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Day January 27, 2010

Rest in Peace Howard Zinn & J.D. Salinger


Howard Zinn, 1922-2010

“His writings have changed the consciousness of a generation, and helped open new paths to understanding and its crucial meaning for our lives. When action has been called for, one could always be confident that he would be on the front lines, an example and trustworthy guide.”

Noam Chomsky

Boston.com article on his passing.

J.D. Salinger, 1919-2010

J.D. Salinger, the legendary author, youth hero and fugitive from fame whose “The Catcher in the Rye” shocked and inspired a world he increasingly shunned, has died. He was 91.

Mr. Salinger died of natural causes at his home on Wednesday, the author’s son said in a statement from Mr. Salinger’s literary representative. He had lived for decades in self-imposed isolation in the small, remote house in Cornish, N.H.

“The Catcher in the Rye,” with its immortal teenage protagonist, the twisted, rebellious Holden Caulfield, came out in 1951, a time of anxious, Cold War conformity and the dawn of modern adolescence. The Book-of-the-Month Club, which made “Catcher” a featured selection, advised that for “anyone who has ever brought up a son” the novel will be “a source of wonder and delight—and concern.”

The rest of the Wall Street Journal article is here.

Depressing Local News?

From the Gothamist:

Asylum released these fun new pie charts today showing how depressing local news is in America. Conclusion? It’s all pretty damn depressing. Their misery index separates the news into ten categories, then ranks them in order from heartbreaking (accidents) to harmless (weather and travel.) Based on how much airtime each category was given, they calculated who wins for the most depressing city. The amount of coverage dedicated to sports at the expense of other news is in itself depressing. But how did we score?

NYC ties with D.C. for 8th saddest city, with 23% of our local news time going to crime, 15% to the economy, and 5% to accidents. However, we spend a surprising 0% on corruption (Jersey territory?). And hey, their depressing highlight just happens to be coverage of the heroin pamphlets! However, we can all be thankful because our news is nowhere near as depressing as Boston’s, which ranks #1, spending 40% of their time on crime and 20% on accidents. Maybe they’re just sad about that 18% on sports because the RED SOX SUCK!”

In data visualization news…

The ocean near Okinawa (upper left)/Google Earth.

From the Wired article by Alexis Madrigal
Google Teams With NOAA to Make Better Ocean Visualizations:

Data from the depths could get a lot less murky soon, thanks to a new partnership announced by Google and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

NOAA will provide data from its various ocean-science programs and Google will build tools to visualize that information, the two organizations announced Tuesday. The deal extends a collaboration that began when Google built NOAA’s underwater topography into Google Earth. The two entities have continued to work together on other projects, such as incorporating satellite measurements on coral-reef bleaching.

The partnership will include porting more ocean depth, climate and other scientific data into Google Earth as well as providing online access to zoning and regulatory information near the coasts. NOAA outreach programs like Science on a Sphere and the Okeanos Explorer ship will also get some kind of Google makeover.

While the first Google oceans-data release generated a lot of excitement, its implementation brought a mixed response from specialists.

Casa da Música Vol. 02

Casa da Música Vol. 01

Dinosaur feathers

Differently shaped melanosomes contain differently coloured pigments

Excerpts from this BBC article:

A team of scientists from China and the UK has now revealed that the bristles of this 125 million-year-old dinosaur were in fact ginger-coloured feathers.

The researchers say that the diminutive carnivore had a “Mohican” of feathers running along its head and back. It also had a striped tail.

The team revealed details of the dinosaur’s coloured feathers in an article published on Nature’s website.

The team began by studying the fossilised remains of a bird, Confuciusornis, which also lived during the early cretaceous period.

Confuciusornis’ feathers were preserved in extraordinarily complete fossils that were recently discovered in northern China.

Using a powerful electron microscope to look inside the feathers, researchers were able to see microscopic structures called melanosomes, which, in life, contain the pigment melanin.

Sinosauropteryx had a "Mohican" of ginger feathers and a stripy tail

This gives more weight to a very well-supported theory that modern birds evolved from theropods, the group of small carnivorous dinosaurs to which Sinosauropteryx belonged.

“This discovery suggests that with more work we may be able to accurately reconstruct colour patterns in some dinosaur species, and begin to understand how those colour patterns may have functioned for camouflage or display.”

Monarch butterflies evolution in flight

Excerpts from this BBC article:

Monarch butterflies that migrate vast distances have grown larger bodies and wings, researchers have discovered.

These “supersized” butterflies have evolved to cope with the demands of long-distance flight.

In contrast, monarchs that live in one place all year have wings that are up to 20% smaller, report scientists in the journal Evolution.

Monarch butterflies undergo the longest recorded two-way migration of any insect.

Up to four generations of monarch butterfly complete a round trip of up to 8,000km, flying between northern US and Canada and Mexico in search of warmer temperatures.

But the new study is one of the first to show that populations within the same species can also evolve differently-shaped wings depending on their lifestyle.

“We were surprised that average wing size differences between migratory and non-migratory monarchs were so striking and consistent,” says Professor Sonia Altizer of the University of Georgia, in Athens, US.