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Breaking news, updates, and other between-issues items of interest from The Pennsylvania Gazette.

Francis Hopkinson C1757, anticipating Chomsky?

Even the learned Languages are, in my Opinion, taught by a wrong Method—The Grammar should be the last Book put into the Learner’s Hands—No Language is built upon its Grammar, but the Grammar is deduced from the Language—Elegance of Style in speaking or writing can never be acquired by Rules.

– From a letter to Benjamin Franklin, May 24, 1784

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Francis Hopkinson C1757 on a Curious Creature named Francis Hopkinson

In my Travels thro’ America I arrived in Philadelphia in November 1778. Amongst the Rarities of that City I was carried to the House of one Francis Hopkinson to see a very extraordinary Animal. Philosophers were much in Doubt whether this Animal were of the rational Kind or not; in some Instances it exceeded the Monkey in Sagacity, in others it fell short. It was near three feet in height & went mostly on all fours, but great Pains was taken by its Keepers to teach it to walk upright & it could actually walk a few Yards on two Legs only.—as I myself saw. It could not be said to talk & yet uttered some articulate Words imitative of the human Speech. It was very voracious and would eat continually. It was particularly fond of roasted Potatoes, & accordingly Potatoes were continually roasted for its use. When any were put into the Fire it would clap its fore-paws together & uttering a strange noise would shew great signs of Joy & when it thought they were sufficiently roasted, it would point one of its Claws to the Fire & seem to beg for them. In the Night it generally kept up a hideous howling; from which it was supposed to have been produced by wild Parents who roamed about the Woods for Prey in the Night. It was very noisy, very playful & seemed to be in a thriving Way, being very fat & hearty. Many were the Debates of the learned as to the Origin of this curious little Animal.…

 

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Francis Hopkinson C1757 on Hot-Air Politicians

“A high-flying Politician is I think not unlike a Balloon—he is full of inflammability, he is driven by every Current of Wind—& those who will suffer themselves to be carried up by them run a great Risk that the Bubble may burst & let them fall from the Height to which the Principle of Levity may raise them.”

– from a 1783 letter to Thomas Jefferson

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Blogging Calculus! (or World Music, or Genome Science, or Mythology…)

It’s time to go back to school — 21st-century style — and the Gazette‘s here to help you through it.  As we reported in our July|August issue, Penn has partnered with Coursera to offer free classes online.  The first installment features a dozen courses, ranging from single-variable calculus with PIK prof Robert Ghrist (who is renowned for actually making Intro to Calculus funny), to Greek and Roman mythology with esteemed classicist Peter Struck.  But taking a class online doesn’t have to mean taking it alone.  The Gazette‘s enrolling too, and we’ll blog about the class as it progresses.  Which class?  That’s up to you.  Vote below.  A few of the courses began in June, so the choices here are for classes set to begin between July and September.  But don’t dilly-dally — votes will be tallied soon after our July|August issue hits your mailbox around Independence Day.

For full course descriptions, click here.  Each of the professors has posted an introductory video, so go ahead and sample before you sign up.

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Wistar Insitute finds that the immune system can fight AIDS, if it’s given a boost

A team of researchers led by Penn’s Wistar Institute have shown in a clinical trial that HIV-infected patients can fight off the virus by themselves if their immune system is given a boost. Volunteers in the study suspended their daily antiretroviral therapy and instead were given regular doses of interferon-alpha, an antiviral chemical produced by the immune system.

The treatment controlled HIV levels in 9 out of 20 patients and decreased measures of HIV reservoirs in patients who were otherwise dependent on antiretroviral therapy. According to Wistar, this is the first clinical study to help decrease integrated HIV DNA levels in HIV-infected humans.

Eventually, the researchers hope to eradicate HIV without using powerful antiretroviral drugs.

Luis Montaner, D.V.M., D.Phil, explains the study here:

- MS

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Penn’s quadrotors go to TED2012 Conference, start a band

The little quadrotor robots at Penn’s General Robotics, Automation, Sensing, and Perception Laboratory (GRASP) lab have been keeping busy lately. They’re a part of the lab’s Swarms project (where small robots achieve big things through teamwork). We’ve written and blogged about them before, but now these little guys have started a roboband:

Yesterday, Dr. Vijay Kumar, Deputy Dean for Education and GRASP director, presented his work at the TED2012 Conference. Watch and learn some Quadrotor 101.

- M.S.

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How Undemocratic Parties Are Winning Egypt’s First Democratic Election

Last spring we wrote about the Egyptian Revolution, focusing largely on the experiences and insights of political-science doctoral student Eric Trager.  In the time since that story came out, Trager has been writing voluminously about the aftermath of Egypt’s “first revolution.”  In the wake of the country’s recent elections and the reoccupation of Tahrir Square, his columns for The New Republic have been indispensable for understanding what’s going on and what’s to come.  Here are a couple well worth clicking on:

Why an Undemocratic Party Is Going to Win Egypt’s First Democratic Election

Thought the Muslim Brotherhood Was Bad? Meet Egypt’s Other Islamist Party.

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Canned Goods: A misguided way to feed the hungry

So argues Katherina M. Rosqueta, of Penn’s Center for High Impact Philanthropy, in a Los Angeles Times op-ed co-authored with John Arnold.  Read it to find out how to leverage $10 into as much as $200 worth of food.  (The canned-goods route, the authors say, has a way of turning $10 into $5.)

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Where (The Big) Health Savings Are

PIK professor Zeke Emanuel continues his New York Times series on health care costs with an argument that, on its face, seems counter-intuitive: that something like “concierge medicine” can save money for the chronically ill.  Check it out here.

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The Searchers

The Searchers

William Watson and the late John Ahtes in 2003 at the stone monument to the Irish railroad workers who died in 1832. After years of searching and Ahtes’ untimely death in 2010, the Duffy’s Cut Project team appears to have located the grave deep beneath the monument. See story below.

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by | November 16, 2011 · 11:54 am