Feb 28, 2013

Cells -- composition, stability, and transportation

Human Brain Cells
All organisms are composed of one or more cells. A bacterium consists of a single cell, whereas an elephant is made up of trillions of cells. Almost all cells are microscopic; the largest of the few visible to the naked eye is only 0.03 inch (0.76 millimeter) in diameter.

All cells share four characteristics. First, every cell is enclosed in a thin cell membrane, which provides shape and acts as a barrier between the cell and its environment. The membrane is semipermeable, composed largely of lipids (fats, oils, and fatty substances such as cholesterol), with embedded proteins that regulate the transport of molecules into and out of the cell.

Second, all cells are filled with cytoplasm. Cytosol, the fluid portion of cytoplasm, contains nutrients, enzymes, and other dissolved materials vital for cell metabolism. Also in the cytoplasm are specialized structures called organelles, held in place by a network of protein filaments.

Feb 27, 2013

The Battle of Wounded Knee

Ghost Dance
In December of 1890, the American Indian Wars came to a bloody climax on the banks of Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota. On a chill winter morning, just four days after Christmas, U.S. Cavalrymen and Sioux Indians fought a brief but vicious battle that left more than 200 Indians dead, including many women and children.

The year 1990 marked the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Wounded Knee, as the army called it -- or the Wounded Knee Massacre, as Indians remember it. This was the last tragic act in a violent saga that lasted for more than 100 years and pitted white settlers on the western frontier against Native Americans.

For decades, the Indians had angrily watched as white settlers grabbed their lands and even tore up their sacred burial grounds searching for gold. As one Sioux Indian remarked, "They (the white people) made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept but one; they promised to take our land and they took it."

The Ghost Dance Religion

By the 1880's, most of the Indian tribes had been forced onto reservations by the U.S. government. On the reservations the old tribal ways began to die out. No longer was the young Indian supposed to be a warrior and hunter roaming the land freely. Now Indians were told to live on the reservation and become farmers. Well-meaning missionaries told them that they must give up their Indian religion and become Christians. Corrupt Indian agents cheated them by providing only part of the food rations and clothing supplied by the U.S. government.

Feb 26, 2013

The Father of Film

Charlie Chaplin called David Wark Griffith "the teacher of us all," and Lillian Gish named him the father of film. Griffith originally wanted to be a playwright, but when one of his first plays flopped, he moved into acting and then directing in the new medium of motion pictures. From 1908 to 1913, Griffith worked for the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, directing hundreds of films, primarily one-reelers, and perfecting techniques that became the grammar of film.

Early motion pictures were still attached to the static concepts of the stage. Griffith broke free of that, developing new camera movement and angles, dose-ups, and lighting and editing techniques that influenced generations of filmmakers. He left Biograph to develop longer feature films, and in 1915 he directed the film that would change the course of cinema, ensure his reputation, and also ensnare him in controversy: ‘The Birth of a Nation.’

This story of the Civil War and Reconstruction was the first blockbuster, and despite its unprecedented three-hour length, it was a smash at the box office. Its combination of intimate human scenes and large-scale spectacle enthralled the public, but it also engendered a harsh backlash for its depiction of slavery as a benign institution and the Ku Klux Klan as heroes of the South.

Feb 25, 2013

The Science of Astronomy – from the earliest known records to the Middle Ages

The roots of astronomy extend to before written records, but it is clear that humans have always observed the sky. The earliest known records of astronomical observations come from the Sumerian and Babylonian cultures (in what is modern-day Iraq) and date from as far back as 3000 B.C. Careful observations by court-sponsored astronomers led to the first known star maps, the zodiac, and many of the other constellations still referred to today, as well as the sexigesimal (base-60) counting system on which our angular measures are based.

Babylonian astronomers knew the length of the year to high precision. These measurements were probably used for political and agricultural purposes. During the same epoch, a number of astronomical monuments, including Stonehenge, were being constructed as calendar devices around what is now Great Britain.

Egyptian astronomers undertook similar cataloging and mapping work, using stars as references in alignment of construction projects like the Great Pyramids.

Greek philosophers were the first to speculate on the structure of the universe, but were constrained by philosophical traditions relying on pure geometrical forms. Aristotle (ca.350 B.C.), established a model of the universe described as nested spheres with the Earth at the center, while the Sun, Moon, planets and stars moved around the Earth in constant motion each with its own rate.

Feb 24, 2013

Fiber and its amazing health benefits

Fiber has almost no calories because it passes through the body virtually undigested, but it packs a powerhouse of health benefits. Insoluble fiber—the type found in whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts and vegetables—can reduce the incidence and severity of constipation by softening the stool and increasing the speed at which waste products move through the digestive tract. This can help prevent hemorrhoids and diverticulosis (a condition in which pockets form in the walls of the colon). Soluble fiber—found in peas, beans, oats, apples and citrus foods—forms a gel in the intestine, trapping cholesterol and removing it in the stool. Both types of fiber can add bulk to the diet, making dieters feel fuller and helping them lose weight.

Nutritionists and health professionals frequently extol the virtues of a high-fiber diet and bemoan the fact that Americans get so little fiber. But, how much should we get, why should we get it, and how can we get it without tripling the time we spend in the kitchen or taking a handful of pills?

Feb 23, 2013

Loneliness and Health

Loneliness may be hazardous to your health in a very concrete way. Blood samples collected from a group of medical students at the Ohio State University College of Medicine revealed important differences between those who scored high on a loneliness assessment test and those who did not. Lonely students were more likely to have reduced levels of natural killer (NK) cell activity, an indicator of immune response. "These cells have been shown to be of vital importance in preventing tumor development and spread," the Ohio researchers point out.

But if living alone doesn't depress you, there's no reason this news should, either. As social psychology researchers Carin Rubenstein, Ph.D., a former associate editor of Psychology Today, and Phillip Shaver, Ph.D., of the University of Denver, have observed: Being alone is not synonymous with loneliness. If people feel lonely, it has nothing to do with the number of people around them, but rather with their expectations of life and reactions to their environment. And those are risk factors you can do something about.

Feb 22, 2013

Intuition: Tools that Tap Your Inner Voice

Have you ever had a hunch that proved right? A gut feeling about something that turned out to be exactly on target? Unexplained vibes about someone you just met? Have you ever had . . .intuition?

For Nancy King, it was the night she decided not to get into her friend Linda's car but to seek another ride home. She had no specific reason for her decision, merely this "weird feeling." Nancy later learned that Linda's car was hit and badly damaged by a drunk driver that night. So what is intuition, exactly?

"Intuition is a mind process that allows us access to information apart from the usual channels of reasoning, memory, or sensing," says William Kautz, Sc.D., founder and director of The Center for Applied Intuition in San Francisco. In other words, intuition can be what some people call extrasensory perception - ESP. Everyone has it, says Dr. Kautz. It's a natural human process, but some of us are more skilled at using it than others.

For Caitlin Grandinetti, intuition came on her vacation trip to New Mexico, when a hike through Cibola National Forest turned into a near nightmare. She found herself hopelessly lost, with the sun about to set, when, she says, she suddenly heard a "little voice." It told her to turn right, and then left, and then right, until finally, just before sunset, she found herself standing by the main road, safely out of the forest.

Feb 21, 2013

Origin of names “Europe” and “Asia”

Though the origin of the name “Europe” is not known for certain, the name is very old. A Greek hymn to Apollo from the sixth century B.C. mentions the name, which originally applied only to part of the Balkan Peninsula.  Europe probably derives from a word meaning "mainland," though it may be related to the Assyrian “ereb” –“darkness, west," and therefore "land of the setting sun."

“Asia” probably got its name from the Assyrian “asu” --"sunrise, east." “asu” originally referred only to the east coast of the Aegean Sea but gradually came to include the whole continent. (The Book of Answers, by Barbara Berliner)

Feb 20, 2013

The First Computer Programmer

Grace Murray Hopper
Augusta Ada Byron
According to historical accounts, Lord Byron's daughter, Augusta Ada Byron, the Countess of Lovelace, was the first person to write a computer program for Charles Babbage's (1792-1871) "analytical engine." This machine, never built, was to work by means of punched cards that could store partial answers that could later be retrieved for additional operations, and that would print results. Her work with Babbage and the essays she wrote about the possibilities of the "engine" established her as a "patron saint," if not a founding parent, of the art and science of programming. The programming language called "Ada" was named in her honor by the United States Department of Defense. In modern times the honor goes to Commodore Grace Murray Hopper (1906-1992) of the United States Navy. She wrote the first program for the Mark I computer. (The Handy Science Answer Book, compiled by the Science and Technology department of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh)

Feb 19, 2013

Who invented the computer mouse?

A computer “mouse” is a hand-held input device that, when rolled across a flat surface, causes a cursor to move in a corresponding way on a display screen. A prototype mouse was part of an input console demonstrated by Douglas C. Englehart in 1968 at the Fall Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco. Popularized in 1984 by the Macintosh from Apple Computer, the mouse was the result of 15 years devoted to exploring ways to make communicating with computers simpler and more flexible.

The physical appearance of the small four-sided box with the dangling tail-like wire suggested the informal name of “mouse,” which quickly superseded the formal name. (The Handy Science Answer Book, compiled by the Science and Technology department of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh)

Feb 18, 2013

Who said English was easy to learn?!!

Here are some examples of words known as homographs -- words that are spelled the same, but have more than one meaning. A homograph that is also pronounced differently is called a heteronym.

1) The bandage was wound around the wound.
2) The farm was used to produce produce.
3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
4) We must polish the Polish furniture..
5) He could lead if he would get the lead out.
6) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the 
7) Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present thepresent.
8) A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.
9) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
10) I did not object to the object.

11) The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
12) There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
13) They were too close to the door to close it.
14) The buck does funny things when the does are present.
15) A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.
16) To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to 

17) The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
18) Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a 

19) I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
20) How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

Feb 17, 2013

Stress Rating Scale

Researchers at the University of Washington School of Medicine developed this scale for ranking stressful events in a person's life. The higher the total score accumulated in the preceding year, the more likely there will be a serious illness in the immediate future.

Death of spouse=100
Divorce = 73
Marital separation = 65
Jail term =63
Death of close family member = 63
Personal injury or illness = 53
Marriage = 50
Fired from work = 47
Marital reconciliation = 45
Retirement = 45
Change in family member's health = 44
Pregnancy = 40
Sex difficulties = 39
Addition to family = 39
Business readjustment = 39
Change in financial status = 38
Death of close friend = 37

Feb 16, 2013

Tolstoy and the End of Life

Tolstoy ultimately concluded that authenticity was impossible in life and that only in death could transcendent meaning be found.
Tolstoy with his wife in 1910
As his search for moral truth intensified, Tolstoy moved away from literature -- which, like all stories, was full of lies -- and instead took up moral activism. He wrote pamphlets advocating self-denial, pacifism, and vegetarianism, as well as readers for the peasant children attending a school he had established on his estate. Tolstoy even composed a version of the New Testament, purging it of miracles and retaining only the pure moral instruction. By the time of his death, he had developed a worldwide following, not only for his novels but also for his moral teachings.

As an aristocrat, Tolstoy enjoyed a great many privileges, but he often yearned for a simpler, more genuine existence. What he really wanted to be, especially in his later years, was a peasant, and so he eventually adopted the ways of a peasant, dressing simply and working in the fields. But strive as he might to live like one, the count was no peasant and could never authentically be one. This paradox ate away at Tolstoy and ultimately caused him to despair that he would never find truth in his lifetime. Instead, he came to hope for it in death.

Feb 15, 2013

Black-faced monkeys

"There's nothing new under the sun" is an old saying - but not necessarily a true one. In June, 1990, scientists in Brazil announced that they had discovered a new kind of monkey on an island off that country's coast. The squirrel-sized primate, a species of lion tamarin, has golden fur with a black face, forearms, and tail. Scientists named it Leontopithecus caissara, or black-faced lion tamarin. There are three other kinds of lion tamarins in Brazil. The black-faced monkeys, isolated on their island, had gradually developed different traits from those of their mainland relatives. Scientists said that the discovery showed the importance of finding new species before their habitats are destroyed by development. (Adapted from Grolier Book of Knowledge Encyclopedia, and Internet Sources)

Feb 14, 2013

Atoms are everywhere

The great Caltech physicist Richard Feynman once observed that if you had to reduce scientific history to one important statement it would be “All things are made of atoms.” They are everywhere and they constitute everything. Look around you. It is all atoms. Not just the solid things like walls and tables and sofas, but the air in between. And they are there in numbers that you really cannot conceive.

The basic working arrangement of atoms is the molecule (from the Latin for “little mass”). A molecule is simply two or more atoms working together in a more or less stable arrangement: add two atoms of hydrogen to one of oxygen and you have a molecule of water. Chemists tend to think in terms of molecules rather than elements in much the way that writers tend to think in terms of words and not letters, so it is molecules they count, and these are numerous to say the least. At sea level, at a temperature of 32 degrees Fahrenheit, one cubic centimeter of air (that is, a space about the size of a sugar cube) will contain 45 billion billion molecules. And they are in every single cubic centimeter you see around you. Think how many cubic centimeters there are in the world outside your window — how many sugar cubes it would take to fill that view. Then think how many it would take to build a universe. Atoms, in short, are very abundant.

Feb 13, 2013

Languages of the World

Human beings are unique in their use of language. Only humans have the innate, hardwired ability to employ a large vocabulary of words with a complex grammar to create language itself. Linguistic abilities are surprisingly uniform across the entire human species, and all normal human beings learn to speak the language of their native community.

Many theories exist concerning when and how language began, and because there are no fossil records related to the earliest linguistic development, the true beginnings of spoken language are lost in time. Early cultures believed that language was a gift from the gods, and the origins of language are an integral part of creation myths throughout world mythology. Ironically, the diversity of language is usually seen as a curse -- a punishment for human arrogance or disobedience -- a belief best exemplified by the "Tower of Babel" passage in Genesis, in the Hebrew Bible.

Feb 12, 2013

Earliest known civilizations

While Africa is thought to be the birthplace of the human species, Asia is considered the cradle of civilization. There never has been a single Asian civilization, however, because the continent’s vast size caused several different civilizations to arise, each independent of the others.

Fossil remains show that ancestors of Homo sapiens, or modern humans, lived in Asia thousands of years ago. The fossils of Peking Man were found near Beijing, China, and Java Man was discovered at Sangiaran, Indonesia, on Java Island. These fossils, estimated to be about 500,000 years old, are of Homo erectus, an ancestor of Homo sapiens. Other fossil evidence from China points to Homo erectus arriving in Asia about 1 million years ago.

Homo erectus likely disappeared from Java about 150,000 years ago, and Homo sapiens did not resettle the island until the last ice age about 10,000 years ago, when the polar ice caps receded to their present extent. The record of human habitation in China is considerably longer. There, fossils of Homo sapiens thought to be 150,000 to 200,000 years old have been found. By 20,000 years ago, modern humans probably lived throughout China.

Feb 11, 2013

The Start of History

History begins with writing, with the ability to document events, traditions, laws, and myths and to record and preserve them for posterity. Homo sapiens developed spoken language tens of thousands of years ago, but writing -- the inscribing of character or signs with an instrument on a surface to represent language and to communicate or record information -- is a much more merit achievement. The earliest examples of writing are from Sumer and Egypt, with China and Central America developing their systems a bit later.

First people needed counting devices (such as sticks, pebbles, or clay tokens) to keep track of commercial transactions and personal possessions. These led to systems of simple visual symbols to express ideas or objects; these are called pictograms. Next, logograms evolved; these represented specific words, but they could not easily express abstract concepts.

Around 3300 BCE, the Sumerians developed the first phonetic system by using a word symbol to stand for other words that had a similar sound but were difficult to represent with a picture symbol. The find step was the development of individual alphabetic characters, each of which represents a single sound. In “The Book before Printing”, David Diringer writes, “Alphabetic writing is the last, the most highly developed, the most convenient and the most easily adaptable system of writing.” (All Facts Considered, by Kee Malesky)

Feb 10, 2013

Global Warming

Scientists now regard the warming of the Earth's climate system as unequivocal, and most scientists believe that this warming is due in large part to human activities, principally the injection of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels that has accompanied industrialization. Warming during the l00 years from 1906 to 2005 totaled 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit (0.74 degrees Celsius). The International Panel on Climate Change reported that the average global temperature for the years 2090-99 will likely be a 3.2 to 7.2 degree Fahrenheit (1.8 to 4 degrees Celsius) increase from the 1980-99 global average.

Nine of the 10 warmest years in the instrumental record (since 1850) have occurred since 2001- the exception being 1998, the third-warmest year on record. The year 2010 tied with 2005 as the warmest on record. Moreover, analyses of data such as tree rings, ice cores, growth of corals, and historical records indicate that at least in the Northern Hemisphere, the last 50 years were probably the warmest period in at least the past 1,300 years. In the 20th century, sea levels rose 6.7 inches (0.17 meters) and it is believed with high confidence that this exceeded the rate in the previous century. The continuing rise of sea levels has alarmed the scientific community, and planning for adaptive measures is underway in many coastal cities. (New York Times ‘Guide to Essential Knowledge’)

Feb 9, 2013

What sounds can we hear?

We hear many sound frequencies, from the shrill notes of bird song to the deep growl of traffic. But, because of the way our ears work, we do not hear all of the sounds around us. Our ears pick up frequencies from about 20 to 20,000 Hz (Hertz, vibrations per second). We hear sounds below 80 Hz as low, deep booms, thuds or rumbles. Frequencies below about 30 Hz may not be heard clearly, but if they are powerful enough, we can feel them as vibrations in the air and ground. Our ears are most sensitive in the range from 400 to 4,000 Hz. (Human speech tends to be around 300-1,000 Hz.) Sounds above about 5,000 Hz are extremely high-pitched squeaks, hisses and screeches. As people get older, their ears become less sensitive to high notes. So a young person can hear a bat's very high-pitched squeaks, while an older person cannot. (World of Science)

Feb 8, 2013

Some North American Bird Proverbs …

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.
One swallow does not make a summer.
What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
Wise as an owl.
Eagle eye.
Kill two birds with one stone.
Like water off a duck’s back.
Like a duck to water.
Madder than a wet hen.
The goose that laid the golden egg.
Something worth crowing about.
Light as a feather.
Hen party.
Like a duck on a June bug.
My little chickadee.
Naked as a jaybird.
Nest egg.
Run around like a chicken with its head cut off.
Strut like a rooster.
Stuffed like a Christmas goose.
That’s just ducky.
Watch like a hawk.
(Internet sources)

Feb 7, 2013

The seven deadly sins and virtues …

As set forth by scholastic theologian Saint Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274), they are: anger, covetousness, envy, gluttony, lust, pride, and sloth. The seven virtues are: faith, hope, charity (or love), prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. The first three are called the theological virtues, the last four the cardinal virtues. (Adapted from 'The Book of Answers', by Barbara Berliner)

Feb 6, 2013

What kinds of additives are in gasoline and why?

Antiknock compounds
Increase octane number
Remove combustion products of antiknock compounds
Combustion chamber
Suppress surface ignition and spark plug deposit modifiers fouling
Provide storage stability
Metal deactivators
Supplement storage stability
Antirust agents
Prevent rusting in gasoline-handling systems
Anti-icing agents
Suppress carburetor and fuel system freezing
Control carburetor and induction system cleanliness
Upper cylinder lubricants
Lubricate upper cylinder areas and control intake system deposits
Indicate presence of antiknock compounds and identify makes and grades of gasoline
(The Handy Science Answer Book, compiled by the Science and Technology department of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh)

Feb 5, 2013

The left and right hemispheres of a human brain – they resemble two minds working together

When we evaluate the unique characteristics of the two cerebral hemispheres and how they process information differently, it seems obvious that they would manifest unique value systems that would consequently result in very different personalities. Some of us have nurtured both of our characters and are really good at utilizing the skills and personalities of both sides of our brain, allowing them to support, influence, and temper one another as we live our lives. Others of us, however, are quite unilateral in our thinking either exhibiting extremely rigid thinking patterns that are analytically critical (extreme left brain), or we seldom connect to a common reality and spend most of our time "with our head in the clouds" (extreme right brain). Creating a healthy balance between our two characters enables us the ability to remain cognitively flexible enough to welcome change (right hemisphere), and yet remain concrete enough to stay a path (left hemisphere). Learning to value and utilize all of our cognitive gifts opens our lives up to the masterpiece of life we truly are. Imagine the compassionate world we could create if we set our minds to it. (‘My Stroke of Insight’, by Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D.)

Feb 4, 2013

What’s in a Face? -- South American king vulture

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" is an old saying. This face may look very strange - or even ugly - to you. But you can bet that this animal is handsome to others of its kind.

An orange beak helps make the South American king vulture a strikingly colorful bird. Unlike many other birds of prey, these vultures are thought to find their prey more by smell than sight. (Grolier Book of Knowledge Encyclopedia)

Feb 3, 2013

Employees Who Laugh, Last – personal and corporate benefits of laughter

Executives aren't exactly trading their horn-rimmed glasses and wingtips for Groucho noses and clown shoes, but they're not fooling with findings - from both the business and medical communities - that the employee who laughs, lasts.

Research shows that workers who enjoy on-the-job yuks are least likely to feel yucky about their jobs and are more productive, motivated, happier, and healthier than those who grimly keep their nose to the grindstone. Even in the executive suite - or actually especially there - possessing the right sense of humor is becoming increasingly important for job advancement.

"Americans, particularly those in business, have always placed a very high value on a sense of humor," says Robert Orben, a humor consultant who, nearly 30 years ago, sparked a new breed of consultants when he began teaching executives how to use humor effectively at the workplace (he's also served as director of President Ford's speech-writing department). "Maybe it's because business executives are under more constant low-grade stress than ever before - with no down time to look out at sunsets or listen to the birds. But humor has become a boom industry in the workplace because having a sense of humor, particularly in difficult situations, implies control. If someone is able to joke in a tough situation - and he's not a total buffoon - then the perception is that he has control of the situation. He has the answer. He can beat the problem."

Feb 2, 2013

How basic physical units of length, mass and time were defined

From the beginnings of the Scientific Revolution in the mid-16th century science was international in character, though for long essentially European. Major discoveries were made in Italy, France, England, Holland and in many other countries. Scientists exchanged information through informal correspondence and through the great national academies such as the Royal Society in London (founded in 1660) and the Academy of Sciences in Paris (founded in 1666). Increasingly, especially in the physical sciences, the emphasis was on the quantitative rather than qualitative observations. To avoid confusion it was important that observers at widely different centers should be able to express their results in the same terms. This need for precision was further made necessary by advances in technology, especially in mechanical engineering.

Feb 1, 2013

The reason mourners wear black clothes in the Western world

In ancient times, it was believed that the spirits of the dead could repossess the bodies of the living. So, to disguise themselves from evil spirits, mourners painted their bodies black. Later societies translated this custom into wearing black clothes and veils. (The Book of Answers, by Barbara Berliner)