Posts Tagged ‘Life in the Universe’

Attack of the Crane Flies

March 10, 2015

250px-CraneFlyThe crane flies have been all over the house and attacking the windows for about a week.  According to Wikipedi, Although crane flies look like mosquitoes, they do not bite humans. Adult crane flies do not eat at all; most adult crane flies only mate and then die.  The larva eat the roots of grass so they no doubt love the golf courses here.  Looked at old blogs — didn’t mention crane flies last year.   Maybe was too busy to notice.  But two years ago they showed up in April, not March.  This must be a warmer year, climate change and all.  (For all of you folks back east, buried in snow, notice that I didn’t say global warming.)

Spring

meadow 011
Imeadow 003t’s spring, and with the bit of rain we’ve had, the flowers (mostly alyssum) that I seeded in my “meadow ” are thick, as well as the volunteers in my vegetable garden, from snapdragons that I’d planted years ago to wildflowers, California bluebells (shown here), desert verbena with both thin and wide leaves.    Plus my Lady Banks rose, which I have tied up
to the back fence, is roses 007 starting to bloom more than it ever has before.  BTW, this website is good for identifying flowers and recommending ones to plant: http://www.cvwd.org/conservation/lush_book/lush3_8.html

But even nicer to look at than flowers are the bicyclists of spring, packs of svelte bodies clad in lycra, riding up or down Anklam, taking in Gates Pass.

Seen yesterday: six cars stopped on the main drag through Starr Pass (a road with very little traffic) as a small herd of javelina crossed the street.

Life In The Universe

This week’s lecture, Intelligent Life Beyond Earth by Christopher D. Impey, University Distinguished Professor, Astronomy, was killed dinosaursthe best!  Chris has such a great sense of humor. (65 million years ago a comet killed off the dinosaurs; unfortunately it missed Barney.)  You must watch the podcasts.  All are on this site except for this one, which should be there in a week:
http://cos.arizona.edu/connections/life-in-the-universe
Here is the introductory spiel:

One question rises above all others when it comes to our place in a vast and ancient Universe, ‘Are we alone?’ With a billion habitable locations in the Milky Way galaxy, and more than ten billion years for biological experiments to play out, a search for intelligent life beyond Earth is well-motivated. Unfortunately, the single example of life on Earth gives no clear indication of whether intelligence is an inevitable or an extremely rare consequence of biological evolution. The search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI, is more appropriately called the search for extraterrestrial technology. So far, the search for intelligent aliens by their electromagnetic communication has met with half a century of stony silence. It’s challenging to define life, and even more difficult to make general definitions of intelligence and technology. We’ll look at the premises and assumptions involved in the search, the strategies used, and the profound consequences of making contact.

He also mentioned that, according to the eminent physicist Stephen Hawking, “If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans,” … He argues that, instead of trying to find and communicate with life in the cosmos, humans would be better off doing everything they can to avoid contact.

Scandalous Women

This week we discussed the movie Mildred Pierce,  with Joan Crawford, 1945.  Here is some of the editing that was done:

Mildredmildred pierceApparently the book would not have passed The Code.  So, in addition to the language being cleaned up, the panoply of screen writers (including the uncredited William Faulkner and Catherine Turney), changed the plot to a murder mystery, simplified characters to make them either bad or good, and killed off one of the “bad guys”.  It was a box office hit, and won many Oscars.  You can get it from the library or Netflix.

CSA

This is what I picked up at the CSA today: Beets, Carrots, Collard Greens (which I traded for more beets, as I can cook them and freeze them), Hakurei Turnips, Navel Oranges, Salad Mix, Sweet Potatoes, Swiss Chard.  Lots of veggies to finish before the weekend, when I leave to visit my brother during spring break.

Reading

You don’t have to see a picture of James Beard to know what he looks like, just read the descriptions of his breads in Beard on Bread, [They] should be eaten fresh, with plenty of good sweet butter.

Morning Laugh

March 8, 2015

dame ednaI was starting this blog seriously about extra-terrestrials, but this morning was laughing at Scott Simon’s interview with Dame Edna Everage1, and had to share. For example, “she” mentioned her mauve hair…

He said, “Well Edna your hair is still a natural, very, very natural mauve.” I was born, by the way, Scott, with this color. I was. It’s very unusual. Very unusual. … But, I said to the doctor, “Well what can you do?”

Well, I was not ROTFL, but I was LOL when “she” talked about adding a double chin:

On how she’s kept her looks all these yearsh

It’s so simple. Now, I looked at my face about 10 years ago … and I thought to myself, “What have I done? A pact with the devil? Why am I looking so young and so unconventionally lovely? Why?”

And, I thought what I need to do is to age myself in some way. I have to look normal. People won’t believe it! So I went to Brazil, and I saw the top man there, of course, a cosmetic surgeon. And I said, “Look, I need to look my age!”

And he said, “Well Edna, you must have some little crow’s feet! … We’ll give you some crow’s feet.”

And he said, “What you need – your neckline is perfect! You haven’t got that horrible turkey neck.” He said, “You need a little soft, double chin. A soft little pillow, a little cushion under your chin.” …

“And do you know what he did? I saw him delving in a sort of white box, a freezer. And he pulled out a little shrink-wrapped package. It looked like a chicken breast. And he said, “We’ll stitch this on. And it will settle in. And it will give you a lovely double chin.”

And I said, “What is that?” He said, “What? More like what was it, Edna … That was Elizabeth Taylor’s left love handle.”

Elizabeth Taylor’s love handle is now my soft, little chin. And if you look at it very closely, you can see some indentations where Richard Burton’s fingers held. … Isn’t it beautiful? It’s history in my face. History.

Life in the Universe

Last Monday’s lecture was Amazing Discoveries: A Billion Earth-like Worlds by Laird Close, Professor of Astronomy, Steward Observatory2. On Mount Graham (the research arm for the Department of Astronomy, in the the Pinaleño Mountains northeast of Tucson) they are looking for Goldilocks planets (which are not too hot or too cold, but just right), Earth-like planets. Here is the UA Science Lecture Series lead-in the lecture:

One of the most fascinating developments in the last two decades is humankind’s discovery of alien worlds orbiting stars near our Sun. Since the first such discovery in 1995 there has been a truly exponential growth in the detection of these new planets. Scientists have been puzzled and surprised by the diversity and extravagance of these new extra-solar systems. For example, we now know the most common type of planet is actually missing from our own Solar System. Recently, the space-based NASA Kepler Mission has discovered thousands of new worlds and suggests that one in five Sun-like stars may harbor an Earth-like planet. We will take a grand tour of some of these amazing new worlds, specifically noting where life might already exist, beyond our Solar System. The latest developments and difficulties of direct imaging for life on an exoplanet [extrasolar that does not orbit the Sun and instead orbits a different star] will be discussed.

MilkyWay-645x250
According to Wikipedia, the Milky Way… contains 100–400 billion stars.  If one in five Sun-like stars may harbor an Earth-like planet, and we use a conservative estimate of 200 billion stars in the Milky Way, then there could be as many as 40 billion Earth-sized planets orbiting in the habitable zones of sun-like stars and red dwarf stars within the Milky Way Galaxy (also from Wikipedia).

This is the Department of Astronomy’s blurb about the professor:  Laird specializes in novel astronomical observations utilizing new adaptive optics instrumentation. He is utilizing adaptive optics (which removes the blurring effects of the Earth’s atmosphere) to study at very high resolution: low-mass stars, brown dwarfs, and extrasolar planets…  He is the head scientist of the Magellan Adaptive Secondary AO [Adaptive optics] system in Chile.
AO_brochure_E

He explained how a deformable mirror can be used to correct wavefront errors in an astronomical telescope, such as the one in Chili, shown in this diagram.

Today, the largest telescope in the world is the Large Binocular Telescope on Mount Graham in Arizona, with two 27-foot mirrors made in the SOML, Steward Observatory Mirror Lab (beneath Arizona Stadium, home of the UA Wildcat football team), and that telescope has had a lot of exciting discoveries; at least Professor Laird Close told us so, at least 27 times.  It was pretty amazing to think that telescope could see, from Phoenix, two dimes he’d hold up in Tucson.  (Which is how we can see so many other planets.)

Giant_Magellan_TelescopeBut the Giant Magellan Telescope (artist’s concept here), also constructed in our  SOML, will be more than 80 feet in diameter and is planned for completion in 2020. The GMT will be located on a mountain top in Chile (where, according to Wikipedia, the night sky in most of the surrounding Atacama Desert region is not only free from atmospheric pollution, but in addition it is probably one of the places least affected by light pollution, making the area one of the best spots on Earth for long-term astronomical observation).  Obviously, Tucson has the best mirror lab in the world!

Reading

In Joan Didion’s recollections of the year after her husband died, The Year Of Magical Thinking (which was pretty depressing, but you could probably identify if your spouse had just died), she spends a lot of time feeling sorry for herself and quotes D.H. Lawrence,  I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.   But disagrees:  This may be what Lawrence (or we) would prefer to believe about wild things, but consider those dolphins who refuse to eat after the death of a mate. Consider those geese who search for the lost mate until they themselves become disoriented and die.  I feel worse for the dolphins and the geese, (and all of the great apes, and elephants, who grieve) because they cannot understand death, where we at least can.  (BTW – Misao Okawa, the world’s oldest human being, has officially turned 117. She lives in a retirement home in Osaka.  Would you want to live that long?)   This segues into a poem about Death of a Tulip by my friend, Krista:

Have you watched a tulip fade?

It is so simple, really –
a few white petals

on a long slender stalk
stretching up
once rooted with its family in the good earth.

A gentle gravity
begins their journey,
the petals in a graceful
unfolding

each hour, each day
a bit more

a pleasurable
discovery
each time you glance their way

the journey
marked by their firm, juicy
skin, soft and supple.

This gorgeous tulip
welcomes your long look
into the heart
of its very being.

Days pass

the petals reach out sideways
open to the world
finding their way
inviting your relationship.

Then in full innocence
vulnerability
abandon
they begin to fold downward.

Their shiny vibrant softness
Fades.

Soon these dear familiar petals
are dry ruffles

a dancer’s skirt,
its fluted edges
embroidered with a wisp
of earthy brown.

The drape is ever more pronounced,
the flower’s soul pushing
delicate sepia striping
from its center.

* * * * *

Reach your arms high overhead:
a baby seeks its mother

at infinite slow intervals
arms fall open
open to the world

o'keefe tulipnow parallel to the earth
at last they stretch across the universe
you can embrace it all
and all can come to be enfolded

the transformation to a dancer,
graceful skirt
hands gently fluttering to your side.

Intimate tulip friend,
in your center
the soul of Georgia O’Keefe

-Krista Neis

1http://www.npr.org/2015/03/07/391265266/after-60-years-of-fabulousness-dame-edna-embarks-on-her-farewell-tour
2http://cos.arizona.edu/connections/life-in-the-universe

Community Supported Agriculture

February 20, 2015

I don’t remember life being so rushed before, even when I had two kids and worked full-time and did volunteer work, as well as entertaining friends.  Why?  It’s the CSA1.  I joined two weeks ago and I have never spent so much time in the kitchen, making salads and soups.

(According to the US Department of Agriculture, a woman my age should eat, in a week, 1½ cups of Dark green vegetables, 4 cups of Red and orange vegetables, 1 cup of Beans and peas, 4 cups of Starchy vegetables, and 3½ cups of Other vegetables2.  I’m going to be so healthy that I’ll outlive my savings!  But Michael Pollan, whose book I mentioned in a blog3, and who said Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. would be proud of me.)

This week I gave half of my daikon with greens to the Japanese woman I work with, but she brought me two of the rice balls she made with the greens the next day.  Give greens away, they bounce back.  Yesterday I gave her two bunches of my own mizuna, Japanese mustard greens.  (Doesn’t help that I am growing too much mizuna, arugula, and spinach in my garden.  Replete with greens!)

I’ve frozen five helpings of soup so far (and shall shortly run out of containers), but still have so many bags of luscious organic greens that the crisper drawer in the refrigerator has overflowed!

Borrowed an onion from my neighbor (no onions from the CSA) but she refused mickey-mouse-sorcerers-apprenticegreens in trade.  Have been giving my two carpoolers arugula for weeks, but feel like Micky Mouse in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.  (Can you hear the music as the greens flow over me?)

Another comparison would be like having a subscription to the New Yorker magazine.  It’s a weekly that should be a monthly; only shut-ins could keep up!  But at least you can read the current news and save the fiction for another year; I don’t have a large enough freezer for six weeks, the minimum subscription, of soup.  Note: the soup I’m having tonight, Coconut Cilantro Potato, is delicious.  You can check out the CSA website below for the recipe.  (I had salad too, of course.)

Life in the Universe4

Last week’s lecture was Life on Earth: By Chance or By Law, by Brian J. Enquist, Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

Life on Earth is amazing and multifaceted. Ultimately all of life has descended from one common ancestor and has been guided by evolution by natural selection.

I took no notes, remembering only that it was good, and that climate change will create further evolution.  And that all animals have a bit fewer than a billion heartbeats in life (a hummingbird has a shorter life because its heart beats so fast – click on cartoon5 to read it better), except humans and chickens which have over two billion. Go figure.

heartbeats

Last Monday’s lecture by Anna R. Dornhaus, Associate Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, was Complexity and Evolvability: What Makes Life So Interesting?  She studies insects and is into complex behavior.

Humans are also involved in pretty complex behavior.  As a mathematician I especially like the Mandelbrot set (the set of values of c in the complex plane for which the orbit of 0 under iteration of the complex quadratic polynomial: z_{n+1}=z_n^2+c). Anna had some nice diagrams, this being one6:

Mandelbrot_set_image

Plus I was fascinated with the DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency which commissions advanced research for the DoD, Department of Defense) horse robot:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=40gECrmuCaU

Scandalous Females in Film

For those of you who are not interested in Mandelbrot or DARPA, I’ll note a few items from my Humanities Seminar.  I am large, I contain multitudes… (from Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself.)

First-wave feminism, which was active during the 19th and early 20th century, focused mainly on suffrage and gender equality.

Second-wave feminism, which started in the 60’s, was characterized by unruly women such as Roseanne, Maud, and Murphy Brown.  (Remember Dan Quayle vs. Murphy Brown, The Vice President takes on a TV character over family values?  Because Murphy, who wore masculine clothes, was an unwed mother.  She rejected abortion!)  Also Enjoli (remember its commercial song, I can bring home the bacon…6), Virginia Slims, and Mary Tyler Moore from the 70’s and 80’s.

Third-wave feminism started in the 90’s and was characterized by Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Emma Watson speaking of her HeForShe Campaign at the UN7, as well as Katniss and SNL’s Kristen Wiig in the female Hangover, Bridesmaids.  There is discussion on whether Beyoncé could be considered a feminist with the way that she dresses.  Then there are Tina Fey and Amy Poehler hosting the 2015 Golden Globes8.  (If it seems like I’m focusing a bit much on women in the movies – the class is entitled Scandalous Females in Film.)
beyonceFeministHAHAHAHA

1http://www.tucsoncsa.org/
2http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food
3https://notesfromthewest.wordpress.com/2015/01/23/state-of-the-union-reading/
4http://cos.arizona.edu/connections/life-in-the-universe
5http://abominable.cc/post/56335701669/average-life-expectancy
6http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandelbrot_set#mediaviewer/File:Mandelbrot_set_image.png By Binette228 (Own work)
7https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Q0P94wyBYk
8https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gkjW9PZBRfk
9https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aw-wODbjmZI

 

God

January 28, 2015

I know, it’s an age old phrase that many people use – “You shouldn’t talk about religion or politics.”   Oh well.

This from Sunday’s NY Times:

[Pope Francis] was on the papal plane, en route from the Philippines back to Italy, and he was reflecting on the relationship between third-world poverty and extra-large families. He told reporters that Catholics needn’t feel compelled to breed “like rabbits,” a zoological simile that’s sure to have legs.1

OMG!  (A bad expression for me, as I have no god.)  But imagine if the pope figures out that families would do better with only two children.  Maybe he could start handing out condoms to the poorest of the poor?  Zero Population Growth2 would help solve most of the world’s problems.  (See my note towards the bottom of my blog, October Evening3.)

God and Me

… But what is he

Who fills the world with trees and stars
And leaves us alone
With our wars and atrocities
Our deadly human nature
Our sad dominion over the fish and the fowl

Look
No one knows why
There is so much silence in the upper spheres
And so much suffering down here

The Almighty skipped over our houses4

— Edward Hirsch

Seen today

OK, a lighter topic.  In my neighborhood – a woman driving a golf cart as she walked her dog.  At the college – a guy with short hair except a long swirl of orange sherbet hiding half of his face.

Life in the Universe

In January/ February of each year the University of Arizona’s College of Science offers free evening lectures once a week at Centennial Hall.  (Of course, because they’re free, the audience is mostly retired people, which means that if you get there half an hour early, you won’t find a seat.  We ended up sitting behind the camera, leaning way over in each direction to see the stage.  Oh, and talking about the camera, these lectures are recorded.5)

I had previously attended Living Beyond 1006 and Genomics Now7.  (These lectures from previous years can be seen on http://cos.arizona.edu/podcasts or chose a lecture from a previous year here and watch it on youtube: http://cos.arizona.edu/connections/ua-science-lecture-series.)  This year’s series concerns Life in the Universe8, and the first lecture on Monday night was What is Life? presented by a Jesuit Brother, Guy J. Consolmagno (BA and MA from MIT, PhD from U of A, postdoc at Harvard and MIT, and served in the Peace Corps in Kenya before he took vows as a brother, now Planetary Scientist, Vatican Observatory Research Group), who was a fantastic speaker!  He even got Stephen Colbert cracking up on the Cobert Report9.  Marvelous sense of humor.  Our hour listening to him went all too fast.  (But the conclusion was that there is little agreement among scientists on What is Life?)

Riffing on Cobert’s comments (watch that video), I had read The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber10 back in December.  Plot: a preacher goes to another planet in another galaxy to convert the natives, along with a group of people going there to colonize and mine the planet, leaving his wife back on a collapsing earth.  Not your typical scifi, but I was rather captivated.  (Note: you have to employ suspension of disbelief as Peter has to be put into a state of suspended animation to travel the vast distance to the planet, but emails to and from him and his wife go through almost immediately.)

1http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/25/opinion/sunday/frank-bruni-pope-francis-birth-control-and-american-catholics.html
2http://www.populationconnection.org/site/PageServer (ZPG is now Population Connection.)
3https://notesfromthewest.wordpress.com/2014/10/10/october-evening/
4http://tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/11/27/miquel-barcelo-edward-hirsch-picture-poem/?_r=0
52015 – Each lecture will air on television after a one-week delay on Mondays, beginning February 2 at 8PM. The broadcast will repeat: Tuesdays at 2AM, Fridays at 1PM, Sundays at 1PM and again on Mondays at 12AM and 2PM.
Comcast Subscribers: Channel 76  Cox Subscribers: Channel 116
6https://notesfromthewest.wordpress.com/2012/02/16/100/
7https://notesfromthewest.wordpress.com/2013/02/14/genomics-now/
8http://cos.arizona.edu/connections/life-in-the-universe
9http://www.frequency.com/video/colbert-report-gold-frankincense-mars/69752258
10http://www.amazon.com/The-Book-Strange-New-Things/dp/055341884X