February 13, 2014

Happy Thurs. Partly overcast here and -18.

We finished watching a series of 36 lectures on the human brain. The 30-minute lectures, produced by The Teaching Company, are by Prof. Jeannette Norden of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. The course assumes no prior knowledge about the brain. The first two-thirds of the lectures cover the anatomy and physiology of the brain with frequent excursions into key neurological discoveries and case studies that illustrate how damage to different parts of the brain affects normal function.

The last third of the lectures cover how the brain processes movement, emotions, speech, music, memory, dreams, and homeostatic regulation of basic body functions like balance, blood flow, breathing, and sleep. Norden also gives extended coverage of the effects on the brain of MS, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, stroke, and other brain disorders. Everyone knows about left-brain, right-brain, but few realize that the brain is actually divided into two halves with central connecting tissues that integrate the functions of both halves. Moreover, sight and hearing are integral to brain function. The eyes are actually specialized extensions of the brain, and the mechanics of both sight and hearing are incredibly complex.

Norden explains how gross structure (visible to the eye with or without microscopes) first suggested to early neurologists that the brain has different sections devoted to different functions. Based on structural differences they numbered different areas of the brain up to 52, called Brodmann areas after the scientist who figured this out. Some of these areas are shown on the diagram below.




The lectures are well organized and copiously illustrated. Norden is an effective lecturer. We learned a lot about the brain, its many functions, its incredible complexity, and how to care for it. Well worth watching and suitable for the whole family. From the public library. For a sample, you can view the lecture Memory and the Brain at

Comments Off on Thurs


February 10, 2014

Interesting very old word today.

Word of the Day

maw \maw\, noun:

1. the symbolic or theoretical center of a voracious hunger or appetite of any kind: the ravenous maw of Death.
2. the mouth, throat, or gullet of an animal, especially a carnivorous mammal.
3. a cavernous opening that resembles the open jaws of an animal: the gaping maw of hell.

I will glut the maw of death, until it be satiated with the blood of your remaining friends.
— Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, 1818

The team of seven had been created to browse and graze through all existing writings, and to make a catalog of all that was swept into the team’s collective maw.
— Simon Winchester, The Professor and the Madman, 1998

Maw comes to us from the Old English maga meaning “stomach.” Its figurative use first appeared in the late 1300s.

From the Online Etymology Dictionary–

maw (n.)

Old English maga “stomach” (of men and animals; in Modern English only of animals unless insultingly), from Proto-Germanic *magon “bag, stomach” (cf. Old Frisian maga, Old Norse magi, Danish mave, Middle Dutch maghe, Dutch maag, Old High German mago, German Magen “stomach”), from PIE *mak- “leather bag” (cf. Welsh megin “bellows,” Lithuanian makas, Old Church Slavonic mošina “bag, pouch”). Meaning “throat, gullet” is from 1520s. Metaphoric of voracity from late 14c.

Maw always reminds me of this scene–

Grunewald AnthonyMatthias Gruenewald, The Temptation of St. Anthony

Detail of maws–

Gruenewald Anthony detail

 Next: paw

Comments Off on Maw


February 10, 2014

Happy Monday. Clear and -33 here.

I read a good book on the periodic table called “The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements,” by science writer Sam Kean. It’s a very readable history of the periodic table of elements that focuses on the history and personalities of the scientists who recognized that the elements can be arranged in a logical order based on their atomic composition and their resulting properties. This was before more than about a quarter of the elements had been identified, so the empty spaces on the grid goaded scientists to try to figure out what they were.

It turns out that, as Kean puts it, 90 percent of the material in the universe is hydrogen and 10 percent is helium, and the rest, including the planets and asteroids, is “a cosmic rounding error.” The stories of the discovery and naming of elements are endlessly fascinating, and the uses to which the elements have been put are surprising but familiar. Who knew that the tip of a Parker fountain pen was made of ruthinium? Or that of the 118 elements allegedly discovered to date (there is controversy about a few of them), only 92 naturally occur on earth.

This book is aimed at readers with little understanding of chemistry and physics and is about a clear an entertaining an explanation of the elements are you are likely to find. Oh, and the spoon that dissolves in a cup of tea is made of gallium. It’s an old chemists’ practical joke. I think it would be unwise to drink the tea afterward, however. Rated 4.5 stars average by 425 reviewers.

Disappearing Spoon

Comments Off on Monday


February 4, 2014

Good Tues. Nice clear day here but cool at -9.

I watched the Superbowl, my first football game of the year. I withheld comment yesterday to give Bronco’s fans a break, but although I used to root for the Broncos when John Elway was QB, I was inclined to throw my psychic support to the Seahawks because I’ve spent a lot of time in Seattle. BTW, a sea hawk is what is now called an osprey. Beautiful bird, found world-wide, featured in ancient Chinese poetry. Anyway, I had heard of just one of the players in the epic battle, Peyton Place. So there was virtually no familiarity with names to influence my support. The first play gave me pause in considering the Broncos. Poor kickoff return. The next play cinched it. Safety. Clearly I should back the other team.

The game was one of the best I have ever watched. Not, of course, for the quality of play, but for the endless possibilities it presented of ways to win or lose a game. And the team I chose at the 12 second mark won! Rah! I skipped the halftime extravaganza, which resembled the one last year with elaborate lights around the stage, lights in the crowd, etc. The half-naked gyrations of some performers, offset by the dressy costumes of the others, were interesting but not musically gratifying. No wonder people in other countries think we are nuts.

The much bruited ads were nothing much. I liked the reviled Coca-Cola ad of America sung in different langwidges, though apparently it stirred up primitive passions in many sincere patriots. Did anyone else notice that Place lifted his left leg at each snap? Seems like an opposing lineman could key on that move. My favorite play was the kick-off return TD, which featured some fancy running, as did another TD on a pass reception 20 yards out. Now I have a long wait for the World Series.


Comments Off on Tues


January 27, 2014

Good Monday. +12 after some temps hovering around freezing over the weekend. Nice sunrise and sunset yesterday.

We watched a couple of Marilyn Monroe movies the past two weekends, Some Like It Hot and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The former is better than the latter, but both are pretty much B movies. Famous directors: Billy Wilder and Howard Hawkes. SLIH gets most of its mileage out of Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in drag hiding from gangsters, but MM does a good job (thanks to multiple takes to overcome her penchant for forgetting lines) and looks like MM. GPB has fewer amusing moments, but MM steals the show from co-star Jane Russell in the song and dance scenes and just about everywhere else. Both films feature witty dialogue. Quintessential 50s comedy entertainment. Ebert listed SLIH among the 100 great movies.

Some Like It Hot (1959)

Comments Off on Monday


January 15, 2014

Good Wed. -2 here.

Yokelly we watched a good documentary about the 2009 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition for Amateurs called They Came to Play. 75 pianists were selected to compete based on recordings they submitted. After the first round of recitals, 25 were selected by the panel of judges to play a second recital. From these 6 were chosen to compete for first prize. The film follows several of the competitors from before the beginning of the competition through to the final play-off. The interviews are fascinating, as none of the competitors are professional pianists. Two were physicians, one was a lawyer, one was a jeweler, one owned a glass company in Oklahoma, one managed rentals in Oakland, one was a retired physicist, one was a former French tennis champion, some were business executives, and so forth. Some were old, some were young.

What they had in common was a love of the piano. All of the competitors shown in the film are excellent pianists. Many of them probably could have been professional if they had wanted a different lifestyle of constant practice and travel. The film follows the group as they begin the competition and proceed through the levels of competition, some of them peeling off after a performance you might think was terrific but the judges deemed slightly less good than those of other competitors. Anyway, I’ve collected piano recordings for 50 years and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Pam likes to hear piano but has other interests and she thoroughly enjoyed it. The human interest is the primary draw, though the music is wonderful. Well worth watching. We got it from the library.

They Came To Play dvd

Comments Off on Wed


January 13, 2014

Good Mon. Cool here over the weekend. -36 yesterday. But it was mostly clear and Saturday was spectacular with a long-lasting sundog display in the south. I took a couple of photos. Top: looking south on Cushman Street from 4th Ave. Bottom: 20 minutes later from 8 blocks further south.

Sundog from Cushman and 4th Jan 11 2014 small


Sundog from Gaffney Coop Jan 11 2014 small

Comments Off on Mon


January 7, 2014

Good Tues. Dark here and -4. School starts up again tomorrow.

We watched an excellent BBC documentary on the Great Rift Valley in East Africa. Lots of geology and animals and spectacular scenery. I got it because I am reading a good book on the search for hominid fossils in Africa, and most of them have been found in the Great Rift Valley, which is huge. The documentary is three one-hour programs. I got it from the local video rental, not far from Mad Men Season 5, which we are also engulfed in. The difference between the two subjects could not be much greater, though there are many rifts in Mad Men.


Comments Off on Tues


January 2, 2014

Happy Thursday, sacred to Thor, the Norse god of thunder. We had some of that New Year’s Eve in our neighborhood. I envisioned billions of dollars paid to the Chinese and going up in smoke.

Comments Off on Thursday


December 30, 2013

Happy Mon, the last Mon of the year. -20 and dark.

We underwent The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug in Imax 3D yesterday. If you haven’t seen it yet, it runs almost 3 hours. (There’s a slow part about an hour in when the dwarves and Bilbo enter the land of the elves that you can use to hustle out to the restroom and back.) We did not know we were signing up for 3D until we got there. Next show time for regular 2D was three hours later, so we went for it. Mostly I forgot I was wearing funny-looking yellow glasses, but I did not get the impression I would have missed much by missing 3D, and 3D cost quite a bit more.

That said, however, it was pretty good. Ebert’s old pal Richard Roepert gave it a B+ which is about right. Lots of action, ugly looking suckers, a hot elf, a very hot dragon. There are many additions to the story to stretch the shortest of the Tolkien books into a trilogy, with every burp and sneeze included, and there are several long combat scenes where hideous looking baddies get decapitated left and right (just one head each so far) but just keep coming. The giant spiders are gruesome. Ian McKellan continues to shine as Gandalf the Grey (note British spelling). Most of the acting is pretty good, the orcs and such are suitably nightmarish, Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is endearing, etc.

For my money the escape in barrels from the elves’s kingdom was the best part, but others will have their own favorites. The mountains and fields of New Zealand provide excellent visuals. When I left the theater I expected to be handed a sticker saying (instead of I Voted) I Watched The Hobbit. If anyone tires of the constant spectacle of these movies, the original is an outstanding and absorbing read, and if you like audio books, the complete cycle is available in a great reading by British actor Rob Inglis that stretches the epic out as it was meant to be experienced, leaving much to your own imagination.



Comments Off on Mon