Nov 282018

The first observation of a pulsar took place on this date in 1967, by Jocelyn Bell, a postgraduate student in astrophysics at Cambridge university, and later confirmed by her doctoral adviser Antony Hewish. She observed pulses separated by 1.33 seconds that originated from the same location in the sky, and kept to sidereal time (time measured by the stars rather than the sun). In looking for explanations for the pulses, the short period of the pulses eliminated most astrophysical sources of radiation, such as stars, and since the pulses followed sidereal time, it could not be human radio frequency interference. When observations with another telescope confirmed the emission, it eliminated any sort of instrumental effects.

At this point, Bell said of herself and Hewish that “we did not really believe that we had picked up signals from another civilization, but obviously the idea had crossed our minds and we had no proof that it was an entirely natural radio emission. It is an interesting problem—if one thinks one may have detected life elsewhere in the universe, how does one announce the results responsibly?” Even so, they nicknamed the signal LGM-1, for “little green men”. It was not until a second pulsating source was discovered in a different part of the sky that the “LGM hypothesis” was entirely abandoned. The first pulsar was later dubbed CP 1919, and is now known by a number of designators including PSR 1919+21 and PSR J1921+2153. Although CP 1919 emits in radio wavelengths, pulsars have subsequently been found to emit pulses in visible light, X-ray, and gamma ray wavelengths. The word “pulsar” is a portmanteau of ‘pulsating’ and ‘quasar’, and first appeared in print in March 1968 in the Daily Telegraph.

The existence of neutron stars was first proposed by Walter Baade and Fritz Zwicky in 1934, when they argued that a small, dense star consisting primarily of neutrons would result from a supernova. Lodewijk Woltjer proposed in 1964 that such neutron stars might contain magnetic fields as large as 1014 to 1016 G. In 1967, shortly before the discovery of pulsars, Franco Pacini suggested that a rotating neutron star with a magnetic field would emit radiation, and even noted that such energy could be pumped into a supernova remnant around a neutron star, such as the Crab Nebula. After the discovery of the first pulsar, Thomas Gold independently suggested a rotating neutron star model similar to that of Pacini, and explicitly argued that this model could explain the pulsed radiation observed by Bell and Hewish. The discovery of the Crab pulsar later in 1968 seemed to provide confirmation of the rotating neutron star model of pulsars. The Crab pulsar has a 33-millisecond pulse period, which was too short to be consistent with other proposed models for pulsar emission. Moreover, the Crab pulsar is so named because it is located at the center of the Crab Nebula, consistent with the 1933 prediction of Baade and Zwicky.

In 1974, Antony Hewish and Martin Ryle became the first astronomers to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, with the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences noting that Hewish played a “decisive role in the discovery of pulsars”. Considerable controversy is associated with the fact that Hewish was awarded the prize while Bell, who made the initial discovery while she was his doctoral student, was not. That Bell did not receive recognition in the 1974 Nobel Prize in Physics has been a point of controversy ever since. She helped build the Interplanetary Scintillation Array over two years, which was used to observe quasars, and initially noticed the anomaly in the Array’s data, sometimes reviewing as much as 96 feet (29 m) of paper data per night. Bell later claimed that she had to be persistent in reporting the anomaly in the face of skepticism from Hewish, who was initially insistent that it was due to interference from human sources. She spoke of meetings held by Hewish and Ryle to which she was not invited. In 1977, she commented on the issue:

First, demarcation disputes between supervisor and student are always difficult, probably impossible to resolve. Secondly, it is the supervisor who has the final responsibility for the success or failure of the project. We hear of cases where a supervisor blames his student for a failure, but we know that it is largely the fault of the supervisor. It seems only fair to me that he should benefit from the successes, too. Thirdly, I believe it would demean Nobel Prizes if they were awarded to research students, except in very exceptional cases, and I do not believe this is one of them. Finally, I am not myself upset about it – after all, I am in good company, am I not!

She is certainly in good company. As I reported here — — the 1923 Nobel Prize in medicine was awarded to Frederick Banting and J.J.R Macleod for the discovery of insulin. Banting was the lead researcher, and Macleod was the director of the lab where Banting made his discovery, assisted by Charles Best, a medical student. Macleod was on holiday when Banting and Best were conducting their experiments. Yet Banting and Macleod got the Nobel, and Best, the student, was left out even though he made major contributions and Macleod did next to nothing. Likewise, Bell got overlooked, while Hewish, whom she had to convince that pulsars were real, got the honor.

Bell has since received many prestigious honors. This year she was awarded the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics, worth three million dollars (£2.3 million), for her discovery of radio pulsars. The Special Prize, in contrast to the regular annual prize, is not restricted to recent discoveries. She donated all of the money “to fund women, under-represented ethnic minority and refugee students to become physics researchers.”

If you have star-shaped cookie cutters you can make star cookies today, or something of the sort. But, in honor of the Crab pulsar in the Crab nebula, you might consider a nebula cake. This site gives a thorough recipe.

Mar 282014


Today is the birthday (1936) of Jorge Mario Pedro Vargas Llosa, 1st Marquis of Vargas Llosa, Peruvian writer, politician, journalist, essayist, college professor, and recipient of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature. Vargas Llosa is one of Latin America’s most significant novelists and essayists, and one of the leading writers of his generation. Some critics consider him to have had a larger international impact and worldwide audience than any other writer of the wave of Latin American literature that began in the mid-20th century (known as the Latin American Boom), with authors such as Octavio Paz, Julio Cortázar, Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel García Márquez and Carlos Fuentes.. Upon announcing the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature, the Swedish Academy said it had been given to Vargas Llosa “for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt, and defeat.” Vargas Llosa is currently a visiting professor at the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University.

Vargas Llosa rose to fame in the 1960s with novels such as The Time of the Hero (La ciudad y los perros, literally The City and the Dogs, 1963/1966), The Green House (La casa verde, 1965/1968), and the monumental Conversation in the Cathedral (Conversación en la catedral, 1969/1975). He writes prolifically across an array of literary genres, including literary criticism and journalism. His novels include comedies, murder mysteries, historical novels, and political thrillers. Several, such as Captain Pantoja and the Special Service (1973/1978) and Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (1977/1982), have been adapted as feature films.

Many of Vargas Llosa’s works are influenced by his perception of Peruvian society and his own experiences as a native Peruvian. Increasingly, however, he has expanded his range, and tackled themes that arise from other parts of the world. In his essays, Vargas Llosa has criticized nationalism in different parts of the world, among others, in Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia. Another change over the course of his career has been a shift from a style and approach associated with a rather conventional and serious literary modernism, to a more playful postmodernism.

I could give you a load of erudite drivel about Vargas Llosa, but I am not going to.  Go and read his novels.  Instead I am going to give you a few quotes that I find inspiring followed by a couple of favorite Peruvian recipes.  I’m very fond of Peru and Peruvian cooking.  This first quote is my absolute favorite.  Some of the quotes are in translation and some in Spanish.  No apologies. The ones in Spanish are untranslatable.

There is one thing I am sure of amid my many uncertainties regarding the literary vocation: deep inside, a writer feels that writing is the best thing that ever happened to him, or could ever happen to him, because as far as he is concerned, writing is the best possible way of life, never mind the social, political, or financial rewards of what he might achieve through it.

Las mentiras machacadas día y noche se vuelven verdades.

In my case, literature is a kind of revenge. It’s something that gives me what real life can’t give me – all the adventures, all the suffering. All the experiences I can only live in the imagination, literature completes.

Memory is a snare, pure and simple; it alters, it subtly rearranges the past to fit the present.

Writers are the exorcists of their own demons.

No matter how ephemeral it is, a novel is something, while despair is nothing.

Es más fácil imaginar la muerte de una persona que la de cien o mil…Multiplicado, el sufrimiento se vuelve abstracto. No es fácil conmoverse por cosas abstractas.

Cuando creí que iba a perder la razón ante tanto sufrimiento. Así descubrí que un ser humano no puede vivir sin creer.

The secret to happiness, at least to peace of mind, is knowing how to separate sex from love. And, if possible, eliminating romantic love from your life, which is the love that makes you suffer. That way, I assure you, you live with greater tranquility and enjoy things more.


The potato is perhaps the most significant cultigen to come out of Peru.  There are now over 1,000 varieties worldwide although very few make it to market.  Potato production was vital to the development and expansion of the Inca empire.  Then, as now, different varieties of potato are grown at different altitudes in the Andes, but all find their way to markets in the main cities.

Causa limeña is a beloved cold potato entree that´s unlike any other dish in the culinary world. The yellow potato and yellow chili pepper mash is assembled in layers, together with chicken, seafood, corn, avocado, olives, and whatever the imagination allows.




6 yellow potatoes (floury texture)
4 piquillo peppers, blended
¼ cup vegetable oil
juice of 3 limes
2 chicken breasts
2 cups chicken stock
salt and pepper
¾ cup mayonnaise
½ celery stick, chopped
1 scallion, finely chopped
1 red onion finely sliced
1 piquillo pepper
1 ají amarillo, (optional)
2 limes
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves
salt and pepper
8 quail eggs, hard boiled (or 2 quartered hen’s eggs)
1 avocado
6 black olives, sliced


Scrub potatoes and put in pan; cover with cold water. Put pan over medium high heat. Bring water to a boil, and cook for 20 minutes or until soft, but not mushy. Drain and peel the potatoes while hot, and mash or pass through a potato ricer immediately. The mashed potato should be very fine, without lumps.

Put potatoes in bowl, and add the blended piquillo peppers, vegetable oil, lime juice and salt. Mix well. Keep tasting and adding more of any of the above ingredients to taste. Cover with a kitchen towel, and reserve.

Cook chicken breasts in chicken stock, salt and pepper, over medium heat until cooked through . Cool in stock, and finely chop (or shred). In bowl, combine chicken with mayonnaise, celery, scallion, salt, and pepper.

Lightly oil a large container (you can use a tube pan or a loaf pan) or small pastry rings. Line base with a layer of mashed potato. Cover that layer with chicken salad, and add another layer of potatoes on top. You can prepare this dish up to this point and keep refrigerated to serve later.


Cau cau is a tripe and potatoes dish I love.  It’s really pretty basic – potatoes, tripe, and onions.  What makes it special is the spice palillo, which gives a special savor and brilliant yellow color to the dish. Turmeric makes a fair substitute (or annatto or saffron).  I decided to give you the recipe in Spanish for the hell of it. That’s how I received it. It’s not hard to translate.

Cau Cau


½ kilo de mondongo
4 cucharadas de aceite
1 cebolla grande finamente picada
2 ajos molidos
2 cucharadas de ají amarillo
1 ½ kilo de papa cocida y cortada en cuadraditos
½ cucharada de palillo en polvo  (o cúrcuma)
2 cucharadas de leche
sal, pimienta y comino al gusto
hierbabuena picada al gusto


Cocinar en agua el mondongo, con la leche y ramita de hierbabuena, hasta que este blando. Cortar en     cuadraditos.

Freír con aceite caliente la cebolla, los ajos, el ají, el palillo, la sal, la pimienta y el comino. Agregar el mondongo y las papas cocidas. Dejar cocer unos minutos.

Servir enseguida y si desea puede espolvorear hierbabuena.