Return of a Killer Volcano – ScienceNOW

Return of a Killer Volcano

From the page: “What if one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recent history happened today? A new study suggests that a blast akin to one that devastated Iceland in the 1780s would waft noxious gases southwestward and kill tens of thousands of people in Europe. And in a modern world that is intimately connected by air traffic and international trade, economic activity across much of Europe, including the production and import of food, could plummet.

From June of 1783 until February of 1784, the Laki volcano in south-central Iceland erupted. Although the event didn’t produce large amounts of volcanic ash, it did spew an estimated 122 million metric tons of sulfur dioxide gas into the sky – a volume slightly higher than human industrial activity today produces in the course of a year, says Anja Schmidt, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom.

Historical records suggest that in the 2 years after the Laki eruption, approximately 10,000 Icelanders died – about one-fifth of the population – along with nearly three-quarters of the island’s livestock. Parish records in England reveal that in the summer of 1783, when the event began, death rates were between 10% and 20% above normal. The Netherlands, Sweden, and Italy reported episodes of decreased visibility, respiratory difficulties, and increased mortality associated with the eruption. According to one study, an estimated 23,000 people died from exposure to the volcanic aerosols in Britain alone. But elsewhere in Europe, it’s difficult to separate deaths triggered by the air pollution from those caused by starvation or disease, which were prominent causes of death at the time.

To assess how such an eruption might affect the densely populated Europe of today, Schmidt and her colleagues plugged a few numbers into a computer simulation. They used weather models to estimate where sulfur dioxide emissions from an 8-month-long eruption that commenced in June would end up. They also estimated the resulting increases in the concentrations of airborne particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers across, the size of aerosols that are most easily drawn into human lungs and that cause cardiopulmonary distress. Then, they used modern medical data to estimate how many people those aerosols would kill.

In the first 3 months after the hypothetical eruption began, the average aerosol concentration over Europe would increase by 120%, the team reports online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The number of days during the eruption in which aerosol concentrations exceed air-quality standards would rise to 74, when a normal period that length typically includes only 38. Not surprisingly, the air would become thickest with dangerous particles in areas downwind of the eruption, such as Iceland and northwestern Europe, where aerosol concentrations would more than triple. But aerosol concentrations in southern Europe would also increase dramatically, rising by 60%.

In the year after the hypothetical eruption commences, the increased air pollution swept from Iceland to Europe would cause massive amounts of heart and lung disease, killing an estimated 142,000 people. Fewer than half that number of Europeans die from seasonal flu each year….”

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Self-delusion is a winning survival strategy, study suggests

Self-Delusion Is a Winning Survival Strategy, Study Suggests

From the page: “Harboring a mistakenly inflated belief that we can easily meet challenges or win conflicts is actually good for us, a new study suggests. Researchers have shown for the first time that overconfidence actually beats accurate assessments in a wide variety of situations, be it sport, business or even war.

However, this bold approach also risks wreaking ever-greater havoc. The authors cite the 2008 financial crash and the 2003 Iraq war as just two examples of when extreme overconfidence backfired.

A team from the University of Edinburgh and the University of California, San Diego used a mathematical model to simulate the effects of overconfidence over generations. It pitted overconfident, accurate, and under-confident strategies against each other.

A paper published in Nature September 14 shows that overconfidence frequently brings rewards, as long as spoils of conflict are sufficiently large compared with the costs of competing for them. In contrast, people with unbiased, accurate perceptions usually fare worse.

The implications are that, over a long period of time the evolutionary principal of natural selection is likely to have favored a bias towards overconfidence. Therefore people with the mentality of someone like boxer Mohammad Ali would have left more descendents than those with the mindset of film maker Woody Allen.

The evolutionary model also showed that overconfidence becomes greatest in the face of high levels of uncertainty and risk. When we face unfamiliar enemies or new technologies, overconfidence becomes an even better strategy.

Dr Dominic Johnson, reader in Politics and International Relations at the University: “The model shows that overconfidence can plausibly evolve in wide range of environments, as well as the situations in which it will fail. The question now is how to channel human overconfidence so we can exploit its benefits while avoiding occasional disasters.””

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Keep Your Fingers Crossed: How Superstition Improves Performance – US News and World Report

Keep Your Fingers Crossed: How Superstition Improves Performance

From the page: “Don’t scoff at those lucky rabbit feet. New research shows that having some kind of lucky token can actually improve your performance – by increasing your self-confidence.

“I watch a lot of sports, and I read about sports, and I noticed that very often athletes – also famous athletes – hold superstitions,” says Lysann Damisch of the University of Cologne. Michael Jordan wore his college team shorts underneath his NBA uniform for good luck; Tiger Woods wears a red shirt on tournament Sundays, usually the last and most important day of a tournament. “And I was wondering, why are they doing so?” Damisch thought that a belief in superstition might help people do better by improving their confidence. With her colleagues Barbara Stoberock and Thomas Mussweiler, also of the University of Cologne, she designed a set of experiments to see if activating people’s superstitious beliefs would improve their performance on a task.

In one of the experiments, volunteers were told to bring a lucky charm with them. Then the researchers took it away to take a picture. People brought in all kinds of items, from old stuffed animals to wedding rings to lucky stones. Half of the volunteers were given their charm back before the test started; the other half were told there was a problem with the camera equipment and they would get it back later. Volunteers who had their lucky charm did better at a memory game on the computer, and other tests showed that this difference was because they felt more confident. They also set higher goals for themselves. Just wishing someone good luck – with “I press the thumbs for you,” the German version of crossing your fingers – improved volunteers’ success at a task that required manual dexterity. The research is published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science

Of course, even Michael Jordan lost basketball games sometimes. “It doesn’t mean you win, because of course winning and losing is something else,” says Damisch. “Maybe the other person is stronger.””

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Ettore Majorana: genius and mystery – CERN Courier

Ettore Majorana: genius and mystery

From the page: “Ettore Majorana est né en Sicile en 1906. Physicien extrêmement doué, il faisait partie à Rome dans les années 30 du fameux groupe de Fermi avant de disparaître mystérieusement en mars 1938. Dans cet article, Antonino Zichichi jette un double regard sur Ettore Majorana: le mystère de sa disparition et le génie de sa contribution à la physique, en s’appuyant sur les souvenirs de grands physiciens comme Fermi et Oppenheimer.

Ettore Majorana was born in Sicily in 1906. An extremely gifted physicist, he was a member of Enrico Fermi’s famous group in Rome in the 1930s, before mysteriously disappearing in March 1938.

Ettore Majorana

The great Sicilian writer, Leonardo Sciascia, was convinced that Majorana decided to disappear because he foresaw that nuclear forces would lead to nuclear explosives a million times more powerful than conventional bombs, like those that would destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Sciascia came to visit me at Erice where we discussed this topic for several days. I tried to change his mind, but there was no hope. He was too absorbed by an idea that, for a writer, was simply too appealing. In retrospect, after years of reflection on our meetings, I believe that one of my assertions about Majorana’s genius actually corroborated Sciascia’s idea. At one point in our conversations I assured Sciascia that it would have been nearly impossible – given the state of physics in those days – for a physicist to foresee that a heavy nucleus could be broken to trigger the chain reaction of nuclear fission. Impossible for what Enrico Fermi called first-rank physicists, those who were making important inventions and discoveries, I suggested, but not for geniuses such as Majorana. Maybe this information convinced Sciascia that his idea about Majorana was not just probable, but actually true – a truth that his disappearance further corroborated.

Laura Fermi

There are also those who think Majorana’s disappearance was related to spiritual faith and that he retreated to a monastery. This perspective on Majorana as a believer comes from his confessor, Monsignor Riccieri, who I met when he came from Catania to Trapani as Bishop. Remarking on his disappearance, Riccieri told me that Majorana had experienced “mystical crises” and that, in his opinion, suicide in the sea was to be excluded. Bound by the sanctity of confessional, he could tell me no more. After the establishment of the Erice Centre, which bears Majorana’s name, I had the privilege of meeting Majorana’s entire family. No one ever believed it was suicide. Majorana was an enthusiastic and devout Catholic and, moreover, he withdrew his savings from the bank a week before his disappearance. The hypothesis shared by his family and others who had the privilege of knowing him (Fermi’s wife Laura was one of the few) is that he withdrew to a monastery.

Laura Fermi recalls that when Majorana disappeared, Enrico Fermi said to his wife, “Ettore was too intelligent. If he has decided to disappear, no-one will be able to find him. Nevertheless, we have to consider all possibilities.” In fact, Fermi even tried to get Benito Mussolini himself to support the search. On that occasion (in Rome in 1938), Fermi said: “There are several categories of scientists in the world; those of second or third rank do their best but never get very far. Then there is the first rank, those who make important discoveries, fundamental to scientific progress. But then there are the geniuses, like Galilei and Newton. Majorana was one of these.”

Animated discussion

A genius, however, who looked on his own work as completely banal: once a problem was solved, Majorana did his best to leave no trace of his own brilliance. This can be witnessed in the stories of the neutron discovery and the hypothesis of the neutrinos that bear his name, as recalled below by Emilio Segré and Giancarlo Wick (on the neutron) and by Bruno Pontecorvo (on neutrinos). Majorana’s comprehension of the physics of his time had a completeness that few others in the world could match….”

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Voting causes stress: study

Voting Causes Stress: Study

From the page: “According to Prof. Hagit Cohen from the Anxiety and Stress Research Unit at BGU’s Faculty of Health Sciences, “We understand that emotional changes are related and affect various physiological processes, but we were surprised that voting in democratic elections causes emotional reactions accompanied by such physical and psychological stress that can easily influence our decision making.”

In a study to be published in the print journal, European Neuropsychopharmacology, researchers found that the level of cortisol – a hormone secreted in times of stress to help the body cope with threats — was nearly three times higher just before voting than the cortisol level of the control group, and nearly twice their level 21 months later. It is known that when a person is in a state of stress, threat or emotional distress, the body releases a series of hormones such as cortisol, known as the “stress hormone.”

The study was conducted on Israel’s Election Day in 2009 on 113 people who were on their way to vote. They were asked to give a saliva sample for cortisol testing and to complete a questionnaire examining their emotional arousal at a stand that was placed about 10 meters from the ballot box. The control group consisted of other people from the same area who were asked to give a saliva test and complete the questionnaire on post-election day.

The study also found that people were more emotionally aroused just before casting their ballot. “Since we do not like to feel ‘stressed out’,” adds Prof. Cohen, “It is unclear whether this pressure on Election Day can influence people and cause them not to vote at all. Impact on voter turnout is particularly important given that the stress levels rise if our preferred party or candidate for whom we want to vote is not popular in the polls and projections.”

The researchers emphasized that their findings are only a first step in understanding the relationship between stress at a biological level and voting, and that their study did not examine — and therefore did not find — if high levels of cortisol affect choice. However, evidence about the decision making processes and biological processes in the body should be explored in future research.”

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Buddies in the Saddle: Old West glossary

Old West Glossary
I learned a number of these as a kid, and use a few from time to time still.

From the page: “A to Izzard = A to Z. “One man who don’t know nothin’ about prospectin’ goes an’ stumbles over a fortune an’ those who know it from A to Izzard goes ’round pullin’ in their belts.” Clarence E. Mulford, Bar-20

all wool and a yard wide = genuine, not fake, honorable. “‘I never denied you much,’ he looked down at her. ‘But the man that gets you’s got to be all wool an’ a yard wide.'” Bertrand Sinclair, Wild West

beard = to confront boldly. “He felt that Mark would not risk bearding both himself and Dan Mayne on their own ground.” Bertrand Sinclair, Wild West

botts = a parasitic infestation of the intestines of animals, especially horses, by larvae of the botfly. “Why, once over on Snake River, when Andrew McWilliams’ saddle horse got the botts, he sent a buckboard ten miles for one of these strangers that claimed to be a botanist.” O. Henry, Heart of the West

cap-a-pie = head to foot, complete. “In a week the J7 was cap-a-pie – fourteen cow-punchers, two horse wranglers, a capable cook, wagons stocked with grub.” Bertrand Sinclair, Wild West

chaffing = teasing, bantering (also chaffering). “I was prepared to hear a good deal of chaffing about getting lost.” Bertrand Sinclair, Raw Gold

crack-loo = a form of gambling in which coins are tossed high into the air with the object having one’s coin land nearest a crack in the floor. “Then they would order three or four new California saddles from the storekeeper, and play crack-loo on the sidewalk with twenty-dollar gold pieces.” O. Henry, Heart of the West

cut ice = be important, carry weight. “But you cut a lot of ice in this country, or your dad does, and it’s the same thing.” Bertrand Sinclair, Wild West

cut up didoes = play pranks. “But you ain’t a-helpin’ yourself a-cuttin’ of didoes like this.” Bertrand Sinclair, Raw Gold

dragging the long rope = “a range euphemism for stealing other men’s cattle, specifically unbranded calves.” Bertrand Sinclair, Wild West

galley-west = askew, confused, lopsided. “That scheme was knocked galley-west and crooked.” Bertrand Sinclair, Raw Gold

gazabo = a fellow, a guy (derogatory). “‘That long, stoop-shouldered gazabo’s got the stuff on him,’ he growled.” Bertrand Sinclair, Raw Gold

heeled = armed, wearing a gun. “Maybe he’d ‘a’ got me if I’d been heeled.” Bertrand Sinclair, Wild West

hop the twig = make a hasty exit. “If I catches Birdie off of Mired Mule again, I’ll make him hop the twig.” O. Henry, Heart of the West

Ishmael = an outcast. “Months in a strange country had taught Robin that he was not the stuff of which an Ishmael is made.” Bertrand Sinclair, Wild West

kalsomining = applying a whitewash to ceiling or walls. “The bartender rounded the bar in a casual way, looking up at the ceiling as though he was pondering some intricate problem of kalsomining.” O. Henry, Heart of the West

megrims = depression, unhappiness. “Overtaken by the megrims, the philosopher may seek relief in soliloquy.” O. Henry, Heart of the West

perdu = hidden, concealed. “Until after the noon hour we laid perdu in the hollow, no wiser for our watching.” Bertrand Sinclair, Raw Gold

play hunk = get even. “‘Th’ wall-eyed piruts,’ he muttered, and then scratched his head for a way to ‘play hunk’.” Clarence E. Mulford, Bar-20

pound one’s ear = to sleep. “Gee whiz, I’m sleepy! I’m goin’ to pound my ear again.” Bertrand Sinclair, Wild West

put the skibunk on = impose, defraud. “I couldn’t let him put the skibunk on you.” O. Henry, Heart of the West

shebang = hut, house, home, quarters. “There was a kind of sheebang – you couldn’t call it a hotel if you had any regard for the truth – on the outskirts of Walsh, for the accommodation of wayfarers.” Bertrand Sinclair, Raw Gold

skypiece = brains. “If you only got a twice-by-two skypiece all the schoolin’ in the world won’t land you on top of the heap.” Bertrand Sinclair, Wild West

snoozer = sheep or sheep man. “He’d been raised a cow pony and didn’t much care for snoozers.” O. Henry, Heart of the West

spite house = a building constructed or modified to irritate neighbors or other property owners. “‘Twas a ranch country, and fuller of spite-houses than New York City.” O. Henry, “The Hiding of Black Bill”

stirrup cup = a last drink before leaving. “They would ordinarily have found some of the outfit, perhaps have played stud poker an hour or two, taken a stirrup cup and departed.” Bertrand Sinclair, Wild West”

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Volare – Dean Martin

Volare – Dean Martin
I absolutely love this song!

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