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Friday, January 4th, 2013
7:36a - [PHOTO] Tree at evening
One nice thing about Flickr's offer of three months of Flickr Pro membership (expiring today!) is that it gives me access again to old photos, images I uploaded to my Flickr account and intended to share that got pushed back into inaccessibility after I uploaded 200 or more photos.

I took this photo in June of last year, walking home along Dupont past Kaolin Designs at 477 Dupont Street. I'd photographed this tree before, taking a picture with a different camera in November 2010 and later blogging it. Something about its scraggliness has gives it a bonsai-esque character for me.

Tree at evening

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10:59a - [CAT] "Can Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium become Britain's first cat café?"
I blogged about the cat cafes of Japan 2009 and 2012. The Independent's Matilda Battersby now reports that the United Kingdom is now slated to get one.

An attempt to set one up via crowd-funding has got off to a flying start raising thousands in just days from pledges of a fiver each from punters eager to “pop in for a pat”.

Founder Lauren Pears is hoping to entice visitors to Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium by providing up to 15 moggies for lap warming, cuddles, scratches (be warned!) and games with bits of string.

“I think Brits will take to it. Lots of people live in small flats or their working lives make it impractical to keep pets,” Pears says. “It's not just about being able to play with the cats. It's about the whole experience. Come in from the cold to a comfortable wingback chair, a hot cup of tea, a book, and a cat.”

There are believed to be around 40 cat cafés in Tokyo, the first of which opened in 1998. With London at the mercy of soaring rents and many of us priced out of the buying market, the opportunity to rent a bit of feline affection for a couple of hours – without the commitment or landlord trouble - couldn’t be more purrfect.

It might be new here but Europe is catching on to the capitalist appeal of our furry friends. Austria’s Café Neko (which means cat in Japanese) opened last July swiftly followed by Cats Republic in St Petersburg which houses four retired mousers from the State Hermitage Museum.

Anyone with food hygiene concerns will be reassured that the risk of toxoplasmosis and other cat-related zoonoses will be minimised by strict rules and regulations. The Food Standards Agency permits animals in a cafe, but legislates that “reasonable precaution” must be taken (and demonstrable) to prevent domestic animals from accessing food preparation areas.

Non-human attendants will be thoroughly vaccinated, neutered and otherwise medically approved, so you can enjoy a cat, a cappuccino and a sarnie without fear.

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1:47p - [LINK] Two links on the abundance of planets in our galaxy
First, Phys.org's Marcus Woo writes about the recent claim by a team of astronomers at Caltech that red dwarf stars, the least massive and dimmest yet by far most common sort of star, are likely to have relatively extensive planetary systems. They base this claim on a detailed analysis of the system of Kepler-32, a red dwarf system charted by NASA's Kepler planet-hunting spacecraft--see its article in the Russian-language Wikipedia.

The planets orbit a star that is an M dwarf—a type that accounts for about three-quarters of all stars in the Milky Way. The five planets, which are similar in size to Earth and orbit close to their star, are also typical of the class of planets that the telescope has discovered orbiting other M dwarfs, Swift says. Therefore, the majority of planets in the galaxy probably have characteristics comparable to those of the five planets.

While this particular system may not be unique, what does set it apart is its coincidental orientation: the orbits of the planets lie in a plane that's positioned such that Kepler views the system edge-on. Due to this rare orientation, each planet blocks Kepler -32's starlight as it passes between the star and the Kepler telescope.

By analyzing changes in the star's brightness, the astronomers were able to determine the planets' characteristics, such as their sizes and orbital periods. This orientation therefore provides an opportunity to study the system in great detail—and because the planets represent the vast majority of planets that are thought to populate the galaxy, the team says, the system also can help astronomers better understand planet formation in general.

[. . .]

One of the fundamental questions regarding the origin of planets is how many of them there are. Like the Caltech group, other teams of astronomers have estimated that there is roughly one planet per star, but this is the first time researchers have made such an estimate by studying M-dwarf systems, the most numerous population of planets known.

To do that calculation, the Caltech team determined the probability that an M-dwarf system would provide Kepler-32's edge-on orientation. Combining that probability with the number of planetary systems Kepler is able to detect, the astronomers calculated that there is, on average, one planet for every one of the approximately 100 billion stars in the galaxy. But their analysis only considers planets that are in close orbits around M dwarfs—not the outer planets of an M-dwarf system, or those orbiting other kinds of stars. As a result, they say, their estimate is conservative. In fact, says Swift, a more accurate estimate that includes data from other analyses could lead to an average of two planets per star.

[. . .]

The fact that the planets in M-dwarf systems are so close to their stars doesn't necessarily mean that they're fiery, hellish worlds unsuitable for life, the astronomers say. Indeed, because M dwarfs are small and cool, their temperate zone—also known as the "habitable zone," the region where liquid water might exist—is also further inward. Even though only the outermost of Kepler-32's five planets lies in its temperate zone, many other M dwarf systems have more planets that sit right in their temperate zones.

As for how the Kepler-32 system formed, no one knows yet. But the team says its analysis places constraints on possible mechanisms. For example, the results suggest that the planets all formed farther away from the star than they are now, and migrated inward over time.

Second, James Nicoll notes at his blog claim by the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo's Planetary Habitability Laboratory that the Kepler spacecraft has identified, out of sixteen thousand possible planetary detection events, 262 potentially Earth-like worlds: "four subterrans (Mars-size), 23 terrans (Earth-size), and 235 superterrans (super Earth-size)". Comments in Nicoll's post lead to discussions pointing out that many of these identifications are preliminary and can have alternate explanations--some stars might be more variable than expected, say. Still.

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4:35p - [LINK] "Bolivia Takes the Leap into the Big Pond of Mercosur"
Inter Press Service's Mario Osava writes</u> about Bolivia's interest in joining Mercosur, the South American trade bloc co-founded by Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and the recently-suspended Paraguay and recently expanded to include Argentina. Politically, Mercosur seems suited for Bolivia; economically, Bolivia has a large trading deficit with its potential trading partners if natural gas is excluded. Moreover, the future of the bloc as a meaningful entity seems open to question, between Paraguay's suspension and perennial disunity in trade talks with the European Union.

“Before Bolivia has even entered Mercosur, the bloc has already entered Bolivia, and it is doing so to a growing extent,” through bilateral trade agreements, observed Gary Rodríguez, general manager of the Bolivian Institute of Foreign Trade (IBCE).

When natural gas, which represents 96 percent of Bolivia’s exports to Mercosur, is added to the equation, the balance is reversed, leaving Bolivia with a 1.692-billion-dollar trade surplus.

But gas exports are based on operations and agreements between national governments and do not involve the private sector, stressed Rodríguez in an interview with IPS at the IBCE headquarters in Santa Cruz, where he shares the same concerns and the same office tower with powerful business owners in the eastern Bolivian department (province) of the same name.

His greatest concern is for the future of Bolivian private companies. Last year, for example, 30 million dollars worth of shoes were imported from Brazil. In conditions like these, “we won’t be able to continue manufacturing ourselves,” said Rodríguez, who fears that the Bolivian market will be flooded with these and other goods in the event of a devaluation of the Argentine peso and Brazilian real against the dollar.

But Mercosur membership, the path chosen by the government of leftist President Evo Morales, could open up new prospects for Bolivian business owners “especially those involved in big agribusiness in eastern Bolivia,” Tullo Vigévani, a professor at Paulista State University in Brazil, told IPS.

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9:10p - [LINK] "Canadian-born politician is first member of the French National Assembly"
The Globe and Mail's Carolyne Byrne reports on the election of a Canadian-born French/Canadian dual citizen, one Axelle Lemaire, as representative in the French National Assembly for the region of northern Europe.

MP Axelle Lemaire is the face of French President François Hollande’s Socialist party in London. And Helsinki. And Estonia. And a few other places, including one country she’s never visited.

“I try to represent the spirit of northern Europe,” the Canadian-born Ms. Lemaire explained, more than once, when asked to describe her role as the first member of the French National Assembly for north Europe.

The 38-year-old mother of two from what is now the city of Gatineau, Que., landed a seat at the heart of power in parliamentary elections in June, after voters replaced president Nicolas Sarkozy with the anti-austerity Mr. Hollande. Her post was created when the French constitution was changed in 2009 to create 11 Assembly members to represent the 1.6 million French living abroad.

As a long-time socialist activist, she was considered a long shot. “I thought most of French citizens [abroad] were rather more on [the] bourgeois, banking, professional sector side and therefore it was not a guaranteed Socialist seat,” said one of her former employers, Britain’s former minister for Europe Denis MacShane.

[. . .]

Ms. Lemaire sees no contradiction in being a Socialist in a country dominated by conservative, Euro-skeptics or in working as an MP representing 10 countries but with a niche brief. She campaigned on improving French schools overseas, protecting the right to dual nationality (she retains her Canadian citizenship) and the recognition of French professional qualifications overseas.

“I’m meeting … with parents who send their children to French school who are concerned with the high fees,” Ms. Lemaire said when pressed for a practical example of how her Socialist ideals are utilized on the job. She also represents constituent views to Paris on matters such as immigration, justice and the economy, she said.

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9:36p - [LINK] "Build Your Own Poland"
Strange Maps' Frank Jacobs takes a look at the world of alternate history, posting a most interesting map of Poland.

The map shows a patchwork of territories in a constellation vaguely recognisable as interbellum Poland, but with added padding. These extra territories allow the respondents to decide which ones should or shouldn't become (or remain) Polish. For this map is the result of a survey among the mapmaker's peer group of allohistory buffs, and some real-world statistical analysis.

The question of the Optimal Borders Map Survey was: Which territories depicted here do you consider essential components of a Polish state?

[. . . W]hat would an ideal Poland have looked like? That depends on your definition of ideal, of course: the best borders from a military/strategic point of view? From an economic/industrial standpoint? Or should one opt for the most ethnically homogenous territory? Or perhaps choose borders grounded in the history of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth?

The end result looks like a heat map of Poland, with the cool dark greens of the central area denoting 'most optimal' Polish territories, the warmer yellows towards the periphery being 'less optimal' and the fiery reds along the edges 'least optimal'. The number in each territory is the composite score out of 10, with 0 reflecting a total rejection by all respondents, and 10 unanimous inclusion in an 'optimal Polish state'.

Arrows and a few symbols towards the edges of the map provide a few other options, all of which receive scant support, except one: Access to the sea (9.6).

The 'most optimal' territory is a large, central swathe of Poland (10.0), the 'least optimal' one is Subcarpathian Ruthenia (0.1), which has the distinction of being the tail that fell off Czechoslovakia to become an independent state for no longer than one day [9].

The biggest discrepancy between the outer borders of 'potential Poland' and the resultant 'optimal Poland' is towards the north, where northern East Prussia, Memel and most of Lithuania are coloured red, and towards the east, now part of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia respectively. What shines through, are the northern and eastern borders of interbellum Poland - give or take a plebiscited area or two.

Go to the page to see the map in question. Ingenious work.

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