Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Great Composer: Angelo Badalamenti

Angelo Badalamenti (born March 22, 1937) is an American composer, best known for his work scoring films for director David Lynch, notably Blue Velvet, the Twin Peaks saga (1990–1992) and Mulholland Drive. He received the Lifetime Achievement Award  at the World Soundtrack Awards in 2008.

Badalamenti scored films such as Gordon’s War, and Law and Disorder, but his big break came when he was brought in to be Isabella Rossellini’s singing coach for the song "Blue Velvet" in David Lynch’s 1986 film Blue Velvet.  Inspired by This Mortal Coil’s  recent cover of the Tim Buckley song Song of the Siren, Lynch had wanted Rossellini to sing her own version, but was unable to secure the rights. In its place, Badalamenti and Lynch collaborated to write "Mysteries of Love", using lyrics Lynch wrote and Badalamenti's music. Lynch asked Badalamenti to appear in the film as the piano player in the club where Rossellini's character performs. This film was the first of many projects they worked on together.

After scoring a variety of mainstream films, including A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, he scored Lynch's cult television show, Twin Peaks which featured the vocals of Julee Cruise. Many of the songs from the series were released on Cruise's album Floating into the Night. From the soundtrack of the television series, he was awarded the Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance for the "Twin Peaks Theme".

Other Lynch projects he worked on include the movies Wild at Heart, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive (where he has a small role as a gangster with a finicky taste for espresso), as well as the television shows On the Air and Hotel Room.

He also conducted a performance during the opening ceremony of the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

Afterword by the Blog Author

Badalamenti also wrote the theme song for the television interview program Inside the Actor’s Studio, which he re-performed and released as a nine-minute single a few years ago.  His soundtrack for the eerie, edgy movie Wild at Heart was, in the blog author’s opinion, critical to making his career.  As an example, Cool Cat Walk from that soundtrack is a jazzy masterpiece worthy of John Barry or Henry Mancini.

There is an excellent, masterful summary of Badalamenti’s career and technique in the Joseph Lanza book Elevator Music that is worth reading and pondering.  Following John Barry’s death a few years ago, the blog author considers Angelo Badalamenti the best living composer in the world.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Key Brain Error Correction Study

Researchers Find Neural Signature
for Mistake Correction
April 25, 2014

Culminating an 8 year search, scientists at the RIKEN-MIT Center for Neural Circuit Genetics captured an elusive brain signal underlying memory transfer and, in doing so, pinpointed the first neural circuit for "oops"—the precise moment when one becomes consciously aware of a self-made mistake and takes corrective action.
The findings, published in Cell, verified a 20 year old hypothesis on how brain areas communicate. In recent years, researchers have been pursuing a class of ephemeral brain signals called gamma oscillations, millisecond scale bursts of synchronized wave-like electrical activity that pass through brain tissue like ripples on a pond. In 1993, German scientist Wolf Singer proposed that gamma waves enable binding of memory associations. For example, in a process called working memory, animals store and recall short-term memory associations when exploring the environment.

In 2006, the MIT team under the direction of Nobel Laureate Susumu Tonegawa began a study to understand working memory in mice. They trained animals to navigate a T maze and turn left or right at a junction for an associated food reward. They found that working memory required communication between two brain areas, the hippocampus and entorhinal cortex, but how mice knew the correct direction and the neural signal for memory transfer of this event remained unclear.

The study's lead author Jun Yamamoto noticed that mice sometimes made mistakes, turning in the wrong direction then pausing, and turning around to go in the correct direction, trials he termed "oops" in his lab notebook. Intrigued, he recorded neural activity in the circuit and observed a burst of gamma waves just before the "oops" moment. He also saw gamma waves when mice chose the correct direction, but not when they failed to choose the correct direction or did not correct their mistakes.

The critical experiment was to block gamma oscillations and prevent mice from making correct decisions. To do this, the researchers created a transgenic mouse with a light-activated protein called archaerhodopsin (ArchT) in the hippocampus. Using an optic fiber implanted in the brain, light was flashed into the hippocampal-entorhinal circuit, shutting off gamma activity. In accord, the mice could no longer accurately choose the right direction and the number of "oops" events decreased.

The findings provide strong evidence of a role for gamma oscillations in cognition, and raise the prospect of their involvement in other behaviors requiring retrieval and evaluation of working memory. This may open the door to a class of behaviors called metacognition, or "thinking about thinking", the self-monitoring of one's actions. Regarding the appearance of gamma oscillations in the "oops" cases, Dr. Tonegawa stated "our data suggest that animals consciously monitor whether their behavioral choices are correct and use memory recall to improve their outcomes"

Monday, April 28, 2014

Positive Quiddity: Nancy Wake

Nancy Grace Augusta Wake AC, GM (30 August 1912 – 7 August 2011) served as a British agent during the later part of World War II.  She became a leading figure in the maquis groups of the French Resistance and was one of the Allies’ most decorated servicewomen of the war. After the fall of France in 1940, she became a courier for the French Resistance and later joined the escape network of Captain Ian Garrow. By 1943, Wake was the Gestapo’s's most wanted person, with a 5 million-franc price on her head.

After reaching Britain, Wake joined the Special Operations Executive. On the night of 29/30 April 1944, Wake was parachuted into the Auvergne, becoming a liaison between London and the local maquis group headed by Captain Henri Tardivat in the Forest of Troncais.. From April 1944 until the liberation of France, her 7,000+ maquisards fought 22,000 SS soldiers, causing 1,400 casualties, while suffering only 100 themselves.

Early Life

Born in Roseneath, Wellington, New Zealand, on 30 August 1912, Wake was the youngest of six children. In 1914, her family moved to Australia and settled at Nortgh Sydney. Shortly thereafter, her father, Charles Augustus Wake, returned to New Zealand, leaving her mother Ella Wake (née Rosieur; 1874–1968) to raise the children.

In Sydney, she attended the North Sydney Household Arts (Home Science) School (see North Sydney Technical High School). At the age of 16, she ran away from home and worked as a nurse. With £200 that she had inherited from an aunt, she journeyed to New York, then London where she trained herself as a journalist. In the 1930s, she worked in Paris and later for Hearst newspapers as a European correspondent. She witnessed the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi movement and "saw roving Nazi gangs randomly beating Jewish men and women in the streets" of Vienna.

Wartime Service and Special Operations Executive

In 1937, Wake met wealthy French industrialist Henri Edmond Fiocca (1898–1943), whom she married on 30 November 1939. She was living in Marseille, France when Germany invaded. After the fall of France in 1940, she became a courier for the French Resistance and later joined the escape network of Captain Ian Garrow. In reference to Wake's ability to elude capture, the Gestapo called her the White Mouse. The Resistance had to be very careful with her missions; her life was in constant danger, with the Gestapo tapping her phone and intercepting her mail.

In November 1942, Wehrmacht troops occupied the southern part of France after the Allies' Operation Torch had started. This gave the Gestapo unrestricted access to all papers of the Vichy regime and made life more dangerous for Wake.  The Germans had an English spy, Sergeant Harold Cole, working for them. By 1943, Wake was the Gestapo's most wanted person, with a 5 million-franc price on her head. When the network was betrayed that same year, she decided to flee Marseille. Her husband, Henri Fiocca, stayed behind; he was later captured, tortured and executed by the Gestapo.

Wake described her tactics: "A little powder and a little drink on the way, and I'd pass their (German) posts and wink and say, 'Do you want to search me?' God, what a flirtatious little bastard I was."

Wake had been arrested in Toulouse but was released four days later. An acquaintance managed to have her let out by making up stories about her supposed infidelity to her husband. She succeeded, on her sixth attempt, in crossing the Pyrenees to Spaiun. Until the war ended, she was unaware of her husband's death and subsequently blamed herself for it.

After reaching Britain, Wake joined the Special Operations Executive.  Vera Atkins, who also worked in the SOE, recalls her as "a real Australian bombshell. Tremendous vitality, flashing eyes. Everything she did, she did well." Training reports record that she was "a very good and fast shot" and possessed excellent fieldcraft. She was noted to "put the men to shame by her cheerful spirit and strength of character."

On the night of 29/30 April 1944, Wake was parachuted into the Auvergne, becoming a liaison between London and the local maquis group headed by Captain Henri Tardivat in the Forest of Troncais. Upon discovering her tangled in a tree, Captain Tardivat greeted her remarking, "I hope that all the trees in France bear such beautiful fruit this year," to which she replied, "Don't give me that French shit."  Her duties included allocating arms and equipment that were parachuted in and minding the group's finances. Wake became instrumental in recruiting more members and making the maquis groups into a formidable force, roughly 7,500 strong. She also led attacks on German installations and the local Gestapo HQ in Montlucon.

At one point Wake discovered that her men were protecting a girl who was a German spy. They did not have the heart to kill her in cold blood, but Wake did. She said after that it was war, and she had no regrets about the incident.

From April 1944 until the liberation of France, her 7,000+ maquisards fought 22,000 SS soldiers, causing 1,400 casualties, while suffering only 100 themselves. Her French companions, especially Henri Tardivat, praised her fighting spirit, amply demonstrated when she killed an SS sentry with her bare hands to prevent him from raising the alarm during a raid.

During a 1990s television interview, when asked what had happened to the sentry who spotted her, Wake simply drew her finger across her throat. "They'd taught this judo-chop   stuff with the flat of the hand at SOE, and I practised away at it. But this was the only time I used it -- whack -- and it killed him all right. I was really surprised."

On another occasion, to replace codes her wireless operator had been forced to destroy in a German raid, Wake rode a bicycle for more than 500 miles (800 km) through several German checkpoints.  During a German attack on another maquis group, Wake, along with two American officers, took command of a section whose leader had been killed. She directed the use of suppressive fire, which facilitated the group's withdrawal without further losses.

Post War

Immediately after the war, Wake was awarded the George Medal, the United States   Medal of Freedom, the Medaille de la Resistance, and thrice the Croix de Guerre.  She learned that the Gestapo had tortured her husband to death in 1943 for refusing to disclose her whereabouts. After the war, she worked for the Intelligence Department at the British Air Ministry attached to embassies in Paris and Prague.

Wake stood as a Liberal candidate in the 1949 Australian federal election for the Sydney seat of Barton, running against Dr. Herbert Evatt, then Deputy Prime Minister, Attorney-General and Minister for External Affairs in the Ben Chifley Labor government. While Chifley lost government to Robert Menzies, Wake recorded a 13 percent swing against Evatt, with Evatt retaining the seat with 53.2 per cent of the vote on a two-party preferred basis. Wake ran against Evatt again at the 1951 federal election.  By this time, Evatt was Deputy Leader of the Opposition.  The result was extremely close. However, Evatt retained the seat with a margin of fewer than 250 votes.  Evatt slightly increased his margin at subsequent elections before relocating to the safer seat of Hunter by 1958.

Wake left Australia just after the 1951 election and moved back to England. She worked as an intelligence officer in the department of the Assistant Chief of Air Staff at the Air Ministry in Whitehall. She resigned in 1957 after marrying an RAF officer, John Forward, in December of that year. They returned to Australia in the early 1960s.   Maintaining her interest in politics, Wake was endorsed as a Liberal candidate at the 1966 federal election for the Sydney seat of Kingsford Smith. Despite recording a swing of 6.9 per cent against the sitting Labor member Daniel Curtin, Wake was again unsuccessful.  Around 1985, Wake and John Forward left Sydney to retire to Port Macquarie.

In 1985, Wake published her autobiography, The White Mouse. The book became a bestseller and has been reprinted many times.

After 40 years of marriage, her husband John Forward died at Port Macquarie on 19 August 1997; the couple had no children.

In 2001, Wake left Australia for the last time and emigrated to London.  She became a resident at the Stafford Hotel in St James' Place, near Piccadilly, formerly a British and American forces club during the war. She had been introduced to her first "bloody good drink" there by the general manager at the time, Louis Burdet. He had also worked for the Resistance in Marseilles. In the mornings she would usually be found in the hotel bar, sipping her first gin and tonic of the day. She was welcomed at the hotel, celebrating her 90th birthday there, where the hotel owners absorbed most of the costs of her stay. In 2003, Wake chose to move to the Royal Star and Garter Home for Disabled Ex-Service Men and Women in Richmond, London, where she remained until her death.

Wake died on Sunday evening 7 August 2011, aged 98, at Kingston Hospital after being admitted with a chest infection.  She had requested that her ashes be scattered at Montlucon in central France.  Her ashes were scattered near the village of Verneix, which is near Montlucon, on 11 March 2013.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Positive Quiddity: Captain Sally

Sally Louisa Tompkins (November 9, 1833 – July 26, 1916) was a humanitarian, nurse, and philanthropist. Many believe that she was also the only woman officially commissioned in the Confederate Army.  She is best-remembered for privately sponsoring a hospital in Richmond, Virginia, to treat soldiers wounded in the American Civil War.  Under her supervision she had the lowest death rate of any hospital, Union or Confederate, during the Civil War.  Whatever her devotion and work, she has been remembered as the "Angel of the Confederacy".
Richmond was capital city of the Confederacy after Virginia became one of the last of the Confederate states to secede from the Union in April, 1861. It was generally thought by both North and South alike that the armed conflict would end quickly.  After the first battle, the nation realized that the war would be much longer than they imagined.

The First Battle of Bull Run, also known as the First Battle of Manassas on July 21, 1861, was a southern tactical victory which opened the Civil War in the first major hand-to-hand combat.  Despite the word of victory, the Confederate capital city was ill prepared for the hundreds of wounded soldiers who subsequently poured in, many arriving via the Virginia Central Railroad. The shock brought the reality of the horrors of warfare directly home even as officials and citizens scrambled to take care of the overflow of injured and sick patients. Official hospitals were filled to capacity; then factories, churches, and even homes became temporary hospitals to accommodate the wounded.

At nearly 28 years old, Sally was among the civilians who responded by opening the home of Judge John Robertson as a hospital. . Judge Robertson had taken his family to the countryside for safety and left his home to Sally to use as a hospital for as long as she needed. Sally was not alone in this effort. A number of ladies from the Saint James Episcopal Church volunteered their time and finances to keep the hospital running. These women were collectively known as “The Ladies of Robertson Hospital.”

After the initial crisis had passed, Confederate President Jefferson Davis instituted regulations requiring military hospitals be under military command. However, The Robertson Hospital had done such an outstanding job and was prepared to continue that he commissioned Tompkins as a captain so that she could continue her work. She was one of two women, the other Lucy Otey of Lynchburg, who were officially commissioned as officers in the Confederate States Army.  She refused any payment for her services. On her military commission, dated 9 September 1861, she wrote, "I accepted the commission as Captain in the C.S.A. when it was offered. But, I would not allow my name to be placed upon the pay roll of the army."

The Robertson Hospital, as it was known, treated patients continuously throughout the war, discharging its last soldier on 13 June 1865. During its four-year existence, Robertson Hospital treated 1,334 wounded with only seventy-three deaths, the lowest mortality rate of any military hospital during the Civil War.  Author and Civil War diarist Mary Chesnut was a frequent visitor to the hospital.  She recorded "Our Florence Nightingale is Sally Tompkins." Another diarist, Judith McGuire, was a volunteer at the hospital and included a number of vivid descriptions of nursing the patients while there.

Running a hospital was not without its trials. Richmond depended on imports for trade and when the blockade tightened along the coast, the city faced riots in the streets. When supplies were difficult to get within the city, The Robertson Hospital hired a blockade-runner to bring necessities from abroad.

Since Sally and a number of the other ladies had remained constant at the hospital through the war, they ultimately won the love and respect of their patients. Despite her plainness, Sally faced a number of marriage proposals from former patients out of gratitude for what she had done, all of which she declined. More than 1,300 men fortunate to be sent to Robertson Hospital called her simply "Captain Sally."

After the War

When Richmond was evacuated in April 1865, Sally and a number of volunteers chose to stay at the hospital to treat the last of the patients. Through a negotiation with the Union medical director, Sally was allowed to keep her hospital open for another two months after the war.

Once the hospital was finally closed, Sally traveled around Virginia visiting a number of old friends and relatives. She also volunteered to teach Sunday school at the St. James Episcopal Church and remained an active member there for most of her life.

Sally was a local hero in Richmond. She hosted a reunion for her patients in the Grand Confederate Reunion of 1896. Veterans traveled near and far to pay their respects to a fragile lady who had saved their lives so many years prior.  She remained unmarried throughout her life and stayed active for many years in charitable work. Eventually, Sally's family fortune ran out, and she went to live in the Confederate Women's Home as an honored guest in 1905.

Death and Legacy

Upon her death in 1916, Sally Tompkins was buried with full military honors at Christ Church in Mathews County. She joins the ranks of women like Clara Barton who responded to the urgent needs which were presented during the Civil War, especially after the Battle of First Bull Run when the realities of warfare became stark in both the Union and Confederate capital cities. They helped develop nursing into the skilled profession it was to become.  Sally Tompkins reported obsession with cleanliness led to progress in sanitation during treatment. Her proven lower mortality rates as a result are exceptionally notable among her many legacies to the United States and medical providers everywhere, practices still in widespread use.

A number of monuments commemorate Captain Sally and the Robertson Hospital. In 1910, Sally unveiled a marker on the site where the Robertson Hospital once stood. Today, the marker still stands, but the original hospital building no longer survives. The site today is a 24-hour diner.  There are also a number of Virginia historical markers in her hometown, dedicated to her life.

During the Civil War Centennial in the 1960s, there were a number of efforts made to honor Captain Sally’s legacy, one of which was a stained glass memorial window in the St. James Episcopal Church depicting Captain Sally overseen by an angel.  There was also an effort to put a statue of Captain Sally on Monument Avenue in Richmond. Unfortunately, the design for the statue was done by the surrealist artist Salvador Dalí and sparked outrage throughout the city.  Thus the plan to build a statue to her was never completed.

Three chapters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy are named after Captain Sally, who was elected Honorary President of the Virginia Division in 1905. One of the chapters was founded in her hometown of Mathews, Virginia and was chartered in 1908 as the Captain Sallie Tompkins Chapter. It was deactivated in 1955.

Following an article in the local newspaper in July 1999, a small group of "daughters" met and resolved to bring a chapter back to Mathews. Since Sally's name was misspelled in the 1908 charter the group decided to petition as a new chapter with a new number, which became effective on August 22, 2000.

So far, there are two published books dedicated to Captain Sally’s life. The first one is a book of poetry based on Sally’s life called Dearest of Captains. The second is a biography written by a distant relative of Sally’s called The Lady With the Milk White Hands.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Who Gets "Unfriended" on Facebook?

Research shows impact of Facebook unfriending

High school friends often first to go

April 22, 2014 -- By David Kelly, University Communications, the University of Colorado, Denver

Two studies from the University of Colorado, Denver are shedding new light on the most common type of `friend’ to be unfriended on Facebook and their emotional responses to it.

The studies, published earlier this year, show that the most likely person to be unfriended is a high school acquaintance.

"The most common reason for unfriending someone from high school is that the person posted polarizing comments often about religion or politics,” said Christopher Sibona, a doctoral student in the Computer Science and Information Systems program at the CU Denver Business School.  “The other big reason for unfriending was frequent, uninteresting posts."

Sibona’s first study examined `context collapse and unfriending behaviors’ on Facebook and his second looked at `the emotional response to being unfriended.’

Both studies were based on a survey of 1,077 people conducted on Twitter.

The first study found that the top five kinds of people respondents unfriended were:

1.      High School friends

2.      Other

3.      Friend of a friend

4.      Work friends

5.      Common interest friend

“We found that people often unfriend co-workers for their actions in the real world rather than anything they post on Facebook,” Sibona said.

One reason he believes high school friends are top targets for unfriending is that their political and religious beliefs may not have been as strong when they were younger. And if those beliefs have grown more strident over time, it becomes easier to offend others.

“Your high school friends may not know your current political or religious beliefs and you may be quite vocal about them,” Sibona said. “And one thing about social media is that online disagreements escalate much more quickly.”

The second study looked at the emotional impact of being unfriended. Sibona found a range of emotions connected to unfriending, from being bothered to being amused.

The most common responses to being unfriended were:

1.      I was surprised

2.      It bothered me

3.      I was amused

4.      I felt sad

“The strongest predictor is how close you were at the peak of your friendship when the unfriending happened,” said Sibona, who has studied the real world consequences of Facebook unfriending since 2010. “You may be more bothered and saddened if your best friend unfriends you.”

The study found four factors that predicted someone’s emotional response to being unfriended.  Two factors predicted that a user would be negatively affected - if the unfriended person was once a close friend to the one who unfriended them and how closely the person monitored their own friend’s list.

Two other factors predicted that a user would be less negatively affected - if difficulties were discussed between the friends before the unfriending and if the person unfriended talked about it with others after the unfriending.

The research showed that unfriending happens more often to friends who were once close than to those who are acquaintances.

“Despite the preponderance of weak ties throughout online social networks, these findings help to place unfriending within the greater context of relationship dissolution,” the study said.

Sibona said that the ‘one size fits all’ method of ending digital relationships is unique but with real world consequences that warrant additional research.

“If you have a lot of friends on Facebook, the cost of maintaining those friendships is pretty low,” he said. “So if you make a conscious effort to push a button to get rid of someone, that can hurt.”

The two studies were published in the 2014 47th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences.

Sibona is currently investigating why people either stay on or leave Facebook. Those interested in helping him can take his anonymous survey at:


Link for this entire article:

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Piano Guys and "Eunoia"

Introduction by the Blog Author

Last week, I was window shopping and wasting time on, looking for other modern pop instrumental piano artists such as Pandolfo, Lorie Line, Gary Clark or Beegee Adair.  Amazon electronically recommended a different group, “The Piano Guys.”  I clicked on their album.  It had over 1,400 reviews with an average rating of five stars.  That sort of thing almost never happens – A Confederacy of Dunces, a novel which won the Pulitzer Prize, has 1,000 reviews and a lower star ranking than that.

Just for the hell of it, I ordered the music CD.  I was curious.  I didn’t even bother to listen to snippets or go to YouTube or cross-check the quality of the music.   

I listened to the audio CD last night.  This is the best instrumental group to come along in decades.  More melodic than New Age and faster-moving than the music of the romantic age, it combines both genres to sound like a high-tech Chopin.  It is something of a faster, hipper successor to Angelo Badalamenti’s soundtracks.  It sounds and feels like a personalized soundtrack customized for the listener.

The Greeks had a word for this personalizing power, “eunoia.”  It means “well mind” or “beautiful thinking” and is used, rarely, by modern psychiatrists to indicate normal mental health.  In rhetoric, it means the goodwill a speaker develops between himself and his audience.

How do The Piano Guys do it?  Through intense talent at orchestration and arrangement of great classical and pop melodies.

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The Piano Guys are an American musical group consisting of Jon Schmidt, Steven Sharp Nelson, Paul Anderson, and Al van der Beek. They gained popularity through You Tube, where they posted piano and cello renditions of popular songs and classical music. Schmidt and Nelson's music is accompanied by professional-quality videos shot and edited by Paul Anderson and formerly by Tel Stewart. Their first three major-label albums The Piano Guys, The Piano Guys 2, and A Family Christmas each reached number one on the Billboard New Age Albums and Classical Albums charts.

The Piano Guys is the second studio album, and first on a major record label, by American musical group The Piano Guys. It was released on October 2, 2012 through Sony Masterworks. The album is composed primarily of covers and mashups of classical and popular music.

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The Piano Guys have become a YouTube sensation with their clever and inspiring takes on popular music and creative videos that accompany them. From Beethoven to Adele, their eclectic mix of classical, film score, rock, and pop favorites resonate with audiences across generations and from all walks of life. Their debut album on Sony Masterworks includes songs featured in their hit videos, including their latest viral smash, a distinctive take on One Direction's "What Makes You Beautiful." Customer Reviews

5.0 out of 5 stars The Piano Guys CD October 4, 2012

Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase

The Piano Guys, what more could I add, they are talented, dedicated, and musical genius. Listen once to "A Thousand Years" and you will return time and time again to this group. This is music for dinner, the beach, a quiet family evening by the fire place, or those few times one is alone to ponder life and organize our inner being. This could be considered an investment in sound mental health, it's that kind of music. Buy it, play it you will never regret the decision.

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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful

5.0 out of 5 stars Simply Amazing! October 4, 2012

Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase

I absolutely love this album! Every time I hear a song I think that they can't match it in quality again, then they put out something new and I am amazed all over again. It's clear that they love what they do, and they love to share their talents with the world. This album has so many of their wonderful songs, and well worth the investment. If you are on the fence about buying it, BUY IT!

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5.0 out of 5 stars Worth the wait! October 3, 2012

Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase

I found The Piano Guys back when they only had two videos up on YouTube, and I was instantly a fan! Every time a new video is released, my four kids all gather around my computer to watch, and we often end up re-watching many favorites after the new video is over. My CD arrived today (yay!) and I immediately stuck it in the car so we could listen on the way to activities. I can safely say that this is the first and only music that ALL my children will listen to without asking me to turn it down (or off) or wanting to pick something else. Everyone agrees? Must be awesome! And it is!

The Piano Guys have done a fantastic job with their arrangements, and picked many of our favorites for this first album. The flow of music is great, too. One piece flows into the next without leaving the listener feeling jarred. Just a smooth, natural movement through several different styles.

In one day our CD has already gone through six plays, and will have much more in the days to come. We're already excited for The Piano Guys' next album.

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4.0 out of 5 stars

Fun With Classical Music, April 12, 2014

By Neodoering

Verified Purchase
This review is from: The Piano Guys (Audio CD)

The Piano Guys play piano and cello and violins and serve up heaping doses of classical music, modern music and show tunes taken from pop music and movies. I particularly liked "Beethoven's 5 Secrets" and "Arwen's Vigil," which I had bought as singles on iTunes before I bought the album. This album is a good value for your money. There are about 55 minutes of music on it, and the songs are lengthy, so you can get into them and enjoy them, unlike short tracks that are just getting cranked up when they end.

I like the *sound* of this album a lot. The classical instruments have resonating sound that feels good to the ears, and you can luxuriate in the sounds of this album. This is well worth buying, and a good value for your money.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Gabriel Garcia Marquez Dies

Gabriel José de la Concordia García Márquez ( 6 March 1927 – 17 April 2014) was a Columbian novelist, short-story writer, screenwriter and journalist, known affectionately as Gabo throughout Latin America.  Considered one of the most significant authors of the 20th century, he was awarded the 1972 Neustadt International Prize for Literature and the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature.  He pursued a self-directed education that resulted in his leaving law school for a career in journalism. From early on, he showed no inhibitions in his criticism of Colombian and foreign politics. In 1958, he married Mercedes Barcha; they had two sons, Roerigo and Gonzalo.

García Márquez started as a journalist, and wrote many acclaimed non-fiction works and short stories, but is best known for his novels, such as One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), The Autumn of the Patriarch (1975) and Love in the Time of Cholera (1985). His works have achieved significant critical acclaim and widespread commercial success, most notably for popularizing a literary style labeled as magic realism, which uses magical elements and events in otherwise ordinary and realistic situations. Some of his works are set in a fictional village called Macondo (the town mainly inspired by his birthplace Aracataca), and most of them explore the theme of solitude.


While there are certain aspects readers can almost always expect in García Márquez's writing, like instances of humour, he did not stick to any clear and predetermined style template. In an interview with Marlise Simons, García Márquez noted:

In every book I try to make a different path [...]. One doesn't choose the style. You can investigate and try to discover what the best style would be for a theme. But the style is determined by the subject, by the mood of the times. If you try to use something that is not suitable, it just won't work. Then the critics build theories around that and they see things I hadn't seen. I only respond to our way of life, the life of the Caribbean.

García Márquez was also noted for leaving out seemingly important details and events so the reader is forced into a more participatory role in the story development. For example, in No One Writes to the Colonel, the main characters are not given names. This practice is influenced by Greek tragedies, such as Antigone and Oedipus Rex, in which important events occur off-stage and are left to the audience's imagination.

Realism and magical realism.
Reality is an important theme in all of García Márquez's works. He said of his early works (with the exception of Leaf Storm), "Nobody Writes to the Colonel, In Evil Hour, and Big Mama's Funeral all reflect the reality of life in Colombia and this theme determines the rational structure of the books. I don't regret having written them, but they belong to a kind of premeditated literature that offers too static and exclusive a vision of reality."

In his other works he experimented more with less traditional approaches to reality, so that "the most frightful, the most unusual things are told with the deadpan expression".   A commonly cited example is the physical and spiritual ascending into heaven of a character while she is hanging the laundry out to dry in One Hundred Years of Solitude. The style of these works fits in the "marvellous realm" described by the Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier and was labeled as magical realism.  Literary critic Michael Bell proposes an alternative understanding for García Márquez's style, as the category magic realism is criticized for being dichotimizing and exoticizing, "what is really at stake is a psychological suppleness which is able to inhabit unsentimentally the daytime world while remaining open to the promptings of those domains which modern culture has, by its own inner logic, necessarily marginalised or repressed."  García Márquez and his friend Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza discuss his work in a similar way,

"The way you treat reality in your books ... has been called magical realism. I have the feeling your European readers are usually aware of the magic of your stories but fail to see the reality behind it ... ." "This is surely because their rationalism prevents them seeing that reality isn't limited to the price of tomatoes and eggs."

Monday, April 21, 2014

Rocket Pioneer Tsiolkovsky

Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky (Russian: Константи́н Эдуа́рдович Циолко́вский, IPA; Polish: Konstanty Ciołkowski; 17 September 1857  – 19 September 1935) was a Russian and Soviet rocket scientist and pioneer of the astronautic theory.  Along with his followers, the German Hermann Oberth and the American Robert H. Goddard, he is considered to be one of the founding fathers of rocketry and astronautics.  His works later inspired leading Soviet rocket engineers such as Sergey Korolyov and Valentin Glushko and contributed to the success of the Soviet space program.

Tsiolkovsky spent most of his life in a log house on the outskirts of Kaluga, about  200 km (120 mi) southwest of Moscow. A recluse by nature, he appeared strange and bizarre to his fellow townsfolk.

Tsiolkovsky stated that he developed the theory of rocketry only as a supplement to philosophical research on the subject.  He wrote more than 400 works, most of which are little known to the general reader.

During his lifetime he published approximately 90 works on space travel and related subjects.  Among his works are designs for rockets with steering thrusters, multistage boosters, space stations, airlocks, for exiting a spaceship into the vacuum of space, and closed-cycle biological systems to provide food and oxygen for space colonies.

Tsiolkovsky's first scientific study dates to the year 1880–1881. He wrote a paper called "Theory of Gases," in which he outlined the basis of the kinetic theory of gases, but after submitting it to the Russian Physico-Chemical Society (RPCS), he was informed that his discoveries had already been made 25 years earlier. Undaunted, he pressed ahead with his second work, "The Mechanics of the Animal Organism". It received favorable feedback, and Tsiolkovsky was inducted into the Society. Tsiolkovsky's main works after 1884 dealt with four major areas: the scientific rationale for the all-metal balloon (airship), streamlined airplanes and trains, hovercraft, and rockets for interplanetary travel.

In 1892, he was transferred to a new teaching post in Kaluga where he continued to experiment. During this period, Tsiolkovsky began working on a problem that would occupy much of his time during the coming years: an attempt to build an all-metal dirigible that could be expanded or shrunk in size.

Tsiolkovsky developed the first aerodynamics laboratory in Russia in his apartment. In 1897, he built the first Russian wind tunnel with an open test section and developed a method of experimentation using it. In 1900, with a grant from the Academy of Sciences, he made a survey using models of the simplest shapes and determined the drag coefficients of the sphere, flat plates, cylinders, cones, and other bodies. Tsiolkovsky's work in the field of aerodynamics was a source of ideas for Russian scientist Nikolay Zhukovsky, the father of modern aerodynamics and hydrodynamics. Tsiolkovsky described the airflow around bodies of different geometric shapes, but because the RPCS did not provide any financial support for this project, he was forced to pay for it largely out of his own pocket.

Tsiolkovsky studied the mechanics of powered flying machines, which were designated "dirigibles" (the word "airship" had not yet been invented). Tsiolkovsky first proposed the idea of an all-metal dirigible and built a model of it. The first printed work on the airship was "A Controllable Metallic Balloon" (1892), in which he gave the scientific and technical rationale for the design of an airship with a metal sheath. Progressive for his time, Tsiolkovsky was not supported on the airship project, and the author was refused a grant to build the model. An appeal to the General Aviation Staff of the Russian army also had no success. In 1892, he turned to the new and unexplored field of heavier-than-air aircraft. Tsiolkovsky's idea was to build an airplane with a metal frame. In the article "An Airplane or a Birdlike (Aircraft) Flying Machine" (1894) are descriptions and drawings of a monoplane, which in its appearance and aerodynamics anticipated the design of aircraft that would be constructed 15 to 18 years later. In an Aviation Airplane, the wings have a thick profile with a rounded front edge and the fuselage is faired. But work on the airplane, as well as on the airship, did not receive recognition from the official representatives of Russian science, and Tsiolkovsky's further research had neither monetary nor moral support. In 1914, he displayed his models of all-metal dirigibles at the Aeronautics Congress in St. Petersburg but met with a lukewarm response.

Disappointed at this, Tsiolkovsky gave up on space and aeronautical problems with the onset of World War I and instead turned his attention to the problem of alleviating poverty. This occupied his time during the war years until the Russian Revolution in 1917.

Starting in 1896, Tsiolkovsky had systematically studied the theory of motion of jet apparatus. Thoughts on the use of the rocket principle in the cosmos were expressed by him as early as 1883, and a rigorous theory of jet propulsion was developed in 1896. Tsiolkovsky derived the formula, called the "formula of aviation" by him, establishing the relationship between:

  • speed of a rocket at any moment
  • specific impulse fuel
  • mass of the rocket in the initial (M0) and final (M1) time
After writing out this equation, Tsiolkovsky recorded the date: 10 May 1897. In the same year, the formula for the motion of a body of variable mass was published in the thesis of the Russian mathematician I. V. Meshchersky ("Dynamics of a Point of Variable Mass," I. V. Meshchersky, St. Petersburg, 1897).

His most important work, published in 1903, was The Exploration of Cosmic Space by Means of Reaction Devices (Russian: Исследование мировых пространств реактивными приборами).  Tsiolkovsky calculated, using the Tsiolkovsky equation,  that the horizontal speed required for a minimal orbit around the Earth is 8,000 m/s (5 miles per second) and that this could be achieved by means of a multistage rocket fueled by liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen.

In 1903 he published an article "Investigation of Outer Space Rocket Devices," in which for the first time it was proved that a rocket could perform space flight. In this article and its subsequent sequels (1911 and 1914), he developed some ideas of missiles and the use of liquid rocket engines.

The result of the first publication was not what Tsiolkovsky expected. No foreign scientists appreciated his research, which today is a major scientific discipline; he was simply ahead of his time. In 1911 he published the second part of the work "Investigation of Outer Space Rocket Devices." Tsiolkovsky evaluates the work needed to overcome the force of gravity, determines the speed needed to propel the device into the solar system ("escape velocity"), and examines calculation of flight time. The publication of this article made a splash in the scientific world, Tsiolkovsky found many friends among his fellow scientists.

In 1926–1929, Tsiolkovsky solved the practical problem of the role played by rocket fuel in getting to escape velocity and leaving the Earth. It turned out that the finite speed of the rocket depends on the rate of gas flowing from it and on how many times the weight of the fuel exceeds the empty weight of the rocket.

Tsiolkovsky conceived a number of ideas that have been used in rockets. They included: gas rudders (graphite) for controlling a rocket's flight and changing the trajectory of its center of mass, the use of components of the fuel to cool the outer shell of the spacecraft (during re-entry to Earth) and the walls of the combustion chamber and nozzle, a pump system for feeding the fuel components, the optimal descent trajectory of the spacecraft while returning from space, etc.  In the field of rocket propellants, Tsiolkovsky studied a large number of different oxidizers and combustible fuels and recommended specific pairings: liquid oxygen and hydrogen, and oxygen with hydrocarbons. Tsiolkovsky did much fruitful work on the creation of the theory of jet aircraft, and invented his chart Gas Turbine Engine.  In 1927 he published the theory and design of a train on an air cushion. He first proposed a "bottom of the retractable body" chassis.  Space flight and the airship were the main problems to which he devoted his life. Tsiolkovsky had been developing the idea of the hovercraft since 1921, publishing a fundamental paper on it in 1927, entitled "Air Resistance and the Express Train" (Russian: Сопротивление воздуха и скорый по́езд).  In 1929, Tsiolkovsky proposed the construction of multistage rockets in his book Space Rocket Trains (Russian: Космические ракетные поезда).

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Who Got the USA to the Moon Safely?

John Cornelius Houbolt (April 10, 1919 – April 15, 2014) was an aerospace engineer  credited with leading the team behind the lunar orbit rendezvous (LOR) mission mode, a concept that was used to successfully land humans on the Moon and return them to Earth.   This flight path was first endorsed by Wernher von Braun in June 1961 and was chosen for the Apollo program in early 1962. The critical decision to use LOR was viewed as vital to ensuring that Man reached the Moon by the end of the decade as proposed by President John F. Kennedy.  In the process, LOR saved time and billions of dollars by efficiently using existing rocket technology.


Houbolt was born in Altoona, Iowa in 1919.  He spent part of his childhood in Joliet, Illinois, where he attended Joliet Central High School and Joliet Junior College. He attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, earning a Bachelors (1940) and a Masters (1942) degree in civil engineering.  He later received a PhD in Technical Sciences in 1957 from ETH Zurich.  Houbolt began his career at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics in 1942, and stayed on at NASA after it succeeded NACA, until retirement in 1985.

Houbolt was an engineer at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, and he was one of the most vocal of a minority of engineers who supported LOR and his campaign in 1961 and 1962. Once this mode was chosen in 1962, many other aspects of the mission were significantly based on this fundamental design decision. He was a guest at Mission control for the Apollo 11 lunar landing.

He was awarded the NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal in 1963. He was a member of the National Academy of Engineering.  He was awarded an honorary doctorate, awarded on May 15, 2005 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.   His papers are held at the University of Illinois Archives.  He is additionally commemorated in the city of Joliet: The street fronting Joliet Junior College, which he attended, was renamed Houbolt Road, and a mural in Joliet Union Station includes a Lunar Module, in reference to his work for NASA.

He lived in Williamsburg, Virginia.  He lived in Scarborough, Maine.

In the HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon, Houbolt was played by Reed Birney.

Although the basics of the lunar orbit rendezvous (LOR) concept had been expressed as early as 1916 by Yuri Kondratyuk and 1923 by German rocket pioneer Hermann Oberth, NASA would provide the first practical application of the concept. Some engineers were concerned about the risks of space rendezvous, especially in lunar orbit, where there would be no fallback options in case of a major mishap.  Houbolt had presented the LOR concept to a series of panels.

“His figures lie, he doesn't know what he's talking about.”

          -- Max Faget, describing Houbolt’s plan for lunar separation and rendezvous

After many technical conferences debating Direct ascent, Earth orbit rendezvous, and LOR, Wernher von Braun supported the LOR concept.

While some aspects of Houbolt's initial estimates were off (such as a 10,000 pound Apollo Lunar Module which was ultimately 32,399 lb (14,696 kg)), his LOR package proved to be feasible with a single Saturn V rocket whereas other modes would have required two or more such rocket launches (or larger rockets than were then available) to lift enough mass into space to complete the mission.

Afterword by the Blog Author

See also this excellent pdf file analyzing the fight within NASA over the basics of a flight to the moon and John Houbolt’s correct approach.  This is how the USA made it to the moon and back:

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Esophagus Tissue Regenerated

Researchers transplant regenerated oesophagus

Karolinska Institutet, April 15, 2014

Tissue engineeringhas been used to construct natural oesophagi, which in combination with bone marrow stem cells have been safely and effectively transplanted in rats. The study, published in Nature Communications, shows that the transplanted organs remain patent and display regeneration of nerves, muscles, epithelial cells and blood vessels.

The new method has been developed by researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, within an international collaboration lead by Professor Paolo Macchiarini.  The technique to grow human tissues and organs, so called tissue engineering, has been employed so far to produce urinary bladder, trachea and blood vessels, which have also been used clinically. However, despite several attempts, it has been proven difficult to grow tissue to replace a damaged oesophagus.

In this new study, the researchers created the bioengineered organs by using oesophagi from rats and removing all the cells. With the cells gone, a scaffold remains in which the structure as well as mechanical and chemical properties of the organ are preserved. The produced scaffolds were then reseeded with cells from the bone marrow. The adhering cells have low immunogenicity which minimizes the risk of immune reaction and graft rejection and also eliminates the need for immunosuppressive drugs. The cells adhered to the biological scaffold and started to show organ-specific characteristics within three weeks.

Segments of the oesophagus in rats

The cultured tissues were used to replace segments of the oesophagus in rats. All rats survived and after two weeks the researchers found indications of the major components in the regenerated graft: epithelium, muscle cells, blood vessels and nerves.

“We believe that these very promising findings represent major advances towards the clinical translation of tissue engineered esophagi”, says Paolo Macchiarini, Director of the Advanced center for translational regenerative medicine (ACTREM) Karolinska Institutet. 

Tissue engineered organs could improve survival and quality of life for the hundreds of thousands of patients yearly diagnosed with oesophageal disorders such as cancer, congenital anomalies or trauma. Today the patients’ own intestine or stomach is used for esophageal replacements, but satisfactory function rarely achieved. Cultured tissue might eliminate this current need and likely improve surgery-related mortality, morbidity and functional outcome.

The current study was conducted in collaboration with the Texas Heart Institute in the U.S., as well as universities in Italy, Russia, and Germany. It was supported financially by, among others, the Swedish Research Council, the Stockholm County Council through the ALF agreement, and the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme. The equipment used in the study was developed by the company Harvard Apparatus Regenerative Technology.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Arctic Weather Predicts Antarctic Clouds

NASA -- April 16, 2014: Earth's poles are separated by four oceans, six continents and more than 12,000 nautical miles.

Turns out, that's not so far apart.

New data from NASA's AIM spacecraft have revealed "teleconnections" in Earth's atmosphere that stretch all the way from the North Pole to the South Pole and back again, linking weather and climate more closely than simple geography would suggest.

 For example, says Cora Randall, AIM science team member and Chair of the Dept. of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Colorado, "we have found that the winter air temperature in Indianapolis, Indiana, is well correlated with the frequency of noctilucent clouds over Antarctica."

Noctilucent clouds, or "NLCs," are Earth's highest clouds.  They form at the edge of space 83 km above our planet's polar regions in a layer of the atmosphere called the mesosphere.  Seeded by "meteor smoke," NLCs are made of tiny ice crystals that glow electric blue when sunlight lances through their cloud-tops.

AIM was launched in 2007 to investigate these "night-shining" clouds, to discover how they form and to learn about their inner chemistry.  As is often the case, however, when exploring the unknown, researchers found something they weren't even looking for: teleconnections.

"It has been a surprise," says Hampton University professor of atmospheric and planetaryt science James Russell, Principal Investigator of the AIM mission. "Years ago when we were planning the AIM mission, our attention was focused on a narrow layer of the atmosphere where NLCs form.  Now we are finding out this layer manifests evidence of long-distance connections in the atmosphere far from the NLCs themselves."

One of these teleconnections links the Arctic stratosphere with the Antarctic mesosphere.

"Stratospheric winds over the Arctic control circulation in the mesosphere," explains Randall. "When northern stratospheric winds slow down, a ripple effect around the globe causes the southern mesosphere to become warmer and drier, leading to fewer NLCs. When northern winds pick up again, the southern mesosphere becomes colder and wetter, and the NLCs return."

The winter air temperature in Indianapolis is correlated with the frequency of noctilucent clouds over Antarctica.

This January, a time of year when southern NLCs are usually abundant, the AIM spacecraft observed a sudden and unexpected decline in the clouds. Interestingly, about two weeks earlier, winds in the Arctic stratosphere were strongly perturbed, leading to a distorted polar vortex.

"We believe that this triggered a ripple effect that led to a decline in noctilucent clouds half-way around the world," says Laura Holt of the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. "This is the same polar vortex that made headlines this winter when parts of the USA experienced crippling cold and ice."

Holt took a careful look at meteorological data and found that, indeed, there was a statistical link between winter weather in the USA and the decline in noctilucent clouds over Antarctica.

"We picked Indianapolis as an example, because I have family living there," says Randall, "but the same was true of many northern cities: cold air temperatures on the ground were correlated with NLC frequencies high above Antarctica two weeks later," she says.

The two week delay is, apparently, how much time it takes for the teleconnection signal to propagate through three layers of atmosphere (the troposphere, stratosphere and mesosphere), and from pole to pole.

It is a complicated topic, but this much is clear: "NLCs are a valuable resource for studying long-distance connections in the atmosphere," says Russell, "and we are just getting started."