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science and technology 7

Fibonnaci numbers and packing problems

There are various sites exploring Fibonnaci numbers and packing problems, relative to flora and other matters.

Here are links to three with plentiful illustrations:
Fibonacci Numbers in Nature
Fibonacci numbers and nature
Fibonacci Numbers

related material
human classification systems

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related material
human classification systems




i can hardly believe this stuff! planetary conditions for life

“The Earth's core may be hotter than some scientists had thought.[...] due to large amounts of radio-active potassium-40 with a half-life of 1.25 billion years [...]

“This [magnetic] field helps to shield the planet from the solar wind, the stream of electrically charged particles that emanates from the Sun. Without it, the solar wind would have stripped away much of our atmosphere, and the Earth's surface would be showered with hazardous, high-energy particles, making it very difficult for life to persist.“

“Radioactive heating of the Earth's interior has always been crucial to the grand questions of our planet's history. Shortly before radioactivity was discovered in the nineteenth century, the physicist Lord Kelvin [1824-1907] estimated that it would have taken the Earth just 98 million years since its formation to cool to its present state.”

There is growing belief that life would not be possible with even very slight differences in the basic constants of nature, constants such as the speed of light and the forces that hold atoms together.
In other words, if the universe was even rather slightly different than it seems to be, we would not be here to observe it!

This is known as ‘the anthropic principle’.

This idea is discussed widely and fairly clearly in The Constants of Nature by John D. Barrow.

Barrow is a good teacher, but I imagine the grasp on this strange idea is not yet fully worked out, hence some muddiness and obscurity spiced with speculation!

I was particularly impressed with the discussion and conditions for ‘resonance’ (p.154 – 6, NY edition) suggesting that, with remarkable small differences in the strong nuclear force and the fine structure constant, there would be no carbon!
But this is far too difficult for me to explain, I’d have to re-read parts of the book several times, and a lot of background as well, to feel I had a fair grasp on the details of the argument.
However, the book is an interesting and fun read if you want to get some idea of investigations in this area. I spent good money on it, read it right through and feel I got my money’s worth.
Recommended Three and a half GoldenYak (tm) Award

The Constants of Nature: From Alpha to Omega—The Numbers That Encode the Deepest Secrets of the Universe
by John D. Barrow

Jan 2003, Pantheon Books, NY, hbk,0375422218 $18.20 []

2002, Jonathan Cape, hbk, 0224061356, £12.59
Aug 2003, Vintage, pbk, 0099286475, £6.39

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new order of insects—the first new order since 1914
in three parts: part 1 part 2 part 3

A potted description of the new order can be found here.

“....shares many characteristics with that of grasshoppers, walkingsticks and mantises. But gladiators are different in critical ways from those and all other insect orders. A new order, Mantophasmatodea, was therefore announced in April. So far it contains at least three living and two extinct species.”

Both these items contain small illustrations.

I also noticed this :

“Another of the 650 species of tenebrionids that inhabit Namibia, Onymacris unguicularis, has become an international novelty because of its ingenuity. The same fogs that have caused shipwrecks for centuries, giving a section of the Namibian shoreline the name of Skeleton Coast, have shaped insect morphology and behavior. When the mist arrives, O. unguicularis tilts its body forward into the wind, and moisture rolls down its fused elytra into its mouth. In a 2001 Nature article British researchers described the structure of water-attracting bumps on Namib tenebrionid beetles that could inspire the design of water-collecting tents.”

It interested me as an example of ‘parallel evolution’, where a similar response is developed separately by more than one life form to meet similar environmental problems.

For the camel also has its lower lips arranged to catch moisture running from its nose; a.bit like messy young children, though they lick it up with their tongues.

Another example of parallel evolution can be seen in calluna (like a heather) and in pines, where the leaves fold back to meet at the back of the leaf. This is another water conservation ploy (the top of leaves tend to be waxy and more waterproof). There is a clear picture of calluna leaves here.

pine needle pair - thumbnail See here for abelard’s notated image of pine needles (pinus pinaster).

related material
human classification systems, using the example of classification of ‘living organisms’ (taxonomy)

the web address for this article is


related material
human classification systems, using the example of classification of ‘living organisms’ (taxonomy)

mercury transits the sun

Transits across the sun by planets are infrequent, but there will be one very soon when, for five hours and 19 minutes, a tiny jet-black spot (Mercury) will ease across the Sun’s disc. The next transit will be made by Venus in 2004.

The transit starts on Wednesday 7 May 2003 at 05.12 UT/GMT. Mid-transit will be at 07.52 UT/GMT with Mercury clearing the Sun’s disc at 10.31 UT/GMT. The link above includes a table of predicted timings for various cities in Africa, Asia and Europe, .

image credit: Mercury transits the sun A transit is when a astral body, like a planet, passes in from of the sun, our nearest star.
With care, and the right equipment it can be viewed by the eager.
BUT remember, NEVER look directly at the sun with the naked eye or, even more foolishly, through a simple telescope or binoculars.

“Since Mercury is only 1/158th of the Sun's apparent diameter, a telescope is needed to watch the event, which must be suitably equipped with adequate solar filters to ensure safe solar viewing.

“Solar filters have to be purchased. It is not possible to improvise one and it is dangerous to try.”

If you are not sure what you are doing, or do not have the right equipment, watch the event on the Internet. There are several websites that will be streaming the transit live,such as European Southern Observatory (Eso) and the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (Soho).

“At the beginning of the transit the Sun shines over large areas of Europe, Asia and Australia. At the end, Europe, Africa and the western half of Asia are in sunlight. In America, only the end of the transit is visible.”

Another reason to watch on the net J

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possibility of improving mental function in the old

“Scientists may have discovered why the brain's higher information-processing center slows down in old age, affecting everything from language, to vision, to motor skills. The findings may also point toward drugs for reversing the process.”

“ If a lack of GABA is indeed responsible for the old neurons' indiscriminate firing, this problem may be simple enough to treat. Existing drugs, such as Xanax, increase GABA production, according to author Audie Leventhal of the University of Utah School of Medicine. These drugs haven't been carefully tested on the elderly, though. "The good news is there are a lot of drugs around that can facilitate GABA-ergic function and maybe some of them will help," said Leventhal.”

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