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No Dark Side of the Moon

Dear Michael,
The last full moon of 2013 was visible in the night between December 16th and 17th. This is a view over Parkers Piece in Cambridge, with the sky slightly claudy.

Although the moon is clearly masked here by some clouds, from a different view point (maybe only a few miles away) this might look completely different. Another blogger (in Sicily) made a very clear photo of the moon, I guess at the same night. But the confusion about the moons illumination (i.e. full moon or new moon) and its visibility (above horizon, below horizon, or masked by clouds) goes much further when people refer to the moons hemispheres relative to the earth. Because moons rotation around its axis is perfectly synchronous to its circulation around the earth, moon always faces the same side towards earth. With the exception of a slight deviation, we can therefore only see not much more than 50% of its surface. This is the hemisphere that always faces earth. The hemishere that faces away from earth was only photographed once the Russians succesfully launched the first man-made lunar orbiter in 1957. 

Man-kind of course was always fascinated by this "invisible" side of the moon, they perhaps assumed that someone dangerous is hiding there or something precious can be found there. The most weired idea was shown in the recent movie "Iron Sky", where Nazi refugees did not went to South America to hide after World War II, but occupied this averse side of the moon and there, as every evil breed,  proliferated and became strong enough to attack our democratic and liberal civilization in an awful attempt of revenge 70 years later .
And here (if you carefully listen to the voice at 33'') you have the indication of one of the biggest misunderstandings in our pop-culture when it comes to the two hemispheres of the moon.  When the Nazi kids are asked in a school lesson where they come from, they univocally shout "From the Dark Side of the Moon". This term "Dark Side of the Moon" became such a fixed term in pop-culture, that nobody questions its meaning any more. All the reviews for "Iron Sky" talked about the dark side of the moon, and it so nicely suits with the black Nazi outfit.
Before Iron Sky, there was another movie in the year 1990 by D. J. Webster, called "The Dark Side of the Moon", but was much less satirical.
Much earlier, the UK progressive rock band Pink Floyd called their most succesful album The Dark Side of the Moon. I guess they used the metaphorical dark (or invisible) side as a reference to the band founder and writer Syd Barret, who after leaving the band caused a creative crisis and left many unanswered questions. The video below is from a concert movie they produced a year earlier in Pompej.

The first time somebody wrote down the concept of a moons dark side was Mark Twain, in a collection of aphorisms he said „Every one is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.“

But despite this widespread usage of the phrase "Dark Side of the Moon", there is no area on our lunar neighbour that is permanently dark or bright. Each place on moon, whether its facing earth or not, experiences a regular day-night-intervall. The difference to earth, however, is that there are about 14 days uninterrupted sunlight followed by the same period of darkness.

This is to you and the New Year
Take Care


Winter Life

When we moved to England in 1992, we quickly realized that the British Islands are very distinct in terms of their nature. Nowhere else we have seen before trees full of blossoms in early January. At least till today I was convinced that this must have to do with the rather mild winter in the southern counties of the UK, like Kent, Sussex or Surrey, where we lived. Today I found the exact same tree on a cemetry in Munich, and became interested in its history and how it became so resistant to cold weather.

Bodnant viburnum, on Daglfing cementry, December 28th 2013

The name of this tree is Bodnant viburnum (Duft-Schneeball in German), and it is actually a product of man made plant breeding. The cross of Viburnum farreri (formerly V. fragrans) and V. grandiflorum was originally made by Charles Lamont, the Assistant Curator at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh in 1933, and I guess this is the reason why it became first popular in gardens and parks in Brittan, and only later was imported to other European countries.
So this tree is unique for showing its real beauty only in winter time, when (at least in Germany) most other plants lost their leaves and look pretty sad. I don't really know why all around the world people warship so much the Christmas tree. I think they are pretty boring, and except for their wood have no use at all. Their needles are a pest once you have them on your carpet, and if you have them in your garden, they poison all other plants (by producing humic acid). Their roots destroy the foundations of buildings, inhibit the growth of grass and promote growth of moss. If you have some spruce or fir in your garden, you can be sure that after a while the garden looks like a dark forest. we have three of them in our garden, and I plan to cut them all this year to heat our oven with their wood. But even for heating, they are no good choice, since their resin causes a lot of soot which contaminates the chimney.
I would therefore opt to replace the fir (christmas tree) as symbol of life in hard winter times with Bodnant viburnum. It is an elegant and beautiful three, and it permits the few rays of winter sun to reach us, whereas pines and firs are like black spots which block the sun.
By the way, there are other plant species which resist the winter cold. I also like a lot the winter-hard cereals like rhy or barley, which look freshly green even at the strongest frost.

Winter rhy, near Munich-Daglfing, December 2013
When I saw these tiny young shouts now in December, I was happy to know that next year we will have again fields full of golden rhy with its tentalizing odor in summer.


Sollbruchstelle and Fremdkoerper

Hi Ghazal,
despite the overwhelming usage of English terms in modern language, there are still a couple of words imported from German which became common in English texts. "Eigenvalues" and "Eigenvectors" are important solutions of multidimensional algebraic equations, "Anlage" is used in developmental biology to describe a primordial structure that has the potential to form an organ or an anatomic structure later on. A term I personally would like very much to promote for use in English texts is "Fremdkoerper", literary translated "Foreign Body". Whereas the english "Foreign Body" sounds very ambigous, only receiving meaning within a particular context, the German "Fremdkoerper" always refers not only to the item itself (i.e. the piece that is located where it does not belong to), but it immediately implies the counter-reaction that it induces. A "Fremdkoerper" somewhere in your body causes pain, inflammation or an immune reaction. A "Fremdkoerper" in the society causes widespread aversion, mobbing by the collective crowd, police investigations and legal trials, finally branding the "Fremdkoerper" as a heretic thread to the society and a person which has to be isolated and kept under permanent surveilance.
Recently our son came home from school lessons in social and economic politics, telling me that the evil capitalists introduce "predetermined breaking points" in their consumer products, thereby making sure that the stuff they sell has a limitted life span and needs replacement after not too long time. He quoted a light-bulb that since 112 years works without any defect in a California firehouse. He told me that everything we buy nowadays (and in particular the Christmas gifts he will receive the day after tomorrow) come with such inbuild "predetermined breaking points", making sure they wont last till Christmas next year. I told him that George Michael and the Wham had the same idea already 30 years ago, and made one of the greatest Christmas pop-songs of the idea that a heart you give to somebody as a gift has a "predetermined breaking points", making the love to last only for a short time. Whether or not one believes in such "predetermined breaking points" in all modern products, I think that one more time German languages provides a more crispy and pointed solution: SOLLBRUCHSTELLE. In contrast to the English word, it not only defines the "Breaking Point" (-bruchstelle) as something that was included with a special purpose, but it also explaines that its  purpose is the prevention of a desaster by breaking in advance. You can find Sollbruchstellen at the handle of a beer stein, to break if people beat each others heads with them and prevent a too fiercely head trauma. And everbody is perhaps familiar with the rectangular groove pattern on chocolate bars, predetermined breaking lines to make sure you can break the chocolate in small pieces before your fingernails break. Sollbruchstellen, "predetermined breaking points" are therefore no recent invention by the industry, but something as old and maybe even older than mankind. Obviously, as soon as God (or however you call it) came up with the idea of living organisms, he invented the build-in SOLLBRUCHSTELLE. Each living organisms has a timer that unevitably runs down, and as long as we have not found the construction detail to inactivate the SOLLBRUCHSTELLE, will terminate. Ashes to ashes, Funk to Funky. Our research in stem-cell aging and replacement clearly tries to find out how to fix the SOLLBRUCHSTELLE of life. From a biochemical or biophysical point of view, there is no need for a termination of life.

Happy Yalda


Letter of Endorsement for an Angel in Heaven

No doubt Christmas time is on the verge again, and with it come this very weird species of christmas angels. They are populating the highstreets, department stores and all the media, and depending on where in the world one goes, they are called either kid Jesus Christ (Christkindl), Snowflake (Snegotchka) or End-of-Years-Winged-Puppet (Jahresabschluss-Fluegelpuppe). But recently I received a personal message from somebody who most likely is up in heaven now. It was a request through one of the professional social media networks called ResearchGate, and it came from a person I knew very well.  In this message I was asked by Beatrix N., a former colleague from a colaborating institute, to write an endorsement for her skills in Genetics of complex diseases, transgenic mice and gene mapping.  The problem was, that Beatrix died half a year ago in a dreadful accident, when a truck hit her on her bike.  She died in her mid 30s, and the institute for experiemental genetics lost one of their very social and scientifically commited researchers. I am happy that she was a co-author and a driving force of my first paper on Parkinson-Disease in a mutant mouse model.
But when I received the ReserachGate request today, I thought how weired it is that people after death remain a member of the scientific community.  It would be nice to imagine that they carry on to contribute to science from heaven. Of course I am convinced that Beatrix made it up their, I think she would enjoy to argue with St Peter, since she was always very good in arguing. And if my "letter of endorsement" for her scientific skills helps her to open the gates of the paradise, I would be so happy. In particular I like the idea that with her eminent critical view onto our rotten society she might also drive the wardens of heaven a bit crazy.
Best greetings up there, Beatrix, and the next paper on mouse neurodegeneration we will dedicate to you personally.