On Books, #2

“Books . . . contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are; nay they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them.”

— John Milton

Published in: on February 26, 2009 at 12:57 pm  Comments (1)  

Art Book Donation

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In a major addition to the Haysville Community Library, Wichita artist and long-time active member of the metropolitan area art community Chris Paulsen Polk has donated a collection of more than 70 beautiful art books to the library. Wide-ranging in focus and subject matter, the books feature artists from Bierstadt to Wyeth, along with a great variety of genres and media.

In addition to her many contributions to the art community in the greater Wichita area, Chris Polk is author of Beautifying Wichita Through Sculpture, an excellent guide which documents through photographs and text 325 sculptures in and around the city that are visible to the general public. You will also find this book in the Haysville Community Library collection.

Published in: on February 26, 2009 at 12:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

On Books #1

“Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.”

— Anna Quindlen

Published in: on February 25, 2009 at 8:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

Tiktaalik — Your Inner Fish, Preview 3

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In an early section of his book Your Inner Fish: A Journey Into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body, Neil Shubin discusses some aspects of the light shed on human evolution by the discovery of the transitional fossil form Tiktaalik, a kind of intermediate between fish and tetrapod:

“It is a long way from Tiktaalik to humanity. The important, and often surprising, fact is that most of the major bones humans use to walk, throw or grasp first appear in animals tens to hundreds of millions of years before. The first bits of our upper arm and leg are in 380-million-year-old fish like Eusthenopteron. Tiktaalik reveals the early stages of the evolution of our wrist, palm, and finger area. The first true fingers and toes are seen in 365-million-year-old amphibians like Acanthostega. Finally, the full complement of wrist and ankle bones found in a human hand or foot is seen in reptiles more than 250 million years old. The basic skeleton of our hands and feet emerged over hundreds of millions of years, first in fish and later in amphibians and reptiles.

“But what are the major changes that enable us to use our hands or walk on two legs? How do these shifts come about? Let’s look at two simple examples from limbs for some answers.

“We humans, like many other mammals, can rotate our thumbs relative to our elbow. This simple function is very important for the use of our hands in everyday life. Imagine trying to eat, write, or throw a ball without being able to rotate your hand relative to your elbow. We can do this because one forearm bone, the radius, rotates along a pivot point at the elbow joint. The structure of the joint at the elbow is wonderfully designed for this function. At the end of our upper-arm bone, the humerus, lies a ball. The tip of the radius, which attaches here, forms a beautiful little socket that fits on the ball. This ball-and-socket joint allows the rotation of our hand, called pronation and supination. Where do we see the beginnings of this ability? In creatures like Tiktaalik. In Tiktaalik, the end of the humerus forms an elongated bump onto which a cup-shaped joint on the radius fits. When Tiktaalik bent its elbow, the end of its radius would rotate, or pronate, relative to the elbow. Refinements of this ability are seen in amphibians and reptiles, where the end of the humerus becomes a true ball, much like our own.

“Looking now at the hind limb, we find a key feature that gives us the capacity to walk, one we share with other mammals. Unlike fish and amphibians, our knees and elbows face in opposite directions. This feature is critical: think of trying to walk with your kneecap facing backward. A very different situation exists in fish like Eusthenopteron, where the equivalents of the knee and elbow face largely in the same direction. We start development with little limbs oriented much like those in Eusthenopteron, with elbows and knees facing in the same direction. As we grow in the womb, our knees and elbows rotate to give us the state of affairs we see in humans today.

Our bipedal pattern of walking uses the movements of our hips, knees, ankles, and foot bones to propel us forward in an upright stance unlike the sprawled posture of creatures like Tiktaalik. One big difference is the position of our hips. Our legs do not project sideways like those of a crocodile, amphibian, or fish; rather, they project underneath our bodies. This change in posture cam about by changes in the hip joint, pelvis, and upper leg: our pelvis became bowl shaped, our hip socket became deep, our femur gained its distinctive neck, the feature that enables it to project under the body rather than to the side.

“Do the facts of our ancient history mean that humans are not special or unique among living creatures? Of course not. In fact, knowing something about the deep origins of humanity only adds to the remarkable fact of our existence: all of our extraordinary capabilities arose from basic components that evolved in ancient fish and other creatures. From common parts came a very unique construction. We are not separate from the rest of the living world; we are part of it down to our bones and, as we will see shortly, even our genes.”

For further information on the extraordinarily interesting “fishapod” Tiktaalik see the University of Chicago’s Tiktaalik roseae site, the Tiktaalik roseae entry in Devonian Times (which has much contextual information of considerable value), the 2006 National Geographic article on Tiktaalik, and the original University of Chicago press release announcing Tiktaalik’s discovery. You might also want to see this brief entry at ScientificBlogging.com.

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Published in: on February 25, 2009 at 7:19 pm  Comments (2)  

Kansas Is Flatter than a Pancake

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Tomorrow, of course, is International Pancake Day, and the occasion for the annual pancake race held simultaneously in Liberal, Kansas, and Olney, England.

It’s also a perfect opportunity to revisit the old saw that Kansas is flatter than a pancake — an issue addressed scientifically, if serendipitously, half a dozen years ago in the ever-entertaining and illuminating Annals of Improbable Research. Writing for the May/June issue of 2003, scientists from the Departments of Geography at Texas State University and Arizona State University reported conclusively that “Kansas is Flatter than a Pancake”

As they explain, “barring the acquisition of either a Kansas-sized pancake or a pancake-sized Kansas, mathematical techniques are needed to do a proper comparison . . . . One common method of quantifying ‘flatness’ in geodesy is the ‘flattening’ ratio. The length of an ellipse’s (or arc’s) semi-major axis a is compared with its measured semi-minor axis b using the formula for flattening, f = (a – b) / a. A perfectly flat surface will have a flattening f of one, whereas an ellipsoid with equal axis lengths will have no flattening, and f will equal zero.

“For example, the earth is slightly flattened at the poles due to the earth’s rotation, making its semi-major axis slightly longer than its semi-minor axis, giving a global f of 0.00335. For both Kansas and the pancake, we approximated the local ellipsoid with a second-order polynomial line fit to the cross-sections. These polynomial equations allowed us to estimate the local ellipsoid’s semi-major and semi-minor axes and thus we can calculate the flattening measure f.” See the article for a further — and hilarious – description of their methodology.

Their conclusion? “Mathematically, a value of 1.000 would indicate perfect, platonic flatness. The calculated flatness of the pancake transect from the digital image is approximately 0.957, which is pretty flat, but far from perfectly flat. The confocal laser scan showed the pancake surface to be slightly rougher, still.

“Measuring the flatness of Kansas presented us with a greater challenge than measuring the flatness of the pancake. The state is so flat that the off-the-shelf software produced a flatness value for it of 1. This value was, as they say, too good to be true, so we did a more complex analysis, and after many hours of programming work, we were able to estimate that Kansas’s flatness is approximately 0.9997. That degree of flatness might be described, mathematically, as ‘damn flat.’”

For further coverage of the study and its conclusions, see “Zero Gravity: The Lighter Side of Science” from the American Physical Society, and the article “Holy Hotcakes! Study Finds Kansas Flatter than a Pancake” in the Lawrence Journal-World for July 27, 2003.

It is worth pointing out, of course, that by the very measure the geographers used, Florida (with a variation of only 345 feet from sea level to its highest point at Britton Hill), Delaware (with a variation from sea level to its highest point of 448 feet), Louisiana (with a variation from sea level to the top of Driskill Mountain at 535 feet), and 18 other states are in fact flatter than both pancakes and Kansas. And, as the Journal-World avers, by measuring in terms of the elevation changes in one-kilometer sections, Kansas ranks all the way down at 32nd in flatness. But perhaps that all is just a matter of comparing apples to oranges.

Published in: on February 23, 2009 at 6:16 pm  Comments (1)  

New Library Progresses

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Construction of the new Haysville Community Library continues on its course toward completion by the end of March or shortly thereafter. The exterior, as you can see from the photograph taken yesterday afternoon, is nearly finished. Major progress on interior work takes place almost daily.

Despite that excellent news, it has become increasingly certain in recent weeks that procurement of the essential equipment and furnishings for the library will require a longer lead time than anticipated prior to the current economic downturn. This should not create a protracted delay, but will almost certainly entail a postponement of the planned grand opening from our early May target. At the present moment, it is difficult to predict exactly when the entire move will be finished, but given the present state of information our best estimate is somewhere around the third week in June.

Plan for a Grand Opening celebration on the Fourth of July.

Published in: on February 23, 2009 at 4:31 pm  Comments (1)  

Your Inner Fish – Preview 2: Why History Makes Us Sick

Another brief excerpt from Neil Shubin’s delightful and perceptive Your Inner Fish: A Journey Into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body – on “Why History Makes Us Sick”:

“My knee was swollen to the size of a grapefruit, and one of my colleagues from the surgery department was twisting and bending it to determine whether I had strained or ripped one of the ligaments or cartilage pads inside. This, and the MRI scan that followed, revealed a torn meniscus, the probable result of twenty-five years spent carrying a backpack over rocks, boulders and scree in the field. Hurt your knee and you will almost certainly injure one or more of three structures: the medial meniscus, the medial collateral ligament, or the anterior cruciate ligament. So regular are injuries to these three parts of your knee that these three structures are known among doctors as the ‘Unhappy Triad.’ They are clear evidence of the pitfalls of having an inner fish. Fish do not walk on two legs.

“Our humanity comes at a cost. For the exceptional combination of things we do – talk, think, grasp, and walk on two legs – we pay a price. This is an inevitable result of the tree of life inside us.

“Imagine trying to jury-rig a Volkswagen Beetle to travel at speeds of 150 miles per hour. In 1933, Adolf Hitler commissioned Dr. Ferdinand Porsche to develop a cheap car that could get 40 miles per gallon of gasoline and provide a reliable form of transportation for the average German family. The result was the VW Beetle. This history, Hitler’s plan, places constraints on the ways we can modify the Beetle today; the engineering can be tweaked only so far before major problems arise and the car reaches its limit.

“In many ways, we humans are the fish equivalent of a hot-rod Beetle. Take the body plan of a fish, dress it up to be a mammal, then tweak and twist that mammal until it walks on two legs, talks, thinks, and has superfine control of its fingers – and you have a recipe for problems. We can dress up a fish only so much without paying a price. In a perfectly designed world – one with no history – we would not have to suffer everything from hemorrhoids to cancer.

“Nowhere is this history more visible than in the detours, twists and turns of our arteries, nerves and veins. Follow some nerves and you’ll find that they make strange loops around other organs, apparently going in one direction only to twist and end up in an unexpected place. The detours are fascinating products of our past that, as we’ll see, often create problems for us – hiccups and hernias, for example. And this is only one way our past comes back to plague us.

“Our deep history was spent, at different times, in ancient oceans, small streams, and savannahs, not office buildings, ski slopes, and tennis courts. We were not designed to live past the age of eighty, sit on our keisters for ten hours a day, and eat Hostess Twinkies, nor were we designed to play football. This disconnect between our past and our human present means that our bodies fall apart in certain predictable ways.

“Virtually every illness we suffer has some historical component. The examples that follow reflect how different branches of the tree of life inside us – from ancient humans, to amphibians and fish, and finally to microbes – come back to pester us today. Each of these examples show that we were not designed rationally, but are products of a convoluted history.”

Published in: on February 20, 2009 at 1:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

March 3rd Primary Election

The March 3rd Primary Election for local Haysville and School District 261 offices is rapidly approaching. You can find all the basic information you need for early voting by mail, early voting in person or election day polling places by checking the Sedgwick County Election Office website, or stopping by the library.

To vote in advance by mail, you can complete an Advance Voting Application and either mail or fax it to the Election Office. Applications are available on the Election Office website and also at the Haysville Community Library. If you choose this option, your ballot must be returned to the Election Office by 7 pm on Election Day, March 3rd.

To cast an early vote in person you can either vote at the Election Office until noon on March 2nd, or at the Haysville Activity Center at 7106 South Broadway from February 26th at noon until February 28th at 4 pm.

On Election Day, voting will take place from 6 am until 7 pm, with both machine voting and paper ballot options available. To find your polling location, see the Kansas Secretary of State’s Kansas Voter View.

The Sedgwick County Elections Office also offers Candidate Listings for any office on the ballot (Haysville Mayor, City Council by District, and School District). These listings are also available at the Haysville Community Library.

Published in: on February 19, 2009 at 3:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Library of Medieval Manuscripts Online

A page from the manuscript of Marco Polo's Travels, from Oxford's Bodleian Library

A page from the manuscript of Marco Polo's Travels, from Oxford's Bodleian Library

While the University of California at Los Angeles’ Catalogue of Digitized Medieval Manuscripts will be of greatest interest to specialists, many others may be interested in this already vast and growing repository (more than 1000 manuscripts in 20 languages by nearly 200 authors, and representing 59 libraries from around the world) of treasures from the medieval world. Many of these books are astonishing works of art even aside from their important historical contents.

For more information on the project that led to the creation of this exquisite online collection, see Science Daily’s Virtual Library of Medieval Manuscripts Created.

Published in: on February 18, 2009 at 3:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

New Library Approaches Completion, 2

The preponderance of current change is now on the interior rather than the exterior of the library, as you can readily see from these photographs taken earlier today.

The library circulation desk

The library circulation desk

The central staircase

The central staircase

View of central hall from behind staff workdesk

View of central hall from behind staff workdesk

Young adult area

Young adult area

Quiet room in northwest corner

Quiet room in northwest corner

Periodicals section

Periodicals section

Behind the circulation desk

Behind the circulation desk

Community room stage

Community room stage

View from southwest corner toward historic district

View from southwest corner toward historic district

Published in: on February 17, 2009 at 5:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

New Library Approaches Completion

With little over a month to go before the completion date for the new Haysville Community Library building, the outside is nearing its final appearance. Inside, progress is rapid and readily apparent (we’ll post a few interior photographs later this week).

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Published in: on February 16, 2009 at 4:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

Why Evolution Is True

Writing in the London Times for February 11, Richard Dawkins has an excellent and perceptive review of Jerry Coyne’s new book Why Evolution Is True. It’s a quick read and well worth it.

Published in: on February 16, 2009 at 3:15 pm  Leave a Comment