Friday, February 28, 2014

Test Virus Attacks WiFi Users

Wifi virus latest threat to future IT security

University of Liverpool, Liverpool News, February 25 2014

Researchers at the University of Liverpool have shown for the first time that WiFi networks can be infected with a virus that can move through densely populated areas as efficiently as the common cold spreads between humans.

The team designed and simulated an attack by a virus, called Chameleon, and found that not only could it spread quickly between homes and businesses, but it was able to avoid detection and identify the points at which WiFi access is least protected by encryption and passwords.

Airborne virus

Researchers from the University’s School of Electrical Engineering, Electronics and Computer Science simulated an attack on Belfast and London in a laboratory setting, and found that Chameleon behaved like an airborne virus, travelling across the WiFi network via Access Points (APs) that connect households and businesses to WiFi networks.

Areas that are more densely populated have more APs in closer proximity to each other, which meant that the virus propagated more quickly, particularly across networks connectable within a 10-50 metre radius.
Alan Marshall, Professor of Network Security at the University, said: "When Chameleon attacked an AP it didn’t affect how it worked, but was able to collect and report the credentials of all other WiFi users who connected to it. The virus then sought out other WiFi APs that it could connect to and infect."

was able to avoid detection as current virus detection systems look for viruses that are present on the internet or computers, but Chameleon is only ever present in the WiFi network. Whilst many APs are sufficiently encrypted and password protected, the virus simply moved on to find those which weren’t strongly protected including open access WiFi points common in locations such as coffee shops and airports.

Security vulnerabilities

Professor Marshall continued said: "WiFi connections are increasingly a target for computer hackers because of well-documented security vulnerabilities, which make it difficult to detect and defend against a virus.

"It was assumed, however, that it wasn’t possible to develop a virus that could attack WiFi networks but we demonstrated that this is possible and that it can spread quickly. We are now able to use the data generated from this study to develop a new technique to identify when an attack is likely."

The research is published in EURASIP Journal on Information Security.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Political Fights Start with Ideology

There’s a book that discusses a fundamental difference that typically arises in a political dispute. The book is titled A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles and was written by Thomas Sowell

Release date: June 5, 2007 | ISBN-10: 0465002056 | ISBN-13: 978-0465002054 | Edition: Revised

"In this classic work, Thomas Sowell analyzes the two competing visions that shape our debates about the nature of reason, justice, equality, and power: the "constrained" vision, which sees human nature as unchanging and selfish, and the "unconstrained" vision, in which human nature is malleable and perfectible. He describes how these two radically opposed views have manifested themselves in the political controversies of the past two centuries, including such contemporary issues as welfare reform, social justice, and crime. Updated to include sweeping political changes since its first publication in 1987, this revised edition of A Conflict of Visions offers a convincing case that ethical and policy disputes circle around the disparity between both outlooks."


Two reviews from customers:

5.0 out of 5 stars
Not as Simple as It Seems June 18, 2009 By Aretae VINE VOICE

On reading the entire block of 60-odd reviews, I find that more than half of them, even while admiring Sowell's evenhandedness, misstate the carefulness of the book's positions. In the an attempt to pay tribute to the brilliance of this (rather dense, historical & philosophical ) book, I'll try to correct this.

This book presents two visions of the world. However, contrary to most of the reviewers, the difference is not about Liberals vs. Conservatives. It is about the difference between two visions of the world, and each of the visions is found in most parties in the political spectrum.

The two visions are metaphysical, pre-scientific points of view regarding how the world works. In one view (Unconstrained), people can drive change, intentions matter, and this could improve the world. In the other view (Constrained), people will always be (somewhat) bad, only results and processes matter, and improvements always involve tradeoffs.

Sowell first acknowledges that no vision is purely Constrained or Unconstrained. And then he explicitly does not connect the dots to (modern, US) liberal vs. conservative visions. And he doesn't do so for the basic reason that it really isn't that simple.

Instead of attempting to place "Conservative" vs. "Liberal" positions on top of Sowell's 2 visions, let us look instead at every issue, and determine whether our own individual intuitions are that (a) it is a problem, and that (b) human beings can solve or meliorate, via coordinated political action, this paricular problem without creating other (potentially worse) problems. This is the issue. And the arguments for or against most actions can come from both positions.

Examples from the War in Iraq.

Against (Constrained): The military cannot solve a complex social problem.
Against (Unconstrained): War is evil. Don't start one.
For (Constrained): There will be horrible tradeoffs, but war is better than the (worse) other options of not warring.
For (Unconstrained): Saddam is a blight upon Iraq, they will be better without him.

I have attempted to point out that not all conservative positions are constrained, and not all liberal positions are unconstrained. Rather, different people have different understandings of the world, and these often lead to different conclusions. Using Sowell's brilliant dichotomy, people may improve their understanding of the issues facing the world, though hopefully not replace entirely any other charitable understandings.

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5.0 out of 5 stars
Opened My Eyes
By Clifford S. Morton Decenber 23, 2008

I had just finished reading Michael Dyson's "Is Bill Cosby Right?". Then I read this book of Sowell's. African Americans, including myself, have rejected Sowell out of hand because he does not line up with the orthodoxy of Dyson or the typical civil rights perspective. This is because I did not realize how thoroughly Sowell understands the issues and the philosophies behind it and the opposite views. You just do not realize his grasps on things if you go by what people say or get turned off by one of his articles in the newspaper. Not only does he understand Dyson's position, he opened my eyes to the "other side's" position in a way that made me a believer. Now I know why he says what he says in his other books and they make real sense. I am buying copies of this book for other African Americans I know and am encouraging my young adult children to read it too. If you have never read Sowell, this is the place to start.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Blight Free GM Potatoes

John Innes Center News, February 17,2014
Research by our colleagues in The Sainsbury Lab

In a three-year GM research trial, scientists boosted resistance of potatoes to late blight, their most important disease, without deploying fungicides.

The findings, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and The Gatsby Foundation, will be published in ‘Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B’ on 17 February.

In 2012, the third year of the trial, the potatoes experienced ideal conditions for late blight. The scientists did not inoculate any plants but waited for races circulating in the UK to blow in.

Non-transgenic Desiree plants were 100% infected by early August while all GM plants remained fully resistant to the end of the experiment. There was also a difference in yield, with tubers from each block of 16 plants weighing 6-13 kg while the non-GM tubers weighed 1.6-5 kg per block.

The trial was conducted with Desiree potatoes to address the challenge of building resistance to blight in potato varieties with popular consumer and processing characteristics.

The introduced gene, from a South American wild relative of potato, triggers the plant’s natural defence mechanisms by enabling it to recognise the pathogen. Cultivated potatoes possess around 750 resistance genes but in most varieties, late blight is able to elude them.

"Breeding from wild relatives is laborious and slow and by the time a gene is successfully introduced into a cultivated variety, the late blight pathogen may already have evolved the ability to overcome it," said Professor Jonathan Jones from The Sainsbury Laboratory.

\"With new insights into both the pathogen and its potato host, we can use GM technology to tip the evolutionary balance in favour of potatoes and against late blight."

In northern Europe, farmers typically spray a potato crop 10-15 times, or up to 25 times in a bad year. Scientists hope to replace chemical control with genetic control, though farmers might be advised to spray even resistant varieties at the end of a season, depending on conditions.

The Sainsbury Laboratory is continuing to identify multiple blight resistance genes that will difficult for blight to simultaneously overcome. Their research will also allow resistance genes to be prioritized that will be more difficult for the pathogen to evade.

In a new BBSRC-funded industrial partnership award with American company Simplot and the James Hutton Institute, the TSL researchers will continue to identify and experiment with multiple resistance genes.

By combining understanding of resistance genes with knowledge of the pathogen, they hope to develop Desiree and Maris Piper varieties that can completely thwart attacks from late blight.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Nick Leeson -- Master of Fraud

Nicholas "Nick" William Leeson (born 25 February 1967) is a former derivatives broker whose fraudulent, unauthorized speculative trading caused the spectacular collapse of Barings Bank, the United Kingdom’s oldest investment bank, for which he was sentenced to prison. Since leaving prison in 1999 he became, and subsequently resigned as, the CEO of Irish football club Galway United and is active on the keynote / after-dinner speaking circuit where he advises companies about risk and corporate responsibility.
In 2013 he appeared in Celebrity Apprentice Ireland on TV3.

Early Life
Leeson was born in Watford, where he attended Parmiter’s School. After finishing school in 1985 his first job was as a clerk with a private bank, Coutts. He then moved to Morgan Stanley in 1987 for two years, and then to Barings in 1989.

In 1992, he was appointed general manager of a new operation in futures markets on the Singapore International Monetary Exchange (SIMEX). Barings had held a seat on SIMEX for some time, but did not activate it until Leeson was sent over. Leeson was sent to Singapore after he was denied a broker's licence in the United Kingdom because of fraud on his application. Neither Leeson nor Barings disclosed this denial when Leeson applied for his licence in Singapore.

In October 1994, Leeson was arrested in Singapore for an incident involving mooning.

From 1992, Leeson made unauthorized speculative trades that at first made large profits for Barings: £10 million, which accounted for 10% of Barings' annual income. He earned a bonus of £130,000 on his salary of £50,000 for that year.

However, his luck soon went sour and he used one of Barings' error accounts (accounts used to correct mistakes made in trading) to hide his losses. The account was numbered 88888 – 8 being a number considered to be very lucky in Chinese numerology. Leeson claims that this account was first used to hide an error made by one of his colleagues; rather than buy 20 contracts as the customer had ordered, she had sold them, costing Barings £20,000.

However, Leeson used this account to cover further bad trades. He insists that he never used the account for his own gain, but in 1996 The New York Times quoted "British press reports" as claiming that investigators had located approximately $35 million in various bank accounts tied to him.

Management at Barings Bank also allowed Leeson to remain Chief Trader while also being responsible for settling his trades, jobs usually done by two different people. This made it much simpler for him to hide his losses from his superiors.

By the end of 1992, the account's losses exceeded £2 million, which ballooned to £208 million by the end of 1994.

The beginning of the end occurred on 16 January 1995, when Leeson placed a short straddle in the Singapore and Tokyo stock exchanges, essentially betting that the Japanese stock market would not move significantly overnight. However, the Kobe earthquake hit early in the morning on 17 January, sending Asian markets, and Leeson's trading positions, into a tailspin. Leeson attempted to recoup his losses by making a series of increasingly risky new trades (using a Long-Long Future Arbitrage), this time betting that the Nikkei Stock Average would make a rapid recovery. However, the recovery failed to materialize.

Leeson left a note reading "I'm Sorry" and fled Singapore on 23 February. Losses eventually reached £827 million (US$ 1.4 billion), twice the bank's available trading capital. After a failed bailout attempt, Barings was declared insolvent on 26 February.

After fleeing to Malaysia, Thailand, and finally Germany, Leeson was arrested in Frankfurt and extradited back to Singapore on 20 November 1995, though his wife Lisa was allowed to return to England. While he had authorisation for the 16 January short straddle, he was charged with fraud for deceiving his superiors about the riskiness of his activities and the scale of his losses. Several observers have placed much of the blame on the bank's own deficient internal auditing and risk management practices.
Indeed, the Singapore authorities' report on the collapse was scathingly critical of Barings management, claiming that senior officials knew or should have known about the "five eights" account.
Leeson pleaded guilty to two counts of "deceiving the bank's auditors and of cheating the Singapore exchange", including forging documents. Sentenced to six and a half years in Changi Prison in Singapore, he was released from prison in 1999, having been diagnosed with colon cancer, which he survived despite grim forecasts at the time.

While in prison, in 1996, Leeson published an autobiography, Rogue Trader, detailing his acts. A review in the financial columns of the New York Times stated, "This is a dreary book, written by a young man very taken with himself, but it ought to be read by banking managers and auditors everywhere." In 1999, the book was made into a film of the same name starring Ewan McGregor and Anna Friel.

The events also form the subject matter of a 1996 documentary film made by Adam Curtis, titled 25 Million Pounds.

Nick Leeson's first wife Lisa divorced him while he was in prison. He married Leona Tormay, in 2003 and they now live in Barna, County Galway, in the west of Ireland. He is a regular guest on the after-dinner and keynote speaking circuit and occasional guest lecturer at the nearby National University of Ireland. He was appointed Commercial Manager of Galway United Football Club in April 2005, rising to the position of General Manager in late November 2005. By July 2007 he had become the club's CEO but in February 2011, Leeson resigned his position. Leeson remains as a member of the board of directors of the club, but no longer has any role in the day to day operation of the club. He still deals in the stock markets, but only with his own money.

In June 2005, Leeson released a new book, Back from the Brink: Coping with Stress. It picks up his story where Rogue Trader left off, including in-depth conversations with psychologist Ivan Tyrrell asserting that the prolonged periods of severe stress that affected Leeson's mental and physical health have parallels in many other people's lives.

Leeson, Nick; Whitley, Edward (March 1996). Rogue Trader: How I Brought Down Barings Bank and
Shook the Financial World. ISBN 0-316-51856-5.

Leeson, Nick; Tyrrell, Ivan (July 2005). Back from the Brink: Coping with Stress. ISB0-7535-1075-8.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Moral Mazes -- Secret Corporate Rules

Moral Mazes
(ISBN 0-19-506080-6), named the "Most Outstanding Business and Management Book" of 1988 by the Association of American Publishers, is a 1988 book from sociologist Robert Jackall that documents an investigation into the world of corporate managers in the United States. In the introduction, Jackall writes that he "went into these organizations to study how bureaucracy - the prevailing organizational form of our society - shapes moral consciousness" (Moral Mazes, page 2). He finishes the introduction by writing that the book is "an interpretive sociological account of how managers think the world works."
Based on several years of fieldwork conducting interviews with managers in several large corporations in the early 1980s, Jackall describes the social construction of reality within large corporations in America. Jackall argues that bureaucracy as implemented in the large American corporations he investigated "regularizes people's experiences of time and indeed routinizes their lives by engaging them on a daily basis in rational, socially approved, purposive action; it brings them into daily proximity with and subordination to authority, creating in the process upward-looking stances that have decisive social and psychological consequences; it places a premium on a functionally rational, pragmatic habit of mind that seeks specific goals; and it creates subtle measures of prestige and an elaborate status hierarchy that, in addition to fostering an intense competition for status, also makes the rules, procedures, social contexts, and protocol of an organization paramount psychological and behavioral guides." (Moral Mazes, page 4).

Jackall first starts with a history of American business specifically looking at changes in organizational structure during the creation of large corporations in the 19th century with the Industrial Revolution changing American industry. The changes in American industry indicated a need for a professional management class which in turn began to change the organizational culture of American business emphasizing rational decisions centered on money based measures such as profit and loss (see also rational choice theory).

Next Jackall describes the results of his interviews of managers at various levels of the organizations which allowed him to conduct his research. These organizations, not named, are large and medium sized companies. The qualitative data collected by the interviews covers approximately four years, beginning in 1980, documenting a number of changes in management within the corporations, a number of business decisions made, and the effect of those changes and decisions on the managers at various levels of the companies.

Perhaps the most important finding is that successful managers are dexterous symbol manipulators. Successful managers provide a public face and may be categorized as providing emotional labor as one of their major activities. They must be able to work well with others and to sublimate their emotional and psychological needs to the demands of others. The very ambiguity of their work and its assessment leads to the feeling on the part of the managers Jackall interviewed that "instead of ability, talent, and dedicated service to an organization, politics, adroit talk, luck, connections, and self-promotion are the real sorters of people into sheep and goats" (Moral Mazes, page 1).

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From about the 20th Anniversary edition of Moral Mazes:

Editorial Reviews


"Some books have the rare fortune to become ever more relevant, more useful, and more interesting twenty years after they were written. This books fortune involves a kind of misfortune, because the phenomena that Moral Mazes analyzes are deplorable, and we would wish that the book were no longer relevant. Originally published in 1989, Moral Mazes has been supplemented for this second edition with a long analysis of how the 'organized irresponsibility' Jackall analyzed in the 1980s has become the key to understanding our current Great Recession. ... I can think of no single book that has more opened up my sense of how to do philosophy in the last year."--Philosophical Practice

"An interesting, unorthodox, and provocative book.... Better than any other I have seen, [Jackall's] study reveals the normative reality of the manager's world."-Geoffrey C. Hazard, Jr., Yale Journal on Regulation

"Reformers who want to change the corporation, first must understand it. Robert Jackall's carefully researched analysis of the 'bureaucratic ethos' is one place to

"A finely honed tour of an odyssey of moral transformation, in which the actors themselves remain largely unaware of the nature of their journey. It is a brilliant work."--Troy Duster, New York University

About the Author

Robert Jackall is the Willmott Family Third Century Professor of Sociology & Public Affairs, Williams College; author of Image Makers: Advertising, Public Relations, and the Ethos of Advocacy (Chicago, 2000), Wild Cowboys: Urban Marauders & the Forces of Order (Harvard, 1997), and Street Stories: The World of Police Detectives (Harvard, 2005).

Two customer reviews:on

34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars
Objective, sad, but true
May 5, 2002 By D J

"Moral Mazes" is an extensive, award-winning and highly accurate sociological portrait of life in the modern corporation, an academic precursor, so to speak, of the "Dilbert" cartoon strip. Unlike many other writers on this topic, Jackall doesn't resort to Marxist rants, but rather, compares modern corporate culture to the "Protestant" work ethic most Americans are raised into.

Jackall's inquiry, based on in-depth interviews with managers themselves, is broad in scope, and it is hard to generalize. Within about 200 pages, he covers the social circles of the corporation, cronyism, bad decisionmaking and public relations, to name a few. He discovers that corporations, at the upper levels at least, resemble a king's court more than a meritocratic organization. The essential work of a manager is not "management" or "leadership," but constantly making the right friends and adopting the correct posture. Anyone who has worked in such a setting, or knows people in such a field, will be able to relate instantly, although it can be argued that Jackall did not need to spend years of ethnographic research to reach this conclusion.

This book is not for everyone, as Jackall must conclude that "ethics" as practiced by managers is nothing more than "survival" and ambition for one's own "advantage." While such a diagnosis may seem harsh, it is difficult to rationally explain recent events in the marketplace, such as the Enron scandal, without concluding that corporate executives have a moral compass that differs from that of the everyday person.

Contrary to what a layman may think, Jackall makes no moral judgments of his own, although readers most certainly will. The title itself can be misinterpreted by people not familiar with sociology. The "morals" Jackall discusses are not ethics (which he attacks in his intro), but Durkheim's "occupational morality." While he does study corporations, he calls the focus of this study the "bureaucratic ethos" (not "corporate ethos"). Anyone who's read history (or the local newspaper) already knows bureaucracy can create its own rules, from governments (i.e., the Nazis and the Holocaust) to religions (i.e., Catholicism and child molesters).

Surprisingly, by portraying executives' lives as frought with anxiety, guilt, "senseless" work and no reliable means to measure their self worth, Jackall may cause an intelligent reader to actually feel sorry for them. Reading though his interviews with executives, there's little question that many executives began to regard him as a "Father Confessor" to admit their deeds.

At the same time, Jackall offers an alternative theory for why the American work ethic has all but vanished: if people are promoted based soley on their manipulative social skills, why would anyone want to subscribe to the old work ethic?

28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars
Thoroughly depressing but an absolute must read
October 6, 1998 By A Customer

This book ought to be required reading for all MBA candidates and would be corporate middle managers as an intro into the sad and dysfunctional but real corporate world. In numerous scenes that will be instantly familiar to anyone who has worked at a Fortune 200 firm the book recounts numerous instances of failed and misdirected management. Depressing because it reveals the underbelly of corporate America and capitalism but readable in its accurate portrayal. Occasionally at times slow (particularly towards the end when he presumably is tired of writing) it does a clinical autopsy on management. Like watching a train wreck you are compelled to keep reading even as you realize the denouement. If you think that ignorance is bliss - give this a miss - on the other hand, if you are a frustrated idealist and need proof that in order for evil to overcome good, good only has to do nothing, it is worth the investment. An excellent primer on why we need ethics courses but more importantly ethical actions.

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Period: A punctuation war?!

Is the Period Becoming an Expression of Anger?
Jason Mick (Blog) - November 26, 2013

In the text area, a familiar puncuation mark is taking on a new meaning

The digital age of instant communications has dramatically affected the English language by changing its grammar, spelling, and vocabulary. Then again the English language has survived and thrived due in part to its shameless flexibility, which historically led it to liberally borrow from other language and accept unusual new creative linguistic constructs.

The New Republic is a news site that focuses primarily on espousing neoliberal political views, but it also offers a bit of interesting technology coverage at times. Story editor Ben Crair has actually offered up a rather interesting piece on how the period has become a long desired piece of punctuation – the "irony mark".

A 2007 study by The American University found that at the time students add sentence ending punctuation (i.e. '!', '?', and '.') 39 percent of the time in texts and 45 percent of the time in online chats. The punctuation at the end of the last sentence of the text -- the so-called "transmission-ending punctuation" occurred especially infrequently. It was found in only 29 percent for texts and 35 percent for IMs.
Part of English language speakers' trend of shortening words -- noted by other peer-reviewed research -- and dropping punctuation in the digital age is out of necessity. Twitter posts are limited to 140 characters, traditional SMS was limited to 160 characters.

But it is still somewhat odd to observe how in an age where punctuation is being mothballed by so many, that digital denizens are increasing the period ('.') to express sarcasm, frustration, and/or anger.

Mark Liberman, a professor of linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania, tells Mr. Blair:

Not long ago, my 17-year-old son noted that many of my texts to him seemed excessively assertive or even harsh, because I routinely used a period at the end.

In the world of texting and IMing … the default is to end just by stopping, with no punctuation mark at all. In that situation, choosing to add a period also adds meaning because the reader(s) need to figure out why you did it. And what they infer, plausibly enough, is something like ‘This is final, this is the end of the discussion or at least the end of what I have to contribute to it.’

But lest the humble dot feel demeaned, it still has many friendlier usages, such as it symbolic use in internet domain names and "..." which strangely has the reverse affect as a single '.' when ending the sentence -- inviting the conversation to continue.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Found: A Very Wobbly Planet

By Dr. Tony Phillips, NASA

NASA, Feb. 4, 2014:
Imagine living on a planet with seasons so erratic you would hardly know whether to wear Bermuda shorts or a heavy overcoat. That is the situation on a weird, wobbly world found by NASA's planet-hunting Kepler space telescope.

The planet, designated Kepler-413b, precesses, or wobbles, wildly on its spin axis, much like a child's top. The tilt of the planet's spin axis can vary by as much as 30 degrees over 11 years, leading to rapid and erratic changes in seasons. In contrast, Earth's rotational precession is a relatively tame 23.5 degrees over 26,000 years. Researchers are amazed that this far-off planet is precessing on a human timescale.

Kepler 413-b is located 2,300 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus. It circles a close pair of orange and red dwarf stars every 66 days. The planet's orbit around the binary stars appears to wobble, too, because the plane of its orbit is tilted 2.5 degrees with respect to the plane of the star pair's orbit. As seen from Earth, the wobbling orbit moves up and down continuously.

Kepler finds planets by measuring the dimming of starlight when a planet passes in front of its parent sun--or, in this case, suns because the planet circles a pair of stars. Normally, planets transit like clockwork. Astronomers using Kepler discovered the wobbling when they found an unusual pattern of transiting for Kepler-413b.

"Looking at the Kepler data over the course of 1,500 days, we saw three transits in the first 180 days -- one transit every 66 days -- then we had 800 days with no transits at all. After that, we saw five more transits in a row," said Veselin Kostov, the principal investigator on the observation. Kostov is affiliated with the Space Telescope Science Institute and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md. "[The next transit visible from Earth is not predicted to occur until 2020.]"

Astronomers are still trying to explain why this planet is out of alignment with its stars. There could be other planetary bodies in the system that tilted the orbit. Or, it could be that a third star nearby that is a visual companion may actually be gravitationally bound to the system and exerting an influence.

"Presumably there are planets out there like this one that we're not seeing because we're in the unfavorable period," said Peter McCullough, a team member with the Space Telescope Science Institute and Johns Hopkins University. "And that's one of the things that Veselin is researching: Is there a silent majority of things that we're not seeing?"

Even with its changing seasons, Kepler-413b is too warm for life as we know it. Because it orbits so close to the stars, its temperatures are too high for liquid water to exist, making it uninhabitable. It also is a super Neptune -- a giant gas planet with a mass about 65 times that of Earth -- so there is no surface on which to stand.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (21 October 1772 – 25 July 1834) was an English poet, literary critic and philosopher who, with his friend William Wordsworth, was a founder of the Romantic Movement in England and a member of the Lake Poets. He wrote the poems The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan, as well as the major prose work Biographia Literaria. His critical work, especially on Shakespeare, was highly influential, and he helped introduce German idealist philosophy to English-speaking culture. He coined many familiar words and phrases, including the celebrated suspension of disbelief. He was a major influence on Emerson, and American transcendentalism.

                                                       Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1795

Throughout his adult life, Coleridge suffered from crippling bouts of anxiety and depression; it has been speculated by some that he suffered from bipolar disorder, a condition not identified during his lifetime. Coleridge suffered from poor health that may have stemmed from a bout of rheumatic fever and other childhood illnesses. He was treated for these concerns with laudanum, which fostered a lifelong opium addiction.

Despite not enjoying the name recognition or popular acclaim that Wordsworth or Shelley have had,
Coleridge is one of the most important figures in English poetry. His poems directly and deeply influenced all the major poets of the age. He was known by his contemporaries as a meticulous craftsman who was more rigorous in his careful reworking of his poems than any other poet, and Southey and Wordsworth were dependent on his professional advice. His influence on Wordsworth is particularly important because many critics have credited Coleridge with the very idea of "Conversational Poetry". The idea of utilizing common, everyday language to express profound poetic images and ideas for which Wordsworth became so famous may have originated almost entirely in Coleridge’s mind. It is difficult to imagine Wordsworth’s great poems, The Excursion or The Prelude, ever having been written without the direct influence of Coleridge’s originality. As important as Coleridge was to poetry as a poet, he was equally important to poetry as a critic.

Coleridge's philosophy of poetry, which he developed over many years, has been deeply influential in the field of literary criticism. This influence can be seen in such critics as A.O. Lovejoy and I.A. Richards.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Christabel and Kubla Khan
Coleridge is probably best known for his long poems, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Christabel. Even those who have never read the Rime have come under its influence: its words have given the English language the metaphor of an albatross around one's neck, the quotation of "water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink" (almost always rendered as "but not a drop to drink"), and the phrase "a sadder and a wiser man" (again, usually rendered as "sadder but wiser man"). The phrase "All creatures great and small" may have been inspired by The Rime: "He prayeth best, who loveth best;/ All things great and small;/ For the dear God who loveth us;/ He made and loveth all." Christabel is known for its musical rhythm, language, and its Gothic tale.

                                                        Rime of the Ancient Mariner
                                                          Illustration by Gustav Dore

Kubla Khan, or, A Vision in a Dream, A Fragment, although shorter, is also widely known. Both Kubla Khan and Christabel have an additional "Romantic" aura because they were never finished. Stopford Brooke characterised both poems as having no rival due to their "exquisite metrical movement" and "imaginative phrasing."

Friday, February 7, 2014

U.S. Tech Lead Shrivels

US lead in science and technology shrinkingEmerging economies shifting global S&T landscapeNational Science Foundation, February 6, 2014
The United States' (U.S.) predominance in science and technology (S&T) eroded further during the last decade, as several Asian nations--particularly China and South Korea--rapidly increased their innovation capacities. According to a report released today by the National Science Board (NSB), the policy making body of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and an advisor to the President and Congress, the major Asian economies, taken together, now perform a larger share of global R&D than the U.S., and China performs nearly as much of the world's high-tech manufacturing as the U.S.

Evidence in NSB's biennial report, Science and Engineering Indicators
, which provides the most comprehensive federal information and analysis on the nation's position in S&T, makes it increasingly clear that the U.S., Japan, and Europe no longer monopolize the global R&D arena. Since 2001, the share of the world's R&D performed in the U.S. and Europe has decreased, respectively, from 37 percent to 30 percent and from 26 percent to 22 percent. In this same time period, the share of worldwide R&D performed by Asian countries grew from 25 percent to 34 percent. China led the Asian expansion, with its global share growing from just 4 percent to 15 percent during this period. "The first decade of the 21st century continues a dramatic shift in the global scientific landscape," said NSB Chairman Dan Arvizu, who is also the director and chief executive of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. "Emerging economies understand the role science and innovation play in the global marketplace and in economic competitiveness and have increasingly placed a priority on building their capacity in science and technology."

Recognition on the part of national leaders that S&T innovation contributes to national competitiveness, improves living standards, and furthers social welfare has driven the rapid growth in R&D in many countries. China and South Korea have catalyzed their domestic R&D by making significant investments in the S&T research enterprise and enhancing S&T training at universities. China tripled its number of researchers between 1995 and 2008, whereas South Korea doubled its number between 1995 and 2006. And there are indications that students from these nations may be finding more opportunities for advanced education in science and employment in their home countries.
In addition to investing in their research and teaching enterprises, these countries have focused their attention on crucial sectors of the global economy, including high-tech manufacturing and clean energy.

The size of China's high-tech manufacturing industry increased nearly six-fold between 2003 and 2012, raising China's global share of high-tech manufacturing from eight percent to 24 percent during that decade, closing in on the U.S. share of 27 percent. In addition, emerging economies now invest more in clean energy--a critical 21st century industry--than advanced economies. In 2012, emerging economies invested nearly $100 billion in clean energy, primarily wind and solar, with China serving as the "primary driver of investment" with $61 billion. China's investment is more than double the $29 billion spent in the U.S.

Parent companies of U.S. multinational corporations (MNCs) perform over 80 percent of their worldwide R&D in the U.S. However, U.S. MNCs continue to increase their R&D investments in countries such as Brazil, China, and India, both reflecting and further contributing to a more globally-distributed R&D landscape. Majority-owned foreign affiliates of U.S. MNCs, for example, tripled their R&D investments in India and more than doubled them in Brazil between 2007 and 2010, nearly reaching the expenditure levels of the U.S. affiliates in China.

U.S. R&D rebounds from Great Recession

The 2008-09 recession took a toll on U.S. R&D. U.S. R&D expenditures declined in 2009, primarily due to a sharp drop in business R&D, which comprises the largest portion of U.S. R&D. This decrease in business R&D was partially offset by a temporary increase in Federal R&D funding through the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

However, comprehensive data covering the post-economic downturn period reveal that the U.S. has rebounded from the Great Recession better than other developed countries. By 2011, with a resurgence of business R&D, overall R&D funding had returned to 2008 levels, when adjusted for inflation. Indicators data also show that S&T degree and job holders weathered the recession better than others in the U.S. workforce.

(The report released today does not cover the period during which Federal R&D was cut sharply by sequestration. The National Science Foundation reports that Federal R&D funding has declined in each fiscal year since 2010, dropping by 7.1 percent in fiscal year 2013.)

U.S. high-tech industries have generally fared better than those of other developed economies in the aftermath of the recession. In contrast to the European Union (E.U.) and Japan, the value-added output of U.S. high-tech industries grew in 2010-12, surpassing pre-recession levels. Similarly, commercial investment in clean energy technology declined sharply in the E.U. during the recession and has yet to return to pre-downturn levels.

One of the most notable S&T trends of the last decade has been the increased innovation capacity of emerging economies as they narrowed many gaps with the West. However, the U.S. S&T enterprise remains the global leader. For example, the U.S. invests twice as much as any other single nation in R&D, despite slipping to tenth in world ranking of the percentage of its GDP it devotes to R&D. In 2011, the U.S. spent $429 billion on R&D, compared to China's $208 billion and Japan's $146 billion. Among other S&T metrics, the U.S. leads in high quality research publications, patents, and income from intellectual property exports.

"The United States remains the world's leader in science and technology," said Ray Bowen, NSB member and chairman of its Committee on Science and Engineering Indicators, which oversees development of the report. "But there are numerous indicators showing how rapidly the world is changing and how other nations are challenging our predominance. As other countries focus on increasing their innovation capacities, we can ill afford to stand still. We now face a competitive environment undreamed of just a generation ago," said Bowen, visiting distinguished professor, Rice University and president emeritus of Texas A&M University.

The 2014 volume of Science and Engineering Indicators
is prepared by NSF's National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) on behalf of NSB. Indicators provides quantitative information on science, mathematics, and engineering education at all levels, the scientific and engineering workforce, domestic and international R&D performance, U.S. competitiveness in high technology, and public attitudes and understanding of science and engineering. The publication is subject to extensive review by outside experts, other Federal agencies, NSB members, and NCSES internal reviewers. It is available at:

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Working Memory Favors Quality

When it Comes to Memory, Quality
Matters More than Quantity
New York University, February 4, 2014

The capacity of our working memory is better explained by the quality of memories we can store than by their number, a team of psychology researchers has concluded.

Their analysis, which appears in the latest issue of the journal Psychological Review, helps clarify a long-standing debate in psychology about the capacity of our "working memory": Are the limits on the amount of information we can remember for a short period, such as a phone number or a snapshot of a traffic situation, best understood as a cap on the total number of memories we can store or, rather, as a limitation on their quality?

"Our findings show that we don’t simply store a set number of items and then recall them near-perfectly," says Weiji Ma, an associate professor in NYU’s Center for Neural Science and Department of Psychology, and the study’s senior author. "Rather, we try to memorize all relevant objects, but the quality of these recollections is uneven and gets worse as we have to remember more."

Working memory (WM) has a similar function as random access memory (RAM) in computers, but its mechanisms are not nearly as well understood. In recent years, psychology researchers have come to contrasting conclusions on the limits of working memory. Some have posited that there a fixed number of memories we can store in there—for example, we may be able to store the positions of only four different cars in our working memory at any one time.

However, others have maintained that working memory’s storage is not defined by the number of items it can hold; rather, these scholars see its limits as better defined by the quality of memories. For instance, in recalling the colors in a painting, we may remember seeing light blue in the work when, in fact, the actual color was teal. In other words, working memory’s bounds are a matter of precision rather than quantity.

In an effort to resolve this debate, Ma and colleagues examined data from 10 previously conducted experiments across six different laboratories, in total consisting of more than 130,000 subject responses. In a typical experiment, subjects were asked to recall one of up to eight colors they had seen a few seconds ago—a well-established measurement for gauging memory. This allowed the researchers to test different models that explained the capacity of our working memory—that is, is it a function of quality or quantity?

"This is the first study in this area that uses this much data, and we hope that our data set can serve as a benchmark for future studies," explains Ma.

Their analysis showed that working memory capacity is best explained in terms of the quality of memories. This quality gradually diminished as subjects were asked to recall more and more colors.

Contrary to what many textbooks claim, memory performance could not be explained by a fixed number of memories.

Ma does add a caveat, "Our results certainly don’t mean that you always remember everything that matters. However, ‘remembering everything a little bit’ seems much closer to the truth than ‘remembering a few things perfectly and others not at all’."

Ma points to how we navigate traffic in illustrating how quality matters in working memory. When driving, we may store the positions of cars and pedestrians, the colors of the street signs, and the distance to the next traffic light. However, quality of some of these memories may be quite high (e.g., the positions of other cars) while for others it may be poor (e.g., the color of the street signs).

The study’s other authors were Ronald van den Berg, a Baylor College of Medicine postdoctoral fellow at the time of the study and now at the University of Cambridge, and Edward Awh, a professor of psychology at the University of Oregon.

The research was supported by grants from the National Eye Institute (R01EY020958) and the Army Research Office (W911NF-12-1-0262).

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Absolute Quiddity: Good Aphorisms

The word aphorism
(literally "distinction" or "definition", from the Greek: αφορισμός, aphorismós ap-horizein, "from/to bound") denotes an original thought, spoken or written in a laconic and easily memorable form.
Quotes about Aphroisms
  • Habits count for more than maxims, because habit is a living maxim, becomes flesh and instinct. To reform one's maxims is nothing: it is but to change the title of the book.
  • The aphorist does not argue or explain, he asserts; and implicit in his assertion is a conviction that he is wiser and more intelligent than his readers.
    • W. H. Auden (1907–1973), Anglo-American poet. Foreword, The Viking Book of Aphorisms (1962)
  • Aphorisms, except they should be ridiculous, cannot be made but of the pith and heart of sciences; for discourse of illustration is cut off; recitals of examples are cut off; discourse of connection and order is cut off; descriptions of practice are cut off. So there remaineth nothing to fill the aphorisms but some good quantity of observation; and therefore no man can suffice, nor in reason will attempt, to write aphorisms, but he that is sound and grounded.
    • Francis Bacon (1561–1626), English philosopher, statesman and essayist. The Proficience and Advancement of Learning (1605), Second Book, XI–XX p. 5
  • Aphorisms, representing a knowledge broken, do invite men to inquire further; whereas methods, carrying the show of a total, do secure men, as if they were at furthest.
    • Francis Bacon, The Proficience and Advancement of Learning (1605), Second Book XI–XX, p. 5
  • Aphorizein’, from which we get the word ‘aphorism’, means to retreat to such a distance that a horizon of thought is formed which never again closes on itself.
    • Jean Baudrillard (1929–2007), French philosopher and writer. Cool Memories V (2006)
  • APHORISM, n. Predigested wisdom.
  • The flabby wine-skin of his brain
    Yields to some pathologic strain,
    And voids from its unstored abysm
    The driblet of an aphorism.
    "The Mad Philosopher," 1697
      • Ambrose Bierce (1842–1914?), American writer. The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
  • The hunter for aphorisms on human nature has to fish in muddy water, and he is ever condemned to find much of his own mind.
  • It [an aphorism or epigram] should sound like something that somebody might say, but it should be something that nobody has ever said before.
    • Ashley Brilliant (b. 1933), American cartoonist, epigrammatist and publisher. From his interview for the Wall Street Journal, 6th January 1992. (He commentating here on his "Pot-Shots" postcards.)
  • There is something anachronistic about the very idea of aphorisms or maxims. Contemporary culture isn’t stately enough, or stable enough, to support them.
    • Anatole Broyard (1920–1990), American literary critic. ‘Wisdom of Aphorisms’, New York Times, 30th April 1983
  • Aphorisms are bad for novels. They stick in the reader’s teeth.
    • Anatole Broyard. ‘Books of the Times’, New York Times, June 6th 1984
  • The great writers of aphorisms read as if they had all known each other very well.
    • Elias Canetti (1905–1994), Jewish-Bulgarian writer. The Human Province (1942–1972)
  • Exclusively of the abstract sciences, the largest and worthiest portion of our knowledge consists of aphorisms: and the greatest and best of men is but an aphorism.
  • In an aphorism, aptness counts for more than truth.
    • Mason Cooley (1927–2002), American literary academic and aphorist. City Aphorisms, Fourth Selection (1987)
  • Aphorisms are not true or false, but pointed or flat.
    • Mason Cooley. City Aphorisms, Fourth Selection (1987)
  • Aphorisms have never seduced anybody, but they have fooled some into considering themselves worldly-wise.
    • Mason Cooley. City Aphorisms, Twelfth Selection (1993)
  • An aphorism that does not score is just one more sentence.
    • Mason Cooley. City Aphorisms, Thirteenth Selection (1994)
  • I’ve always felt aphorisms as reminders, gongs–in–words.
    • Olivia Dresher (b.1945), American literary editor, publisher and poet. 'Aphorisms by Olivia Dresher', from, All Aphorisms, All the Time, a blog on James Geary's website, 24th February 2009
  • An aphorism is the last link in a long chain of thought.
  • Windbags can be right. Aphorists can be wrong. It is a tough world.
    • James Fenton (b. 1949), English poet, journalist and literary critic. From his column in The Times (UK) newspaper, 21st February 1985
  • There is a difference between being witty – quick with the repartee and the insight – and having an aptitude for aphorism.
    • James Fenton. The Guardian (UK) newspaper, 17th February 2007
  • To have the last word, to be beyond contradiction, to inhabit a world of assertion and paradox – it may not be every aphorist’s ambition, but it seems to come with the turf.
    • James Fenton. The Guardian, 17th February 2007
  • Aphorisms are literature’s hand luggage. Light and compact they fit easily into the overhead compartment of your brain and contain everything you need to get through a rough day at the office or a dark night of the soul.
    • James Geary (b. 1962), American journalist, author and aphorist. The World in a Phrase (2005), Ch. 1
  • For the aphorist, I think, seeing something and saying something are the same thing.
    • James Geary, ‘Anatomy of an Aphorism’, from, All Aphorisms, All The Time, a blog on James Geary’s website, 16th October 2008
  • Aphorisms are short, pithy sayings; they are individual passages that can be recited and remain intelligible out of context; they can stand on their own without further support.
    • Dr. Louis Groarke, Canadian philosopher. Philosophy as Inspiration: Blaise Pascal and the Epistemology of Aphorisms. Essay in, Poetics Today, Fall 2007
  • Without losing ourselves in a wilderness of definitions, we can all agree that the most obvious characteristic of an aphorism, apart from its brevity, is that it is a generalization. It offers a comment on some recurrent aspect of life, couched in terms which are meant to be permanently and universally applicable.
    • John Gross, English journalist, writer and literary critic. ‘Introduction’, The Oxford Book of Aphorisms (1983)
  • But, perhaps, the excellence of aphorisms consists not so much in the expression of some rare or abstruse sentiment, as in the comprehension of some obvious and useful truth in a few words.
    • Samuel Johnson (1709–1784), English poet and lexicographer. The Rambler, No. 175, 19th November 1751
  • Pointed axioms and acute replies fly loose about the world, and are assigned successively to those whom it may be the fashion to celebrate.
    • Samuel Johnson. ‘Waller’, Lives of the Poets (1779-81)
  • I fancy mankind may come, in time, to write all aphoristically, except in narrative; grow weary of preparation, and connection, and illustration, and all those arts by which a big book is made.
    • Samuel Johnson. Journal entry for 16th August 1773 in, The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson LL.D., by James Boswell (1785)
  • Genuine bon mots surprise those from whose lips they fall, no less than they do those who listen to them.
    • Joseph Joubert (1754–1824), French moralist and essayist. Pensées (1842)
  • An aphorism never coincides with the truth: it is either a half-truth or one-and-a-half truths.
    • Karl Kraus (1874–1936), Austrian writer. Half–Truths and One–and–a–Half Truths, Translated by Harry Zohn (1990)
  • Someone who can write aphorisms should not fritter away his time writing essays.
    • Karl Kraus. Half–Truths and One–and–a–Half Truths, translated by Harry Zohn (1990)
  • One cannot dictate an aphorism to a typist. It would take too long.
    • Karl Kraus. Half–truths and One–and–a–Half Truths, translated by Harry Zohn (1990)
  • Aphorism: what is worth quoting from the soul’s dialogue with itself.
    • Yahia Lababidi (b. 1973), Egyptian-Lebanise essayist and poet. Signposts to Elswhere (2008)
  • There is always something positive about the wisdom in aphorisms; jokes are not always that optimistic.
    • John Lloyd (b. 1951), British television comedy writer and producer. 'On the First Ever International Aphorism Symposium', from, All Aphorisms, All the Time, a blog on James Geary website, 11th March 2008
  • Aphorism or maxim, let us remember that this wisdom of life is the true salt of literature; that those books, at least in prose, are most nourishing which are most richly stored with it; and that is one of the great objects, apart from the mere acquisition of knowledge, which men ought to seek in the reading of books.
    • John Morley (1838-1923), 1st Viscount Morley of Blackburn, British statesman and writer. Aphorisms (1887) p. 11
  • Beware of cultivating this delicate art.
    • John Morley (1838–1923), British statesman and writer. Aphorisms (1887) p. 39
  • There are aphorisms that, like airplanes, stay up only while they are in motion.
    • Vladimir Nabokov (1899–1977), Russian-American novelist and poet. The Gift (1937), Ch. 1, from the English edition, published by G. P. Putnam’s Son (1963)
  • A good aphorism is too hard for the teeth of time and is not eaten up by all the centuries, even though it serves as food for every age: hence it is the greatest paradox in literature, the imperishable in the midst of change, the nourishment which—like salt—is always prized, but which never loses its savor as salt does.
    • Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900), German philosopher. Mixed Opinions and Maxims, aphorism 168, 'In Praise of Aphorisms' (1879)
  • Whoever writes in blood and aphorisms wants not to be learned but to be learned by heart.
    • Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900), German philosopher. Thus Spoke Zarathustra, First Part, 'On Reading and Writing' (1883)
  • An aphorism, honestly stamped and molded, has not yet been "deciphered" once we have read it over; rather, its exegesis—for which an art of exegesis is needed—has only just begun.
    • Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900), German philosopher. On the Genealogy of Morals, 'Preface', Section 8 (1887)
  • Behind every aphoristic assertion there should be the watermark of a question.
    • Gregory Norminton, British Novelist and academic. From his Blog, ‘How to be Awake,’ 18th May 2010
  • They’ve [aphorisms] got a real form to them. They’re not very popular or fashionable in Anglophone culture – they are assertions, so they can sound hubristic: you sometimes find yourself thinking, "Who the hell am I to say this?" But then, why not? You expect people to disagree. The point is to stir things up.
    • Don Paterson (b, 1963), Scottish poet and musician. From his interview with Mark Seaton for The Guardian, 21st January 2004
  • The aphorism is only useful in small measured doses—but even then it’s only a kind of intellectual placebo, prompting ideas the reader should have prompted in themselves anyway.
    • Don Paterson, The Blind Eye: A Book of Late Advice (2007)
  • Despite our attempts to imbue them with some flavor, any flavor—aphorisms all turn out so...generic; they all sound as if they were delivered by the same disenfranchised, bad-tempered minor deity.
    • Don Paterson, Best Thought, Worst Thought: On Art, Sex, Work, and Death. (2008)
  • Almost every wise saying has an opposite one, no less wise, to balance it.
    • George Santayana (1863–1952), Spanish-American novelist, essayist and poet. Little Essays, Drawn From the Writings of George Santayana, compiled and edited by Logan Pearsall Smith (1920)
  • An aphorism ought to be entirely isolated from the surrounding world like a little work of art and complete in itself like a hedgehog.
    • Freidrich von Schlegel (1772–1829), German philosopher. Aphorism 206 in, Aphorisms from the Athenaeum (1798)
  • Aphorisms are the true form of the universal philosophy.
    • Friedrich von Schlegel (1772–1829), German philosopher. From Aphorism 259, Aphorisms from the Athenaeum (1798)
    • An aphorism has been defined as a proverb coined in a private mint, and the definition is a happy one; for the aphorism, like the proverb, is the result of observation, and however private and superior the mint, the coins it strikes must, to find acceptance, be made of current metal.
      • Logan Pearsall Smith (1865–1946), American born essayist and critic. ‘Introduction’, A Treasury of English Aphorisms (1943), p. 7
    • It is in the nature of aphoristic thinking to be always in a state of concluding; a bid to have the final word is inherent in all powerful phrase-making.
      • Susan Sontag (1933–2004), American essayist. 'Writing Itself: On Roland Barthes', Introduction, Barthes: Selected Writings (1982)
    • Aphorisms are rogue ideas.
    • An aphorism is not an argument; it is too well-bred for that.
    • Aphoristic thinking is impatient thinking
    • Most maxim-mongers have preferred the prettiness to the justness of a thought, and the turn to the truth; but I have refused myself to everything that my own experience did not justify and confirm.
      • Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl Chesterfield (1694–1773), British statesman, man of letters. Letter to his son, 15th January 1753. The Letters of the Earl of Chesterfield to His Son (1774–5)

      Tuesday, February 4, 2014

      Aesop the Ugly Slave

      Aesop (c. 620–564 BCE) was an Ancient Greek fabulist or story teller credited with a number of fables now collectively known as Aesop’s Fables. Although his existence remains uncertain and (if they ever existed) no writings by him survive, numerous tales credited to him were gathered across the centuries and in many languages in a storytelling tradition that continues to this day. Many of the tales are characterized by animals and inanimate objects that speak, solve problems, and generally have human characteristics.

      Scattered details of Aesop's life can be found in ancient sources, including Aristotle, Herodotus, and Plutarch. An ancient literary work called The Aesop Romance tells an episodic, probably highly fictional version of his life, including the traditional description of him as a strikingly ugly slave who by his cleverness acquires freedom and becomes an adviser to kings and city-states. Older spellings of his name have included Esop(e) and Isope. A later tradition (dating from the Middle Ages) depicts Aesop as a black Ethiopian. Depictions of Aesop in popular culture over the last 2500 years have included several works of art and his appearance as a character in numerous books, films, plays,
      and television programs.

      The name of Aesop is as widely known as any that has come down from Graeco-Roman antiquity [yet] it is far from certain whether a historical Aesop ever existed. in the latter part of the fifth century [BC] something like a coherent Aesop legend appears, and Samos seems to be its home.
      —Martin Litchfield West
      = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

      A List of Some Fables by Aesop
      • The Ant and the Grasshopper
      • The Ape and the Fox
      • The Ass and his Masters
      • The Ass and the Pig
      • The Ass Carrying an Image
      • The Ass in the Lion’s Skin
      • The Astrologer who Fell into a Well
      • The Bird-catcher and the Blackbird
      • The Bear and the Travelers
      • The Beaver
      • The Belly and Other Members
      • The Bird in Borrowed Feathers
      • The Boy Who Cried Wolf
      • The Cat and the Mice
      • The Cock and the Jewel
      • The Cock, the Dog and the Fox
      • The Crow and the Pitcher
      • The Crow and the Sheep
      • The Crow and the Snake
      • The Deer without a Heart
      • The Dog and its Reflection
      • The Dog and the Wolf
      • The Dove and the Ant
      • The Farmer and the Stork
      • The Farmer and the Viper
      • The Fir and the Bramble
      • The Fisherman and the Little Fish
      • The Fowler and the Snake
      • The Fox and the Crow
      • The Fox and the Grapes
      • The Fox and the Mask
      • The Fox and the Sick Lion
      • The Fox and the Stork
      • The Fox and the Weasel
      • The Fox and the Woodman
      • The Frog and the Mouse
      • The Frog and the Ox
      • The Frogs and the Sun
      • The Frogs Who Desired a King
      • The Goat and the Vine
      • The Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs
      • Hercules and the Wagoner
      • The Honest Woodcutter
      • The Horse and the Donkey
      • The Lion and the Fox
      • The Lion and the Mouse
      • The Lion’s Share
      • The Lion, the Bear and the Fox
      • The Man with two Mistresses
      • The Mischievous Dog
      • The Miser and his Gold
      • The Mountain in Labour
      • The Mouse and the Oyster
      • The North Wind and the Sun
      • The Oak and the Reed
      • The Old Man and Death
      • The Old Woman and the Doctor
      • The Rose and the Amaranth
      • The Satyr and the Traveller
      • The Sick Kite
      • The Snake and the Crab
      • The Snake and the Farmer
      • The Snake in the Thorn Bush
      • The Tortoise and the Birds
      • The Tortoise and the Hare
      • Town Mouse and Country Mouse
      • The Travellers and the Plane Tree
      • The Trees and the Bramble
      • The Trumpeter Taken Captive
      • The Two Pots
      • Venus and the Cat
      • The Walnut Tree
      • Washing the Ethiopian white
      • The Wolf and the Crane
      • The Wolf and the Lamb
      • The Woodcutter and the Trees
      • The Young Man and the Swallow

      Monday, February 3, 2014

      Positive Quiddity: Milk

      Milk is a white liquid produced by the mammary glands of mammals. It is the primary source of nutrition for young mammals before they are able to digest other types of food. Early-lactation milk contains colostrum, which carries the mother's antibodies to the baby and can reduce the risk of many diseases in the baby. It also contains many other nutrients.

      As an agricultural product, milk is extracted from mammals during or soon after pregnancy and used as food for humans. Worldwide, dairy farms produced about 730 million tonnes of milk in 2011. India is the world's largest producer and consumer of milk, yet neither exports nor imports milk. New Zealand, the European Union’s 28 member states, Australia, and the United States are the world's largest exporters of milk and milk products. China and Russia are the world's largest importers of milk and milk products.
      Throughout the world, there are more than 6 billion consumers of milk and milk products. Over 750 million people live within dairy farming households. Milk is a key contributor to improving nutrition and food security particularly in developing countries. Improvements in livestock and dairy technology offer significant promise in reducing poverty and malnutrition in the world.

      Nutrition for Infant Mammals
      In almost all mammals, milk is fed to infants through breastfeeding, either directly or by expressing the milk to be stored and consumed later. The early milk from mammals is called colostrum. Colostrum contains antibodies that provide protection to the newborn baby as well as nutrients and growth factors. The makeup of the colostrum and the period of secretion varies from species to species.

      For humans, the World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for six months and breastfeeding in addition to other food for two years or more. In some cultures it is common to breastfeed children for three to five years, and the period may be even longer.

      Fresh goats milk is sometimes substituted for breast milk. This risks the child developing electrolyte imbalances, metabolic acidosis, megaloblastic anemia, and a host of allergic reactions.

      Food Product for Humans
      In many cultures of the world, especially the Western world, humans continue to consume milk beyond infancy, using the milk of other animals (especially cattle, goats, and sheep) as a food product. Initially, the ability to digest milk was limited to children as adults did not produce lactase, an enzyme necessary for digesting the lactose in milk. Milk was therefore converted to curd, cheese and other products to reduce the levels of lactose. Thousands of years ago, a chance mutation spread in human populations in Europe that enabled the production of lactase in adulthood. This allowed milk to be used as a new source of nutrition which could sustain populations when other food sources failed. Milk is processed into a variety of dairy products such as cream, butter, yogurt, kefir, ice cream, and cheese. Modern industrial processes use milk to produce casein, whey protein, lactose, condensed milk, powdered milk and many other food-additive and industrial products.

      The sugar lactose is found only in milk, forsythia flowers, and a few tropical shrubs. The enzyme needed to digest lactose, lactase, reaches its highest levels in the small intestines after birth and then begins a slow decline unless milk is consumed regularly. On the other hand, those groups who do continue to tolerate milk often have exercised great creativity in using the milk of domesticated ungulates, not only of cattle, but also sheep, goats, yaks, water buffalo, horses, reindeer and camels. The largest producer and consumer of cattle and buffalo milk in the world is India.

      Humans first learned to regularly consume the milk of other mammals following the domestication of animals during the Neolithic Revolution or the development of agriculture. This development occurred independently in several places around the world from as early as 9000–7000 BC in Southwest Asia to 3500–3000 BC in the Americas. The most important dairy animals—cattle, sheep and goats—were first domesticated in Southwest Asia, although domestic cattle has been independently derived from wild aurochs populations several times since.

      From Southwest Asia domestic dairy animals spread to Europe (beginning around 7000 BC but not reaching Britain and Scandinavia until after 4000 BC), and South Asia (7000–5500 BC). The first farmers in central Europe and Britain milked their animals. Pastoral and pastoral nomadic economies, which rely predominantly or exclusively on domestic animals and their products rather than crop farming, were developed as European farmers moved into the Pontic-Caspian steppe in the 4th millennium BC, and subsequently spread across much of the Eurasian steppe. Sheep and goats were introduced to Africa from Southwest Asia, but African cattle may have been independently domesticated around 7000–6000 BC. Camels, domesticated in central Arabia in the 4th millennium BC, have also been used as a dairy animal in North Africa and the Arabian peninsula. The earliest Egyptian records of burn treatment describe burn dressings using milk from mothers of male babies. In the rest of the world (i.e., East and Southeast Asia, the Americas and Australia) milk and dairy products were historically not a large part of the diet, either because they remained populated by hunter-gatherers who did not keep animals or the local agricultural economies did not include domesticated dairy species. Milk consumption became common in these regions comparatively recently, as a consequence of European colonialism and political domination over much of the world in the last 500 years.

      In the Middle Ages, milk was called the virtuous white liquor because alcoholic beverages were more reliable than water.

      The growth in urban population coupled with the expansion of the railway network in the mid 19th century, brought about a revolution in milk production and supply. Individual railway firms began transporting milk from rural areas to London from the 1840s and 50s. Possibly the first such instance was in 1846, when St Thomas’s Hospital in Southwark contracted with milk suppliers outside London to provide milk by rail. The Great Western Railway was an early and enthusiatic adopter, and began to transport milk into London from Maidenhead in 1860, despite much criticism. By 1900, the Company was transporting over 25 million gallons annually. The milk trade grew slowly through the 1860s, but went through a period of extensive, structural change in the 1870s and 80s.

      Urban demand began to grow, as consumer purchasing power increased and milk became regarded as a required daily commodity. Over the last three decades of the 19th century, demand for milk in most parts of the country doubled, or in some cases, tripled. Legislation in 1875 made the adulteration of milk illegal - this combined with a marketing campaign to change the image of milk. The proportion of rural imports by rail as a percentage of total milk consumption in London grew from under 5% in the 1860s to over 96% by the early 20th century. By that point, the supply system for milk was the most highly organized and integrated of any food product.

      Worldwide Milk Production

      red = milk exporter
      green = use equals production
      blue= milk importer

      Sunday, February 2, 2014

      Vital Plane Passenger Manners

      Seven Things You Should
      Never Do on an Airplane
      Posted by Caroline Costello to AirFareWatchdogBlog on Monday, January 27, 2014

      Your plane ticket is your pass to far-flung destinations—on several conditions. Check your airline's contract of carriage; there, buried in pages of text, you'll find a list of violations that'll get you banned from boarding or even kicked off a plane. Contracts of carriage vary slightly by airline, but most contracts have some kind of language prohibiting passengers from doing anything that endangers the safety or comfort of fellow flyers. This is all subject to interpretation by airline employees, which is why we often see so many wild stories of passengers getting the boot. So what, specifically, shouldn't you do? The following seven behaviors should be avoided at all costs.

      Refuse to Buckle Your Seat Belt

      If for any reason a passenger can't or isn't willing to buckle his seat belt, flight crew will probably show him the door. It happened to a three-year-old boy who wouldn’t buckle up on an Alaska Airlines flight. It also happens when passengers are too large to fasten their seat belts. Travelers are required by federal law to wear a seat belt on some phases of all flights. And until recently, passengers of size could bring a seat belt extender onboard to help with fit. But in August, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) declared that flyers must be able to buckle up using the aircraft's original seat belt or with an extender offered by the airline, if available.

      Bring a Crying Kid

      Passengers who get loud, become aggressive, and spoil the comfort of fellow flyers could get kicked off a plane—even if they're still in diapers. The crew of a JetBlue flight to Turks and Caicos forced the family of a tantrum-throwing toddler to debark the plane in March 2012. According to SmarterTravel editor Caroline Morse, "The parents tried to hold the screaming toddler down in her seat with the seat belt on, but the pilot and flight attendant made the decision to kick the family off the flight and leave without them. Undoubtedly, the people trapped near that toddler on the plane were grateful, but the Daily Mail reports that the family ended up paying more than $2,000 for a new flight and hotel room for the night."

      Wear Something Inappropriate

      Airlines generally leave it up to flight attendants to judge whether or not a passenger's attire is inappropriate for wear in the air. As a result, instances of flyers getting the boot due to unsuitable attire are relatively common. In the past, we've reported on flight crews banning passengers for wearing low-cut tops, rocking baggy pants, and sporting offensive T-shirts. For more in-flight style tips, read Nine Things Not to Wear on a Plane [on line at ].

      Get in a Fight

      When a man smacked a fellow passenger in the head on a United Airlines flight to Ghana in 2011, the pilot, like a parent driving a car with feuding kids in the backseat, turned that plane around. But unlike your average parent, the pilot had the wherewithal to call up a few fighter jets as backup. The Air Force was summoned and two jets trailed the plane as it circled for half an hour, burning off fuel. The aggressive flyer, naturally, was removed from his flight once the plane touched down.

      Here's the most unbelievable part of this story: The whole brawl started when one passenger reclined his seat into the space of the guy behind him. Some travelers might even argue he deserved the smack.

      Ignore the Request to Turn Off Electronic Devices

      You've undoubtedly heard the notorious tale: Alec Baldwin was kicked off a flight for neglecting to pause his game of Words with Friends when the flight crew requested that passengers power down their devices. It's important to note, however, that you likely won't be removed from your flight if you simply forget that your device is turned on and your phone rings on the tarmac. It's not that easy to get booted. But Baldwin seemed determined. He reportedly became aggressive and ignored repeated requests before the captain
      decided to leave the 30 Rock star behind.

      Neglect Your Hygiene
      You don't have to wear a naughty T-shirt to offend fellow passengers. Simply skip the soap. A few years ago, a flyer did just that, and ended up on the wrong side of the boarding gate. According to ABC News, when passengers on an Air Canada Jazz flight to Montreal complained about a foul-smelling flyer, the malodorous man had to forfeit his flight before departure. A person on the flight told ABC News, "People were just mumbling and staring at him. The guy next to me said, 'It's brutal.'"

      Drink Too Much
      Visibly intoxicated passengers aren't welcome on flights; most airline contracts of carriage contain clauses that specifically state this. US Airways' contract, for example, states that the airline can refuse transport to passengers who "appear to be intoxicated or under the influence of drugs."

      Some people apparently missed the memo, like country singer John Rich (of Big & Rich), who was removed from a Southwest flight for being too drunk to fly, and an intoxicated Bahraini prince, who lost his seat on British Airways. (It's safe to say that these airlines offer no special treatment for the rich and famous.)

      Even if you appear drunk but are really sober, your ticket could be in jeopardy. In July, we reported on a sober woman who was removed from a Southwest flight because a gate agent thought she was intoxicated. After being booted, the women obtained a toxicology test from a hospital, and her blood alcohol level was less than 0.003. Nevertheless, she wasn't permitted to board that initial flight.

      Saturday, February 1, 2014

      Uniquely Human: The Ventrolateral Frontal Cortex

      What makes us human?: Unique brain
      area linked to higher cognitive powers
      29 January 2014 -- Oxford University researchers have identified an area of the human brain that appears unlike anything in the brains of some of our closest relatives.

      The brain area pinpointed is known to be intimately involved in some of the most advanced planning and decision-making processes that we think of as being especially human.

      ‘We tend to think that being able to plan into the future, be flexible in our approach and learn from others are things that are particularly impressive about humans. We’ve identified an area of the brain that appears to be uniquely human and is likely to have something to do with these cognitive powers,’ says senior researcher Professor Matthew Rushworth of Oxford University’s Department of Experimental Psychology.

      MRI imaging of 25 adult volunteers was used to identify key components in the ventrolateral frontal cortex area of the human brain, and how these components were connected up with other brain areas. The results were then compared to equivalent MRI data from 25 macaque monkeys.

      This ventrolateral frontal cortex area of the brain is involved in many of the highest aspects of cognition and language, and is only present in humans and other primates. Some parts are implicated in psychiatric conditions like ADHD, drug addiction or compulsive behaviour disorders. Language is affected when other parts are damaged after stroke or neurodegenerative disease. A better understanding of the neural connections and networks involved should help the understanding of changes in the brain that go along with these conditions.

      The Oxford University researchers report their findings in the science journal Neuron. They were funded by the UK Medical Research Council.

      Professor Rushworth explains: ‘The brain is a mosaic of interlinked areas. We wanted to look at this very important region of the frontal part of the brain and see how many tiles there are and where they are placed.

      ‘We also looked at the connections of each tile – how they are wired up to the rest of the brain – as it is these connections that determine the information that can reach that component part and the influence that part can have on other brain regions.’

      From the MRI data, the researchers were able to divide the human ventrolateral frontal cortex into 12 areas that were consistent across all the individuals.

      ‘Each of these 12 areas has its own pattern of connections with the rest of the brain, a sort of "neural fingerprint", telling us it is doing something unique,’ says Professor Rushworth.

      The researchers were then able to compare the 12 areas in the human brain region with the organisation of the monkey prefrontal cortex.

      Overall, they were very similar with 11 of the 12 areas being found in both species and being connected up to other brain areas in very similar ways.

      However, one area of the human ventrolateral frontal cortex had no equivalent in the macaque – an area called the lateral frontal pole prefrontal cortex.

      ‘We have established an area in human frontal cortex which does not seem to have an equivalent in the monkey at all,’ says first author Franz-Xaver Neubert of Oxford University. ‘This area has been identified with strategic planning and decision making as well as "multi-tasking".’

      The Oxford research group also found that the auditory parts of the brain were very well connected with the human prefrontal cortex, but much less so in the macaque. The researchers suggest this may be critical for our ability to understand and generate speech.