Power law relationship in modern demographics

Cognition seems to be the driver behind a power law relationship, which would be odd indeed. It implies a fixed way of thinking about geography and places that can be modeled statistically. Human thought processes aren’t generally amenable to quantitative models.

Is this something new?

curious relationship


Giving a name to a place is an important act. It says a place has meaning, that it should be remembered. For thousands of years, the way we kept track of place names—or toponyms—was by using our memory. Today, we’re not nearly so limited, and the number of toponyms seems to have exploded. Yet oddly enough, the number of places we name in a given area follows a trend uncannily similar to one seen in hunter-gatherer societies.…

via Per Square Mile
Next steps?

  1. Confirm if Eugene Hunn’s 1994 findings were reproduced with current data
  2. Check whether the USPS zip code information used was correct

Malaria Parasite Invasion On Video

Plasmodium falciparum is the parasite responsible for malaria. It continues to cause about 1 million deaths per year, worldwide. This video is a scientific first. The moment when a malaria parasite invades a human red blood cell has never been captured on video, and in high-resolution, no less.

Transmission electron microscopy and 3D immuno-fluoresence microscopy were used to record still images for this 40-second video clip. Those are impressive technologies, but are not responsible for the break through. Dr. Jack Baum and colleagues from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, Australia are credited with the clever idea:

To boost the chances of catching Plasmodium parasites in the act of attacking a red blood cell the team controlled the process using two drugs. The first – heparin – prevents parasites entering a new red blood cell, while the second – E64 – prevents their exit.


Red blood cells

Careful timing of the events assured plenty of invasion events for capture on video.

This video is not merely showmanship. It shows that the red blood cell (erythrocyte) invasion by Plasmodium is not a well-ordered event as thought. The video demonstrates a way to stop Plasmodium parasites from entering red blood cells, and arresting the disease process once contracted.

More details may be found in the New Scientist and the journal where the discovery was published: Cell Host & Microbe, Volume 9, Issue 1, 9-20,  20 January 2011, DOI: 10.1016/j.chom.2010.12.003. The abstract and graphical images may be viewed free, without a subscription.

Published in: on 21 January 2011 at 5:06 pm  Comments (1)  
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Rebuilding the Antikythera Mechanism


The Antikythera was an early analog computer

The Antikythera Mechanism is older than Charles Babbage’s computation machine by an order of magnitude. It is the oldest known calculator. Some rather chewed-up looking pieces are on display at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. I wouldn’t expect otherwise, as the Antikythera was built in ancient Greece in about 100 BCE.

The Antikythera is an analog computer requiring a very comprehensive understanding of gear ratios and differentials. It was designed so well that it can accurately calculate solar eclipses and other celestial events. It’s true purpose was not understood until recently, according to the description by MacMillan Publishing.

Fully functional Antikythera replica using Lego

MacMillan posted a video on YouTube yesterday, as part of their Digital-Science.com roll-out. Andrew Carol is the person shown in the video. He is the “master Lego craftsman” and a software engineer with Apple Computers.

Watch an amazing 3-minute video that quickly shows how the all-Lego Antikythera calculator was constructed.

The full story behind all this is here… Read More

via Casting Out Nines.

Published in: on 10 December 2010 at 1:46 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Geological Time Spiral

Evidence of our planet’s antiquity is revealed by the once-molten rocks that form the Earth’s crust. These rocks contain radioactive elements whose isotopes decay at known rates. Study of geo-strata, paleontology and atomic dating of certain rocks is a reliable method for determining the age of the Earth. According to the US Geological Survey publication 2008-58, Earth is 4.5 billion years of age.

Geological epochs are like onionskin leaves in a folio

Geological Time Spiral

A Spiraling, Slightly Squiggly Path to the Past

Due to my enthusiastic use of CiteULike citation and (somewhat) social bookmarking for scholarly journal and research publications, I realized that the U.S. Geological Survey calculation of the Earth’s age might not be correct.


I was taking CiteULike’s beta release through its paces, testing whether USGS DOIs (digital object identifiers) were supported, using USGS 2008-58 (call it PAGE1) as my test case. They weren’t, so I returned to the USGS website to investigate. Instead, after some cursory digging, I found a second geological time explanation. Let us refer to it as “PAGE2”. PAGE2 featured the same spiraling graphic as the one above, from PAGE1, except the accompanying text was different:

So far, scientists have not found a way to determine the exact age of the Earth directly from Earth rocks because Earth’s oldest rocks have been recycled and destroyed by plate tectonics. If there are any primordial rocks left in their original state, they have not yet been found.

NB: I am NOT suggesting a massive deception about the Earth’s age, perpetrated by the United States Geological Survey upon an unsuspecting public! Nor will I conclude that the creationists are correct, not about this.

Both pages described the geophysical method, based on radiometric dating of Uranium-235 and Uranium-238 isotope decay, identically. PAGE2 cited the many elderly rocks strewn about our planet, in Swaziland, Greenland, Michigan and Australia. Most are 3.4 to 3.7 billion years of age. The oldest rocks discovered to-date are zircon crystals hailing from Western Australia, at 4.3 billion years of age. They are also sedimentary, rather than being fresh from the crust. Plate tectonics is the villain. In fact, tectonic activity makes it extremely unlikely to find any rocks that are directly from the primordial crust associated with Earth’s formation. Even the oldest known rock samples do not actually tell us the Earth’s age. So, based on PAGE2, 4.3 billion years is the oldest verifiable age of the Earth, and even that is only an estimated value.

Recall the PAGE1 estimate, of 4.5 billion years. That’s a mere 0.2 billion year discrepancy. Well, “merely” isn’t the best word choice, as 200 million years is a 4.5 percent difference between PAGE1 and PAGE2.


The moon is actually more useful for determining the Earth’s age. The moon wasn’t subject to plate tectonic activity. Unfortunately, we have a limited supply of moon rocks available for study. Our ability to gather new samples for testing is also limited!  Our moon rocks are 4.4 to 4.5 billion years old. This further extends the probable age of the Earth. According to PAGE1,

the best age for the Earth comes not from dating individual rocks but by considering the Earth and meteorites as part of the same evolving system…determining an age for the Earth and meteorites, and hence the Solar System, of 4.54 billion years with an uncertainty of less than 1 percent.

I see no need to alert the authorities. Consider this as a take-away: The first answer one finds, even from an official site, is not necessarily the most accurate. Context is everything, though. I suspect that expedience would make PAGE2 adequate for most readers’ purposes.

My next post will not involve ad hoc auditing of the U.S. Geological Survey website.

Published in: on 9 October 2010 at 6:41 pm  Comments (3)  
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Anthrax News

For months, perhaps years now, we’ve heard nothing about the anthrax bacterium.

In 2001 and 2002, several acts of terrorism involved airborne anthrax in a medium of white powder. However, in this recent incident, which was not part of any terrorist activity, animal hides on drum surfaces were contaminated with anthrax, causing gastrointestinal anthrax and not inhalation or cutaneous infection. Apparently the anthrax bacterium can live on in the animal skin hides used for drums. It is a concern of sufficient significance to call for an advisory from the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC).

Published in: on 22 August 2010 at 10:58 am  Leave a Comment  

Science Tattoo Emporium

Discovery Magazine’s dizzying assortment of blogs include The Loom, written by science author and Yale lecturer Carl Zimmer.  I’ve culled a few of my favorites from his gallery of science-themed tattoos, The Science Tattoo Emporium. There are over 150 images, with each tattooed scientist, engineer, mathematician or wannabe explaining his or her tattoo’s meaning and personal significance.

Chemistry PhD from Cornell Tattoo: C. writes

I got this tattoo as an homage to the pain of my graduate work. It’s a model of fulvic acid which is a representation of natural organic matter in the soil. I work with this molecule for my grad work and I figured I might as well get it etched into my skin so I can look at it and say, ‘Well, at least it hurt less than grad school at Cornell.

Organic Chem PhD at Cornell

MM, Quartermaster 1st class, USN, writes: “I have been fortunate enough to be paid by the government to get ships from pt. A to pt. B serving in the US Navy…. I was drawn to navigation when I joined. In my opinion, it is the only job in the military that is both a science and an art…. it is important for Navigators to remain proficient in the old ways to fix a ship’s position using a sextant and trigonometry. My tattoo is the visual depiction of how to plot a line of position from a celestial body using the altitude intercept method… it serves as a reminder that while technology improves, the sea remains an unpredictable place….”

Celestial Navigation Tattoo

Power of Science in Living Color

Alan writes:
“After much consideration, I decided to get an atom tattoo. But what atom? Given that I’m an graduate student in organic chemistry at the University of Michigan, carbon seemed like the obvious choice. It also has the advantage of being small enough not to look too crowded. I went for a retro 50’s Jetsons sort of look. Believe it or not, the general shape (though not the coloring) is based on a piece of Microsoft Office clip-art.”

Power of the Atomic Tattoo

Carbon Atom Tattoo

Published in: on 25 July 2010 at 5:27 am  Comments (3)  
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Electricity as A Force of Nature

In this first video, two utility workers in the Nevada desert are witness to the result of a 500 kV switch suddenly opening. The huge jagged-edged electric arc that leaps out is as good an example of a “Jacob’s Ladder” effect as you’re likely to see anywhere.

via Pogpog.com – 500 kV Switch Opens.

Published in: on 29 June 2010 at 12:14 pm  Comments (2)  

French Curves

German mollusk

Cresting the rise

I would like to present a sample of festive copse snails, or gefleckte schnirkelschnecke. They are found from Finland through southern Germany and further into Mittel Europa.

Copse snails are Arianta arbustorum, of the family Helicidae.

European snail

Highly variegated!

Credit for these delightful images belongs to Ellenore56, via Flickr. Many all-natural curves and spirals are captured in her original nature photographs.

Published in: on 3 May 2010 at 10:23 am  Leave a Comment  
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