May 19, 2013

Random Links - May 19, 2013

Some days you are the cormorant, some days you are the fish! ;-)

Also in the same gallery this lovely picture of tulips in.... no, not Netherlands... but in China.


Two links about the amazing world we live in! 

First up, ever wonder why every cell in a honeycomb is a hexagon? 

So which to choose? The triangle? The square? Or the hexagon? Which one is best? Here's where our Roman, Marcus Terentius Varro made his great contribution. His "conjecture" — and that's what it was, a mathematical guess — proposed that a structure built from hexagons is probably a wee bit more compact than a structure built from squares or triangles. A hexagonal honeycomb, he thought, would have "the smallest total perimeter." He couldn't prove it mathematically, but that's what he thought.

Compactness matters. The more compact your structure, the less wax you need to construct the honeycomb. Wax is expensive. A bee must consume about eight ounces of honey to produce a single ounce of wax. So if you are watching your wax bill, you want the most compact building plan you can find.

And guess what?  Two thousand thirty-five years after Marcus Terentius Varro proposed his conjecture, a mathematician at the University of Michigan, Thomas Hales, solved the riddle. It turns out, Varro was right. A hexagonal structure is indeed more compact. In 1999, that said so. As the ancient Greeks suspected, as Varro claimed, as bee lovers have always thought, as Charles Darwin himself once wrote, the honeycomb is a masterpiece of engineering. It is "absolutely perfect in economizing labor and wax."

And  secondly, what a brilliant hypothesis/explanation to explain the cicada's love affair with prime numbers!
Cicadas that emerge at prime-numbered year intervals, like the seventeen-year Brood II set to swarm the East Coast this year, would find themselves relatively immune to predator population cycles, since it is mathematically unlikely for a short-cycled predator to exist on the same cycle.


Want to share this post from the brilliant Maria Popova on "Why we fall in love, what we’re all made of, how dreams work, and more deceptively simple mysteries of living." Her website, is a treasure trove of lovely information (I am often envious of her and wish I had put in the energy and dedication to start a site like hers!) and just this one post itself deserves to be deemed a treasure trove by itself!

Alain de Botton explores why we have dreams,  Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins breaks down the math of evolution and cousin marriages to demonstrate that we are all related,  Neuroscientist David Eagleman explains why we can’t tickle ourselves, Particle physicist and cosmologist Lawrence Krauss explains why we’re all made of stardust,  and last but not least author Jeanette Winterson on how do we fall in love!

 Kind of a follow-up to last week's link about grammar - 10 questions about grammar; how much do you know about apostrophes, semi-colons, dangling participles, etc.


A few letters this weekend from another website which is a treasure trove of delectable stuff like this - Letters of Note. Letters from or to the author F. Scott Fitzerald, who is all the rage lately because of the release of the movie, The Great Gatsby.

First up, a letter from F. Scott Fitzgerald to his daughter...with a lovely list of Things to worry about, Things not to worry about, and Things to think about. And then, from the sound of it, there is an intimidation in the P.S. at the end! *Shudder*...would hate to have a father who wrote me such letters! Luckily, mine wrote just letters full of love and concern.

F. Scott didn't mince words when it came to giving writing advice either; brilliant stuff in this letter to Frances Turnbull, then an aspiring young author and sophomore at Radcliffe College.
"I've read the story carefully and, Frances, I'm afraid the price for doing professional work is a good deal higher than you are prepared to pay at present. You've got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at dinner. This is especially true when you begin to write, when you have not yet developed the tricks of interesting people on paper, when you have none of the technique which it takes time to learn. When, in short, you have only your emotions to sell." 

And here is a letter between F. Scott and his editor about the publication of The Great Gatsby... which starts: "I think that at last I've done something really my own), but how good "my own" is remains to be seen."

And last but not least, Hemingway's "review" of a book by F. Scott..that begins: "Dear Scott: I liked it and I didn't." Read the whole letter here.


And lastly, a few LongReads for the week, which I have sent to my Kindle but not yet read!

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