination was 57 ayes and 43 nays. Normally, that would be enough to kill the attempt to hold a vote on the nominee. But this time, Reid did something extraordinary. He raised a point of order claiming that he needed only 51 votes to bring this nomination to the floor, even though he knew better, of course.

When there is a dispute about the rules, the presiding officer makes a ruling after consulting with the Senate parliamentarian, whose full-time job is understanding the Senate's arcane rules and explaining them to the senators. In principle, the presiding officer of the Senate is the Vice President (Joe Biden) but it is a boring job and Biden rarely presides unless he thinks his vote will be needed to break a tie. On Thursday, Biden was absent and the President Pro Tem of the Senate, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) was presiding. After Reid's point of order, Leahy got the opinion of the parliamentarian, who advised Leahy that Reid was wrong. Leahy then formally ruled that Reid was wrong and could not bring up the nomination without 60 votes.

However, whenever the chair makes a decision on the rules, any senator can object and force the entire Senate to vote on the chair's decision. That happened and by a vote of 52 to 48, Leahy's decision was overturned, with all Republicans voting to support Leahy and all but three Democrats (Carl Levin, Mark Pryor, and Joe Manchin) voting to oppose him. Thus was Leahy's decision overturned and Reid got his way and could bring Millet's nomination to the floor with only 51 votes.

It may seem odd that on a critical vote, all the Republicans in the Senate voted to support the dean of the Democratic caucus, Patrick Leahy, and nearly all the Democrats opposed their Democratic colleague, but such is the nature of the Senate. This is why the job of Senate parliamentarian exists. Leahy could have ignored the parliamentarian's advice and said Reid was right but then minority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) would have objected and the Senate would still have voted, only with the Democrats supporting Leahy and the Republicans opposing him. Leahy probably ruled as he did to avoid having the Republicans accusing him of cheating.

Few Americans have a clue why an appointment to the D.C. Court of Appeals is so important. The reason is that that Court handles most cases involving the federal government and it currently has four Republican appointees, four Democratic appointees, and three vacancies. In theory, the losing party in a case involving the federal government can appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court takes up fewer than 1% of these, so the D.C. Court of Appeals has the final say in over 99% of its cases. In addition, the D.C. Court of Appeals is the farm team for the Supreme Court. Justices John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg all sat there before being promoted to the Supreme Court.

The three dissenting Democratic votes (that is, the votes supporting Leahy) are all different. Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) has been in the Senate since 1979. He is retiring after this term but he has seen everything. In particular, he has seen situations in which a Republican President made nominations that he opposed and were defeated only by a Democratic filibuster. He wants to preserve that option in case a President Cruz or a President Rubio makes appointments the Democrats don't particularly care for. Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) is in the fight of his life in 2014 and the more distance he can put between himself and the national Democrats, the better it is for him. He saw his colleague, Blanche Lincoln, defeated in 2010 and is trying mightily to avoid that fate. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is a special case. First, he doesn't want to hurt the Democrats' chances of filling the seat of the retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) next year. But also, he is sitting in the seat of the late senator Robert Byrd, the longest-serving member of Congress in history and a traditionalist who always carried a copy of the Constitution in his pocket. At least some of Manchin's motivation is surely to show respect for Byrd, who was immensely popular in West Virginia.

Since the Senate rules have not formally been changed, the Republicans can filibuster future appointees if they want to, but now that there is a precedent--and more importantly, 52 votes--any such attempt will be squelched immediately, so de facto, the rule has been changed without it really having been changed. Reid said the change would not apply to Supreme Court nominees. Don't bet the farm on it. If a Supreme Court vacancy occurs while Obama is President and the Republicans are in the minority in the Senate, they will surely try to filibuster the attempt to force a vote on the nominee. In that case, the Democrats will almost certainly repeat the procedure used for Millet although for the Supreme Court they might just force the Republicans to actually hold the floor and talk for a couple of weeks, something technically called "diaper time." In due course, the same thing might be done for legislation.

What are the political implications of what happened Thursday? The 2014 elections are nearly a year away and few people are likely to remember this and even fewer are likely to understand it. The Republicans will say the Democrats cheated and the Democrats will point to polls showing the popularity of Congress under 10% and say they were trying to fix it. It is doubtful that many votes will be swayed by all this, especially if there is a government shutdown next year or the U.S. defaults on its debt. Those are things people can understand.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Game Theory and Chess

Game theory is a study of strategic decision making. More formally, it is "the study of mathematical models of conflict and cooperation between intelligent rational decision-makers". An alternative term suggested "as a more descriptive name for the discipline" is interactive decision theory. Game theory is mainly used in economics, political science, and psychology, as well as logic and biology. The subject first addressed zero sum games, such that one person's gains exactly equal net losses of the other participant(s). Today, however, game theory applies to a wide range of behavioral relations, and has developed into an umbrella term for the logical side of decision science, to include both human and non-humans, like computers.

Modern game theory began with the idea regarding the existence of mixed-strategy equilibria in two-person zero-sum games and its proof by John von Neumann. Von Neumann's original proof used Brouwer’s fixed-point theorum on continuous mappings into compact convex sets, which became a standard method in game theory and mathematical economics. His paper was followed by his 1944 book Theory of Games and Economic Behavior, with Oskar Morgenstern, which considered cooperative games of several players. The second edition of this book provided an axiomatic theory of expected utility, which allowed mathematical statisticians and economists to treat decision-making under uncertainty.

This theory was developed extensively in the 1950s by many scholars. Game theory was later explicitly applied to biology in the 1970s, although similar developments go back at least as far as the 1930s. Game theory has been widely recognized as an important tool in many fields. Eight game-theorists have won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, and John Maynard Smith was awarded the Crafoord Prize for his application of game theory to biology.

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In game theory, Zermelo’s theorem, named after Ernst Zermelo, says that in any finite two-person game of perfect information in which the players move alternatingly and in which chance does not affect the decision making process, if the game cannot end in a draw, then one of the two players must have a winning strategy.

More formally, every finite extensive-form game exhibiting full information has a Nash erquilibrium that is discoverable by backward induction.. If every payoff is unique, for every player, this backward induction solution is unique.

Zermelo's paper, published in 1913, was originally published only in German. Ulrich Schwalbe and Paul Walker faithfully translated Zermelo's paper into English in 1997 and published the translation in the appendix to Zermelo and the Early History of Game Theory. Zermelo considers the class of two-person games without chance, where players have strictly opposing interests and where only a finite number of positions are possible. When applied to chess, Zermelo's Theorem states "either white can force a win, or black can force a win, or both sides can force at least a draw".

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What this means for chess –

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November 27, 2013

The Formula that Would Destroy Chess Forever

By Georg Mathisen Editor's Note: This article was provided by our partner, ScienceNordic..
While Norway’s Magnus Carlsen and India’s Viswanathan Anand slug it out in the World Chess Championship, mathematicians are playing with a theory that would spoil the game and make these kinds of matches superfluous.

An ultimate recipe for victory exists. But nobody has discovered it yet.

Insufficient Computing Power

"Everyone agrees that if a computer were given X number of years, it would be able to calculate the ultimate way to win at chess. Or at least the ultimate way of averting a loss," says Kjetil Haugen. Hagen is vice-rector of Molde University College, a professor of logistics and sports management and an avid game theory enthusiast.

The claim is not new – in fact it is 100 years old in this year of the World Chess Championship. In 1913 the German mathematician Ernst Zermelo published what would come to be known as Zermelo’s theorem.
Briefly, the theorem says that in any finite two-person game involving alternating moves – where both players can follow every move and chance does not influence the decision-making process – a winning strategy exists.
The theorem has been interpreted in various ways through the decades.
"The main problem hindering the discovery of that formula involves the limits of computer power," says Haugen.

He explains that a chess game involves an unfathomable number of possible moves. With the world’s current hardware capacity, no such winning formula is likely to be found in the near future.
And do we really want to find a recipe for victory?

Tic-Tac-Toe to the Nth Degree

He compares chess to tic-tac-toe, also called noughts and crosses. It’s a simple game with nine squares in which whoever starts can be guaranteed at least a draw.

"This is why they don’t organise a world championship in tic-tac-toe. Chess is an overgrown version of it.
As a game it is structurally very similar, with two players taking alternating moves within a finite strategic space. But in reality they are far apart. The possible moves in chess are also finite, but the difference between them is an enormous order of magnitude."

Haugen is placing no bets on any math or computer genius at the Molde University College solving the chess formula once and for all.

The Rules a Neck Ahead

"I hope that doesn’t happen. For the sake of chess, and for all those who love chess," he says.

If the secret formula for determining the outcome of any game of chess were to be found, the game rules would have to be changed to keep ahead of the computational powers of machines. The ancient game would be altered to stay at least the neck of a knight ahead of technology.

Professor Kjetil Haugen admits that he doesn’t play chess. He prefers to watch soccer.

"That, too, is a thrilling game involving plenty of mathematics. Quite a lot about soccer has much in common with my work," he says with a smile.

Translated by Glenn Ostling.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Smart Materials and Genius Materials from Space

"Genius Materials" on the
International Space Station
By Dr. Tony Phillips, NASA

Nov. 27, 2013:
If you have a smartphone, take it out and run your fingers along the glass surface. It's cool to the touch, incredibly thin and strong, and almost impervious to scratching. You're now in contact with a "smart material."

Smart materials don't occur naturally. Instead, they are designed by human engineers working at the molecular level to produce substances made-to-order for futuristic applications. The Corning Gorilla Glass that overlays the displays of many smartphones is a great example. It gets it toughness, in part, from "fat" potassium ions stuffed into the empty spaces between old-fashioned glass molecules. When the molten glass cools during manufacturing, dense-packed molecules solidify into a transparent armor that gives Gorilla Glass its extraordinary properties.

Around the world, designers are working on other smart materials such as alloys that can change shape on demand, plastics that heal themselves when ruptured, and fluids that obey magnetic commands to flow or stiffen under computer control.

"One of the great challenges in creating a smart material is arranging the molecules," says Eric Furst of the University of Delaware. "They're so small!"

Furst wants to create a new class of materials, beyond smart. "We need 'genius materials'--materials that arrange themselves," he says.

The research to accomplish this is already underway on the International Space Station.

Furst is the principal investigator of an experiment called InSPACE-3. In the microgravity of Earth orbit, vials of fluid mixed with very small 'colloidal' particles (about a millionth of a meter in diameter) are exposed to magnetic fields. Magnetism is switched on and off again very rapidly. This jostles the particles, causing them to bump together and self-assemble into microscopic structures that currently no supercomputer can predict.

"Astronauts enjoy watching this process in action through microscopes," says Furst. "Because the samples are backlit by a green lamp, they sometimes call it the 'green blob experiment.'"

Furst recently won an award from the American Astronautical Society for his work on InSPACE-3.

"I'm excited," he continues. "Just by toggling a magnetic field, we're learning how to take any kind of microscopic building blocks and get them to spontaneously form interesting structures."

Recently, observers have seen the colloidal particles forming long fibrous chains. Furst speculates that these could lead to materials that conduct heat or electricity in one direction only. The experiment has also yielded crystalline structures that the team is just beginning to investigate.

The fluids underlying these tests are themselves very smart. They are called magnetorheological or "MR" fluids because they harden or change shape when they feel a magnetic field.

If you own a sports car or a Cadillac, you might have MR fluids in your shock absorbers. The stiffness of magnetic shocks can be electronically adjusted thousands of times per second, providing a remarkably smooth ride. Similar but more powerful devices have been installed at Japan's National Museum of
Emerging Science and China's Dong Ting Lake Bridge. They're there to counteract vibrations caused by earthquakes and gusts of wind. Some researchers have speculated that MR fluids might one day flow through the veins of robots, moving artificial joints and limbs in lifelike fashion.

Furst and colleagues are using these fluids as a laboratory for studying self-assembly. MR fluids are, by definition, responsive to the magnetic nudging that sets self-assembly in motion. Furthermore, in space the particles don't sediment out due to gravity. "We can study the full 3D evolution of the material," he adds.

Varying the shape of the colloidal particles, the cadence of magnetic toggling, the temperature of the fluid and other factors will allow researchers and astronauts to further explore the frontiers of self-assembly.

Touch the surface of your smartphone again. Maybe that’s just the beginning.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Palma de Majorca -- a near paradise

Palma (Catalan:Spanish), in full Palma de Mallorca, is the major city and capital city of the autonomous community of the Balearic Islands in Spain. It is situated on the south coast of the island on the Bay of Palma. As of the 2009 census, the population of the city of Palma proper was 401,270, and the population of the entire urban area was 517,285, ranking as the twelfth largest urban area of Spain. Almost half of the total population of Majorca live in Palma. The Cabrera Archipelago, though widely separated from Palma proper, is administratively considered part of the municipality. Its airport, Son Sant Joan, serves over 22 million passengers each year. The Marivent Palace was offered by the city to the then Prince Juan Carlos I of Spain. The royals have since spent their summer holidays in Palma.

Palma was founded as a Roman camp upon the remains of a Talaiotic settlement. The turbulent history of the city saw it the subject of several Vandal sackings during the fall of the Roman Empire, then reconquered by the Byzantine, then colonised by the Moors (who called it Medina Mayurqa
), and finally established by James I of Aragon.
Contemporary Age
Since the 1950s, the advent of mass tourism radically changed the face of both the city and island, transforming it into a centre of attraction for visitors and attracting workers from mainland Spain. This contributed to a huge change in the traditions, the sociolinguistic map, urbanisation and acquisitive power.

The boom in tourism caused Palma to grow significantly, with repercussions on immigration. In 1960, Majorca received 500,000 visitors, in 1997 it received more than 6,739,700. In 2001 more than 19,200,000 people passed through Son Sant Joan airport near Palma, with an additional 1.5 million coming by sea.

In the 21st century, urban redevelopment, by the so-called Pla Mirall (English "Mirror Plan"), attracted important groups of immigrant workers from outside the European Union, especially from Africa and South America.,_Majorca
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Chopin in Majorca
Together with French writer George Sand, the Polish composer and pianist Frederic Chopin resided in Valldemossa in winter of 1838-39. Apparently, Chopin's health had already deteriorated and his doctor recommended him to go to the Balearic Islands, where he still spent a rather miserable winter. Nonetheless, the winter in Majorca is considered one of the most productive periods in Chopin's life. He had time enough to complete a number of works: some Preludes, Op. 28; a revision of the Ballade No. 2, Op. 38; two Polonaises, Op. 40; the Scherzo No. 3, Op. 39; the Mazurka in E minor from Op. 41; and he probably revisited his Sonata No. 2, Op. 35.
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Note by the Blog Author
Majorca has a Mediterranean climate for which the Spring (April and May) and autumn (September and October) are spectacular – representing ideal, nearly perfect seasonal weather.

Monday, November 25, 2013

This Song Didn't Come Easy

"It Don't Come Easy" is a song by Ringo Starr released as an Apple Records single in April 1971, reaching number 1 in Canada and number 4 in both the US and UK singles charts. It was Starr's first solo single in the UK, but his second in the US (the first was "Beaucoups of Blues"), following the breakup of the Beatles. This song may also be considered Starr's signature song.

A demo version exists with George Harrison providing a guide vocal for Starr. The released version included Harrison on guitar, Klaus Voormann on bass guitar, Stephen Stills on piano, Ron Cattermole on saxophone and trumpet, Badfinger members Pete Ham and Tom Evans on background vocals, and Starr on drums and lead vocals. The B-side of the single, "Early 1970", featured Starr on acoustic guitar, piano, drums, and vocals, with Harrison playing guitar, bass, and backing vocals. The lyrics refer to the lives of the Beatles around the time of their breakup (hence the title). Both tracks were produced by Harrison and published by Startling Music.

Recording History
Recording of the new composition was begun at a late-night session on 18 February 1970 at Abbey Road's Studio 2, during the Sentimental Journey album sessions. Earlier in the day, Starr had re-recorded his vocals for "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You" and "Let the Rest of the World Go By", songs destined for Sentimental Journey. At this stage, the song was known as "You Gotta Pay Your Dues." On this first session, George Martin was producing, with Harrison playing acoustic guitar and directing the other musicians, which comprised Starr (drums), Klaus Voormann (bass) and Stephen Stills (piano). 20 basic track takes were made between 7 p.m. and 12.30 a.m., with take 20 being labelled "best." Starr then added a lead vocal and George added two electric guitar parts, finishing at 4 a.m., with the song being mixed into stereo. The following day, after overdubs onto "Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing", recording resumed on "You Gotta Pay Your Dues", with Starr overdubbing another lead vocal onto take 20 between 5 and 6 p.m. Harrison was not involved in recording on this day, although Eric Clapton may have been involved. After an hour's break, it was decided to remake the song, with takes 21-30 being taped between 7 and 11 p.m. Take 30 was labeled "best" and onto this take, two bass parts were added before the session ended at 1:30 a.m. This version however, was to remain unfinished, because on 8 March, Starr decided to again remake "It Don't Come Easy".

Recording took place at Trident Studios, with Harrison producing and playing guitar. Klaus Voormann (bass), Stephen Stills (piano), Mal Evans (tambourine) and Ron Cattermole (saxophone, trumpet) were also involved. Recording of overdubs continued the next morning, again with Harrison producing. The song was then left until October 1970, when further overdubs were made (details unknown). When news of the sessions reached the press in March 1970, Apple told the music press there were "absolutely no plans for the record to be released as a single at the present time", and the song wasn't issued until early 1971. An early mix from these sessions has appeared on bootlegs, which featured Harrison on lead vocal. While the instrumentation is almost identical to the released version (the horns have not been added yet), during the guitar break, the backing vocalists, Pete Ham and Tom Evans from Badfinger, add the line "Hare Krishna." This can be heard on the final Starr release, though buried in the mix. Following the guitar solo, rather than there being another verse, there is a repeat of the song's opening guitar phrase from Harrison, again with the backing vocalists singing 'it don't come, oh no, you know it don't come easy" twice, with Harrison adding a few shouted lines behind them before returning to the verse. Subsequently, there are some additional backing vocal lines.

Release and Aftermath
"It Don't Come Easy", backed with "Early 1970", was released on 9 April 1971 in the UK, and a week later, on 16 April in the US. It peaked at number four on the US Billboard chart. The single would later beat the sales of Starr's fellow former-Beatles' singles at the time: John Lennon’s "Power to the People", Paul McCartney’s "Another Day" and George Harrison’s Bangla Desh". The 22 April 1971 edition of the BBC TV show Top of the Pops shows the promotional video for the song. On 27 April, Starr was in Norway to shoot another music video for "It Don't Come Easy", that was broadcast on another edition of Top of the Pops, on 29 April. This version would later be repeated 2 August 1993, as part of Top of the Pops re-showings. Starr was filmed performing the song live at Scandinavia, on 24 June 1971, backed by an orchestra, for the BBC TV show Cilla, that was shown on 27 November 1971. The song didn't see inclusion on an album until the release of Starr's 1975 Apple greatest hits compilation, Blast from Your Past. Starr performed this song at the Concert for Bangladesh, forgetting some of the words. The song was also heard in the 1978 NBC-TV Ringo special. Although Starr recorded new versions of several songs for the special, the released recording of "It Don't Come Easy" was used.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Spellbinding book: Blood and Money

Introduction by the Blog Author
Blood and Money
by Thomas Thompson is one of the very best true crime murder mysteries ever written. I’ve read it twice and will probably read it again this winter if there is a weekend storm keeping me in my retirement cottage for two days. An incredible, edgy expose of actual high life in Houston, it is also, preposterously, dotted with pathos and even with occasional, genuinely hilarious, anecdotes. One would think laughter doesn’t go with bodies lying all over the stage, but, then again, this is Texas.

Summary of the Plot as posted on
Power, passion, oil money, murder—all the ingredients of a fast-paced, gripping mystery novel drive this true-crime story that on its original publication leapt onto best-seller lists nationwide. To that mix, add glamorous personalities, prominent Texas businessmen, gangland reprobates, and a whole parade of medical experts. At once a documentary account of events and a novelistic reconstruction of encounters among the cast of colorful characters, this anatomy of murder first chronicles the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death in 1969 of Joan Robinson—the pampered daughter of a Texas oil millionaire and the wife of plastic surgeon Dr. John Hill—then examines the bizarre consequences that followed it. For in 1972, having been charged by his father-in-law with Joan's death and having survived a mistrial, John Hill himself was killed, supposedly by a robber. So was the robber, by a cop, supposedly for resisting arrest. From the exclusive haunts of Houston's super-rich to the city's seamy underworld of prostitutes, pimps, and punks, author and investigative journalist Thomas Thompson tracks down all the leads and clues. And in a brutal tale of blood and money he uncovers some shocking and bitter truths.

Customer Reviews
33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
A true life tale of Texan greed, love and murder
By A Customer on July 12, 1999
5 Stars
"Blood and Money" first published in 1976 is a true page-turner and a major piece of non-fiction journalism. Set thirty years ago in the moneyed mansions of Houston’s River Oaks it is a spellbinding tale of an oil millionaire's (Ash Robinson) obsessive love for his daughter (Joan Robinson) and her ill fated third marriage to a rising star plastic surgeon (John Hill). Events take tragic and unexpected turns carrying along the reader’s emotions. Then the author brings us through a series of court trials deepening the characters and shading their motives. Abruptly the story leaves behind the privileged rich lives and burrows into the sleazy underbelly of Texan prostitution and petty crime culminating in a final pursuit and spectacular murder trial. No fiction is a match for the awful truth here and the writer Thomas Thompson meticulously unravels this bizarre saga of greed, power, lust, love and murder. All the characters are deeply shaded and by force of sheer detail their lives are brought into vivid focus. It is a sprawling narrative similar to Norman Mailers "The Executioners Song" although largely confined to the somewhat strange state of Texas. Thompson must have utilized every possible material (court transcripts, autopsy reports, police files, photographs) and person available to him. Conversations are carefully reconstructed, events are colorfully described and the author seamlessly insinuates himself into the mind of each of the characters. Readers enjoy a fly- on-the-wall perspective of the characters doings and actions. Ultimately "Blood and Money" can fairly take its place alongside other New Journalism classics like "In Cold Blood". It would have been nice however if the author had included a preface, (some notes about his research techniques) photographs and character epilogues. The hard cover Doubleday publication does not contain any supplementary information perhaps other versions do. This caliber of journalism is damned impressive and it's a pity we don't have its originator Thomas Thompson with us any longer.

36 of 39 people found the following review helpful
By Edison McIntyre, Vine Voice on May 29, 2006
3 Stars

I don't write many "me too" reviews in this space, but I can't resist recommending "Blood and Money," not only for aficionados of "true crime" literature, but for anyone interested in the workings of the American legal system. I know little of the city of Houston or of Texas, but I gather that Thomas Thompson's tome is also an excellent snapshot of this booming energy/medical/cultural complex, c.1970.

The details of the story are covered by other reviewers here. It's interesting that many have come to hard conclusions about the legal culpability of certain principals in this long, involved story (perhaps being influenced by other sources), while Thompson himself passes no definite judgments (though it's not difficult to tell what he's implying). Although there are no source notes or acknowledgments, one has the impression that Thompson included little in this account that could not be corroborated by "reliable sources," although he does include some speculation on specific points.

But the real value of the book, as I said, is not so much in portraying guilt or innocence but in dealing with a larger issue: the impact of wealth, social prestige, and publicity on the legal process and on justice. Depending on how one views the evidence presented by Thompson, it's not unreasonable to say that none of the principals involved in this entire episode received justice from the Texas court system. Some relatively minor players went to jail, and one died, in part, because of their involvement. But for the big fish in this case, the legal system in the end had no answers and no closure. I'll leave the deeper reflections on class and justice to Karl Marx.

Another thought: This book should be required reading in medical schools. A physician who insists on treating his own family and friends is asking for it!

The publishers of this thirty-year-old book would do well to commission an "Afterword" for a new edition, to cover what happened since the 1976 publication. A few developments (based on some Internet searching): John Hill's third wife, Connie, sued Ash Robinson for wrongful death in the slaying of her husband, but no damages were awarded. Thompson was himself sued for defamation by Ash Robinson, as well as by Ann Kurth (John Hill's second wife), and by a Texas police officer who figured in the story. Robinson's case eventually was dismissed, and Thompson won the other suits. Thompson died in 1982, Ash Robinson in 1985. The story was dramatized as a TV film, "Murder in Texas," in 1981, based on the book "Prescription: Murder" by Ann Kurth, who maintained that John Hill tried to kill her and may have faked his own death. Kurth's book, and the film version, no doubt have left many with a much more definite idea as to who was responsible for the death of Joan Robinson Hill.

Not exactly the most vital book I've read lately, but if you are seeking an intriguing, novelistic and somewhat illuminating book for bedtime or the airport, you could do far worse. And if you ARE a "true crime" fan, this book is a must.


Description and reviews from:

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Positive Quiddity: Best Chess Master Ever?

Sven Magnus Øen Carlsen, (born 30 November 1990) is a Norwegian chess grandmaster who is the reigning World Chess Champion and No. 1 ranked player in the world. His peak rating is 2872, the highest in history.

                                                        Magnus Carlsen in 2012

A chess prodigy, in 2004 Carlsen became a grandmaster at the age of 13 years, 148 days, making him at that time the second youngest grandmaster in history, although he has since become the third youngest. On 1 January 2010, at the age of 19 years, 32 days, he became the youngest chess player in history to be ranked world No. 1. On the January 2013 FIDE rating list, Carlsen reached an Elo rating of 2861, at that time the highest in history. In November 2013, Carlsen beat Viswanathan Anand in the World Chess Championship 2013, thus becoming the 16th undisputed world chess champion
Known for his attacking style as a teenager, Carlsen later developed into a more universal player. He does not focus on opening preparation as much as other top players, and plays a variety of openings, making it harder for opponents to prepare against him. His positional mastery and endgame prowess have drawn comparisons to those of former world champions José Raúl Capablanca, Vasily Smyslov, and Anatoly Karpov

Playing Style
Garry Kasparov, who coached Carlsen from 2009 to 2010,
said that Carlsen has a positional style similar to that of past world champions such as Anatoly Karpov, Jose Raul Capablanca and Vasily Smyslov, rather than the tactical style of Alexander Alekhine, Mikhail Tal and himself. According to Carlsen, however, he does not have any preferences in terms of playing style. In 2013, Kasparov said that "Carlsen is a combination of Karpov [and] Fischer. He gets his positions [and] then never lets go of that bulldog bite. Exhausting for opponents." Anand has said of Carlsen: "The majority of ideas occur to him absolutely naturally. He's also very flexible, he knows all the structures and he can play almost any position. ... Magnus can literally do almost everything." Kasparov expressed similar sentiments: "[Carlsen] has the ability to correctly evaluate any position, which only Karpov could boast of before him." In a 2012 interview, Vladimir Kramnik attributed much of Carlsen's success against other top players to his "excellent physical shape" and his ability to avoid "psychological lapses", which enables him to maintain a high standard of play over long games and at the end of tournaments, when the energy levels of others have dropped.
Carlsen's endgame prowess has been described as among the greatest in history. Jon Speelman, analysing several of Carlsen's endgames from the 2012 London Classic (in particular, his wins against McShane, Aronian, and Adams), described what he calls the "Carlsen effect":
... through the combined force of his skill and no less important his reputation, he drives his opponents into errors. ... He plays on forever, calmly, methodically and, perhaps most importantly of all, without fear: calculating superbly, with very few outright mistakes and a good proportion of the "very best" moves. This makes him a monster and makes many opponents wilt.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Positive Quiddity: Daniel V Gallery

Rear Admiral Daniel Vincent Gallery (July 10, 1901 – January 16, 1977) was an officer in the United States Navy who saw extensive action during World War II. He fought in the Battle of the Atlantic; his most notable achievement was the capture of the German submarine U-505 on June 4, 1944. In the post-war era, he was a leading player in the so-called "Revolt of the Admirals" – the dispute between the Navy and the Air Force over whether the U.S. Armed Forces should emphasize aircraft carriers or strategic bombers. Gallery was also a prolific author of both fiction and non-fiction.

Early Life and Career
In 1917, at the age of sixteen, Gallery entered the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. He graduated a year early, in 1920, and competed in the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp on the U.S. wrestling team.

He had three younger brothers, all of whom had careers in the U.S. Navy. Two brothers, William O. Gallery ancd Philip D. Gallery, also rose to the rank of Rear Admiral. The fourth brother, John Ireland Gallery, was a Catholic priest and Navy Chaplain. Dan Gallery's grandfather Daniel (born about 1839) emigrated to the USA from Ennistymon, County Clare, Ireland in the mid to late 1800s.

Gallery was an early naval aviator. He flew seaplanes, torpedo planes and amphibians. He won first place at the National Air Races in a race-tuned Douglas Devastator torpedo plane in the late 1930s. In 1941, while the U.S. was still neutral, he was assigned as the Naval Attache at the U.S. Embassy in Great Britain. While in Britain, he earned his flight pay by ferrying Spitfires from the factory to RAF aerodromes. He liked to claim that he was the only U.S. Navy aviator who flew Spitfires during the Battle of Britain – but they were unarmed.

World War II
In 1942, Gallery took command of the Fleet Air Base in Reykjavik, Iceland, where he was awarded the Bronze Star for his actions against German submarines. It was there that he first conceived his plan to capture a U-boat.

In 1943, Gallery was appointed commander of the escort carrier USS Guadalcanal, which he commissioned. In January 1944 he commanded antisubmarine Task Group 21.12 (TG 21.12) out of Norfolk, Virginia, with Guadalcanal as the flagship. TG 21.12 sank the German submarine U-544.

In March 1944 Task Group 22.3 was formed with Guadalcanal as the flagship. On this cruise Gallery pioneered 24-hour flight operations from escort carriers (by this time, U-boats were remaining submerged during daylight to avoid carrier-based aircraft). On April 9, the task group sank U-515 (commanded by the U-boat ace Kapitänleutnant Werner Henke). After a long battle the submarine was forced to the surface among the attacking ships and the surviving crew abandoned ship. The deserted U-515 was hammered by rockets and gunfire before she finally sank. Captain Gallery saw that this would have been a perfect opportunity to capture the vessel. He decided to be ready the next time such an opportunity presented itself. The next night aircraft from the task group caught U-68 on the surface, in broad moonlight, and sank her with one survivor, a lookout caught on-deck when the U-boat crash dived.

On the next cruise of TG 22.3, Captain Gallery took the unusual step of forming boarding parties, in case of another chance to capture a U-boat arose. On June 4, 1944, the task group crossed paths with U-505 off the coast of Africa. U-505 was spotted running on the surface by two F4F Wildcat fighters from Guadalcanal. Her captain, Oberleutnant Harald Lange, dived the boat to avoid the fighters. But they could see the submerged submarine and vectored destroyers onto her track. The experienced antisubmarine warfare team laid down patterns of depth charges that shook U-505 up badly, popping relief valves and breaking gaskets, resulting in water sprays in her engine room. Based on reports from the engine room, the captain believed his boat to be heavily damaged and ordered the crew to abandon ship, which was done so hastily that full scuttling measures were not completed.

Captain Gallery's boarding party from the destroyer escort USS Pillsbury was ordered to board the foundering submarine and if possible capture her. The destroyers in range used their .50 caliber and 20 mm antiaircraft guns to chase the Germans off the vessel so the boarding party could get onto her. They replaced the cover of the sea strainer, thus keeping the U-boat from sinking immediately. The boarders retrieved the submarine's Enigma coding machine and current code books.
(This was a primary goal of the mission because it would enable the codebreakers in Tenth Fleet to read German signals immediately, without having to break the codes first). They got her under control, making U-505 the first foreign man-of-war captured in battle on the high seas by the U.S. Navy since the War of 1812.
This incident was the last time that the order "Away All Boarders!" was given by a U.S. Navy captain. Lieutenant Albert David, who led the boarding party, received the Medal of Honor for his courage in boarding a foundering submarine that presumably had scuttling charges set to explode – the only Medal of Honor awarded in the Atlantic Fleet during World War II.
Task Group 22.3 was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation and Captain Gallery received the Distinguished Service Medal for capturing U-505.
He also received a blistering dressing-down from Admiral Ernest J. King, Chief of Naval Operations. King pointed out that unless U-505's capture could be kept an absolute secret, the Germans would change their codes and change out the cipher wheels in the Enigma. Gallery managed to impress his crews with the vital importance of maintaining silence on the best sea story any of them would ever see. His success made the difference between his getting a medal or getting a court-martial. (It is interesting that two noted naval historians, Samuel Eliot Morison and Clay Blair, Jr., are on opposite sides of Gallery's case.) After the war, Admiral King personally approved the award of the Presidential Unit Citation to Task Group 22.3 for the capture of the U-boat.

Toward the end of World War II Captain Gallery was given command of the aircraft carrier USS Hancock.

Promotion to Rear Admiral
After promotion to rear admiral he became Assistant to the Chief of Naval Operations. He commanded Carrier Division Six during the Korean War.

"The Revolt of the Admirals"
The so-called "Revolt of the Admirals" broke out during Louis Johnson’s's tenure as Secretary of Defense. Johnson planned to scrap the carrier fleet, merge the Marine Corps into the Army, and reduce the Navy to a convoy-escort force. Gallery wrote a series of articles for The Saturday Evening Post fiercely criticizing these plans. The final article, "Don't Let Them Scuttle the Navy!" was so inflammatory that Gallery barely escaped court-martial for insubordination. Even so, the episode cost Gallery his third star. It effectively finished his career, though he served twelve more years on active duty. At the time of his retirement, he was second in seniority on the Rear Admirals' List.

Command of the Tenth Naval District
Admiral Gallery's final command was the Tenth Naval District in San Juan, Puerto Rico, from December 1956 to July 1960. During this command, with the help of the Rotary and Lions clubs, he established the first Little League in Puerto Rico. It was also there that he first heard the steel bands of Trinidad. He was so taken by the sound that he invested $120 in steel drums for his command's Navy band. He established the first all-American and the only military steel band in 1957. The Tenth Naval District Steel Band – or Admiral Dan's Pandemoniacs, as they called themselves – became the U.S. Navy Steel Band and toured the world as ambassadors of the U.S. Navy until 1999.

Admiral Gallery was forced to retire from the Navy in 1960 when he was found medically unfit for service.

Shortly before Gallery's retirement, the custom of "tombstone promotion" was abolished. So he was one of the few Rear Admirals of his era to be retired as only a Rear Admiral. Most of his contemporaries retired as Vice Admirals.

He died at the Bethesda Naval Medical Center on January 16, 1977, at the age of 75. He was buried with full military honors in Section 3 of Arlington National Cemetary, adjacent to two of his brothers.

Awards and Honors
  • Navy Commendation Medal
  • Victory Medal
  • American Defense Service Medal
  • American Campaign Medal
  • European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal
  • World War Two Victory Medal
  • National Defense Service Medal
    The guided missile frigate USS Gallery was named for Daniel V. Gallery and two of his brothers, Rear Admiral William O. Gallery and Rear Admiral Phillip D. Gallery.

    Gallery Park in Glenview, Illinois4 (where he commanded the Naval Air Reserve Training forces at the Naval Air Station Glenview from 1952 to 1954), is named after him. The park is located at the former site of the Naval Air Station.

    Literary Career
    Daniel Gallery was an author on naval topics, writing ten books and a number of magazine articles and short stories. His fiction books are humorous except The Brink, which is a dramatic novel about the United States and the Soviet Union set aboard a Polaris missile submarine.

    • Clear the Decks
    • (Morrow, 1951)
  • U-505
  • (original title: Twenty Million Tons Under the Sea) (1956)
  • We Captured a U-boat
  • (Popular Book Club, 1958)
  • The Pueblo Incident
  • (Doubleday, 1970)
  • Eight Bells
  • (original title: Eight Bells And All's Well) (Norton, 1965)Fiction
    • Now, Hear This!
    • (Paperback Library, 1966)
  • Stand By-y-y to Start Engines
  • (Norton, 1966)
  • Cap'n Fatso
  • (sequel to Now, Hear This) (Norton, 1969)
  • Away Boarders
  • (sequel to Cap'n Fatso) (Norton, 1971)
  • The Brink
  • (Warner Books, 1973)Quotations by Daniel V. Gallery
    • "The definition of a calculated risk is a gamble which military men take when they can't figure out what else to do and which turns out to be right. When it turns out wrong, it wasn't a calculated risk at all. It was a piece of utter stupidity."
    • "Some critics have accused the military of being profligate wastrels because we didn't win World War II by killing the last Jap with the last bullet we had in our ammo locker. I would much rather defend myself against such charges than try to explain to my three kids why we lost our liberties because military planners didn't want the war to end with a lot of surplus junk on our hands."
    • "When nations, by mutual consent, decide to ignore the commandment 'Thou shall not kill', it is very difficult for the military leaders to restrict the killing to just the right people".
    Further Reading
    Daniel V. Gallery. Eight Bells and All's Well.

    C. Herbert Gilliland, Robert Shenk, and Daniel V. Gallery (1999). Admiral Dan Gallery: The Life and Wit of a Navy Original. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-55750-337-0.

    Robert Shenk, ed. (2008). Playships of the World: the Naval Diaries of Admiral Dan Gallery 1920-1924. Naval Institute Press.
    = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

    Note by the Blog Author
    Now Hear This, Cap’n Fatso
    and Away Boarders may be the three funniest books about the Navy ever written. They are stupifyingly hilarious and therefore highly recommended, though out-of-print and difficult to locate nowadays.
    The blog author spent 9 years and 9 months in the Navy – three years and 9 months as and enlisted sailor and six years as a Naval officer.

    Thursday, November 21, 2013

    Positive Quiddity: Frederick Sanger

    Frederick Sanger, OM, CH, CBE, FRS, FAA, (13 August 1918 – 19 November 2013) was a British biochemist who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry twice, the only person to have done so.
    In 1958 he was awarded a Nobel Prize in chemistry "for his work on the structure of proteins, especially that of insulin". In 1980, Walter Gilbert and Sanger shared half of the chemistry prize "for their contributions concerning the determination of base sequences in nucleic acids". The other half was awarded to Paul Berg "for his fundamental studies of the biochemistry of nucleic acids, with particular regard to recombinant DNA". Sanger was the fourth person to have been awarded two Nobel Prizes, either individually or in tandem with others.
    Early Education
    When Sanger was around five years old the family moved to the small village of Tanworth-in-Arden in Warwickshire. The family were reasonably wealthy and employed a governess to teach the children. In 1927, at the age of nine, he was sent to the Downs School, a residential preparatory school run by Quakers near Malvern. His brother Theo was a year ahead of him at the same school. In 1932, at the age of 14, he was sent to the recently established Bryanston School in Dorset. This used the Dalton system and had a more liberal regime which Sanger much preferred. At the school he liked his teachers and particularly enjoyed scientific subjects.

    He achieved good results in the School Certificate examinations and in 1936 moved as an undergraduate to St. John’s College, Cambridge to study natural sciences. His father had attended the same college. For Part I of his Tripos he took courses in physics, chemistry, biochemistry and mathematics but struggled with physics and mathematics. Many of the other students had studied more mathematics at school. In his second year he replaced physics with physiology. He took three years to obtain his Part I. For his Part II he studied biochemistry. It was a relatively new department founded by Gowland Hopkins with enthusiastic lecturers who included Malcolm Dixon, Joseph Needham and Ernest Baldwin.

    Both his parents died from cancer during his first two years at Cambridge. His father was 60 and his mother was 58. As an undergraduate Sanger's beliefs were strongly influenced by his Quaker upbringing. He was a pacifist and a member of the Peace Pledge Union. It was through his involvement with the Cambridge Scientists' Anti-War Group that he met his future wife, Joan Howe, who was studying economics at Newnham College. They courted while he was studying for his Part II exams and married after he had graduated in December 1940. With the onset of the Second World War in 1939, he was granted unconditional exemption from military service as a conscientious objector.

    Sanger began studying for a PhD in October 1940 under N.W. "Bill" Pirie. His project was to investigate whether edible protein could be obtained from grass. After little more than a month Pirie left the department and Albert Neuberger became his adviser. Sanger changed his research project to study the metabolism of lysine and a more practical problem concerning the nitrogen of potatoes. His thesis had the title, "The metabolism of the amino acid lysine in the animal body". He was examined by Charles Harington and Albert Charles Chibnall and awarded his doctorate in 1943.

    Sequencing Insulin
    Neuberger moved to the National Institute for Medical Research in London, but Sanger stayed in Cambridge and in 1943 joined the group of Charles Chibnall, a protein chemist who had recently taken up the chair in the Department of Biochemistry. Chibnall had already done some work on the amino acid composition of bovine insulin and suggested that Sanger look at the amino groups in the protein. Insulin could be purchased from Boots and was one of the very few proteins that were available in a pure form. Up to this time Sanger had been funding himself. In Chibnall's group he was initially supported by the Medical Research Council and then from 1944 until 1951 by a Beit Memorial Fellowship for Medical Research.

    Sanger's first triumph was to determine the complete amino acid sequence of the two polypeptide chains of bovine insulin, A and B, in 1952 and 1951, respectively. Prior to this it was widely assumed that proteins were somewhat amorphous. In determining these sequences, Sanger proved that proteins have a defined chemical composition. For this purpose he used the "Sanger Reagent", fluorodinitrobenzene (FDNB), to react with the exposed amino groups in the protein and in particular with the N-terminal amino group at one end of the polypeptide chain. He then partially hydrolysed the insulin into short peptides, either with hydrochloric acid or using an enzyme such as trypsin. The mixture of peptides was fractionated in two dimensions on a sheet of filter paper, first by electrophoresis in one dimension and then, perpendicular to that, by chromatography in the other. The different peptide fragments of insulin, detected with ninhydrin, moved to different positions on the paper, creating a distinct pattern that Sanger called "fingerprints". The peptide from the N-terminus could be recognised by the yellow colour imparted by the FDNB label and the identity of the labelled amino acid at the end of the peptide determined by complete acid hydrolysis and discovering which dinitrophenyl-amino acid was there. By repeating this type of procedure Sanger was able to determine the sequences of the many peptides generated using different methods for the initial partial hydrolysis. These could then be assembled into the longer sequences to deduce the complete structure of insulin. Finally, because the A and B chains are physiologically inactive without the three linking disulfide bonds (two interchain, one intrachain on A), Sanger and coworkers determined their assignments in 1955. Sanger's principal conclusion was that the two polypeptide chains of the protein insulin had precise amino acid sequences and, by extension, that every protein had a unique sequence.
    It was this achievement that earned him his first Nobel prize in Chemistry in 1958. This discovery was crucial for the later sequence hypothesis of Crick for developing ideas of how DNA codes for proteins.
    Sequencing RNA
    From 1951 Sanger was a member of the external staff of the Medical Research Council and when they opened the Laboratory of Molecular Biology in 1962, he moved from his laboratories in the Biochemistry Department of the university to the top floor of the new building. He became head of the Protein Chemistry division. Soon after his move he started looking at the possibility of sequencing RNA molecules and began developing methods for separating ribonucleotide fragments generated with specific nucleases. One of the problems was to obtain a pure piece of RNA to sequence. In the course of this he discovered in 1964, with Kjeld Marcker, the formylmethionine tRNA which initiates protein synthesis in bacteria. He was beaten in the race to be the first to sequence a tRNA molecule by a group led by Robert Holley from Cornell University, who published the sequence of the 77 ribonucleotides of alanine tRNA from Saccharomyces cerevisiae in 1965. By 1967 Sanger's group had determined the nucleotide sequence of the 5S ribosomal RNA from Escherichia coli, a small RNA of 120 nucleotides.

    Sequencing DNA
    He then turned to sequencing DNA, which would require an entirely different approach. He looked at different ways of using DNA polymerase I from E. coli to copy single stranded DNA. In 1975 together with Alan Coulson he published a sequencing procedure using DNA polymerase with radiolabelled nucleotides that he called the "Plus and Minus" technique. This involved two closely related methods that generated short oligonucleotides with defined 3' termini. These could be fractionated by electrophoresis on a polyacrylamide gel and visualised using autoradiography. The procedure could sequence up to 80 nucleotides in one go and was a big improvement on what had gone before, but was still very laborious. Nevertheless, his group were able to sequence most of the 5,386 nucleotides of the single-stranded bacteriophage φX174. This was the first fully sequenced DNA-based genome. To their surprise they discovered that the coding regions of some of the genes overlapped with one another.

    In 1977 Sanger and colleagues introduced the "dideoxy" chain-termination method for sequencing DNA molecules, also known as the "Sanger method". This was a major breakthrough and allowed long stretches of DNA to be rapidly and accurately sequenced. It earned him his second Nobel prize in Chemistry in 1980, which he shared with Walter Gilbert and Paul Berg. The new method was used by Sanger and colleagues to sequence human mitochondrial DNA (16,569 base pairs) and bacteriophage λ (48,502 base pairs). The dideoxy method was eventually used to sequence the entire human genome.

    As of 2013, he is the only person to have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry twice, and one of only four two-time Nobel laureates: The other three were Marie Curie (Physics, 1903 and Chemistry, 1911), Linus Pauling (Chemistry, 1954 and Peace, 1962) and John Bardeen (twice Physics, 1956 and 1972).

    Wednesday, November 20, 2013

    Our Memories Are Fickle

    Erika Hayasaki has an article in The Atlantic for November, 2013, asking "How Many of Your Memories Are Fake?" She notes that there are 50 people in the USA who have "Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory" and are able to remember what they ate and who they talked to on any day of their lives." They have phenomenal memories in power and in accuracy. But even they make mistakes.

    The Atlantic
    article refers to studies by Professor Elizabeth Loftus, who herself studies contaminated memories – remembrances that can be quite sharp and sure of events that never happened. Loftus has found that these memories can be planted in someone’s mind by exposing people to misinformation after an event or by asking suggestive questions. This research has a jarring and startling effect on our criminal justice system, with its reliance on eyewitness testimony.

    Recently at MIT, researchers were able to plant false memories in mice successfully.
    The person who is telling the story always filters that tale through an approach or "take" on that story.

    Much more at:

    Tuesday, November 19, 2013

    The Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin

    The Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin (WCSB) is a vast sedimentary basin underlying 1,400,000 square kilometres (540,000 sq mi) of Western Canada including southwestern Manitoba, southern Saskatchewan, Alberta, northeastern British Columbia and the southwest corner of the Northwest Territories. It consists of a massive wedge of sedimenatary rock extending from the Rocky Mountains in the west to the Canadian Shield in the east. This wedge is about 6 kilometres (3.7 mi) thick under the Rocky Mountains, but thins to zero at its eastern margins. The WCSB contains one of the world's largest reserves of petroleum and natural gas and supplies much of the North American market,
    producing more than 16,000,000,000 cubic feet (450,000,000 m3) per day of gas in 2000. It also has huge reserves of coal. Of the provinces and territories within the WCSB, Alberta has most of the oil and gas reserves and almost all of the oil sands.

    Conventional Oil

    The WCSB is considered a mature area for exploration of petroleum and recent development has tended toward natural gas and oil sands rather than conventional oil. In the WCSB, conventional oil is of two different types: light crude oil and heavy crude oil, each with different costs, prices, and development strategies. Conventional light oil is a mature industry with most of the recoverable oil reserves already produced and production declining by three to four percent per year. Conventional heavy oil is also past its production peak with a future of long term decline. Alberta, which contains most of the reserves, expects its light-medium crude oil production to decline by 42% from 2006 to 2016, while it expects heavy crude production to decrease by 35% over the same period. However, it also expects bitumen and synthetic crude oil from oil sands will considerably more than offset the decline in conventional crude oil and account for 87% of Alberta oil production by 2016.

    For light oil, the petroleum industry is searching for the remaining undiscovered pools, drilling infill oil wells, or redeveloping existing pools using enhanced oil recovery (EOR) techniques such as waterfloods, miscible floods, and carbon dioxide injection. Currently, only about 27 percent of light oil is recovered, leaving large opportunities for improvement.

    For conventional heavy oil, the industry is exploring new zones in undrilled portions of the basin to find remaining undiscovered pools, or to apply EOR schemes such as water floods, thermal projects, and miscible floods such as the Vapour Extraction Process (VAPEX) technology. Only 15 percent of heavy oil is currently being recovered, leaving a large volume for future recovery.

    Improved seismic and drilling technology, higher recoveries from existing pools through infill drilling, and efficient, cost-effective exploration and development of smaller pools are maintaining levels of conventional oil production in the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin. As the basin matures, the resource triangle with few large pools at the top, and many small pools at the base is being economically pursued deeper into the smaller pool segment as a result of these efficiencies.

    Oil Sands

    According to the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board (EUB, now known as the Alberta Energy Regulator, the AER), Alberta's oil sands areas contain an ultimately recoverable crude bitumen resource of 50 billion cubic metres (315 billion barrels), with remaining established reserves of almost 28 billion cubic metres (174 billion barrels) at year-end 2004.

    The Athabasca Oil Sands, the Cold Lake Oil Sands and the Peace River Oil Sands, which contain initial oil-in-place reserves of 260 billion cubic metres (1.6 trillion barrels), an amount comparable to the total world reserves of conventional oil.

    TheWorld Energy Council reported (2007) that the three Alberta oil sands areas contain at least two-thirds of the world's discovered bitumen in place. These three major oil sands areas, all in Alberta, have reserves that dwarf those of the conventional oil fields. By 2007 the Alberta natural bitumen deposits were the source of over one third of the crude oil produced in Canada.
    As a result of the oil price increases since 2003, the number of major mining, upgrading and thermal in-situ projects has grown to some 46 existing and proposed projects, encompassing 135 project expansion phases in various stages of execution. Estimates of capital expenditures to construct all announced projects over the period 2006 to 2015 total $125 billion. This extremely high level of activity has caused a severe labor shortage in Alberta and driven unemployment rates to their lowest level in history – the lowest of all 10 Canadian provinces and 50 U.S. states.

    This is the main factor limiting growth of oil sands production in the WCSB.

    Natural Gas

    Canada is the third largest producer and second largest exporter of gas in the world, with the vast majority of it coming from the WCSB. The WCSB is estimated to have 143 trillion cubic feet (4,000 km3) of marketable gas remaining (discovered and undiscovered), which represents about two thirds of Canadian gas reserves. Over half of the gas produced is exported to the United States.

    However, Canadian gas reserves represent less than one percent of world reserves and are rapidly becoming exhausted. The majority of the large gas pools have been discovered and a significant portion of the discovered reserves has been produced. Production from the basin peaked in 2001 at around 16 billion cubic feet (450,000,000 m3) per day and is predicted by the National Energy Board to be likely to decline from that level. The overall decline rate increased from 13 percent per year in 1992 to 23 percent in 2002, which means 3.8 billion cubic feet per day (110,000,000 m3/d) of production must be replaced each year just to keep production constant. With the basin being largely explored and operators finding less gas with each new well, this seems improbable. New gas reserves in the WCSB will likely come from unconventional sources such as coalbed methane (CBM).

    The number of coalbed methane wells in Alberta more than doubled in 2005, to 7764 by the end of that year, producing nearly 0.5 billion cubic feet (14,000,000 m3) of gas per day. More than 95 percent of the CBM wells were completed in the Upper Cretaceous Horshoe Canyon and Belly River formations, at typical depths of 300 feet (91 m) to 2,400 feet (730 m). About 4 percent of the CBM wells are completed in the Lower Cretaceous Mannville formation, at depths of 2,300 feet (700 m) to 4,300 feet (1,300 m).
    The Western Canada Sedimentary Basin will likely continue to be the main gas supply area in Canada for many years, however, declining production and the likelihood that much of the gas will be diverted to fuel new oil sands plants mean that the probability of there being sufficient surplus gas to meet projected U.S. demand is low, and the US will have to look elsewhere for future gas supplies.


    The WCSB contains about 90 percent of Canada's usable coal resources. Their rank ranges from lignite to semianthracite. About 36 percent of the total estimated 71,000 megatonnes of usable coal is bituminous, including a high proportion of medium to low volatile coals. The low sulfur content and acceptable ash levels of these bituminous coals make them attractive as coking feedstocks, and large quantities are mined for that purpose. However, the lack of heavy industry in Western Canada means that only a limited amount of this coal is consumed in Canada, and most is exported to Japan, Korea and other countries. The lower rank coals are used mainly for electricity generation, where the existence of shallow coal seams with little overburden make strip-mining and reclamation easy, and low sulfur levels reduce the environmental impact of their use.

    Monday, November 18, 2013

    150 Years Ago -- The Gettysburg Address

    The Gettysburg Address is a speech by U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, one of the best-known in American history. It was delivered by Lincoln during the American Civil War, on the afternoon of Thursday, November 19, 1863, at the dedication of the Soldier’s National Cemetery in Gettyburg, Pennsylvania, , four and a half months after the Union armies defeated those of the Confederacy at the Battle of Gettysburg.
    Abraham Lincoln's carefully crafted address, secondary to other presentations that day, came to be regarded as one of the greatest speeches in American history. In just over two minutes, Lincoln reiterated the principles of human equality espoused by the Declaration of Independence and proclaimed the Civil War as a struggle for the preservation of the Union sundered by the secession crisis, with "a new birth of freedom," that would bring true equality to all of its citizens. Lincoln also redefined the Civil War as a struggle not just for the Union, but also for the principle of human equality.

    Beginning with the now-iconic phrase "Four score and seven years ago" — referring to the Declaration of Independence, written at the start of the American Revolution in 1776 — Lincoln examined the founding principles of the United States in the context of the Civil War, and memorialized the sacrifices of those who gave their lives at Gettysburg and extolled virtues for the listeners (and the nation) to ensure the survival of America's representative democracy, that "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

    Despite the speech's prominent place in the history and popular culture of the United States, the exact wording and location of the speech are disputed. The five known manuscripts of the Gettysburg Address differ in a number of details and also differ from contemporary newspaper reprints of the speech. Modern scholarship locates the speakers' platform 40 yards (or more) away from the Traditional Site within Soldiers’ National Cemetery at the Solders’ National Monument and entirely within private, adjacent Evergreen Cemetary.

    During the train trip from Washington, D.C., to Gettysburg on November 18, Lincoln remarked to John Hay that he felt weak. On the morning of November 19, Lincoln mentioned to Jjohn Nicolay that he was dizzy. In the railroad car the President rode with his secretary, John G. Nicolay, his assistant secretary, John Hay, the three members of his Cabinet who accompanied him, William Seward, John Usher and Montgomery Blair, several foreign officials and others. Hay noted that during the speech Lincoln's face had 'a ghastly color' and that he was 'sad, mournful, almost haggard.' After the speech, when Lincoln boarded the 6:30 pm train for Washington, D.C., he was feverish and weak, with a severe headache. A protracted illness followed, which included a vesicular rash and was diagnosed as a mild case of smallpox. It thus seems highly likely that Lincoln was in the prodromal period of smallpox when he delivered the Gettysburg address.

    Text of the Address – the Bliss Version 
    Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
    Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
    But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
    Lincoln’s Sources
    In Lincoln at Gettysburg, Garry Wills notes the parallels between Lincoln's speech and Pericles’s Funeral Oration during the Peloponnesian War as described by Thucydides. (James McPherson notes this connection in his review of Wills's book. Gore Vidal also draws attention to this link in a BBC documentary about oration.) Pericles' speech, like Lincoln's, begins with an acknowledgment of revered predecessors: "I shall begin with our ancestors: it is both just and proper that they should have the honour of the first mention on an occasion like the present"; then praises the uniqueness of the State's commitment to democracy: "If we look to the laws, they afford equal justice to all in their private differences"; honors the sacrifice of the slain, "Thus choosing to die resisting, rather than to live submitting, they fled only from dishonour, but met danger face to face"; and exhorts the living to continue the struggle: "You, their survivors, must determine to have as unfaltering a resolution in the field, though you may pray that it may have a happier issue." In contrast, writer Adam Gopnik, in The New Yorker, notes that while Everett's Oration was explicitly neoclassical, referring directly to Marathon and Pericles, "Lincoln's rhetoric is, instead, deliberately Biblical. (It is difficult to find a single obviously classical reference in any of his speeches.) Lincoln had mastered the sound of the King James Bible so completely that he could recast abstract issues of constitutional law in Biblical terms, making the proposition that Texas and New Hampshire should be forever bound by a single post office sound like something right out of Genesis."

    Sunday, November 17, 2013

    Positive Quiddity: T. E. Lawrence

    Thomas Edward Lawrence, CB, DSO (16 August 1888 – 19 May 1935), known professionally as T. E. Lawrence, was a British Army officer renowned especially for his liaison role during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign and the Arab Revolt against Ottoman Turkish rule of 1916–18. The breadth and variety of his activities and associations, and his ability to describe them vividly in writing, earned him international fame as Lawrence of Arabia, a title which was used for the 1962 film based on his World War I activities.

    Lawrence was born illegitimate in Tremadog, Wales, in August 1888 to Sir Thomas Chapman and Sarah Junner a governess who was herself illegitimate. Chapman had left his wife and first family in Ireland to live with Sarah Junner, and they called themselves Mr and Mrs Lawrence. In the summer of 1896 the Lawrences moved to Oxford, where in 1907–10 young Lawrence studied history at Jesus College, graduating with First Class Honours. He became a practising archaeologist in the Middle East, working at various excavations with David George Hogarth and Leonard Woolley. In 1908 he joined the Oxford University Officer Training Corps, undergoing a two-year training course. In January 1914, before the outbreak of World War I, Lawrence was co-opted by the British Army to undertake a military survey of the Negev Desert while doing archaeological research.

    Lawrence's public image resulted in part from the sensationalised reportage of the revolt by an American journalist, Lowell Thomas, as well as from Lawrence's autobiographical account, Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1922). In 1935, he was fatally injured in a motorbike crash in Dorset.

    Arab Revolt
    At the outbreak of the First World War Lawrence was a university post-graduate researcher who had for years travelled extensively within the Ottoman Empire provinces of the Levant (Transjordan and Palestine and Mesopotamia (Syria and Iraq) under his own name. As such he had become known to the Ottoman Interior Ministry authorities and their German technical advisers, travelling on the German-designed, built, and financed railways during the course of his research.

    The Arab Bureau of Britain's Foreign Office conceived a campaign of internal insurgency against the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East. The Arab Bureau had long felt it likely that a campaign instigated and financed by outside powers, supporting the breakaway-minded tribes and regional challengers to the Turkish government's centralised rule of their empire, would pay great dividends in the diversion of effort that would be needed to meet such a challenge. The Arab Bureau had recognised the strategic value of what is today called the "asymmetry" of such conflict. The Ottoman authorities would have to devote from a hundred to a thousand times the resources to contain the threat of such an internal rebellion compared to the Allies' cost of sponsoring it.

    With his first-hand knowledge of Syria, the Levant, and Mesopotamia (not to mention having already worked as a part-time civilian army intelligence officer), on his formal enlistment in 1914 Lawrence was posted to Cairo on the Intelligence Staff of the GOC Middle East. The British government in Egypt sent Lawrence to work with the Hashemite forces in the Arabian Hejaz in October 1916.

    During the war, Lawrence fought with Arab irregular troops under the command of Emirt Faisal, a son of Sherif Hussein of Mecca, in extended guerrilla operations against the armed forces of the Ottoman Empire. Lawrence obtained assistance from the Royal Navy to turn back an Ottoman attack on Yenbu in December 1916. Lawrence's major contribution to the revolt was convincing the Arab leaders (Faisal and Abdullah) to co-ordinate their actions in support of British strategy. He persuaded the Arabs not to make a frontal assault on the Ottoman stronghold in Medina but allow the Turkish army to tie up troops in the city garrison. The Arabs were then free to direct most of their attention to the Turks' weak point, the Hejaz railway that supplied the garrison. This vastly expanded the battlefield and tied up even more Ottoman troops, who were then forced to protect the railway and repair the constant damage. Lawrence developed a close relationship with Faisal, whose Arab Northern Army was to become the main beneficiary of British aid.

    Capture of Aqaba
    In 1917, Lawrence arranged a joint action with the Arab irregulars and forces including Auda Abu Tayi (until then in the employ of the Ottomans) against the strategically located but lightly defended town of Aqaba. On 6 July, after a surprise overland attack, Aqaba fell to Lawrence and the Arab forces. After Aqaba, Lawrence was promoted to major, and the new commander-in-chief of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, General Sir Edmund Allenby, agreed to his strategy for the revolt, stating after the war:
    "I gave him a free hand. His cooperation was marked by the utmost loyalty, and I never had anything but praise for his work, which, indeed, was invaluable throughout the campaign. He was the mainspring of the Arab movement and knew their language, their manners and their mentality."
                -- "Strategist of the Desert Dies in Military Hospital," The Guardian, May 19, 1935
    Lawrence now held a powerful position, as an adviser to Faisal and a person who had Allenby's confidence.

    Battle of Tafieleh
    In January 1918, the battle of Tafileh, an important region southeast of the Dead Sea, was fought using Arab regulars under the command of Jafar Pasha al-Askari.The battle was a defensive engagement that turned into an offensive rout, and was described in the official history of the war as a "brilliant feat of arms". Lawrence was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his leadership at Tafileh, and was also promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.

    By the summer of 1918, the Turks were offering a substantial reward for Lawrence's capture, with one officer writing in his notes; "Though a price of £15,000 has been put on his head by the Turks, no Arab has, as yet, attempted to betray him. The Sharif of Mecca [King of the Hedjaz] has given him the status of one of his sons, and he is just the finely tempered steel that supports the whole structure of our influence in Arabia. He is a very inspiring gentleman adventurer."

    Fall of Damascus
    Lawrence was involved in the build-up to the capture of Damascus in the final weeks of the war. Much to his disappointment, and contrary to instructions he had issued, he was not present at the city's formal surrender, arriving several hours after the city had fallen. Lawrence entered Damascus around 9am on 1 October 1918, but was only the third arrival of the day, the first being the 10th Australian Light Horse Brigade, led by Major A.C.N. 'Harry' Olden who formally accepted the surrender of the city from acting Governor Emir Said. In newly liberated Damascus—which he had envisaged as the capital of an Arab state—Lawrence was instrumental in establishing a provisional Arab government under Faisal. Faisal's rule as king, however, came to an abrupt end in 1920, after the battle of Maysaloun, when the French Forces of General Gouraud, under the command of General Mariano Goybet, entered Damascus, destroying Lawrence's dream of an independent Arabia.

    During the closing years of the war he sought, with mixed success, to convince his superiors in the British government that Arab independence was in their interests. The secret Sykes-Picot Agreement between France and Britain contradicted the promises of independence he had made to the Arabs and frustrated his work.

    In 1918 he co-operated with war correspondent Lowell Thomas for a short period. During this time Thomas and his cameraman Harry Chase shot a great deal of film and many photographs, which Thomas used in a highly lucrative film that toured the world after the war.

    [Lowell Thomas] went to Jerusalem where he met Lawrence, whose enigmatic figure in Arab uniform fired his imagination. With Allenby's permission he linked up with Lawrence for a brief couple of weeks ... Returning to America, Thomas, early in 1919, started his lectures, supported by moving pictures of veiled women, Arabs in their picturesque robes, camels and dashing Bedouin cavalry, which took the nation by storm, after running at Madison Square Gardens in New York. On being asked to come to England, he made the condition he would do so if asked by the King and given Drury Lane or Covent Garden ... He opened at Covent Garden on 14 August 1919 ... And so followed a series of some hundreds of lecture--film shows, attended by the highest in the land ..."

    --Hall, Rex (1975) The Desert Hath Pearls, (Melbourne: Hawthorn Press) pp. 120--1

    After the War

    Lawrence returned to the United Kingdom a full Colonel. Immediately after the war, Lawrence worked for the Foreign Office, attending the Paris Peace Conference between January and May as a member of Faisal's delegation. He served for much of 1921 as an advisor to Winston Churchill at the Colonial Office.

    On 17 May 1919 the Handley Page Type O carrying Lawrence on a flight to Egypt crashed at the airport of Roma Centocelle. The pilot and co-pilot were killed; Lawrence survived with a broken shoulder blade and two broken ribs. During his brief hospitalisation, he was visited by King Victor Emanuel III.

    In August 1919 Lowell Thomas launched a colourful photo show in London entitled With Allenby in Palestine which included a lecture, dancing, and music. Initially, Lawrence played only a supporting role in the show, but when Thomas realised that it was the photos of Lawrence dressed as a Bedouin that had captured the public's imagination, he photographed him again, in London, in Arab dress. With the new photos, Thomas re-launched his show as With Allenby in Palestine and Lawrence in Arabia in early 1920; it was extremely popular. Thomas' shows made the previously-obscure Lawrence into a household name.

    In August 1922, Lawrence enlisted in the Royal Air Force as an aircraftman under the name John Hume Ross. At the RAF recruiting centre in Covent Garden, London, he was interviewed by a recruiting officer – Flying Officer W. E. Johns, later to be well known as the author of the Biggles series of novels. Johns rejected Lawrence's application as he correctly believed "Ross" was a false name. Lawence admitted this was so and the documents he provided were false and left. But he returned some time later with an RAF Messenger, carrying a written order for Johns to accept Lawrence.

    However, Lawrence was forced out of the RAF in February 1923 after being exposed. He changed his name to T. E. Shaw and joined the Royal Tank Corps in 1923. He was unhappy there and repeatedly petitioned to rejoin the RAF, which finally readmitted him in August 1925. A fresh burst of publicity after the publication of Revolt in the Desert resulted in his assignment to a remote base in British India in late 1926, where he remained until the end of 1928. At that time he was forced to return to Britain after rumours began to circulate that he was involved in espionage activities.

    He purchased several small plots of land in Chingford, built a hut and swimming pool there, and visited frequently. This was removed in 1930 when the Chingford Urban District Council acquired the land and passed it to the City of London Corporation, but re-erected the hut in the grounds of The Warren, Loughton, where it remains, neglected, today. Lawrence's tenure of the Chingford land has now been commemorated by a plaque fixed on the sighting obelisk on Pole Hill.

    He continued serving in the RAF based at Bridlington, East Riding of Yorkshire, specialising in high-speed boats and professing happiness, and it was with considerable regret that he left the service at the end of his enlistment in March 1935.