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4.9.18

CNN wont make me feel guilty

Without advocating a militant Green-Peace agenda and complaining about the modern society with its addiction to more and more convenient life style, I usually feel quite in good partnership with the world and nature. I hate fast food, burgers, any convenience food (because it usually tastes like shit), I use my bike to ride to work on 95% of the time of the year, and we heat our house with renewable energy (wood pellets). And of course as good citizens, we separate our domestic waste into recyclable and organic stuff.
So in general, I have little reason to feel environmentally guilty as a member of the developed world.
But today, while watching me most favorite news channel CNN, I nearly found myself sitting right in the dock accused of spoiling the world with a torrent of micro-plastic. They argued that one of the most ignored sources of plastic waste in the environment (and finally in the world oceans) is CHEWING GUM !!!!



Shit, I thought, now they got me. Since childhood I am a regular chewer, since I could convince my West-German uncle to regular send me Wrigley's Hollywood, Juicy Fruit or Fix and Foxy for doing something good to his nephews teeth. An estimated 50 years of regular chewing gum consumption, one 50 gram pack per day, would amount to a huge 900 kg mass. I guess one would need a truck to carry this away, and most likely the local EPA authorities would classify this as hazardous waste, and charge me 10 x times more for its removal than what it had originally costed in the supermarket.
After sorting out what might have happened with 900 kg of chewing gum after I chew out all of the peppermint and juice fruit flavor from it, I realized that in fact I acted environmentally friendly right from childhood on, since I hated to spit out the chewing gum on the street or in the waste basket, but used to swallow it instead. So now the question arises what happened with 900 kg of chewing gum (which according to CNN is made out of synthetic rubber) in my stomach and further down the intestinal tract ? They argue that after it is broken down into tiny pieces, it accumulates in vertebrate organism such as fish or human beings. But this would violate the physical law of conservation of mass, since I myself weight 71 kg, and the 900 kg chewing gum must have left a trace. Without going much into detail, I also can confirm that no chewing gums ever left my body together with the other types of excretions. Not even the clinical analysis done during regular medical check ups gave any reason to suspect of micro-plastics in the various biological samples that I provided to them.
So it seems that our digestive system is able to degrade chewing gum completely and even turn it into something nutritionally useful. So maybe each pack of chewing gum should carry a warning saying: "To protect the nature from micro-plastic, please swallow the chewing gum after use".

14.8.18

Another such victory and I will be totally ruined ...

“Victory belongs to the most persevering” (Napoleon Bonaparte)

What would really interest me, if Napoleon coin this phrase before or after his invasion of Russia ended in a completed desaster and half a million french soldiers losing their life.
One should always be cautious with the egocentric and arrogant reflections of great man AND woman, in particular when they have just reached the climax of success, usually before they have to deal with the first strokes of fate. I don’t know if , on average, men are more prone to this. But there are also “successful woman” who think that they have to teach the whole world how to do it right. Usually it is just a matter of time before the house of cards start to deteriorate. Have a look to the short period of fame around the THERANOS company and its over-hyped founder Elizabeth Holmes. Still in 2014, Homes was profiled in Fortune and subsequently featured in Forbes as “the youngest self-made female billionaire in the world.” In reality, however, the company’s technology was dangerously flawed and produced erroneous results, although that did not stop Ms Holmes from launching a service that carried out tens of thousands of tests.
Read the story by John Carreyrou in the New Yorker and follow a reading at YouTube


And I think I should soon write about some fellow scientists I know myself, who were once placed on a pedestal, only to take a plunge. I would not say, however, that they experienced a sort of great misfortune. This might also happen, but usually people can recover. What is more characteristic is that people with an initial phase of success start to lose their own self-control, ignore warnings by others, and in particular in science they develop the attitude of "Fake it until you make it". This way, they become so much convinced that they are destinies darlings, that whatever they do, it must be their next big victory.

3.6.18

The success of the intelligent leader

Soaring migrant birds exploit columns of rising air (thermals) to cover large distances with minimal energy. Trying to solve this optimisation task would be a challenging analytical work for a maths or physics student, or a ressources consuming task for a super-computer. Among migranting birds such as European white storks there seem to be a few individuals that show extraordinary tallent in solving this task. Following single storks in a flock on its way from Northern-Middle Europe to the Mediterranean and Africa, researchers at the MPI in Bavaria could identify a few "leaders" who were always able to pick the best route, making maximal use of natural thermal streams. Analyzing individual and group movements on multiple scales revealed that a small number of leaders navigated to and explored thermals, whereas followers benefited from their movements. Despite this benefit, followers often left thermals earlier and at lower height, and consequently they had to flap considerably more. Followers also migrated less far annually than did leaders. These flock leaders were not the birds with highest muscle mass, but seem to be outstanding in their intellectual performance.

 Related image

The  strategy of the intelligent flock leaders:
  • visual search for nearby thermals (most likely based on particular cloud patterns)
  • estimate the gain of heights a particular thermal could provide
  • estimate the distance of the thermal from the planned flight route
  • ballance the gain of heigth in the thermal versus the required extra distance to reach it
  • make a decision to stay on direct route or deviate to the next thermal
This way, intelligent storks (and the flock who is following) can bridge large distances without flapping its wings, simply by gently gliding. They will finally reach their destination thousands of miles away in a very relaxed state.



The strategy of the dull storks is much simpler:
  • they orientate by fixed landmarks (coastlines, mountains, lakes etc.) and by the sun, maybe also by the earth magnetic field and follow a defined flight route of minimal length and maximal safety
  • instead of gliding from one thermal rising air to the next, they have to flap their wings regularily
This way, they will be exhausted much faster. Sometimes they give up long way before raching their final destination and spend the winter time in mediterranean countries instead of Africa. Because of their exhaustive usage of wing muscles, they will grow stronger (like people going to a muscle shop). 
Nice to see that at least among birds, natural wisdom tells most of the members in a flock to follow the bright guy, but ignore the stupid muscle guy.