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Saturday, September 03, 2005

Daisy Math


The eye of a daisy forms a spiral, each tiny floret following higher math.


image

Daisy florets

Photo:  Kenneth Peterson

When it seems there’s no order in the universe, consider the daisy. Ivars Peterson’s wondrous article for Science News explains how the central florets (each really an individual flower) follow a strict design.  Fermat’s spiral is expressed mathematically as r = k a1/2, “where r is the distance from the origin, k is a constant that determines how tightly wound the spiral is, and a is the polar angle.”

imageFermat’s spiral

Image: Robert Krawczyk

Florets get larger the farther they are from the center. And the spirals take on different clockwise and counterclockwise patterns according to the polar angle. “Using the angle 222.49 degrees (a value related to the golden ratio, 1.618034. . . ), you get a pattern with an even packing of polygons (or disks). It closely resembles a daisy’s florets.”

Peterson’s article mentions some mathematician/artists who’ve used these spirals to make mandalas—centering forms whose contemplation can calm the wacky human mind.

Lots of us could do with a daisy about now.


Posted by Julie on 09/03 at 10:03 AM
SciencePermalink

Friday, September 02, 2005

In Gulfport


Hurricane Katrina has killed at least 126 people on the Mississippi Gulf Coast; exposure and poor sanitation are bringing disease.


image

Barbara Langford wanders through the remnants of her house in Gulfport, Mississippi.

Photo: Robert Sullivan for AFP

Four days after the hurricane splintered coastal Mississippi, the region faces new crises of health and security.

Harrison County had only received ice and water as of yesterday. At one emergency shelter, set up inside an elementary school “workers were giving each refugee half a cup of water three times a day.” The Gulfport newspaper published a front page editorial:  “The essentials — ice, gasoline, medicine — are simply not getting here fast enough. We are not calling on the nation and the state to make life more comfortable in South Mississippi, we are calling on the nation and the state to make life here possible.”

Adding to health hazards, 40 tons of chicken sit rotting in Gulfport and one million pounds of spoiled shrimp in Biloxi. “Both were being stored in ship containers on docks when Katrina hit early Monday morning.”

Doctors working in the region told The New York Times that “the number of patients with storm-related injuries has tapered off, while new afflictions are appearing. ‘Now we’re seeing post-traumatic stress-type stuff, a lot of babies with fevers, general viral-type stuff and dehydration.’”  They are anticipating “all types of intestinal infections” from the polluted drinking water.

The Salvation Army says it’s running out of food. A spokesperson for the charity is asking for contributions to the relief effort.

By the way, if you’re ordering flowers for someone in Boone, NC, this florist is donating 10% of sales to the Red Cross Hurricane Disaster Relief effort.



Posted by Julie on 09/02 at 11:22 AM
Culture & SocietyPermalink

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Second Line


Those who didn’t or couldn’t leave New Orleans before the hurricane now must.


imageNew Orleans residents crowd along Interstate 10 in Metarie, Louisiana

Photo: Dave Martin, for AP


When even hospitals have lost electricity, it’s time to abandon the city. But how?

Thousands of people who for whatever reason didn’t leave New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina hit or couldn’t leave after the levees broke are desperate for help and struggling to get out of town. If you’ve seen a New Orleans parade, you know about the second line, the ex-officio gang of dancers and handkerchief-wavers who bring up the rear. They make New Orleans a party. Now the second line is 60,000 people long outside the Superdome. They need refuge from their own beautiful city.

imageSecond line

Photo: Bill Taylor

“A $100 donation to The Salvation Army will feed a family of four for two days, provide two cases of drinking water and one household clean-up kit, containing brooms, mops, buckets, and cleaning supplies.” Sounds like a party.



Posted by Julie on 09/01 at 12:17 PM
Culture & SocietySecular CustomsPermalink

Day of Knowledge


September 1 in Russia is the hardest working holiday of the year.


imageRussian students

Sept. 1

Day of Knowledge

New Crimean Tatar schools, No. 42

Today the schools, colleges and universities of Russia open their doors. Summer’s over, it’s time to come back inside and dwell in the mind again. Students, especially the very young ones, celebrate Knowledge Day by dressing up and bringing a bit of the outdoors with them to the first day of classes: bouquets of flowers.

According to one source, “the ‘First Graders’ give a flower to the ‘Last Graders,’” who then escort the tiny scholars to their first class. (Seems like a beautiful custom that could spare everyone back-to-school tears.) Many more articles we’ve found suggest that the flowers are for teachers, much better than apples to make an amicable beginning.

This year, of course, the Day of Knowledge is day of mourning too, in remembrance of September 1 a year ago, when militants took schoolchildren and staff hostage at school No. 1 in Beslan. The siege lasted three days; 331 people were killed, half of them schoolchildren.

image

A girl brings flowers to her first day of school, September 1, 2005

Photo: Alexander Natruskin, for Reuters

Alexander Natruskin’s portrait of a Moscow schoolgirl on her first day of class this year brims with vulnerability and intelligence. Maybe they’re the same thing.

Best wishes to the students and teachers of Russia, for a peaceful Day of Knowledge and school year.



Posted by Julie on 09/01 at 10:15 AM
Secular CustomsPermalink
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