Thursday, April 17, 2014

A-Z Challenge. Ohm.

In case new readers haven't caught on yet, I have an odd and inexplicable curiosity of names. (My favorite subject is toponyms, but that's for the letter 'T'.) This interest even surfaces in my science writing where I often address scientific names and common names of, well, just about everything in science. Yet, I am also known for totally disregarding official names, including my own. I'll let the couch-psychologists toy with that.

Rubbing the sleep from my eyes (literally, desert dust) and listening to a quail thumping outside my window while waiting for my coffee to brew, the roulette in my mind landed on a rather insignificant word for today's letter 'O': ohm.

What's in an 'ohm'?

Some might recall from physics (the 'F' word, 'fysics') class learning about the relationship between the potential difference applied across a conductor and the resultant electric current; aka Ohm's Law.

Those with an engineering slant will immediately gravitate to that Pièce de résistance of electricity, the ohm. It is an SI (International System of Units) unit of resistance: the proportionality of current and voltage in a resistor. The definition of ohm as a unit has undergone several revisions since the 1860's, but it also has been assigned a symbol: Ω. That's easier to remember.

Probably few know that Georg Ohm, the German mathematician and physicist, received most of his education in chemistry, mathematics, physics and philosophy from his self-taught father, who was a locksmith by trade. His brother, Martin, also became a well-known mathematician. Despite the lack of exceptional institutional education, both siblings surmounted that resistance with family motivation. Seems to be the 'Ohm way.'

But there are more 'ohm's to be had. A large impact crater on the far side of the Moon (cue Pink Floyd) is known as the 'Ohm lunar crater'. The name of that crater was assigned by the the International Astronomical Union, and, of course, in tribute to our friend Georg Ohm.

The Ohm River lies in the region of Hesse, Germany, and is a tributary of the greater Lahn River. Suitably, the town of Homberg/Ohm in the valley of the Ohm was famous for its beer in the 13th century.

Now let's go across the ocean to the U.S. The small town in Ohm, California, was named (1900) after the Ohm Ranch. Thomas Ohm, a German native, established the ranch in 1868 and raised grain. I wonder if his crop was hops.

South of the border, a Mexican of German descent, Germán Ohm, was a popular featherweight boxer. His boxing career was short, spanning the age 18 to his retirement at 22. Most of his fights of recognition took place in the late 1950's. Seems that his fists carried the Ohm legacy of resistance.

Sweeping across the globe now to India, and overlapping centuries across time, 'ohm' is also an alternative spelling for 'om'. The sound is a mantra of Hindu origin, but also a sacred sound in Buddhism, Dharma and Jainism. The syllable represents many meanings depending on the source.

Anyone that grew up in the 1960's (me, for instance) will recognize its association with the Flower Child and Peace Anti-war Movements. One explanation probably describes it in both earlier and latter contexts: ""OM" is the reflection of the absolute reality, it is said to be "Adi Anadi", without beginning or the end and embracing all that exists." Or, as I like to put it, "No matter where you go, there you are."

And with that, let's slowly form the syllable 'Om' in our throats and mouths, slowly humming it out with no resistance, and embrace the day.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A-Z Challenge. N. What are 'Names.'

What is a name? What is 'in' a name? It's a Human thing :)

Lizard walked ungracefully into the café front room carrying a carafe of coffee, “Hey, my back legs get tired of holding up all my weight all day in here. But will ya look at these thigh muscles! The chicks are going to really like me.”

“You’re just lazy, Lizard. I see your brothers and sisters running around on their hind legs all the time,” Burro chimed in and quickly changed the subject. “So, I heard one of Juanita’s javelina babies got run over last night by one of those big metal things you humans hide in all the time. She and her family tried to cross River Road again in pitch dark. I keep telling her not to do that.”

Coyote briefly looked up from his bowl on the table and muttered, “Yup. Victoria and Hector were cleaning it up early this morning when I trotted by.”

She shook her head while pouring herself another cup of hot coffee. “What?” asked Lizard looking at She. 

“I’m still trying to get used to a pair of vultures named ‘Victoria’ and ‘Hector’.” 

Coyote put his front paws on the table, uttering a sound that could have been mistaken for a sarcastic laugh. “We only use names for you Humans. We really don’t have names; we have smells.” Lizard and Burro nodded. 

“You mean, each one of you has your own smell? And you name each other by smell?”

Burro chimed in with a bray, “I smell good!”

“No, you don’t, Burro. You stink!” Coyote uttered that sound again, more like a snicker, and proceeded to explain. “We don’t name smells. We just…..smell. And our smells change.”

Lizard nodded, swirling his long blue tail in between his front foot pads. “That’s right. We all smell, and you all smell. Your smell changes, too. I can tell when you are mad by smelling you."

“Right. You Humans stink, too. Now would you please fill my bowl? I’d like more cream this time.” Coyote pushed his bowl towards She.
“Only if you don’t splatter it all over the table while slurping it.” She picked up the brightly colored bowl with 'Coyote’s' painted on it in brown and filled it part way with water, adding a dash of cream.

Written by Myself. Her. She. It. Human. Call me whatever you like. :)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A-Z Challenge: M is Message and Meme.

What is a meme? What is a message? What is a gene? What is the basic denominator of life?

If you consider on a broad scale, information is what is conveyed or represented by a particular arrangement or sequence of things. That covers all scales, from a phone call, to nanoparticles and electrons, to sound, to firing neurons, to light traveling the universe. Any thing conveyed from one point to another, the 'message', is a transfer of information.

A unit containing information can be thought of as a message. For example, the well-known and greatest significance for the gene is its information transfer in living material. The content of this message carries instructions; it is what determines the structure and function of life. The exchange between a hormone and an organic tissue is an active and dynamic process of information transfer. 

The same can be said of any interaction at any scale and reduced to the laws of physics: for every action there is a reaction. The degree and direction of both action and reaction are dependent upon the information that is exchanged between the two points. Our attempts to understand that information is analogous to decoding the 'message'.

To add another related word to the 'M' box for the day, the information transfer in human social life contains messages that we may or may not be aware of, and which propagates through the social hierarchy like a gene. It is called the 'meme'. A meme is an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture.

In the 1980's, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins likened our social information transfer to genes in that our ideas can replicate, mutate, and evolve. It was Dawkins that coined the use of the term, 'meme'. Just like in physical and biological systems, information is actively communicated in a network, transmitted and received, coded and decoded. Messages that we receive are processed in our brains and then transmitted into the same or another network where it exponentially mutates, evolves and replicates. 

Dawkins wrote:
“Memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation. They compete with one another for limited resources: brain time or bandwidth. They compete most of all for attention." (The Selfish Gene)
Messages, memes.....They all transmit, replicate, and evolve information. “All life evolves by the differential survival of replicating entities.” (R. Dawkins)

It's a meme life out there.

Monday, April 14, 2014

A-Z Challenge: L. Life is a strange thing.....

One door closes and another opens.

Deja vu from 18 years ago. 

"Life is a strange thing
Just when you think you learnt how to use it
It's gone."
- Shakespears Sister - Hello

Saturday, April 12, 2014

A-Z Challenge. K is for Karma

Karma is the mad hatter of a hater's world. – Amy Wynne Whatley
Now as a man is like this or like that,
according as he acts and according as he behaves, so will he be;
a man of good acts will become good, a man of bad acts, bad;
he becomes pure by pure deeds, bad by bad deeds;

And here they say that a person consists of desires,
and as is his desire, so is his will;
and as is his will, so is his deed;
and whatever deed he does,
that he will reap.
Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, 7th Century BC 

Friday, April 11, 2014

A-Z Clallenge. J is for Jaguarundi.

A mysterious small and elusive wild cat

A small wild cat, not much larger than the average house cat, the jaguarundi eludes us humans in many ways. Unbeknownst to this wild creature, our species can't seem to decide who and what it really is. So we have created many names for the animal, changing its label depending on place and time. All the while, the jaguarundi smiles and eludes us. 

This member of the feline family is one of the smallest and oddest looking. The size of a large house cat, it has the face of a miniature cougar (aka puma, panther, mountain lion) topped with little rounded nice-kitty ears. Its slender long body (22-31") and tail (14-24") is supported by short legs (stands at ~11" at the shoulder). Indeed, the mammal resembles an odd hybridized version of a house cat and dwarfed cougar whose ear and leg development was arrested within a  week after birth. In fact, the species has many times been mistaken for a large weasel. One wonders what circumstances selected for such odd paired combinations. Unless the other cats are the odd ones. 

The jaguarundi is a New World cat, native to forested and brushy regions, especially those near water, from South America to the southwestern United States. Rare north of Mexico, it is considered endangered in Texas, although sightings have been documented in SW Texas, Alabama and part of Florida. It is also known as the 'otter-cat' because of its otter-like appearance and swimming ability. In fact, early German zoologists mistook the animal for a cousin of the weasel, referring to it as the 'weasel cat'.

The name jaguarundi is interesting for several reasons. Many people recognize the root name, jaguar, which is one of the largest New World members of the feline family. This cat once roamed from the  U.S.-Mexican border southward to Patagonia, Argentina. It is now almost extinct in the northern part of its original range and survives in reduced numbers in remote areas of Central and South America. Similar to the jaguarundi, the largest known population exists in the Amazon rainforest.

The names jaguarundi and jaguar have similar origins. Not surprisingly, because the two species inhabit the same region in South America. Before the arrival of the Portuguese to Brazil in the mid-1500's, the two principal indigenous groups were the Tupí and the Guaraní. The former mainly lived along the coast of Brazil and in the Amazon rainforest. The Guaraní lived further inland, inhabiting what is now Paraguay, southern Brazil, and parts of Uraguay, Bolivia and Argentina. The Tupi-Guaraní language is the most widely distributed traditional language of South America and is a hybrid of the older Guaraní and Old Tupí. In fact, it is the official language of Paraguay.

A fusion of the languages of the Spanish-speaking conquerors of South and Central America and of the indigenous peoples has given rise to an interesting evolutionary tree of name etymology. Many names of flora and fauna are often attributed to Spanish origin. However, the earlier conquerors merely adopted and adapted native names to their own language to try and make sense of them, and probably because they were easier to pronounce. For example,  words like jaguar, tapioca, jacaranda, anhinga, carioca, and capoeira are of Tupí–Guaraní origin. An exploration of plant name origins will commonly end up with root words of the Tupí and/or Guarní language.

The first known use of the name jaguar was 1604. It probably originated with the Portuguese and was derived from from Old Tupí, jawára. Similarly, jaguarundi is American Spanish, first used in 1885, and derived from from Old Guarani yaguarund-i and akin to the Tupi jawarund or Old Tupi, yawaum'di. The jaguarundi is commonly known in Spanish as leoncillo, gato colorado, gato moro, león brenero, onza, and yaguarundí. It is also called gato-mourisco, eirá, gato-preto, and maracajá-preto in Portuguese.

The jaguarundi wears coats of several colors, and several scientific names. With two color morphs, light (black and brownish gray) and light (reddish brown), they were thought to be two different species. Local villagers often refer to these cats based on their color: “jaguarundi” for the darker coat and “eyra” for the reddish coat. (The Tupi name was eirara or irara; 'eyra' is an American Spanish and Portuguese name.) Thus early taxonomists separated them, assigning Felis eyra (1814) or Herpailurus eyra (1858) to the reddish morphs. However, these are the same species and both color morphs may be found in the same litter.

Likewise, the taxonomical nomenclature assigned to this wildcat have gone through several renditions, some concurrently. Various authorities have placed the jaguarundi in their own genus (Herpailurus) or with the other cats (Felis). A French naturalist, Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire (1772-1844), assigned the small cat the genus and species names Puma yagouaroundi in 1803. A follower of Lamarckian evolutionary theory, Saint-Hilaire's assignment was based on comparative anatomy, paleontology, and embryology.

Use of Felis yagouaroundi has been attributed to two different authorities. However, the earliest attribution was given to Bernard Germain de Lacépède (1756-1825), a French naturalist, in 1809. Attributes to assigning the jauguarundi to the genus Herpailurus vary from Lacépède (again, 1809) to Nikolai Severtzov (1827-1885), a Russian explorer and naturalist (attributed to year 1858). Which of these men originally used this genus name might be lost to historical confusion, but this genus was still in use in 1919. Why Lacépède would use two genus names concurrently is beyond me.

Sometimes things come full circle, even if it takes a few centuries. Depending on the source of reference and information, anyone searching for the scientific name of the jaguarundi will  see all three genus names in use today. Interestingly, modern nomenclature again placed in the genus Puma by Johnson et al. (in 2006) and Eizirik et al. (in 2008). Recent genetic studies (mitochondrial DNA analysis) suggests that the puma (aka the cougar/mountain lion) and the jaguarundi are more closely related to each other and other felines in the genus Puma than the domestic cat, which shared the genus Felis. Additional research shows that the jaguarundi is closely related to the much larger and heavier cougar as evident by its similar genetic structure and chromosome count.

For those interested in the paleobiology of the New World felines, according to the 2006 genomic study of Felidae an ancestor(s) of today's leopard, lynx, puma, and Felis lineages migrated across the Bering land bridge into the Americas approximately 8-8.5 million years ago. It is proposed that those lineages subsequently diverged in that order. This and other recent studies have indicated that the cougar and jaguarundi are next most closely related to the modern cheetah of Africa and western Asia, but that relationship is still debated. It has been suggested that ancestors of the cheetah diverged from the Puma lineage in the Americas and migrated back to Asia and Africa, while other research suggests the cheetah diverged in the Old World itself. Consequently, feline migration to the Americas remains unclear.

So, what's in a Name? Well, that is the subject for another post. As readers can infer, names can be very complex and more confusing than not. Regardless, the jaguarundi, or the leoncillo - the little lion- remains elusive in name and reality. Perhaps that is best for it's survival.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A-Z Challenge. I is for Intuition.

"A healthy woman is much like a wolf - strong life force, life-giving, territorially aware, intuitive and loyal. Yet separation from her wildish nature causes a woman to become meager, anxious, and fearful.

With the wild nature as ally and teacher, we see not through two eyes only, but through the many eyes of intuition. With intuition we are like the starry night, we gaze at the world through a thousand eyes. The wild nature carries the medicine for all things.

She carries stories, dreams, words and songs. She carries everything a woman needs to be and know. She is the essence of the female soul...

Where can you find her? She walks in the deserts, cities, woods, oceans, and in the mountain of solitude. She lives in women everywhere; in castles with queens, in the boardrooms, in the penthouse, and on the night bus to Brownsville.

Whether you are possessed of a simple heart or the ambitious, whether you are trying to make it to the top or just make it through tomorrow, the wild nature belongs to you.

She lives in a faraway place that breaks through to our world. She lives in the past and is summoned by us. She is in the present. She is in the future and walks backward in time to find us now.

Without us, Wild Woman dies. Without Wild Woman, we die. Para Vida, for true life, both must live."
- Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves.

And we cannot be tamed or domesticated. It would destroy us.