Monday, November 30, 2009

The Great Cranberry Crisis of 1959

Here's a belated Thanksgiving post, although is probably works better as a post-Thanksgiving post, since it's about food contamination.

I was listening to a great podcast from Angel Baby's show "Lost in Paradise" (November 23 show). She played a superb rockabilly record that I wasn't familiar with: "Cranberry Blues" by Robert Williams and the Groovers, a song about the Cranberry Crisis of 1959. I started researching the crisis, and that led to this post.

The herbicide aminotriazole, introduced in the mid 1950's, had been effective in controlling weeds in cranberry bogs. In 1958, in spite of concerns about the possible carcinogenicity of ATZ, it was approved by the Department of Agriculture, but only for use after the end of the growing season,, so as to avoid contamination of the cranberry crop. Most of the 1957 crop turned out to be contaminated, and was voluntarily taken off the market. I'm not sure what happened with the 1958 crop.

The problem was not resolved, as a small percentage of the 1959 cranberry crop from Washington and Oregon was contaminated. Following the advice of the FDA, Arthur Flemming, the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, recommended against eating cranberries from these states. This of course was really bad timing for the cranberry industry, as it was close to Thanksgiving. Since it was diffiult to determine the origin of cranberries, sales dropped nationwide. Many supermarket chains refused to carry cranberries. This had a long term impact on the cranberry industry , and it took a long time for it to fully recover.

This crisis occurred during the early stages of the 1960 presidential campaign, and candidates Kennedy and Nixon did their part in demonstrating the safety of cranberries; Nixon by eating lots of cranberry sauce and Kennedy by drinking several glasses of cranberry juice in front of reporters.

These articles discuss the cranberry crisis.

There is an extensive discussion of the crisis in"A Scientist at the White House", the diary kept by President Eisenhower's science adviser George Bogdan Kistiakowsky. Sorry for the long URL.

The November 23, 1959 issue of Life magazine had an interesting article on the crisis, with some great photos that I can't embed, including one of "Secretary Flemming" being carried to an ambulance after being hung in effigy.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Census of Marine Life: bizarre creaturesof the deep

The Census of Marine Life project, scheduled for completion in October 2010, is discovering and cataloging as many species as possible. Five of the fourteen census projects are related to deep sea life. "Deep sea" is defined as below the level which light penetrates, which is about 200 meters. The observed species are located as deep as 5,000 meters (three miles). A total of 17,500 deep sea species have been cataloged so far, of which 5,722 are found below a depth of 1000 meters.

Here are some of the most interesting and bizarre species found so far.

A new species of "Dumbo", a finned octopod.

Clione lamacina, a snail found in Arctic and Antarctic waters.

Here is another polar species, Mimonectes sphaericus, a polar crustacean.

The image gallery at the Census of Marine Life website has some great photos, but they can't be downloaded.

An exceptionally strange group of deep sea creatures are members of the Osedax genus (bone-eating tubeworms). They devour whale bones in association with symbiotic bacteria that help in the digestion process.

They are small; their length ranges between 0.2 and 05. millimeters, and live in tubes that they build. Only the females feed on whales, The males live inside the females and feed on yolk contained inside their bodies. One female may contain dozens of males. Osedax may play a major role in carbon recycling in the deep sea.

Here are two videos on the deep sea projects.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A few interesting film and music clips

I thought I would post few interesting videos I've seen lately.

Eugeniuz Bodo was one of the great stars of Polish cinema in the1930's. He died in a Soviet labor camp in 1943.

Here he is in the 1937 Polish film "Pietro Wyzej" (Upstairs).

The quality is pretty poor in places, but this is great!

"Snake Hips" - sung by Sharon Lynn, with Ann Pennington dancing. This is from the 1929 film "Happy Days", which was the second wide screen film ever made. However the wide screen print no longer exists.

The best known version of "Mack the Knife" (Moriat) was recorded by Bobby Darin in 1958 , but the first recorded version was by Harald Paulsen from 1928. The song is from "Der Dreigrochenoper" (The Threepenny Opera). Paulsen played Mack the Knife in the original 1928 production in Berlin.

The Originals Project is a great site with lots of information on obscure original versions of songs that later became hits for other performers. There will be a post soon on some very interesting original versions.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Idioglossia - Poto and Cabengo

Secret languages are often developed by siblings. They develop most frequently in identical twins. They typically fade away over time, and disappear by the age of three. However, special circumstances, such as social isolation, can lead to these languages persisting. This phenomenon is known as idioglossia, or cryptophasia.

The best known incidence of idioglossia was the language developed by the identical twins Grace and Virginia Kennedy, who referred to themselves as Poto and Cabengo.

The twins were born in Savannah. Georgia in 1970. They suffered severe convulsions shortly after birth. Although tests showed no brain damage, their father said a neurosurgeon told him it would take years to conclusively determine this.

The family moved to San Diego. Grace and Virginia did not socialize and rarely left the house. They spent most of their time either alone, or with their maternal grandmother, who spoke only German. They spoke very rapidly, and no one else could understand what they were saying. Neither spoke any English at the age of six. Private languages may have their own grammar and syntax, though that is very rare.

Phrases spoken by Virginia and Grace include:

La moa Poto - (here more poto)

Pinit, putatrahletungay (finish, potato salad hungry)

A documentary about the twins, "Poto and Cabengo", was released in 1980. Here is a brief clip.

A combination of speech therapy, psychotherapy, and the work of psycholinguists and speech pathologists helped to decipher the girls language. Over 100 hours of their playtime was taped and analyzed. It turned out that much of their language consisted of mispronounced and garbled English phrases,with a bit of German, that were spoken very rapidly. Most of their speech became somewhat intelligible after being slowed down. Their language contained 30 different words for potato.

Virginia and Grace managed to learn basic English.They were sent to separate schools to help facilitate their learning of English. Their IQ's tested as below average (around 80) but it's exceedingly difficult to tell what their real intelligence is.

According to Wikipedia, Ginny now works on an assembly line,and Grace works at a fast food restaurant.

Here's an interesting article on Grace and Virginia,9171,912582-1,00.html

The abstract of a scholarly article on idioglossia. It mentions that most of what is known about idioglossia is "folk knowledge" and that more scholarly research needs to be done.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Ant Colony Optimization Algorithms

Ant colony optimization algorithms (ACO) are used to solve problems relating to finding optimal paths towards a given goal.

In their search for food, ants wander randomly,and lay down a trail of pheromones while they are returning to their nest after finding food . The pheromones evaporate over time, so that the shorter the path to food, the greater the pheromone density. The pheromones attract other ants, so that what was a random path to food becomes an optimal path, and the ants will travel the shortest possible distance to the food supply. This is an example of "swarm theory", where a group achieves an optimal result even though there is no formal leadership.

This algorithm is applicable to a wide variety of problems, including finding the best landing gate at an airport. and the "traveling salesman"problem in mathematics.

The traveling salesman problem (TSP) originated in the nineteenth century. In its simplest form a salesperson has a number of cities to visit. What is the shortest possible path they can take where all cities are visited, but only once. Additional constraints are sometimes placed on the system such as cost and time.

I can't find a non-technical paper of article that discusses this in detail, but here is an important research paper that discusses how the ant colony optimization algorithm provides good solutions to the TSP ,and with some modifications, could provide even better ones.

A strategy similar to the ACO was developed by financial analysts at Southwest Airlines to facilitate quicker arrivals and departures of aircraft. The algorithm they developed, based on the fact that pilots looked for the best available landing gate, led to quicker arrivals and departures of aircraft.

The ACO has also been used to model military strategies. Scientists at the University of Granada developed several algorithms designed to enable a military unit to achieve the greatest amount of security and speed in achieving their goals. They modeled the battlefields in their research on the ones used in the video game "Panzer General"

Here is a simulation of foraging ants.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The music of Harry Partch

Harry Parch has always been one of my musical heroes, due to his unique and uncompromising vision.

Parch was born in Oakland in 1901 to parents who had been missionaries in China. He was interested in music from an early age, but by the time he was in his late teens, he became disenchanted with traditional Western music. He developed what became a lifelong interest in non-Western music, and in primitive and ancient cultures.

Partch developed a unique system of musical tuning, based on a 43 tone scale rather then the tradition Western twelve tone scale. He also developed a series of handmade instruments to play his music on. Partch thought that this allowed music to more accurately portray the patterns of speech. He valued these instruments for their beauty as well as the music played on them.

Partch ran out of grant money, and spent the depression as a hobo, riding trains around the U.S., and keeping a journal of speech patterns. He frequently converted these into musical patterns, a practice he used throughout his career. Following the depression, help from grants and benefactors enabled him to focus on his music.

Compositions by Partch include "Seventeen Lyrics of Li Po" "Two Studies on Ancient Greek Scales", 'The Bewitched" and "And on the Seventh Day the Petals Fell in Petaluma".

The Wikipedia article on Partch:

Here is a list of Partch's compositions:

Here are three of Partch's instruments:

The Adapted Viola, a viola with a cello neck.

Cloud chamber bowls - these were originally designed to be used in devices to detect ionized particles and study nuclear reactions.

The Boo (bamboo marimba) - this can play all the chromatic pitches in Partch's 43 note scale.

The two photos above show some of the instruments in the possession of Newband , a microtonal band, and artists in residence at the Harry Partch Institute at Montclair State University in New Jersey. Dean Drummond, the co-director of Newband has legal custody of the original Partch instruments.

Here is Partch demonstrating some of his instruments

Most of Partch's music was intended to accompany dance, theater, or film. Here is Newband's staging of "Daphne of the Dunes",.

Here is "Barstow", Partch's 1941 composition. The text comes from grafitti that Partch saw on a
highway railing.

This is an excellent BBC documentary on Partch.