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Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Monster Beneath, by Helen Gordon, 1843 Magazine

But every time there is a major eruption, scientists learn something new about volcanic behaviour. In 1995, Chances Peak in Montserrat erupted. A year later, Kilburn flew out to join a team monitoring the ongoing eruption. In the Montserrat Volcano Observatory he happened upon a graph that showed a jagged upward curve of peaks and troughs, representing a series of earthquakes that had occurred prior to the eruption. He was reminded of a talk given by Barry Voight, a distinguished volcanologist, on common eruption trends. At the time of the talk, Kilburn was working in a completely different field – lava flow – but Voight’s words stayed with him and in Montserrat, looking at the graph, he could see a trend – the number of earthquakes had accelerated prior to the eruption.

During the 1980s, volcanology was changing from an almost purely observational science to a more quantitative one, which sought mathematical patterns and built models. Before Voight, volcanologists made forecasts based on simple measurements of phenomena. For example, if a certain number of earthquakes per day were recorded, they might judge the situation critical. Voight’s crucial insight lay in seeing that the rate at which physical processes changed was as important when making forecasts. Kilburn decided to use this insight to develop a model that could be applied to Campi Flegrei and used as a forecasting tool. To produce this, he needed to look at the underlying physics that determine when a rock fractures. He moved from studying very large things (volcanoes) to very small ones (atoms). “It took bloody ages!” he said, shaking his head. Kilburn thought he’d be ready to publish by the new millennium but teaching, other projects and a series of false starts intervened. It wasn’t until May 2017 that his results were published.

A Chef Opens A Restaurant. His Training? Decades In A Prison Kitchen., by Nick Corasaniti, New York Times

Candido Ortiz claims he can cook anything: mashed potatoes and gravy, pernil guisado, chicken cacciatore. At his new restaurant here, El Sabor del Cafe, he will honor any request.

Mr. Ortiz honed his cooking skills in an unusual setting — a federal prison, where he was incarcerated for 26 years, 10 months, and 17 days, and where he was a chef for 24 of those years.

How Evolutionary Biology Makes Everyone An Existentialist, by Ronnie de Sousa, Aeon

Questions about what matters, and why, and what exists in the world, are quintessentially philosophical. The answers to many of these questions are informed by how we conceive of ourselves. How has what is often described as the ‘Copernican revolution’ effected by Charles Darwin changed our self-conception? One particularly surprising feature of evolutionary biology is that it lends significant support to existentialism.