Gazebo Construction 2

At 8:30 Saturday morning, November 21, members of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars, Haysville Pride, the Haysville Friends of the Library and other volunteers set to work building the Haysville Community Library’s new gazebo on the north side of the library, and relocating the memorial bell to its new location near the flagpoles and the gazebo. (For earlier construction work on the gazebo foundation and walkway, see our previous post, Gazebo Construction).

Published in: on November 23, 2009 at 4:30 pm  Comments (2)  

Crescent Earth

Crescent Earth as Viewed from Rosetta Spacecraft on its Final Pass Toward Comet Rendezvous (ESA)

Published in: on November 23, 2009 at 1:32 pm  Comments (1)  

The Hobbits of Flores: An Update

Lian Bua -- the cave on Flores Island where the Hobbit fossils were unearthed

In January, we reviewed Mike Morwood and Penny van Oosterzee’s A New Human, subtitled “The Startling Discovery and Strange Story of the ‘Hobbits’ of Flores Indonesia.” (The controversy engendered by this amazing new discovery was further updated in Hobbit Update and Hobbit as a Separate Species: Update.)

Now, additional evidence accumulates. The “Hobbit” (Homo floresiensis) is indeed a new human species, according to a statistical analysis of “Flo”, an especially complete fossil skeleton of the diminutive hominids, reported in Science Daily and via EurekAlert!. The conclusion? According to Dr. Karen Baab, one of the authors of the study, “attempts to dismiss the hobbits as pathological people have failed repeatedly because the medical diagnoses of dwarfing syndromes and microcephaly bear no resemblance to the unique anatomy of Homo floresiensis.”

Published in: on November 19, 2009 at 5:50 pm  Comments (1)  

Everyday Mysteries

Milking it for all it's worth: a man squirts milk to a cat while milking a cow (Library of Congress, circa 1898)

Are black-eyed peas really peas? What’s the difference between sweet potatoes and yams? Why do turkeys have white and dark meat? Does your heart stop when you sneeze? What’s the smallest flower in the world? How does sunscreen work? What’s freezer burn? Who invented the TV dinner? Why don’t I fall out when a roller coaster goes upside down? How high can a nine-banded armadillo jump?

The answers to these and many other questions from Agriculture and Astronomy through Biology and Botany to Technology and Zoology can be found at the website Everyday Mysteries: Fun Science Facts from the Library of Congress. Everyday Mysteries poses interesting questions, then answers them with the best scientific information available.

Published in: on November 19, 2009 at 3:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

Small Area Income & Poverty Estimates Released

Yesterday, the US Census Bureau released their latest (2008) income and poverty estimates for every school district and county in the nation. The data are part of the Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE) program and represent the only source of Census Bureau income and poverty data for each of the nation’s 3,142 counties and nearly 14,000 Title I-eligible school districts.

In the press release announcing release of the data, the Census Bureau declares that “state and county estimates are provided for the total number of people in poverty, the number of children under age 5 in poverty (for states only), number of related children age 5 to 17 in families in poverty, number of children under 18 in poverty and median household income.
“School district estimates, produced in order for the Department of Education to implement provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, are available for the total population, number of children age 5 to 17 and number of related children age 5 to 17 in families in poverty.
“These tabulations, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, are used as one of the criteria to allocate federal funds to local jurisdictions. In addition, state and local programs use these data for distributing funds and managing school programs.”
You’ll find the SAIPE data here and a series of maps summarizing the data for counties and states here.

Published in: on November 19, 2009 at 2:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

Red Cosmos

The Space Review features a brief review of Red Cosmos, a new biography of Konstantin Tsiolkovskii, father of Soviet rocketry and visionary space scientist.

Published in: on November 19, 2009 at 12:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

My-Oh-Myopia: The Dog in Hindsight

Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Steven Pinker offers Malcolm Gladwell, Eclectic Detective, a review of What the Dog Saw– and Other Adventures.

Published in: on November 19, 2009 at 9:53 am  Leave a Comment  

Gazebo Construction

The Haysville Community Library’s new gazebo will be constructed this coming Saturday, November 21st, in the open area to the north of the library and south of the library’s northern parking lot.

The Haysville Friends of the Library, Haysville Pride, and the local Veterans of Foreign Wars, among others, have volunteered their time and energy to meet between 8:30 and 9:00 AM on Saturday morning for our own contemporary interpretation of an old-fashioned barn-raising. Others are encouraged to volunteer, and every hand will be welcome – and fed a hot lunch. With good luck, and your help, we’ll finish by early afternoon.

The gazebo, a smaller version of the large gazebo across from the library in the historical district, will be open to the public as soon as completed, but the official dedication will not take place until spring 2010.

Here’s a quick review of the work that’s been done to date:

Published in: on November 18, 2009 at 4:47 pm  Comments (2)  

Justinian’s Flea

With all the contemporary interest in the H1N1 flu strain and incessant discussion of the risks and likelihood of global pandemics, William Rosen’s delightful, eclectic and far-ranging Justinian’s Flea: The First Great Plague and the End of the Roman Empire would seem to be of considerable interest to a broader readership. But a quick perusal of customer reviews on might dissuade you from giving this book a second thought. While the work appears to engender a radical divergence of opinion running the gamut from adoration to revulsion, it is much disparaged in a number of comments — most frequently for the sin of digression. But this admitted tendency to wander is in truth an integral part of the book’s charm, far more virtue than vice, as Rosen meanders across a wide landscape of interrelated topics from architecture through epidemiology and politics to zoology.

Despite a few minor flaws, I found the book richly rewarding and provocative.

If I were to recommend one book and one book only on this intriguing topic, it would be William McNeill’s profoundly interesting Plagues and Peoples, which remains a classic in the field. But Rosen’s Justinian’s Flea would make an excellent companion book, and constitutes an intriguing diversion in its own right.

A Brief Excerpt: Origins

“The scholars and scientists who have spent their lives searching for the birthplace of bubonic plague tend to start their investigations in the present, ‘walking back the cat’ as cleverly as they can. The modern world has literally dozens of basins where the disease is chronic in animal populations, but only three are thought to be more than a century or so in age, and they match up with Devignat’s three variant strains of Y. pestis. Given the fact that, of all the players in the drama – bacterium, flea, rat, and human – Y. pestis is by far the newest, it seems certain that it evolved in one of those three locales: the Himalayan foothills, the Great Steppe reaching west from China, or the Great Lakes of East Africa.

“The demographer J.C. Russell was, for many years, the most passionate advocate of a Great Steppe origin, a view that still has adherents today. Russell’s argument is fairly weak, however, given the lack of any real evidence for plague in the extensive prairie that runs from Mongolia to the Ukraine until the year 610 and not really very much at all until the second great pandemic that devastated Europe in the fourteenth century. Choosing between India and Africa is more difficult; Pauline Allen argued persuasively for an Indian origin, citing the migration of R. rattus westward as a stowaway in uncounted thousands of cargo ships sailing back and forth between Ethiopia and India. However, the historian Peter Sarris rightly observes that India is much closer to, and had significantly greater contact with China, than with the Mediterranean, yet bubonic plague appeared in China at least sixty years later than it did in Alexandria. Sarris is cautious about giving too much weight to this, since the sea routes between Ethiopia and India are far more direct than the overland routes connecting India with China. However, Persia also encountered the plague after Alexandria and Constantinople, and stands squarely astride the land route between the former cities and China. If India were truly the demon’s birthplace, it was a rather meandering demon, one that originated in India, spread to Africa and China, and then bypassed Persia on the way to the Mediterranean.

“Yet another theory holds that the origins of the plague were in Pharaonic Egypt, when the rat flea X. cheopsis jumped from its favored species, Avicanthis niloticus, the Nile rat, to R. rattus, the immigrant species from India. Among the odder hypotheses about the origins of the disease is the one that appears in Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe’s Our Place in the Cosmos, which posits an extraterrestrial birthplace for the plague, whose periodicity is best explained by such activities as sunspots. More persuasive, even though lacking the sophistication of a modern epidemiologist, is the contemporary chronicler Evagrius Scholasticus, who records that the disease ‘took its rise from Aethiopia, as is now reported, and made a circuit of the whole world in succession . . . .’

“(One bit of inferential data supporting an African genesis fro the plague is offered by David Keys’s examination of the four great sixth-century East African port cities – Opone, Essina, Toniki, and Rhapta, all now vanished – which were the ancient world’s largest suppliers of ivory, sending up to fifty tons of the precious stuff, the product of five thousand elephants, up the Nile every year. If the plague started in East Africa, he reasoned, one would certainly see an effect in ivory production, and so he did. From the years 400-540, 120 major ivory artworks [out of an estimated 400,000 made] survive; from 540-700, only 6 survive.)

“If the demon were born in the fertile African valleys between Lake Tana in the north and Lake Rudolf in the south, lands that are to new species what Iowa is to corn, it would have had its choice of northward routes aboard its flea/rat hosts, either via the Red Sea, or up the Nile, past the point, at Khartoum, where the Blue Nile and White Nile combine, past the six cataracts that separate Upper Egypt from Lower, and north to Pelusium, Alexandria, and the Mediterranean.

“As with much else, the Mediterranean is the key to understanding the unique status of Y. pestis, and the disease it carried. Bacterial pathogens had been afflicting humanity for tens of thousands of years before the sixth-century arrival of those bubo-ridden corpses at the mouth of the Nile. But none of them ever swept across what amounted to the entire known world, ending tens of millions of lives, and stopping tens of millions more from ever being born. The reason, simply put, was a mismatch of speed.

“Until the arrival of the demon at the mouth of the Nile, at Pelusium, the disease of civilization had spread at roughly the same pace as civilization itself. Local populations could and did grow, even creating empires of many thousands of square miles – Akkadian, Egyptian, Sumerian, Babylonian, Persian – but the pace at which their merchants and armies traveled was, in general, slow enough to place a brake on the spread of disease. Like a fire, any virulent pathogen would either be tamed, or would consume all available fuel but it could not sustain itself for long. Overland trade was so slow until early modern times that the only reliable way to spread a new disease faster than coevolutionary adaptation was by water, either an inland sea or rivers.

“It was, therefore, probably inevitable that the first pandemic would strike a Mediterranean civilization, rather than a Mesopotamian or Chinese one. The great Belgian historian Henri Pirenne wrote floridly, though accurately, ‘Of all the features of that wonderful human structure [i.e., the Roman Empire], the most striking, and also the most essential, was its Mediterranean character. . . . In the full sense of the term, Mare Nostrum was the vehicle of ideas, and religions, and merchandise.’ A more mundane look at the enormous advantage in time and money of moving goods by water than land – it cost less to ship a bushel of wheat from Palestine to Spain than to send it seventy-five miles by oxcart – suggests not merely the critical character of the inland sea, but also the decisive importance of inland waterways. Egypt was the imperial granary for five centuries not merely because of its farms’ productivity, but their location: none of its cultivated land was far from either the Nile or a canal.

“In the year 540, at the terminus of the ancient world’s greatest riverine complex, the delta of the Nile awaited the arrival of a conqueror greater than Alexander himself.”

Published in: on November 18, 2009 at 1:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

Wiggle Room

Dozens of Haysville preschoolers and their parents ‘got a wiggle on’ and came to the Haysville Community Library this morning.

At ten o’clock, children’s author Doreen Cronin met with the preschool children of Haysville in the community room at the library to read from her book Wiggle, this year’s featured book for Kansas Reads to Preschoolers. As Cathy Gray, director of Healthy Kansas Kids describes it, Wiggle is “a fun book that can get you moving.” An active and enthusiastic audience seemed certainly to agree.

The Haysville Community Library was one of only five libraries statewide selected for a visit by Cronin, who has also written the Caldecott Honor book Click Clack Moo, and most recently Bounce (2007) and Stretch (2009), among numerous other titles.

Want to learn more? Visit the Wiggle Page at Kansas Reads to Preschoolers, or the author’s own website, here.

Published in: on November 17, 2009 at 12:18 pm  Leave a Comment  

Whale versus Squid

National Geographic presents a series of 5 remarkable photos showing giant sperm whales devouring giant squid off Japan’s Bonin Islands. You’ll also find a link there to the first photographs of a live giant squid, taken just three years ago.

Published in: on November 16, 2009 at 6:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

Islands From Above

From NASA's Landsat 7 satellite, the largest of the Galapagos Islands, Isla Isabela, and its nearest neighbors

Earlier this month, Wired Magazine posted an absolutely phenomenal slideshow of nearly a dozen islands as viewed from near-Earth orbit: Out of the Blue: Islands Seen from Space. From presently uninhabited Millennium Island in Kiribati to the Hawaiian Island chain, the images are stunning.

Atafu Atoll, Tokelau, as viewed from the International Space Station

Published in: on November 16, 2009 at 5:31 pm  Leave a Comment