Friday, December 31, 2010

Materpiscis attenboroughi, a fish fossil named in honor of British nature presenter David Attenborough

John A. Long describes his Eureka! moment, which he had while examining an extraordinarily preserved fish fossil he and his team found at the site of the tropical shallow-sea Devonian Gogo reef in now-dry northwestern Australia [1-3]. The excitement came with the discovery of a fossilized umbilical cord belonging to an embryo in the ancient fish. After in-depth analysis using scanning electron microscopy (SEM) the researchers soon were convinced that they were studying an 375-million-year-old expectant mother fish and the oldest vertebrate embryo on record. They named the newly discovered ptyctodontid placoderm Materpiscis attenboroughi, meaning “Attenborough's mother fish,” after the British nature presenter David Attenborough, who introduced the Gogo fossil sites to the world in the 1979 documentary series Life on Earth [1].

The fossilized Gogo specimen is critical in dating the beginning of copulation, fertilization, childbearing and birth giving. Is it time to celebrate 375 million years of sexual intercourse or is the origin of this form of intimate vertebrate reproduction going even further back in time? And what was (is) the evolutionary advantage over spawning—still practiced by many aquatic animals today?

References and fun by exploring more
[1] John A. Long:
Dawn of the Deed. Scientific American January 2011, 304 (1), pp. 34-39. Excerpt.
[2] Sarah Clarke: Aussie scientists find world's oldest fossil mum. ABC News.
[3] J. A. Long, K. Trinajstic, G. C. Young and T. Senden: Live birth in the Devonian period. Nature 29 May 2008, 453, pp. 650-652.
DOI: 10.1038/nature06966.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Acronym in quantum chromodynamics: CQM for constituent quark model

In physics, CQM stands for constituent quark model, which has its origin in the quark hypothesis proposed in 1964 by Murray Gell-Mann and George Zweig to account for the plethora of subatomic particles discovered in cosmic ray and accelerator experiments [1]. Constituent quark means massive quark [2]. The CQM concentrates on valence quarks, which are constituents of hadrons such as protons and neutrons. Timothy Paul Smith illustrates the application of the CQM in a highly recommended article about the properties and inner dynamics of the neutron [3].

The “complex life” inside a neutron—a “quark-sea” of quark-antiquark pairs that quickly come and go—is fully described by quantum chromodynamics (QCD). The valence quark model confines description to the “permanent quarks” of a hadron: a proton is made up of two up-quarks and one down-quark, whereas a neutron is made up of two down-quarks and one up-quark. Hence, the notation uud and udd for for the proton and neutron, respectively [3].

[1] Bill Carithers and Paul Grannis: Discovery of the Top Quark. PDF.
[2] Dmitri Diakonov:
Foundations of the Constituent Quark Model.
[3] Timothy Paul Smith: The Anatomy of a Neutron. American Scientist November-December 2010, 98 (6), pp. 478-485. Abstract.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Size-defining prefixes: mega, macro, meio and micro

Size-defining prefixes are in common use. Words like megabyte and microchip come immediately to mind. The prefix meio is somewhat different. It means less and makes only sense in relation with other prefixes denoting superior categories of size.

As an interesting application of these prefixes, I came upon a classification scheme for deep-sea fauna [1]:
  • megafauna: fish, crabs, lobster, starfish, urchins, sea cucumbers, sponges and corals
  • macrofauna: small polychaete worms, crustaceans and mollusks
  • meiofauna: forams, copepods and nematodes
  • microfauna: bacteria
In fact, the term microfauna is not used in the scheme—just bacteria. But since bacteria are subjects of microbiology, which typically require a microscope to be seen, this term should be appropriate and nicely fits into the line of this terminology.

There is an inverse relationship between animal size and depth. Craig McClain refers to the findings of Hjalmar Thiel of the University of Hamburg in northern Germany, who observed that the deep sea is a habitat mostly populated by small organisms [1]:
Thiel's specific findings were that megafauna and macrofauna decrease more rapidly with depth than do meiofauna or bacteria. In fact, with increased depth meiofauna and bacteria become increasingly more dominant. Thus, at depth greater than 4 kilometers on the vast abyssal plains where food is extremely limited, there is a shift toward diminutive size.
The term meiofauna is specifically used for aquatic organisms. Worms and nematodes living in the soil are grouped as mesofauna. The prefix meso, meaning middle or intermediate, defines size in relative terms like meio—somewhere between micro and macro.

Deep-sea reference
[1] Craig McClain:
An Empire Lacking Food. American Scientist November-December 2010, 98 (6), pp.470-477.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ein Frosch sitzt im Schnee...

Ein Frosch sitzt im Schnee.
Der Frost tut ihm nicht weh;

Denn er ist eine Skulptur
Und wartet auf Neujahr nur.

Mehr zu diesem Frosch und seiner Umgebung:
On the sculpture trail: frog in the snow

A frog is sitting on a wall ...

A frog is sitting on a wall,

while the snow continues to fall.
Snow makes him disappear.
He'll still sit there next year.

Find out more about this frog and his surroundings:
On the sculpture trail: frog in the snow

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Unexplained unexpectedness: deus ex machina

The expression deus ex machina denotes a sudden solution to a plot or problem, which comes as a surprise to those who merely know the plot in the way it was presented. Deux ex machina literally means “god from the machine.” Sounds modern, but has its origin in ancient Greek drama [1].

Alan J. Cain nicely demonstrates the concept of deus ex machina (or lack of it) in mathematical proof, using the proof of Morley's Theorem as a case in point [2]. The deus seems to be a smart trick to short-cut a proof. He or she (dea ex machina) is disappearing as one receives retrospective explanation and reasoning. In science as well as in fiction, deus is sort of a mental construct deriving from the order or chronology in which facts and facets are presented. In a play or movie, deus may just be a redeemer from over-length.

How can the Latin phrase deus ex machina be replaced by an expression in English? If you are more attracted to the magic than to the divine, you perhaps like “out of the hat.” If you are looking for a less vivid, neutral phrase, “surprisingly, but inevitably” might work, while the inevitability leaves room for arguments.

[1] The Literary Encyclopedia: Deus ex machina.
[2] Alan J. Cain: Deus ex Machina and the Aesthetics of Proof. The Mathematical Intelligencer Fall 2010, 32 (3), pp. 7-11. PDF.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A dinosaur named Sinosauropteryx, meaning “Chinese lizard wing”

Modern birds are descendants of Maniraptoran dinosaurs, according to the current knowledge in paleontology. The evolutionary path from dinosaurs to birds, however, has many branches with dead-ends, representing species such as non-avian dinosaurs that went extinct long ago. One such dinosaur is Sinosauropteryx, a dinosaur with feathers and a bird-like skull found by a Chinese farmer in August 1996 in Sihetun village [1]. It was concluded by dating of radioactive elements in the fossil-encasing sediments, that this dinosaur lived around 125 million years ago.

Sinosauropteryx means “Chinese lizard wing.” The latter two word parts are immediately recognized by anybody with an interest in paleontology, as saur occurs in the word dinosaur and opteryx in archaeopteryx, the name of the “first bird,” flying around 150 million years ago.

Reference with tree of birds and non-avian dinosaurs:
[1] Richard Stone: Dinosaurs' Living Descendants. Smithsonian December 2010, 41 (8) , pp. 54-62.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Encyclia dickinsoniana, an orchid named after Chicago native Stirling Dickinson

Stirling Dickinson from Chicago lived and traveled in Mexico in the last century. He is known for helping the old silver mining town San Miguel de Allende 166 miles northwest of Mexico City to turn into an international art center [1]. Dickinson is said to have had three passions: art, baseball and orchids. In the 1960s he explored the Chiapas highlands in southern Mexico and discovered an orchid species there, which in 1971 was named after him. Both the binomial name, Encyclia dickensoniana, and the common name, Dickinson's Encyclia [2], honor the discoverer. Another synonym can be found: Epidendrum dickinsonianum Withner 1970 [3]. Like any orchid flower, dickensoniana flowers look like pieces of art.

Keywords: botany, Orchidaceae, epiphyte, scientific name, eponym

[1] Jonathan Kandell: Under the spell of San Miguel de Allende. Smithsonian December 2010, 41 (8) , pp. 74-83.
Encyclia dickinsoniana (Withner) F. Hamer:
[3] Encyclia dickinsoniana (Withner) Hamer 1985: Photo.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Frasera ackermanae, a flowering plant in the Gentianaceae family named after geologist Diane Ackerman

Species of the genus Frasera (sometimes considered part of the genus Swertia) are flowering plants in the Gentianaceae family. Clayton Newberry and Sherel Goodrich have described a new species, Frasera ackermanae, sp. nov., collected in Uintah County, Utah [1]. They report a narrow endemism for F. ackermanae and compared this species with the similar Frasera pahutensis plant.

Newberry and Goodrich named the new species in honor of geologist Diane Ackerman, who first spotted the plant and brought it to their attention. Diane Ackerman is a plant enthusiast. She has worked for the National Park Service at Fossil Butte National Monument near Kemmerer, Wyoming. She now lives in Utah.

Keywords: botany, perennial herb, scientific name, order Gentianales, asterids, clay hillsides

[1] C, Newberry and S. Goodrich: A new species of Frasera (Gentianaceae) From Uinta Basin, Utah. Western North American Naturalist October 2010, 70 (3), pp. 415-417.
: 10.3398/064.070.0315.

Monday, December 6, 2010

English: graphene; German: Graphen or Graphén

Graphene is a single carbon layer within the structure of the carbon allotrope graphite or—in separated form— a planar, one-atom-thick honeycomb lattice of carbon atoms. The term graphene describes such a carbon layer in analogy to a polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) of quasi infinite size [1]. Note that names for planar PAH molecules such as anthracene, pyrene and ovalene end with the suffix -ene. To reflect the structural analogy in the name for the “unlimited PAH”, the word graphene is derived by stemming the word graphite and appending the suffix -ene.

The German name is Graphen. Since this word also happens to be the plural form of the noun Graph (although pronounced differently), meaning graph as in molecular graph, the spelling Graphén is alternately used. Another possible, sound-conserving spelling would be Grapheen. Either way, the suffix identity with German names for PAHs is compromised: anthracene, for example, is Anthracen (or Anthrazen, when I went to school), but not Anthracén or Anthraceen.

Instead of playing with its name, chemists and material scientists like to play with its structure. Already in the 1960s graphene derivatives were produced by reduction of graphite oxide [2]. Stoichiometric graphene derivatives such as fluorographene have been obtained and characterized recently [3].

Continuing the name game: CurlySMILES encoding of graphene and stoichiometric derivatives.

Keywords: carbon chemistry, structural similarity, chemical nomenclature, structural encoding, linear notations, translation

References and further reading
[1] IUPAC Gold Book: graphene layer.
[2] H.-P. Boehm: Graphen - wie eine Laborkuriosität
äußerst interessant wurde. Angewandte Chemie 2010, 122 (49), pp. 9520-9523. DOI: 10.1002/ange.201004096.
[3] R. R. Nair et al.: Fluorographene: A Two-Dimensional Counterpart of Teflon. Small 2010. DOI: 10.1002/smll.201001555

Friday, December 3, 2010

Nantucket from Native American, Nattick, meaning far away land

Nantucket Island and the waters around it are the birthplace of “modern” whaling, but Nattick Indians had foraged there for whales in the centuries before the first Europeans arrived [1]. As Philip Hoare tells us, “the word [Nantucket] is Native American, Nattick, meaning far away land; and from far away, its wharves once stank so much that visitors could smell the island before they saw it.”

Today, visitors from far away and nearby come here for recreation including kayaking, seal cruising and whale watching. What to look for on Nantucket? Weathervanes in the shape of whales.

Residents of Nantucket are called Nantucketers.

[1] Philip Hoare: The WhaleIn Search of the Giants of the Sea. HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2010; see Chapter V Far Away Land.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The minke whale, named after a sailor and whaler with a differently spelled name

Most sources agree that the minke whale is named after a sailor and whaler. Details, however, depend on which references you consult. The sailor is alternatingly German or Norwegian and his name varies from Miencke, Meincke to Meineke. Fortunately, the common name for the whale is consistently given as minke, pronounced “minky.” Use of the short plural form minkes instead of minke whales is common.

The scientific name is Balaenoptera acutorostrata, meaning “winged whale with a sharp-pointed snout.” This whale is found in oceans worldwide. And as it is often the case for such “ubiquitous species,” debates on whether there are just one, two or more species evolve. Distinctions between a northern-hemisphere species, B. acutorostrata, and a southern-hemisphere species, B. bonaerensis, have recently been made.

Minke whale names and synonyms in various languages

Dutch: dwergvinvis
English: minke whale
French: baleine de Minke (also: petit rorqual)
German: Zwergwal (also: Minkwal or Minkewal)
Italian: balenottera minore (also: balenottera rostrata)
Portuguese: baleia-de-minke
Spanish: rorcual aliblanco

Interestingly, the Norsk and German names do not make any reference to a sailor with a Norwegian or German name. Let's assume that this Mr. Miencky never lived or, at least, never hunted a whale. Then, he really deserves to be honored by having a whale species named after him.

Keywords: cetology, Mysticeti, Balaenopteridae, marine mammals, taxonomy


[1] Philip Hoare: The WhaleIn Search of the Giants of the Sea. HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2010; see Chapter XI The Melancholy Whale.
[2] Save the whales: Minke Whale, Balaenoptera acutorostrata (Lacepéde 1804).
[3] NOAA Fisheries, Office of Protected Resources: Minke Whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata).

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Pilot whales: how many species are there?

Grzimeks encyclopedia from 1969 [1] contains a small section on pilot whales saying that the exact number of species is uncertain. Nevertheless, three species are mentioned according to geography: the common or North Atlantic pilot whale (Globicephala melaena), the Indic Ocean pilot whale (Globicephala macrorhyncha), and the Pacific Ocean pilot whale (Globicephala sieboldii).

The World Cetacea Database notes the species status of the latter (Globicephala sieboldii, GRAY, 1864) as taxonomically unaccepted [2].

Globicephala melaena and Globicephala macrorhyncha survived taxonomic evaluations and are commonly known as long-finned pilot whale and short-finned pilot whale. Note that the scientific name Globicephala melaena changed to Globicephala melas and Globicephala macrorhyncha changed to Globicephala macrorhynchus. Who said that a binomial term uniquely identifies a species?

The genus name Globicephala (“round head”) in different languages
Dutch: grienden
English: pilot whale
French: baleines-pilote (also: globicéphale)
German: Grindwal
Italian: globicephala
Portuguese: baleia-piloto
Spanish: ballena piloto

The Dutch and German names are derived from the Faroese language, in which the word grind means whale hunt.

By the way, pilot whales are dolphins, belonging to the Delphinidae family in the order Cetacea. Why not call them pilot dolphins?

References and much more

[1] Grzimeks Tierleben Elfter BandSäugetiere 2, page 503.
[2] Worl Cetacea Database: Globicephala sieboldii Gray, 1846.
[3] NOAA > Marine Mammals: Long-finned Pilot Whale (Globicephala melas).
NOAA > Marine Mammals: Short-finned Pilot Whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus).

Monday, November 29, 2010

Largest animal on earth: the blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus)

The blue whale is the largest animal on earth. It can get 100 feet long and weigh up to 150 tons (Discovery Education). Linnaeus constructed the scientific name, Balaenoptera musculus, from Greek and Latin words: balaena for whale, pteron for wing or fin, and musculus for muscle. Philip Hoare thinks that Linnaeus was joking, when he came up with this binomial term, since musculus can also mean mouse [1]. Well, mouse and blue whale differ in size, but they both are mammals, so there is some similarity.
Linnaeus was missing something else that names in “non-scientific” languages consistently point out—the color blue:

Dutch: blauwe vinvis
English: blue whale
French: balénoptère bleu
German: Blauwal
Italian: balenottera azzurra
Portuguese: baleia-azul
Spanish: rorcual azul

Since I have never seen a real one, I am not a good judge on the “color of the blue whale.” But pictures and drawings typically show a lot of grey and silver tones. I guess, the “real color” depends on the whale's age, its state of health and also on when, where and from which angle you are observing the true giant within its element. Linnaeus probably knew while he didn't include a color reference in the systematic name.

Keywords: cetology, marine mammals, taxonomy


[1 ] Philip Hoare: The WhaleIn Search of the Giants of the Sea. HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2010; see page 84.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Big-headed blower: Physeter macrocephalus

Physeter macrocephalus is the the scientific name for the sperm whale. Physeter macrocephalus was one of the four sperm whale species that Linnaeus, the father of taxonomy, thought to identify, along with P. catodon, P. microps and P. tursio [1]. Now they are considered as one species. The name Physeter catodon is still used as a synonymous binomial term. Another name for sperm whale is common cachalot. The word “cachalot” is of Romanic origin and means “tooth”, reminding us that the sperm whale species belongs to the cetacean suborder Odontoceti (toothed whales). In some Romanic languages the cachalot reference is present: The French call the sperm whale grand cachalot. In Spanish and Portuguese, the name is cachalote. Italians, however, refer to the big head; Germans and Dutch people to the big size. The English name refers to the cloudy, oily body liquid, which early sailors and whalers compared with semen.

Overview of names

Binomial name: Physeter macrocephalus
Dutch: potvis
English: sperm whale
French: grand cachalot
German: Pottwal
Italian: capodoglio
Portuguese: cachalote
Spanish: cachalote

Keywords: cetology, marine mammals, taxonomy


[1 ] Philip Hoare: The WhaleIn Search of the Giants of the Sea. HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2010; see Chapter III The Sperm Whale.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


Whales communicate by clicks, much as humans do these days. While the latter use the Internet, the former rely on underwater acoustics. There are plenty of sound waves beneath the surface waves of our oceans. (So, not all of them come from whales.)

Dr. Hal Whitehead is one of the great modern experts on sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) and has studied sound patterns in the communication of these marine mammals. He found and listened to four different click types: usual clicks, creaks, coda sequences, and the mysterious slow clicks or clangs. As Philip Hoares reports in his book “The Whale” [1]:

Dr Whitehead organizes the sperm whale's clicks into four functional groupings: usual clicks, about two a second, made by foraging whales; creaks, a regular, more rapid succession of clicks which he describes as sounding like the rusty hinge on an opening door, and which indicate a whale homing in on its prey, or scanning other whales at the surface; the communicative sequence of codas - such as click-click-click-pause-click - a kind of cetacean Morse code which suggests ‘conversations’, although ‘we do not know what information is being transmitted’. Most mysterious of all are the slow clicks or clangs made by mature males and which Whitehead compares to ‘a jailhouse door being slammed every seven seconds’.

Sounds a bit like whale watching from Alcatraz Island.

Keywords: cetology, research, underwater sounds, sonar, communication, code decryption

[1 ] Philip Hoare: The WhaleIn Search of the Giants of the Sea. HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2010; pages 76, 77 and357.

Friday, November 26, 2010

A big-winged New Englander: Megaptera novaeangliae

Megaptera novaeangliae is the the scientific name for the humpback whale. Philip Hoare—in search of the history of humans and whales—tells us that the humpback was given the nickname merry whale by hunters, who acknowledged the light-hearted appearance and playfulness of these marine mammals, making more gay foam and white water than any other [1].

The humpback is a baleen whale (Balaenopteridae) of the suborder Mysticeti in the order Cetacea. Humpbacks are often seen close to the coast and there are reports of river and harbour visits. They mate on the northern hemisphere in April and on the southern hemisphere in September [2]. The big wings, which gave this species its scientific name, can be seen when the giants breach by throwing more than half their bodies above the water surface.

Overview of names
Binomial name: Megaptera novaeangliae
Dutch: bultrug
English: humpback whale
French: Mégaptère
German: Buckelwal
Italian: balena gobba
Portuguese: baleia-jubarte
Spanish: ballena jorobada (see Good-bye whales!)

Certainly, the above list is incomplete since the humpback is also known in other languages. And synonyms and nicknames further enrich the lingua megaptera.


[1 ] Philip Hoare: The WhaleIn Search of the Giants of the Sea. HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2010; page 25
[2] Grzimeks Tierleben Elfter BandSäugetiere 2, page 475 and 476.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

From Greek ketos over Latin cetus to the whale-contexting prefix

The Greek word ketos and the Latin noun cetos, derived therefrom, mean whale or sea-monster [1]. Various scientific terms, in use today, stem linguistically from these roots. Cetology refers to the branch of zoology that studies whales and dolphins. They are not considered sea-monster any more. In scientific classification, the term Cetacea denotes the order of marine mammals that includes the suborders Mysticeti (ballen whales) and Odontoceti (toothed whales).

In chemistry, the alkane compound hexadecane (C16H34) is also called cetane since some of its derivatives were first found in whale oil. The prefix cetyl is synonymously used for hexadecyl, CH3(CH2)15-, to specify a group or substituent with this constitution. The best known compound, carrying this prefix in its name, probably is cetyl alcohol, CH3(CH2)15OH, which is also named palmityl alcohol and 1-hexadecanol. The occurrence of the cetyl prefix in a chemical substance name characterizes a compound structurally, but does not relate to the “cetobiochemistry” of the compound.

[1] Michael Quinion: OLOGIES AND ISMSWord Beginnings and Endings. Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York, 2002.

Hell Town, a nickname for Provincetown on Cape Cod

Native Americans had live on Cape Cod for Millennia. When the Pilgrims arrived—in search for their utopia—they rejected the Cape as fit only for fish (cod) and heathens. Philip Hoare, not in search of utopia but for the whale, tells us that “Provincetown became an outlaw colony beyond their Puritan influence, a reputation embodied by its nickname: Hell Town.”

By the end of the eighteenth century the “town” was governed by piracy, war and revolution, but soon this port town became prosperous through cod trade and the whaling business. Cape Cod Bay, once a sanctuary for whales, was turned into their hell!

Keywords: history, geography, cetology, New England, Atlantic Ocean, whale habitats

Philip Hoare:
The WhaleIn Search of the Giants of the Sea. HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2010.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The term “boar” refers to a wild pig species or a male pig

Wild boars are a European species of wild pigs, Sus scrofa of the Suidea family. The word “boar” is also used in generic terms for any kind of male pig. Remember, the female counterpart is the sow and the young ones are the piglets.

Wild boars are the ancestors of domestic pigs. Wild pigs and domestic pigs, the latter also known as domestic swines or house swines, can still interbreed to produce hybrids such as the ones gone feral in California [1,2], where neither type has been native. The wild boars were introduced in California as game species, while the domestic pigs came with the Spanish missions. They managed to intermingle—California-style—and the hydrids now roam the oak-tree hills and valleys in large numbers.

Wild pigs are not only surging in California, but also in their native landscapes like those in Germany. In German, wild boar is Wildschwein (note the similarity between the nouns swine and Schwein) and the male pig is a Keiler or Eber. Geographic place names such as Ebern (in Unterfranken) and Ebersberg (east of Munich) indicate human-boar interaction during history. It will only be a matter of time until California will have its Boarhill or Boarville community.

Keywords: Artiodactyla, mammals, sexes of pigs, hybridization

References and further reading
[1] Daniel McGlynn: Ground Invasion
Wild Pigs and Turkeys in the East Bay Hills. Bay Nature October-December 2010, pp. 18-22.
[2] Tom Stienstra:
California WildlifeA Practical Guide. Avalon Travel Publishing, Inc., Eneryville, California, USA, 2000.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Acronym in geography and transportation: BTK for Baku-Tblisi-Kars railway

In 2013, when the Marmaray railroad tunnel beneath the Bosporus in Istanbul is expected to be opened and construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) will be finished, passengers and goods can travel all the way from Baku to London and retour. The BTK will connect the capital and Caspian port city of Azerbaijan, Baku, with Kars in eastern Turkey via the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi.

In Tbilisi trains have to switch between Standard (1,435 mm or 4 ft 8 1/2 in) and Russian (1,520 mm or 4 ft 11 5/6 in) rail gauges.

The BTK is nicknamed “Iron Silk Road” [1]. It will connect the oil-rich Caspian Sea region with Turkey, bridging two regions with a population of mostly Muslim religions through Christian Georgia. Rich in history, religions, cultures, languages and natural resources, relations in this part of the world have never been easy—not only to be blamed on different track gauge systems!

Will the BTK forge a sustainable and more relaxed future for this European-Asian land of originality and diversity?

Keywords: Caucasus, continental crossroads, rail systems, engineering, traveling

References and further tracks
[1] Brett Forrest and Alex Webb: The New Silk Road. National Geographic August 2010, Vol. 218, N0.2, pp. 54-79. Council on Foreign Relations:
[2] Railway Technology: Baku-Tbilisi-Kars Line, International:

Thursday, November 18, 2010

German: Energiekonzept; English: energy concept

The German word Energiekonzept is composed of the female noun Energie (energy) and the neutrum noun Konzept (concept). Goal of the Energy Concept is sustainable economic growth based on renewable resources. The Energiekonzept is part of a long-term strategy towards renewable energy and less dependence on non-renewables such as foreign fossil fuels. However, the German goverment extended the lifetime of nuclear power plants by an average of twelve years. This Brückentechnolgie (bridging technology) also is part of the Energiekonzept. Critics argue against this energy-mix concept. Future profits of nuclear energy suppliers are supposed to fund research in clean and sustainable technologies—and zukunftsorientierte Energiekonzepte.

References and further reading:
[1] Annette Schavan:
Germany's Energy Research Plan.
DOI: 10.1126/science.1198075.
[2] Joachim Michel: Laufzeitverlängerung AKW - zum Energiekonzept der Bundesregierung.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Ideagora, a marketplace for ideas, concepts and strategies

The Greek noun agora refers to a public place used by citizens of ancient Greek city-states to gather, socialize, debate and trade goods and thoughts. An ideagora is a marketplace for ideas, concepts and strategies. Ideagoras are not found in city centers, but on the Web. The term ideagora was coined by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams [1,2]. Ideagoras are digital marketplaces where questions or problems are posted and people are “invited” to answer or solve them. Ideagoras work by matching qualified minds to challenging tasks or vice versa.

Take a tour:
As a portmanteau of the words idea and agora, the term ideagora is catchy and descriptive at the same time. Synonyms? The phrases “eBay for innovation” and “virtual talent pool” have been used. Also, there are web sites that narrow the field of invention and innovation, such as Innopedia, a wiki for ideas in aeronautics and air transport. Lift your ideas into space!

References, details and more to explore:
[1] Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams: WikinomicsHow Mass Collaboration Changes Everything. Portfolio/Penguin Books Ltd, London, Paperback edition 2010.
Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams: Ideagora, a Marketplace for Minds.
[3] ιδεαgoras:
[4] Look-up and how-to questions via information crowdsourcing?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The four principles of wikinomics: openness, peering, sharing and acting global

The word and prefix wiki means quick or fast. It has roots in the Hawaiian language or even deeper in Austronesian [1]. The term wikinomics is derived from the words wiki and economics. Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams introduced this word with their book in 2006 (now available as a paperback [2,3]), using this word as its title. They explain the concept of wikinomics and illustrate that wikinomics is something that is happening, ongoing and changing the business world based on the principles of openness, peering, sharing and global playfulness. The World Wide Web and its underlying software tools, including the LAMP stack, are the main drivers of wikinomics.

In the world of wikinomics, collaborative innovation is accelerating and deepening across borders and walls of traditional business networks. The open-kimono approach to creating internet platforms, knowledge and products advances around the globe like sushi bars. Wikinomists are quickly getting creative with words too: there is a wiki web site called Wikonomy [4].

Will there eventually be a Nobel Prize for Wikinomics?

[1] Ward Cunningham: Etymology of Wiki (letter to Mr. Ward, 2003).
[2] Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams: WikinomicsHow Mass Collaboration Changes Everything. Portfolio/Penguin Books Ltd, London, Paperback edition 2010.
[3] Wikinomics blog inspired by [2]:

[4] Wikinomy.

Monday, October 25, 2010

E-readers present e-books on e-ink screens

The e for electronic became popular with terms such as e-mail. Today, the letter e, followed by a hyphen, precedes various nouns that name an electronically driven device or users thereof. An e-customer, for example, is a person shopping and buying online. An e-reader, however is not a human being reading electronically displayed text, but an electronic device providing that text—typically a page from an e-book.

Columnist David Pogue describes the rise and growing popularity of e-readers and e-books in a recent TechnoFiles article [1], but argues that printed books will not be replaced by e-books. First, he identifies existing technical problems such as the slowness of e-ink while “turning” a page on the screen. Further, an e-book may not be readable on e-readers from different companies. He points out that one will probably not be able to read an e-book in maybe twenty years or two-hundred years. Even if you are not around then, wouldn't it be nice if future generation can have access to the e-books you have written as an e-author?

Then there is the sensing and social networking issue. E-books don't smell, don't have beautiful front or back covers and also leave your library shelves empty. Due to copy-protection you cannot even borrow them to your e-friends.

[1] David Pogue: The Trouble with E-readersElectronic books are still far too crude to replace ink and paper. Scientific American November 2010, 303 (5), page 36.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Nebulosa hermani, a dioptine moth named after Lee H. Herman, a curator at the American Museum of Natural History

Nebulosa hermani is a moth species of the Dioptinae subfamily. James S. Miller describes how he caught it in the Andean cloud forest of Ecuador [1]. Years later he realized that he had discovered a species new to science. He named it after his colleague Lee H. Herman, who had accompanied him on that cloud forest expedition. Lee H. Herman is the curator of beetles at the American Museum of Natural History.

James S. Miller is a research associate at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. In 2009 he published a major generic revision of the entire moth subfamily Dioptinae [1]. Dioptinae images by him can be found on pages of the “The Tree of Life web project” at

Keywords: entomology, Noctuoidea, Notodontidae, South America, Andes Mountains

Reference and more on moth taxonomy
[1] James S. Miller: Moth Masquerade • Parallel lives come to light. Natural History November 2010, Volume 119, Number 2, pp. 14-15.

Velvet belly lantern shark, a dogfish shark species named after its velvet-black, bioluminescent belly

The velvet belly lantern shark (Etmopterus spinax) is named after its velvet-black belly [1]. Shorter names for this dogfish shark species are velvet belly or lantern shark. The velvet belly is a cartilaginous fish (order Chondrichthyes). The blue-light-emitting organs are intrinsic photophores, which do not employ luminescent bacteria. Fish-intrinsic bioluminescence of that kind is known to bone fish (order Osteichthyes) , but has until now not been studied in cartilaginous fish [1].

Velvet bellies, with a typical body length of less than two feet, live in deep water of the Atlantic Ocean, preferring the slopes of the outer continental shelves. They have been caught at a depth about 6,000 feet below the water surface. Squids and crabs are their main diet [2].

Velvet belly names in other languages [2]:
German: Schwarzer Dornhai
French: Sagre

Keywords: ichthyology, Etmopteridae, Squaliformes, deep-sea fish, hormone-controlled bioluminescence


[1] S. R: Glow in the Shark. Natural History November 2010, Volume 119, Number 2, page 10.
[2] Grzimeks Tierleben Vierter BandFische 1, page 122 and 516.

Friday, October 22, 2010

LAMP stack: Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP and Perl bundle

A lamp is a lamp. But written with all letters in upper-case, LAMP is an acronym in information technology, standing for the collection of the following open-source software products: the Linux operating system, the Apache server, the MySQL database, and the PHP and Perl scripting languages [1-3].

The LAMP stack is the foundation for plug-and-play development in the Web 2.0 world. Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams [1] describe the LAMP stack as the plumbing of the Internet. It made up the essential components of the first wave of the open-source software movement. Today, we experience the second wave, which brings true collaboration and integration between applications—a stable stack gets surrounded by busy dynamics.

[1] Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams: WikinomicsHow Mass Collaboration Changes Everything. Portfolio/Penguin Books Ltd, London, Paperback edition 2010; pages 43 and 84.
[2] Setting up a LAMP stack:
[3] LAMP Stack. An Open-source Architecture for Web Based Applications:

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Weltwissen, a German compositum directing attention to a science exhibition in Berlin

The German word Weltwissen is composed of the two nouns Welt and Wissen meaning world and knowledge, respectively. The meaning of the composed noun depends on the context in which it is used. A literal translation is knowledge of the world. But the term Weltwissen is not frequently used in every-day communication. Instead, it appears in philosophical and theoretical texts elaborating on complex processes such as human perception, cognition, and realization. With less ambiguity, the word Weltwissen became the title of an exhibition in Berlin's Martin Gropius Bau [1-3]. This show celebrates 300 years of science in Berlin by displaying real historic objects and curiosities from different historical eras—mediating Geschichtswissen, knowledge of history, in addition to the scientific themes.

Keywords: science history, research institutions, progress, abuse of science, ethics

The high points of the Berlin Year of Science:
[2] Alsison Abbott:
The light and shade of German science. Nature 7 October 2010, 467 (7316), page 660.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Kurzarbeit, a German compositum referring to employee retainment during times of recession

The German term Kurzarbeit is composed of the adjective kurz, meaning short, and the noun Arbeit, meaning work or employment. For an employee, Kurzarbeit means staying employed, but working for a reduced number of hours. The employer pays the salary gap (up to two-thirds), which, however, is covered by the Bundesagentur für Arbeit or Arbeitsagentur, by most Germans simply called Arbeitsamt (German Federal Employment Agency). During a downturn or short recession the advantage for all sides is clear: The employee keeps his job and often receives special training, which improves his career prospects. The company, then, has a skilled workforce ready as soon as production is taking off again. And the government can show off better-looking statistical data of unemployment. A recent article in C&EN describes how the chemical industry in Germany managed a brief period of difficult times with the Kurzarbeit program [1].

The program has frequently been praised. Of course, there also is criticism for this type of costly public subsidy and a biased support of already established businesses. What about the seeding of new innovative start-ups? For most Kurzarbeiter, though, the program worked and they are back to Vollarbeit, full-time work.

[1] Paige Marie Morse: German Industry's Special Edge. Chemical & Engineering News October 4,
2010, 88 (40), pp.20-21.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The mineral name cryolite derived from Greek terms

Cryolite is commonly associated with the industrial electrolysis of alumina to obtain aluminum (Hall-Héroult process): addition of cryolite lowers the production cost by lowering alumina's melting point by over 1,000 degrees. Cryolite is a rare mineral, whose name is derived from the Greek words for frost or ice and stone, referring to the allusion of its frozen-water appearance (

Cryolite is mainly composed of sodium hexafluoroaluminate: Na3[AlF6]. Commercial mining of a huge deposit of this mineral started in the late 1850s near the town of Ivittuut in southwest Greenland (Kalaallit Nunaat, meaning “Land of the Kalaallit people”). Cryolite and its mining site is depicted in a stamp issued in Greenland on October 19, 2009 [1,2]: Aatsitassanik ilisimatuutut misissuineq, kryolit, Mineralforskning, kryolit.

Link and reference to Kalaallit Nunaat's cryolite stamp
[2] Daniel Rabinovich: The Stone that Came in from the Cold. Chemistry International September-October 2010, page 33.

Denotations of the word “language”: native, foreign, and subject-specific

The noun “language” often refers to a natural language that a group of people have in common and use to communicate with each other and to understand each other (at least, linguistically). This language, then, is their native language. Unless born in a bilingual society, a child grows up to speak and write in its native language and may learn one or more foreign languages.

A student of an academic discipline or subdiscipline—from macroeconomics to microbiology—acquires knowledge in a particluar field of study through either her native or a foreign language. The latter is the case in class rooms and lecture halls, where disciples with different language backgrounds come together to plunge into the same field of study. This content and language integrated learning (CLIL) approach focuses on combined learning of curriculum material and skills in the mediating academic language.

A particular field of study typically comes along with a large and, depending on the discipline, rapidly growing dictionary of subject-specific terms. Such terms often have their roots in a language different from that in which the subject is taught. A subject-specific language, also called terminology, includes words and phrases to which the grammar of the chosen academic language applies as well as strongly subject-associated notations and codes. In chemistry, for example, the symbols of the chemical elements or the short notations for α-amino acids (one- and three-letter code) can be thought of as basic language particles. Words or names for other objects and concepts in chemistry are derived on the basis of a large and evolving set of nomenclature recommendations and from designed encoding languages such as CurlySMILES.

Keywords: linguistics, academic communication, terminology, nomenclature, linear notations

Friday, October 8, 2010

Acronym in education: CLIL for content and language integrated learning

CLIL stands for an umbrella term in teaching and education: content and language integrated learning. CLIL started as pedagogical project implemented in foreign language learning [1]. The European Commission emphasizes CLIL's multi-facted approach, which can benefit students on various learning levels including oral communication competence, intercultural knowledge skills and development of multilingual interests and attitudes [2].

Teachers working with CLIL are not language teachers, but specialist in other disciplines such as history, geography, social studies, the arts or science. Typically, they teach their subject in their native language (mother tongue) to students for which this particular class-room language is foreign (a second language). The CLIL concept is focused on cooperative learning within a special field of study, rather than speaking and writing in the mediating language. A recent article discusses the implications of CLIL-based teaching and learning of chemistry, while chemistry lesson are held in English to students, for which English is a foreign language [3].

Keywords: learning, teaching, foreign language, classroom context

References and further reading
[1] Sonia Casal: Cooperative Learning in CLIL Contexts: Ways to improve Student's Competence in the foreign Language Classroom. Universidad Pablo de Olavide (Sevilla-Spain). Pdf.
[2] European Commission Multilingualism: Content and language integrated learning. Htm.
[3] Keith Kelly: A New Challenge for Chemistry Education. Chemistry International September-October 2010, pp. 4-7.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

An acronym in sustainable energy collaboration: Desertec for desert technology

The term Desertec stands for desert technology [1], which is somewhat of a misnomer since it refers to a solar energy concept. The noun “desert” in this phrase hints to the location where the technology is going to be installed, but not how it will work. The idea of Desertec is to generate solar electricity in sunny North Africa and move it across the Mediterranean Sea to less-sunny and higher populated European countries.

Desertec is now an ambitious multinational renewable energy project, going back to the vision of DESY particle physicist Gerhard Knies, who was rethinking energy production after the Chernobyl nuclear reactor accident in the Ukraine in April 1986 [2].

The Desertec concept envisions generation of electricity by concentration of solar power, not photovoltaics. However, the integration of PV installations, wind energy, and other renewable energy production sites in regions north of Africa is planned. The clean technology expertise is at hand, but certain political and security questions—concerning both the solar-concentrating plants and the extensive electricity grid— still need to be solved.

Out-of-Africa dispersion, a strong hypothesis in anthropology, will become reality for electrical current.

Keywords: clean technology, sustainable development, multinational cooperation, energy politics

References and further reading
[1] Energy from the desert: Desertec & Solar City 2050.
[2] Daniel Clery: Sending African Sunlight to Europe, Special Delivery. Science August 13, 2010, 329, pp. 782-783.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The term “Web 2.0” and its synonyms

The Web 2.0 is something that is still happening and hence difficult to define. The term goes back to the year 2005, when web pioneer and vice president Dale Dougherty of O'Reilly brought up this term during a brainstorming session [1]. Then, the Web 2.0 conference was born as well. The next Web 2.0 Summit is scheduled for November of this year.

In their bestselling Wikinomics book [2], Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams refer to some other names for Web 2.0: the living Web, the Hypernet, the active Web, the read/write Web. Today's Web surfers usually don't care much about the name of this technology, they just use it. Programming and mark-up languages such as HTML, XML, CSS and JavaScript belong to the technical core knowledge for Web 2.0 designers [3]. But there is not a single Web 2.0 technology and expansion into new schemes and schemas is ongoing.

It has become popular to attach the “2.0 suffix” to concepts and applications nurtured by Web 2.0 technology. For example, Joel Comm uses “twitter power 2.0” as the title for his latest book edition on social networking and online marketing with Twitter [4].

Keywords: Web design, Internet, information technology, digital networking

[1] Tim O'Reilly: What is Web 2.0Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software. 09/30/2005. HTML version.
[2] Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams: WikinomicsHow Mass Collaboration Changes Everything. Portfolio/Penguin Books Ltd, London, Paperback edition 2010; page 19.
[3] Eric van der Vist, Danny Ayers, Erik Bruchez, Joe Fawcett and Allessandro Vernet:
Professional Web 2.0 Programming. Wiley Publishing, Inc., Indianapolis, 2007.
[4] Joel Comm: twitter power 2.0
How to dominate your market one tweet at a time . John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Hoboken, New Jersey, 2010.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Acronym in astronomy and space technology: JWST for James Webb Space Telescope

James E. Webb (1906-1992) was a NASA administrator (1961-1968) [1]. A new infrared telescope, which was originally coined the Next Generation Space Telescope (NGST), is now named after him: the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) [2]. The JWST is scheduled to be launched in 2014 to carry on as a successor to the iconic Hubble Space Telescope [3].

The JWST's ultralight, shape-adjusting mirrors will have six times the light-collecting power of those of the Hubble Space Telescope. New vistas on the earliest ages of our universe are expected to be accessible by detecting infrared radiation after the telescope and its giant heat shields will have successfully been unfurled out of the earth-to-orbit rocket. For more details see the narrative and the “IN BRIEF” box at the bottom of page 50 of the “Origami Observatory” article [3].

References and more to explore
[1] Interviews: James E. Webb Oral History.
[2] National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA): The James Webb Space Telescope.
[3] Robert Irion:
Origami Observatory. Sci. Am. October 2010, 302 (4), pp. 48-55. Abstract.

Acronym in genomics: SNP for single-nucleotide polymorphism

SNP stands for single-nucleotide polymorphism, a phrase in genetics, that is frequently used in the context of genome analysis and the study of natural selection.

The term SNP denotes a point of difference (mismatching nucleotide pair), when detected while comparing the genomes of two individuals (two humans, Homo sapiens, or two individuals of another species). The genomes of any two people differ at only approximately one out of every 1,000 pairs of DNA nucleotides, or “letters,” along the human genome sequence, which consists of about three billion pairs of such DNA letters [1].

The study of SNP patterns is critical in understanding the evolution of diseases [2] such as cancer [3].

Note: The plural form SNPs is pronounced “snips.”

Keywords: genetics, evolutionary biology, biological adaption, genetic mutations, selective sweep, alleles

References and further reading
[1] J. K. Pritchard: How we are evolving. Sci. Am. October 2010, 302 (4), pp. 41-47. Abstract.
[2] Technology Feature: Genomics: SNPs and human disease. Nature 16 June 2005, 435, 993. DOI: 10.1038/435993a.
[3] R. Mei et al.: Genome-wide detection of allelic imbalance using human SNPs and high-density DNA arrays. Genome Res. 2000, 10, pp. 1126-1137. DOI: 10.1101/gr.10.8.1126.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Look-up and how-to questions answered via informational crowdsourcing?

What's on your mind? A question? Well, you can send it to your facebook friends and wait for answers. Or, you may transform your question into a “What's happening?” twitter tweet and wait for replying Twitterers. Before doing so, you probably want to use Google, Wikipedia or any of your other bookmarked Web wizards to get—at least—an idea of what the answer might be.

No success? What about informational crowdsourcing? A crowdsourcing service connects you with real and yet virtual human beings, who will hopefully answer your questions [1]: Yahoo answers and work this way. There will be no guarantee that an answer is correct. Do your own backcheck!

The critical point is the type of your question. To answer a look-up question is mostly a matter of finding the appropriate dictionary, encyclopedia, library or accessible database. Some person sitting in that adequately stuffed knowledge center or at a fittingly linked electronic device should be your friend in the crowd (whom you might never go to lunch with).

A how-to question makes a different story. There usually is no instant answer. For domain-specific question you need to find the right crowd. For example, if the nature of your questions lies embedded within a field of science, you could try ResearchGATE: There you'll find a “What's on your mind?” form as well and, in addition, a multitude of specialist groups to join, to follow and to consult.

Also, think of how to formulate your question and make it obvious whether you expect a yes or no, a multiple-choice-like answer or a concise narrative.

Finally, there are still those question that only you can answer yourself—always password-free.

[1] David Pogue:
Question TimeTo find the best answers, digital services are turning to actual humans. Scientific American October 2010, Volume 302, Number 4, page 38.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Twitter and all those TwitXXXs

The social networking and microblogging service Twitter offers, according to its page head, “the best way to discover what's new in your world.” Noticeable is the phrase “your world” instead of “our world,” hinting at Twitter's effortless use for self-expression and its functionality in broadcasting personal “my-world-view” news.

Real-time news, trivial as well as history-making, can be found on Twitter while the story of interest is happening and evolving. Although typically wrapped keyword-style within the tweet format, an included URL—also typically shortened—may connect the reader with more detailed resources. These tiny URLs are derived by employing URL-shortening services. Further, Twitter add-ons are available to integrate Twitter service with web-page design.

There exists an array of third-party tools, whose names start with “Twit” that support customization of Twitter applicability and performance. Some are specific and device-dependent, such as Twitterrific, adhering to the Mac and iPhone community. TwitThis comes in handy if you want to place buttons on your pages and blog posts, which enable your visitors to forward, via click, a site-link to the Twitterverse. TwitterCounter tracks statistics of your and other people's twittering activity. And while I am writing, the next great TwitXXX is already in the making—for sure!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

German: Knoblauchzehe; English: clove of garlic

The German word Knoblauchzehe is composed of the two nouns Knoblauch, meaning garlic, and Zehe, meaning toe. The noun Knoblauchzehe, however, refers to what in English is called a clove of garlic. Garlic toes are unheard of in English, aren't they?

The meaning of the English noun “clove” in German is context-dependent: The noun may refer to a part of a bulb (Nebenzwiebel), basically meaning the same as the word “clove” in the phrase “clove of garlic.” It also can mean Gewürznelke, literally translated as “spice carnation,” referring to the same spice as the English word in garlic-free context does—the spicy, rich red, dried, unopened bud of the clove tree (Syzgium aromaticum).

Summarizing overview (m. for masculine, f. for feminine):
  • Gewürznelke, f.: clove
  • Knoblauch, m.: garlic
  • Knoblauchzehe, f.: garlic clove
  • Zehe, f.: toe

Monday, September 27, 2010

The town of Boca in the Sierra Nevada named after the Spanish word for mouth

The town of Boca was located in the Sierra Nevada at the junction of the Truckee River and Little Truckee River. The town's name refers to this river-mouth location: Boca means mouth in Spanish. All there is left today of Boca is a cemetery and a few other remains.

Boca started as a construction camp in 1866, when the Central Pacific Railroad was laying tracks over the Mountains. For a short period, Boca was a bustling town with a lumber and ice industry. During the pre-refrigerator days ice was harvested.

An interpretive board along the quarter-mile-long Boca cemetery trail informs today's visitor that this town once featured a brewery, producing lager beer that even won awards at the 1883 Paris World Fair. The Boca Brewery employed up to 35 men, mostly German, and had an annual production of 20,000 to 30,000 barrels with shipments throughout the west. Unfortunately, a fire destroyed the brewery in 1893 and Truckeemünden soon became history, not only due to the lack of beer, but also as a result of the lack of lumber, since almost every nearby tree was cut and forest conservation was not part of the Zeitgeist of a late 19th-century small town in the High Sierra.

Keywords: California, Nevada, Comstock mining era, history of breweries

Boca Cemetery Resoration Project, May 29, 2004.