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Bumblebees are highly territorial

Territorial Bumblebee

As soon as the weather got warm, I noticed that two bumblebees staked a claim in my terrace. One patrols the north side, and the other guards the east side. If they get into each other's territory they scuffle, and sometimes they drop to the floor as they attack each other.

The bumblebees just seem to hover back-and-forth along "their" territory in spite of the high winds in the penthouse patio. They do this all day long. I don't know what they eat to have all that energy. There are no flowers yet.

The bumblebees don't seem to be interested in people. When I walk around in the patio, they just keep buzzing in their normal flight patterns. However, as soon as another bumblebee comes into their visual range, they chase after it. Sometimes, you will see a bumblebee take off in a hurry chasing after another bee that may be thirty feet away. Bumblebees really have good eyesight and great reflexes!

Several years ago, before I knew that the bumblebees were harmless if left alone, I doused one with the hose and it fell into a pool of water and drowned. I felt so guilty. This animal was not hurting me, and it was not harming my home, but I killed it. Now, I try to be more respectful of nature.

May 25, 2009 update. I was explaining to a visitor how the bumblebees are so protective of their territory. I told him that I wanted to try an experiment where we would toss a small stone toward each other in the area where the bumblebee was flying. Sure enough, as soon as the stone was in the air, the bumblebee flew toward it and tried to attack it. We stopped the game when the bumble bee got too close for our comfort.
See the bumblebee feeding on my sunflowers

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Swine Flu outbreak in Mexico and Texas

Influenza Virus
Influenza Virus

Over 1000 people in Mexico City have been infected with flu virus and at least 68 have died. The same strain of influenza virus has been found in Southern California and Texas, raising fears that the outbreak could develop into a global pandemic. Mexican health officials closed all schools, universities, museums and libraries to try to keep the infection from spreading. Authorities are also screening international travelers for flu symptoms before they leave the country.

Residents of Mexico are taking precautions against getting infected by staying at home, avoiding public places, and not greeting people with handshakes and kisses. People who must use public transportation have started wearing rubber gloves and face marks to avoid getting infected.

The influenza virus mutates easily. Small genetic changes allow the virus to adapt to new hosts and jump species. The H1N1 virus of this outbreak can infect pigs and birds. Recent outbreaks of flu have originated in Asia. It is unusual that the current epidemic started in North America. People who work in close proximity with chickens and pigs are more likely to get infected with flu viruses. A 2004 study in Iowa found that 20 percent of swine veterinarians and 3 percent of meatpackers had antibodies in their blood indicating they had been infected with swine flu.

There are no vaccines against this virus, although Oseltamivir (Tamiflu), which is an antiviral drug, appears to be effective at suppressing viral replication.
Learn about the structure of the Influenza Virus

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Earth Day: Poisons in our environment

The Washington Post reported that more than 80 percent of the male smallmouth bass in the Potomac River are growing eggs, and after six years of searching, scientists still have not found the pollutants that are causing the abnormality. The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, which provides water to over 5 million people in the Washington metropolitan area says that the drinking water is clean, but the WSSC report for 2008 shows detectable levels of Dalapon (less than 1 microgram per liter), and Di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (less than 2 micrograms per liter).[1]

Dalapon is a herbicide used to control grasses in a wide variety of crops. Di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP) is a commonly used plasticizer in the manufacture of articles made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC). DEHP is also used as a hydraulic fluid and as a dielectric fluid in capacitors.

Many organic chemicals mimic the effects of sex-hormones. DEHP metabolites in the blood of pregnant women have been significantly associated with decreased penis size, shorter anogenital distance, and the incomplete descent of testes in newborn boys.[2]
Learn more about environmental contaminants

[1] WSSC Tap Water Analysis - 2008, Potomac Water Filtration Plant

[2] Pelley, Janet (November 2008). "Plasticizer may make boys less masculine". Environ Sci Technol.

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How we get fat: Buy one, get one free

Free Bacon, Free Sausage Buy one, get one free (BOGO)
Buy one, get one free

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) there are now over 1.6 billion overweight adults in the world. That number is projected to grow by 40% over the next 10 years. The following list reflects the percentage of overweight adults aged 15 and over. These are individuals who have Body Mass Index greater than or equal to 25. Obesity is defined as a BMI greater than or equal to 30. In the United States 74.1% of the people are overweight or obese. That is almost 3/4 of the entire population.

Rank Country %
1. Nauru 94.5
2. Micronesia 91.1
3. Cook Islands 90.9
4. Tonga 90.8
5. Niue 81.7
6. Samoa 80.4
7. Palau 78.4
8. Kuwait 74.2
9. United States 74.1
10. Kiribati 73.6
11. Dominica 71.0
12. Barbados 69.7
13. Argentina 69.4
14. Egypt 69.4
15. Malta 68.7
16. Greece 68.5
17. New Zealand 68.4
18. United Arab Emirates 68.3
19. Mexico 68.1
20. Trinidad and Tobago 67.9

One of the reasons why Americans are so fat is that they cannot pass up a bargain. The way in which food is merchandised makes it virtually impossible to buy only a reasonable amount of food. Look at the receipt above. You buy one and you get one free. If you buy only one, it is like throwing half of your money away. Who is going to do that? Nobody. We would rather eat it than waste it. That is how we get fat. Interestingly, you seldom see such sales for fruits and vegetables.
Calculate your BMI

Comments »

MaineBob OConnor said,
2009-04-15 @ 00:56:48

What's with the top four countries all above 90%. I bet that those countries do not have the two for one deals. There must be another factor... And in the USA, Corn... in the form of High Fructose Corn Syrup was implicated in the Fattening of Americans in the Indi film "King Corn".

Administrator said,
2009-04-15 @ 02:51:33


The countries at the top of the list are in Polynesia. The traditional Polynesian diet consists mainly of taro, yams, bananas, coconuts, and fish baked in leaves. The flesh of young coconuts and coconut water are important parts of the cuisine. Baked breadfruit is popular when it is in season. Leftover food is fed to pigs, which are killed and cooked for special feasts. The modern diet of Polynesians includes large quantities of imported flour and sugar which is made into breads and sodas. The abundance of starchy foods in the diet is responsible for the high rates of obesity.

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Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C.

Cherry Blossom Festival

April is a colorful month in Washington, D.C. The blooming of the cherry trees around the Tidal Basin and the Jefferson Memorial is an example of the natural beauty of the capital of the United States. These Japanese cherry trees, also called sakura, were originally a gift from Japan in 1912, and additional trees were planted in 1965.

People who live in the Washington area look forward to the Cherry Blossom Festival which is held every year at the beginning of April. The festival includes a parade that runs along Constitution Avenue and is usually televised. Giant colorful balloons, marching bands, performers, celebrities, and spectators fill the streets of Washington. Several streets are closed for the Annual Sakura Matsuri, the largest Japanese Street Festival in the United States.

The booths for the Japanese festival display a wide variety of arts, crafts, and products. Geishas in their bright kimonos demonstrate dances to the sounds of traditional Japanese instruments. Visitors can learn how to fold origami, and they can buy anime, manga, J-POP music, and Japanese food delicacies.

Tour the Washington Monument

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(OS 3) The system cannot find the path specified

Apache Web Server

Recently, I got a new computer and I had to install the Apache Web Server on a Windows platform to be able to test my CGI scripts locally before publishing them on the internet. The installation went well and I could test CGI executables without problems, but HTML pages that used Perl scripts displayed the dreaded HTTP Status 500 - Internal Server Error. My Apache error.log file had the entry:

[client] (OS 3)The system cannot find the path specified.
: couldn't create child process: 720003: echo1.pl

This type of error occurs more frequently in Windows systems than in Linux or Unix systems. The reason is that the shebang line of the Perl script (#!/usr/bin/perl) is used by the Apache web server to find a program to interpret the script. In Windows systems, the Perl interpreter is normally installed as C:\Perl\bin\perl.exe, whereas in Linux/Unix systems the path is usually /usr/bin/perl, as indicated in the shebang line. Although there are several ways of telling the web server where to find the Perl interpreter, I have found that the simplest solution is to leave the Apache configuration alone and store a copy of the Perl interpreter as C:\usr\bin\perl.exe.

In this way, I can test my Perl scripts in the Windows system with exactly the same code that will run in the Linux systems. In the event that I upgrade to a new version of Perl, I have to remember to also change the copy in the local C:\usr\bin\ directory, or install the new version of Perl in directory C:\usr instead of the default directory C:\perl.

Click Here for a list of Free and Open Source Software

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Syntax of Declarative Sentences

Example of a Declarative Sentence
Example of a Declarative Sentence

This web site has a formal description of an English Grammar that I have used for many years for my computational linguistics work. The problem with formal descriptions is that they are very terse, and it takes a lot of study to understand how the constituents interact with each other.

I have developed an Interactive Syntax Worksheet that displays the interaction of the grammatical components, and gives the user an intuitive feeling for the process involved in constructing English sentences. I hope that this is useful to students learning English as a second language, and to native speakers interested in English syntax. The program is written in JavaScript and it operates entirely within the web browser, so there is nothing to download. The only requirement is that the browser should be running with JavaScript enabled.
Try the Interactive Syntax Worksheet for Declarative Sentences

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Excess abdominal fat increases risk of death

Large abdomen

Several studies have found that people with excess abdominal fat have a greater chance of dying from cancer or heart disease than people with smaller waistlines. A Harvard study of 44,000 women in the Nurses' Health study found that women with a waist size equal to or greater than 35 inches (89 cm) were approximately twice as likely to die of heart disease as were women with a waist size less than 28 inches (71 cm), regardless of their Body Mass Index (BMI). Similarly, women with a waist size equal to or greater than 35 inches also were twice as likely to die of cancer as were women with a waist size less than 28 inches.

Another study examined the association between waist circumference and mortality among 154,776 men and 90,757 women aged 51-72 years in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study.[1] A large waist circumference was associated with an approximately 25% increased mortality risk for both men and women. The waist circumference-mortality association was found in persons with and without prevalent disease, in smokers and nonsmokers, and across different racial or ethnic groups (non-Hispanic Whites, non-Hispanic Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians).

People with a normal BMI and a large waist circumference, 40 inches (102 cm) for men, and 34.6 inches (88 cm) for women, had approximately 20% higher mortality risk than those with normal BMI and normal waist size.

Many scientific studies focus on the absolute size of the waist instead of calculating a measure that provides the anthropomorphic proportions of the subjects. The average height of persons in the U.S. is 176.3 cm (69.4 inches) for males, and 162.2 cm (63.8 inches) for females.[2] From these measurements, we can calculate that the Waist-to-Height ratio associated with 20% higher mortality is 0.58 for males and 0.54 for females. In general, a normal Waist-to-Height ratio is less than 0.50. Waist-to-Height ratios of 0.55 and over indicate excess abdominal fat which is associated with early death.

Calculate your BMI and Waist-to-Height ratio

[1] Koster A, Leitzmann MF, Schatzkin A, Mouw T, Adams KF, van Eijk JT, Hollenbeck AR, Harris TB, Waist circumference and mortality, Am J Epidemiol. 2008 Jun 15;167(12):1465-75. PMID: 18417494

[2] Human Height

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Fear of Friday the 13th


Fear of the number 13 is called Triskaidekaphobia. Although the origins of this superstition have been lost in antiquity, they still persist in our modern world. In Hispanic and Greek cultures Tuesday the 13th is considered an "unlucky" day, but in English folklore it is Friday the 13th. The superstitions about the number thirteen are so ingrained in society that they even affect architectural decisions. The building in which I live does not have a 13th floor, as you can see in the elevator panel above.

Yesterday, was Friday the 13th, and I had a particularly unlucky day. Actually, it could have been worse, but I am glad that it wasn't. It all started with my usual TGIF celebration which consists of going to a restaurant for dinner and having a relaxing evening at home. But not last night.

The French food was a complete disaster. I ate only half of the food because it was too much, but nevertheless, I woke up in the middle of the night with a stomach ache. I don't think that the food was bad, it was just too salty and my organism is not used to so much salt. I probably had dehydration cramps. My girlfriend ordered something that had some crab meat and something else with a strange French name. She should have heeded her instinct when the waiter asked if that was what she really wanted and whether she had had it before. She asked "What is it?", the waiter explained that if she liked sardines or anchovies she might like it. mmhhh... At this point I thought that she would change her mind, but no, she is an adventurous gourmand.

Too bad. During the middle of her culinary adventure, it seemed to me that she looked a little bit green. At about this time she offered to let me try her dish. Having once been duped into tasting a horribly vile fishy morsel, I politely declined. Then she confessed that she really didn't like the dish, and that the mystery ingredient with the French name seemed to be some kind of raw roe or organ which was too fishy and unpleasant. We left the restaurant in a less than pleasant mood.

But Friday the 13th had not worked its full magic yet. The worst part was about to happen on the way home. The first sign of trouble sounded like a pop as we passed a car that had been stopped by a police car. I did not realize then that my rear tire had blown out and was leaking slowly. As I turned into the cloverleaf to get on Washington's outer belt, Route 495, I felt the car sway in an unusual way. The steering became harder, and then I realized that I had to pull to the edge of the road.

Fortunately, the blowout was on the right wheel along the curb of the road, otherwise I would not have been able to change the tire without risking my life. I fiddled in the dark with the jack and the spare tire while my girlfriend held a flashlight. The flashlight gave up the ghost after a few minutes. I managed to get the spare tire on in the dark. When I tried to get back on the road, there were some strange noises from the wheel that I had changed. I could not drive. I called the Mercedes help line, and a knowledgeable assistant asked me if I had changed the tire myself. When I said yes, he mentioned that the spare tire uses shorter wheel bolts than the regular wheels and suggested that this might be the problem.

I looked back through my toolkit using the cabin light of the car and there I found the five shorter bolts that I needed. I jacked the car up again and replaced the bolts in the dark. Now the car could move, but there was still some drag. I drove home slowly, which was eight miles away, and I could hear that the rear brake calipers were dragging on the disk. Evidently, the longer bolts had bent something. The tire was under warranty. I changed it on Saturday, but it cost me $101 Dollars to replace it after credit for residual value. The brake repairs will have to be done on Monday, and they will probably be a lot more expensive than the tire. This is a Friday the 13th that I will not soon forget.

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The inadequacy of the waist-to-hip ratio

The expanding waistlines of Americans have produced alarming increases in the rates of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Obesity increases the risk of Metabolic Syndrome, which is the combination of multiple symptoms that include high blood pressure, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Scientists have tried to determine a person's degree of obesity with measures such as the Body Mass Index (BMI) and the waist-to-hip ratio. The BMI is calculated by dividing the weight in kilograms by the square of the height in meters. The BMI provides a way for identifying people who are too heavy for their height. This is a good screening measure for finding fat people in the general population, but it fails for muscular bodybuilders who have large torsos and small waists. The BMI does not take into consideration whether the excess weight consists of big biceps and pectoral muscles, or a large pot belly and a huge butt.

The waist-to-hip ratio is calculated by dividing the circumference of the waist by the circumference of the hips. This measure determines if the abdomen is too big compared with the hips. Unfortunately, as people gain weight, both their waist and their hips grow. Recently, I posted pictures of Oprah Winfrey and her struggles with diet. Those pictures show that Oprah's waist and hips increased substantially between 1988 and 2008. Even though Oprah is a lot fatter now, her waist-to-hip ratio is about the same as it was when she was thin. This is the basic defect of the waist-to-hip ratio. A big butt cancels a big waist. This is illustrated in the images above that show the shape of the typical female body for various weights. Clearly, the evaluation of the waist circumference as an anthropomorphic measure should not be done relative to the hips which also increase in size as a person gains weight.

There is a better measure: the waist-to-height ratio.[1] Unlike the hips which increase when a person gains weight, a person's height remains constant. The waist-to-height ratio is a better measure of the relative size of the abdomen. For a person like Oprah Winfrey, whose height is 66.5 inches, a change of waist size from 28 inches to 36 inches would result in waist-to-height ratios of 0.42 and 0.54, respectively.
Calculate your percent body fat and waist-to-height ratio

[1] S.D. Hsieh, H. Yoshinaga, T. Muto, Int. J. Obes. Relat. Metab. Disord., 2003 May;27(5):610-6. Waist-to-height ratio, a simple and practical index for assessing central fat distribution and metabolic risk in Japanese men and women.

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