Plant warfare

Plants actively engage in the environments in which they live. They can communicate with other plants and animal neighbors. They respond to threats around them by changing their defensive chemistry, and alert plant neighbors to predation.

The wild desert tobacco plant, like all plants, have more genomes dedicated to environmental perception and response than animals. The plant has to adapt it’s physiology to what is going on around them. Being able to respond quickly is essential. As the tobacco plant is attacked by insects, it ramps up production of the chemical called nicotine. Nicotine is a natural pesticide against most insects, but has no effect upon the Hornworm caterpillar. In this case, the desert tobacco plant releases a chemical signal to other nearby plants. This signal warns of the ongoing attack upon itself and predators of the Hornworm caterpillar are summoned to fight off the attack.

So, how does the desert tobacco plant know what bug or insect is attacking it and what predators of the pest to call in? That answer is found in the saliva of the attacking pest. The tobacco plant can identify the pest thought the chemical compounds found in that pest’s saliva, thereby knowing what predators to call in to stem the pest’s attack. If a caterpillar eats the sticky sweetness from the plants trichomes (small hairs on plant stems), it will develop a smelly type odor, which in turn, will alert predators to the existence of the caterpillar.

The downside to the desert tobacco plant in ridding itself of the caterpillar, is that the caterpillar… once transformed into the nocturnal Hawk moth, is also its best pollinator. How does the desert tobacco plant solve this problem? It simply switches out pollinators. It does this by changing the shape of its flower, which typically opened at night, from an open shape to one that is more in the shape of a funnel. The funnel shaped flower would open in the dawn hours and produce a sweeter nectar, thus attracting hummingbirds instead of Hawk moths. This switch in pollinators can be accomplished in less that eight days.

The desert tobacco plant under attack from caterpillars, will emit a chemical odor to alert its nearby neighbors. The other desert tobacco plants in the immediate area would then ramp up their defenses. We see this behavior with other plant life too. Take, for instance, the acacia tree in Africa.

The acacia will emit ethylene to signal their neighbors to herbivore predation. The nearby acacia trees then ramp up production of tannin levels that can be lethal to herbivores feeding upon them. Interestingly enough, giraffes get around the toxicity of the acacia leaves by only eating a few leaves from the trees and then moving upwind to other acacia trees not receiving the ethylene signals from the previously foraged trees.

 

 

Something… out of nothing?

How can something be created from nothingness? How is that a possibility? Furthermore, how can it be proven?

If we were to place a box under vacuum, theoretically, we would have a box of nothingness. But is it really empty? The answer is both ‘yes’ and ‘no’. Enter quantum fluctuation. A particle can be created in a vacuum, and disappear, provided that it happens very quickly.

In quantum physics, a quantum fluctuation is the temporary change in the amount of energy in a point in space, also known as the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. The uncertainty principle states that for a pair of conjugate variables such as position/momentum or energy/time, it is impossible to have a precisely determined value of each member of the pair at the same time.

Quantum physics and Special Theory of Relativity were further explained via Dirac’s famous equation.

Dirac equation(original)

This equation describes particles and anti-particles. These particles are created in pairs, which can borrow energy from a vacuum before reuniting and cancelling each other out, thus returning the borrowed energy. These ‘virtual particles’ can appear and disappear trillions of times in a blink of an eye. One proof that this does happen, is by observing electrons of an atom in a vacuum. The electrons want to move on a flat plane around an atom. If the electrons bobble in their orbit around an atom, it is because of particles and anti-particles, interfering and affecting the electrons’ orbits.

Now, this all begs the question, ‘Why does any of this matter?’ Well, we know that the universe is expanding at an accelerated rate, but what is the driving force? One theory suggested that dark energy was the reason. A new theory puts forth the idea that, with the creation and destruction of these virtual particles, the universe oscillates between expansion and contraction. During these oscillations, the net effect is that the universe expands very slowly, but at an ever accelerating rate.

San Diego Mensa Lo-Sec address for July 2019

The new San Diego Mensa board has been seated. Our previous Lo-Sec/president, Alton Hitchcock Jr., has now become the RVC for Region 9, replacing Michael Wong. I’m excited to serve as your new Lo-Sec. 

I’d like to take a moment and thank Alton Hitchcock, Jr. for his years of service to the San Diego Mensa board. He’s a stand up guy. It has been a pleasure serving with him. I’m thankful for his friendship, and his leadership will be missed. I’m sorry to see him leave but I wish him well in his future endeavors. 

Moving forward…

During the upcoming year, I’ll be busy implementing a few ideas for recruiting new members to our fold. I believe the future of San Diego Mensa is directly tied to growing our membership base. Alton once made the comment that membership, in any organization, is like a leaky bucket. The leak is constant. If the bucket isn’t filled more quickly than the leak, the bucket will eventually run dry.

One idea for building up our membership, is the addition of more activities on our monthly calendar in conjunction with finding new ways to raise monies to fund our scholarship program. Who says we can’t have fun and raise funds at the same time? I want to encourage everyone to email the board with suggestions of activities you’d like to have included. Your input is important.

I’d like to close by saying, ‘Thank you!’ to each member of San Diego Mensa. Thank you for becoming a part of my extended family… and thank you for your friendship. 

-Patrick Yepes

 

 

 

 

 

 

Non-thinkers…

Have we become a society of non-thinkers? Or, collectively, have we always been shallow in our thinking and reasoning processes? With the advent of social media, has this phenomenon just been more evident?

I dare say, we’ve all seen a sensational, attention grabbing headline online, or in the news. But upon reading the news article, we discover that the story behind the headlines, sometimes has little to do with the original impression the headline had given. The headline was nothing more than a ‘hook’, to get the audience to read the article. The problem in that, is a substantial portion of the general public, won’t bother to read the article. But, they will regurgitate the misleading headline as if it were gospel. Maybe they do this because it somehow fits into their political agendas? Into their limited world views? In other words, it fits into their confirmation bias.

One would think, with the world wide web at our disposal, people would take the time to at least do a Google search and gather additional information about a subject matter. Sadly, that usually isn’t the case. 

 

 

Managing chaos… the role of Human Resources

This is just my opinion, so you should probably take it with a grain of salt.

There’s a reason why some Human Resources (HR) departments are so large and premium salaries are paid to staff them… it’s cheaper than fighting lawsuits. HR is a component of a company’s legal strategy. HR departments are basically used in a manner to help offset the human cost of conducting business by managing fallout when conflicts occur and problems arise. HR departments generally want to be seen as employee advocates.

Human Resources acts similarly to an internal business political engine, used to placate employees. They don’t so much ‘solve’ conflicts or grievances as they water down the underlying causes of conflicts. Their ultimate responsibility is to protect the company, to insulate the company as much as possible from the employees. HR’s second tier of responsibility is to protect management. Lastly, and if it’s practical, comes the common employee. That’s the hierarchy. Now, there are times when this hierarchy isn’t strictly followed… like in cases of sexual harassment between the aforementioned tiers of responsibility. The common employee has an advantage over management. A lot of times, if the company can reasonably ascertain that sexual harassment has been committed, the offending management is fired and the common employee becomes ‘untouchable’ for a period of time… in hopes that the victim party does not seek monetary compensation, and the ugly incident hopefully blows over.

In larger, good paying companies, the attrition rates of employees are low. People tend to stay in their job category/position much longer and become sedentary in their jobs. This creates clusters of employees who develop a long work history with fellow employees. Petty grievances can percolate over years in these clusters. What has inadvertently been created, is a larger organism (clique) that is harder for Human Resources and management to control. These cliques know ‘where the dead bodies are buried’, so to speak. They then become problematic for HR to deal with on an individual level and group dynamics have to be taken into account.

I realize this post sounds like I’m very negative on the role of Human Resources, and that is somewhat a true assertion, but I do think the role of Human Resource departments… when applied appropriately, are an asset to both the company and to the employees. A few ideas that I think would minimize some of the most common conflicts that arise from employees and management are:

  1. Rotate employees out of their departments and switch their work assignments regularly. This should help prevent work cliques from forming. This has the added benefit of cross-training employees, allowing them to develop new skills and becoming more valuable to the company.
  2. Send out periodic employee assessment questionnaires, asking them to grade performance of their supervisors and managers. Typically, ‘performance reviews’ run down the chain-of-command… rarely do they go up the chain. Employees feel they have little input in the workplace. Assessment questionnaires could help change that well earned perception.

 

 

Passion for books

(Uncle Remus, by Joel Chandler Harris 1921)

 

One of the joys of my life is my passion for books. It was something that kind of happened over time. As digital media became more prevalent, people turned away from the printed word. As a consequence, books were being disposed in great quantities. I’m not talking about your run-of-the-mill paperbacks being tossed aside, but high quality classics 100+ years old. They were the type and quality books that would be the foundation of family libraries, first editions and ‘banned’ books (see above picture) that the politically correct police deemed unworthy to be read in our ever evolving, self-righteous society.

Among the many tomes in my collection, is a 1919 copy of The Merry Adventures of Robinhood by Howard Pyle, a 1st edition (1863) example of Tales of a Wayside Inn by Longfellow, and 5 volume set of Les Miserables (1887) by Victor Hugo.

As time goes by, classic hardbacks are becoming more scarce. It is my hope that these books will one day come back into vogue.

What is Time?

Q: What is time?

A: Time is movement (distance), divided by intervals (units of measure).

Just a thought… Time is a human construct. Time is only the measurement of distance or expansion, as it pertains to the universe. Is time constant? Maybe, but if time also has to do with expansion, and the expansion of the universe is accelerating, then I would hazard to guess that time is not constant.. at least in that case.

Evolution of the Universe

 

 

By figuring out how fast the universe is expanding, scientists can calculate when the Big Bang occurred.

The universe was created from a super dense spect of pure energy, the size of a single atom. In a fraction of a second, the size of the universe grew from the size of an atom to the size of a baseball. In another fraction of a second, it grew to the size of the Earth.

When our universe was only 380,000 years old, it was trillions and trillions of miles across. It would take another 200 million years before the first stars were created. One billion years after the Big Bang, the first galaxies formed. Nine billion years after the Big Bang, our solar system comes into being.

Our universe had a beginning, and at some point, it will come to an end.

 

Our backyard, our Universe

The heavens have fascinated mankind since the dawn of time… well, at least for the last 240,000 years after man evolved enough to climb down from the trees. But I digress. 

This past century has unquestionably added to our knowledge of our solar system and the cosmos. What have we learned? I’ve compiled a few things that I find interesting. 

-Patrick

A forming planet has to reach about 500 miles across in order to have enough gravity to crush itself into a sphere. Four and a half billion years ago, roughly 100 baby planets were circling our Sun. In time, they slammed into one another, resulting in the formation of our current four rocky planets of Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars.

All four of our gaseous planets have rings. Jupiter has thousands of ringlets, many only a few miles wide. Gas planets also have magnetic fields. The auroras at their poles are proof of this. So, how does a gas planet, without an iron core, create a magnetic field?

Scientists have tried to recreate the core of Jupiter in order to study why it has a magnetic field. In the lab, scientists used an array of 192 laser beams focused on a sample of hydrogen gas, to simulate the pressures of Jupiter. As the pressure upon the sample reached over a million times the pressure on Earth, the hydrogen becomes a liquid. But, upon reaching tens of millions the amount of pressure, similar to that of Jupiter’s core… the resulting pressure changes the structure of the hydrogen atoms into a metallic form. Scientists think that this is what is happening within Jupiter’s core. In January of 2017, a scientist at Harvard University successfully created metallic hydrogen. 

The moons of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune are at least 50% water. Nearly 4 billion years ago, asteroids delivered the water we now have on Earth. Seventy-one percent of the Earth’s surface is covered with water. Still, water only makes up 0.05 percent of Earth’s mass. We enjoy just the right amount of water. Less, and we would be a dry planet with the land masses soaking up the water. More water, and the Earth would be a water world. 

The average galaxy may contain 100 billion stars. Until a hundred years ago, scientists believed the universe contained only the Milky Way galaxy. Scientists of the day called it our ‘island universe’. In 1924, Edwin Hubble discovered other galaxies outside our own. In that year, our knowledge of our universe went from just knowing about the Milky Way galaxy, to realizing that there were billions of galaxies out there.

Galaxies are massive. On Earth, we measure distance in miles, kilometers, or leagues. In space, we measure using astronomical units (1), parsecs (2), and light years. A light year is just under 6 trillion miles. Earth is 25,000 light years from the center of our Milky Way galaxy, and our galaxy is over 100,000 light years across. Andromeda, our nearest galactic neighbor, is over 200,000 light years across. Our universe is estimated to be 93 billion light years across.

  1. Astronomical Unit = Approximately 1.5 million kilometers
  2. Parsec = 3.26 light-years (30 trillion km or 19 trillion miles)

The Big Bang occurred about 13.7 billion years ago.

IC-1011 is the biggest galaxy yet found. It is 60 times larger than the Milky Way and extends six-million light years across.

Studying the center of our own galaxy, scientists discovered that the stars revolving around the center, were moving at speeds of several million miles an hour. The only force powerful enough to sling stars around at those speeds had to be a super massive black hole.

Even with super massive black holes at the center of all galaxies, it doesn’t exert enough gravity to keep the galaxies together. So, what keeps galaxies together? Dark matter. Dark matter makes up roughly six times as much matter as regular matter that exists in the universe. We know dark matter exists because of what it does to light emanating throughout the universe. Dark matter bends light in a process called gravitational lensing. It does this by magnifying the brightness of the light but also distorting the image. We cannot see or directly detect dark matter, but we know it exists. Without it, galaxies would fall apart. Dark matter is the glue holding together the whole structure of our universe.

So why is dark matter important? Scientists believe that dark matter slowly created strands of itself across the universe. Dark matter are the building blocks for our universe. Upon these weblike strands, are built the galaxies. Of all matter comprising the universe, dark matter makes up 23%. Regular matter accounts for only 4%.

As you’ve probably noticed, both dark matter and regular matter together, makes up 27% of the universe. What comprises the rest? Dark energy… it makes up roughly 68%.

Using type 1 supernova to measure distances, scientists found that galaxies weren’t slowing down due to gravity after the Big Bang, but rather they were accelerating. How could this be? The answer, dark energy.

Dark matter checked dark energy until about 5 billion years ago. Dark energy started winning the tug of war with dark matter. From that point on, the growth of the universe started speeding up. Dark energy was, in essence, stretching space.

Nature vs Nurture

On occasion, I’ve been asked “What is I.Q.?” Is it nature, nurture, or some combination of the two? I make no claim knowing the answer to this question. But, I do think it’s both nature and nurture… mixed in with a bit good fortune.

People all have their own personal experiences. I like to think, that maybe having such a spread of years within my own family’s generation, contributed to my knowledge base. My generation, on my mother’s side of the family tree, spans more than 100 years. My eldest cousin was born in 1915, two years before the United States entered the first World War.

Having such a wide span of years, does have a few benefits. For instance, many of my family members were witness to events of historical significance. Some have even participated in, and can give a first-person account of, those events. I didn’t have to run to the library to read war stories, or how rough living through the Great Depression had been. I had a rich source of information… all I had to do was ask a close relative.

So, I can see how nurture can have a great impact on a person’s I.Q. Nature, admittedly, must also be a major player in the I.Q. debate.