Dear visitor (if there is any) please note the following: The blog "Broken Radius" is hosted at Google Blogger's server. I can therefore not guarantee that your visit to the blog or any comment you write wont be recorded by the NSA. If you have any worries about this, you can visit instead my alternative blog Letters-to-a-Persian-Cat. This one is hosted at a European server which hopefully acknowledges visitors privacy.


Tomatoes - from all around the world

Dear Ghazal, I think one of the best souvenirs one can bring home from a journey are plants. Knowing how easy it is to grow tomatoes from seeds, I am constantly on the hunt for some variants from other countries. In particular I like to collect the seeds from the ripe fruits themself, be it from a salat dish in a mediterranean restaurant, be it from an oriental vegetable market or from a small garden in a suburb village. 
After stripping the seeds from its viscous cover using a piece of tissue paper and drying them quickly between some sheets of a newspaper, they can be stored till next spring. Ideally, I remember the stored seeds in February or March, rehydrate them over night in some ml of water and put them about 5mm deep into a shallow box with garden soil. The box can be left under a plastic foil to keep it moist on a warm and sunny place behind the window (I prefer to place them on my office window). After a few days, one should see the first sprouts and than they grow quite fast, which requires the plastic foil to be removed. Since they start to consume water now from the soil and without the plastic foil there is also more evaporation, the box should be checked daily and if necessary, watered. 
Below shows the box after 3 weeks. I had seeded 6 variants of tomatoes, which are (from top left in clockwise order: 
1:  Oxheart-tomatoes (Bulgarian farmers market)
2:  Cocktail-tomatoes (from vegetable salat, Tratoria, Vietri-sul-Mare)
3:  Egg-tomatoes (Penny supermarket, Munich)
4:  Austrian Monster-tomatoes (stolen from my neighbours garden, Munich)
5:  Cherry-tomatoes (Carmel Market, Tel Aviv, Israel)
6:  Vine-tomatoes (Made in Hungary, Aldi supermarket, Munich)

6 tomato variants, 3 weeks after planting seeds.

At this stage one could already see that they grow so dense, that one has to single them out and give each plant some more space. It is crucial at this stage of plant development that each sprout gets sufficient space underground to develop strong and dense roots. This gives them the best condition to withstand drought and resist parasites when they are later transfered out into the garden.
But at this stage it became also obvious that the 6 tomato variants which were collected from locations in different countries had considerably different growth rate. No.6 (Hungarian Vine-Tomatoes) were not growing at all, No. 2 (picked from an salat bowl at an Italian Tratoria) was growing weak.

After pricking them and transfer a single plant from each variant into one large pot, they look as shown below (note that the plants below and above are the same age. Below after 5 days growing separatly, above those which grew the entire 3 weeks together).

Tomatoes from above box, pricked and grown separately for last 5 days. (red cross: tiny plant, variant 5, from Tel-Aviv Carmel market.
Although the tomato is a typical new world plant, meaning it found its way to the European and Asian continent only after Columbus "discovered" America, they became so widespread here that people gave them quite different names. By the way, the offical latin term for tomatoes, Solanum lycopersicum has some indirect relations to Persia. The scientific species epithet lycopersicum means "wolf peach", and comes from German werewolf myths. These said that deadly nightshade (Solanum) was used by witches and sorcerers in potions to transform themselves into werewolves, so the tomato's similar, but much larger, fruit was called the "wolf peach (in German: Pfirsich aka Persian)" when it arrived in Europe. The Aztecs called the fruit xitomatl (pronounced [ʃiːˈtomatɬ]), meaning plump thing with a navel. Most western European languages derived their names for "tomato" from the native-americans Tomatl. The Italians introduced their own term: pomodoro (from pomo d'oro "apple of gold"), and this was also borrowed into Polish and into several other slavic languages. A funny and sometimes confusing convention is found in Russian language, where the plants and the fruits are called "Pomidore", but the juice squeezed from them is called "Tomatnij sok". Also, the Germans had a historical unique name for them: Paradeisapfel (for "apple of paradise", which by the way is another cultural link to Persia, since Paradise originates from the Avestian terms "pairi.daêza", meaning a piece of land surrounded by a wall). Not very common in Germany any more (except in historical cooking- and gardening books), a derivative of it, Paradeiser is still used in the Bavarian and Austrian dialects, and was borrowed from there into modern Hungarian, Slovenian and Serbian.

10 days later, all plants grown very well. I have to transfer them quickly to the garden, before they start blossoming.


The Dark Side of Humor: Seizure induced by Laughing

Dear Michael, well, didn't we found agreement at least on this very subject:  that however difficult life might be and how long it can take before our efforts in research pay out, threre is always one measure to keep us from giving up. I am talking about human laughter. And it was not only Aristoteles who described human laughter as devine, but it was also identified in several medical studies as promoting health, protecting from various diseases and extending longevity.  I remember when we were riding on the bike through Munich, and you pushed me forward, I felt I should protest against this but in fact I could not, but instead I fell into laughter instinctively. And you said "12 laughters a day keeps the doctor away" ?  And I thought that at least for short term you were right, and it made me feel happy.
But now I red this article in the peer-reviewed Journal of Medical Case Reports (Impact factor 0.4), entitled "Laugh-induced seizure: a case report" by MR Mainali et al from the Health System Department of Medicine in Reading, Pennsylvania. The patient, a 43 caucasian men suffered from "...multiple episodes of seizures, all induced by laughter while watching comedy shows..." (hic!) The patient described the conditions himself as following: "... I started laughing, then my arms started shaking and I felt like my consciousness was being vacuumed away... ". Now I became suspicious, whether I am suffering from the same symptoms. I don't mean that I felt my "...consciousness being vacuumed away..." those days on the bike in Munich, but my arms indeed started to shake a bit when you pushed me forward, and I lost control over the bikes handlebar. So it might have ended dangerous indeed, at least in this situation on the bike.
The authors of the study tested several treatments to help the poor man. The anti-convulosant drug Carbamazepine appeared to prevent the seizures for several month, but according to the FDA this drug has several potential side effects, in particular onto the unborn child of pregnant mothers. The authors concluded in their study that the safest measure against the seizures is by preventing all laugh-inducing situations.  I have to admit, since I started my PhD here in Stockholm, the frequency of laugh-inducing moments went down a little bit. I think to benefit from the healthy effects of laughter, I should instead expose myself intentionally to some extra laugh-inducing situations. As the authors very firmly state at the end of their paper, "... Smiles and laughter are universal human social gestures that involve a complex sequence of facial, pharyngeal and diaphragmatic muscle contractions and help to establish a friendly interaction with other people."  Unfortunatly, they don't make any suggestion about the Comedy that was so efficient in their patient to make him Rolling-on-the-Floor-Laughing.

Take Care, and keep smiling


Going North

Dear Michael, next week a scientific workshop on "Epigenetic factors in Radiation Biology" will be held at stockholm University. I am involved in its organistion. I'm wondering if you will attend the meeting ? Some really good speakers were invited, and I think it'll be fun.
Take Care /ghazal
Ghazal Dear, Thanks a lot for the information. I already received an invitation to the workshop a couple of month ago from M. But I decided to send Y. to present our studies there. You know my reservations to travel to northern countries. In fact there would be only three cases that would be worth for me to visit Sweden:
- A reunion concert of ABBA,
- they award me the Nobel price
 - (I tell you later).
good luck with the meeting Michael


Space Messages

Hi Michael, I recently had to remember your permanent speculation about extraterrestrial planets with habitable conditions suitable for you and an angel from outer space (and a horse). What you might have never considered, that the meteors we were observing in August some years ago might in fact carry some information on the living conditions at the planet from which they originate. 
When we were spotting some of these "Stjaernfallen" from the Persides meteor shower, I was amazed by their sheer existence and finally I defeated my initial doubts. It was a great moment when one of the meteorites apparently approached us head on, and to watch this rare event it was worth to spent half of the night out under the sky. 
And now scientists found out that some of the meteorites that don't burn completely in the atmosphere, but reach the earth surface, might serve as informative messengers from extreterrestrial planets and tell us something about how habitable the living conditions might be there.

Microscopic picture of the crystaline structure of a mineral from a meteorite supposed to be of Mars origin

The meteorites that we can see regularily on the night sky, with the highest incidence in August (Perseides) and in November (Leonides) not only gives us the chance to express our deepest wishes, but as researcher from Michigan State University recently discovered also contain mineral and chemical signatures that can signify habitable conditions on the planet from which they originate, such as the presence of water. But they also mentioned that "the trouble is by the time most of these meteorites have been lying around on Earth they pick up signatures that look just like habitable environments, because they are. Earth, obviously, is habitable.
Thats good to know, don't you think so ?

Take Care,