Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Are There Moral Facts?

Compare
Fact: Something that is true about a subject and can be tested or proven.
Opinion: What someone thinks, feels, or believes.
http://www.cartoonstock.com/directory/r/right_and_wrong.asp
With
-Copying homework assignments is wrong.
-Cursing in school is inappropriate behavior.
-All men are created equal.
One of them must be wrong.


Saturday, February 7, 2015

Two Views of Intelligence

http://ronalvesteffer.com/5-ways-to-work-smart-not-hard/
Do you think you're a natural at science? ...math? ...English? Sorry to hear that.
The mastery-oriented children, on the other hand, think intelligence is malleable and can be developed through education and hard work. They want to learn above all else. After all, if you believe that you can expand your intellectual skills, you want to do just that. Because slipups stem from a lack of effort or acquirable skills, not fixed ability, they can be remedied by perseverance. Challenges are energizing rather than intimidating; they offer opportunities to learn. Students with such a growth mind-set, we predicted, were destined for greater academic success and were quite likely to outperform their counterparts.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The European Founding

(Formerly known as the "dark ages*" )
"We dismiss the achievements of our ancestors and fall short of them.They (the medievals) honored their ancestors and surpassed them" Anthony Esolen, 2015

*They were called "dark" because those who called themselves "the enlightenment" and their enthusiasts thought the dark ages were a time of ignorance, insularity and stagnation. The last 40 years of historical scholarship show that is not true. The remaining justification for calling them "dark" is that they are poorly recorded. They are poorly recorded because the enlightenment "scholars" destroyed their manuscripts.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Brain Research


http://teenagebrain.blogspot.ca/

Humans grow, various parts at various rates. The brain is most difficult. It starts biggest and finishes last, which means it is still in full development in the late teens when the body looks pretty much fully grown.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

"I Don't Know How You'll Survive When Our Genes Are Gone."


http://favim.com/image/33772/
The epic scale of the lyrics to the Big Bang Theory is no accident. The whole show is  a metaphor for the creation of the human race from Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal. You see, recent research on the Neanderthal genome suggests interbreeding.

The genes for red hair and pale skin didn't match well enough to show a correlation, but I found a correlation for genes linked to other traits. There's a gene cluster linked to advanced mathematics skills, information processing, logic, analytical intelligence, concentration skills, obsession–compulsion and Asperger's syndrome. That cluster correlates very strongly.
and the bad news:
The hybridization was successful in the Stone Age, but the environment has changed. I found that modern culture selects for socialization but against the Neanderthal traits for mathematics and intelligence, ... I don't know how you'll survive when our genes are gone."
Feb'15 Apparently Asians got two helpings of Neanderthal genes.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Visiting Ceres in March

Not as dramatic as landing on a comet, but a first, just the same. In two months, NASA will orbit Ceres, the largest dwarf planet in the asteroid belt. The same craft has already orbited Vesta, the second largest. That sill make it the first craft to orbit two celestial bodies. Plus, ion propulsion.

Doubleplus: 7 other space highlights expected this year

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Survivor Bias

http://youarenotsosmart.com/the-book/
Survivorship bias in a nutshell: If you look at a profession and think: "Wow, that is full of the most skillful, smart, dynamic and interesting people I've ever seen!", should you join that profession or avoid it? David McRaney says, "not so fast." The same thinking applies to aspiring actresses, WWII bombers and businesses.

Before you emulate the history of a famous company, Kahneman says, you should imagine going back in time when that company was just getting by and ask yourself if the outcome of its decisions were in any way predictable. If not, you are probably seeing patterns in hindsight where there was only chaos in the moment.

BTW, this is just one post. McRaney's blog (You Are Not So Smart) is full of long, interesting, thoughtful posts on how people think. He loves the counter-intuitive.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Don't Let the Bedbugs Bite

http://www.wired.com/2014/12/building-a-better-bed-bug-trap/
Our little corner of BC has been okay. But I am told North America is again plagued with bedbugs. Ironically, the worst places are often the most expensive addresses: New York, San Francisco and even Toronto are large cosmopolitan cities with strong environmental sensibilities. They attract people from all over the world, some of whom carry bedbugs in their luggage and they abhor the idea of effective pesticides (like DDT).
Those times may be over. Researchers at SFU may have found the magic formula that will attract bedbugs and thus allow them to be trapped. Their weakness is that they like to cluster together.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Mankind Leaps Again

https://twitter.com/ESA_Rosetta/status/532565327721545728/photo/1In mankind's journey into the universe beyond the planet, the greatest leap was the moon walk. Not only has there been no progress that size since, there have been few feats that were equal, or even comparable. (OK, driving a car on the moon wins). Huge events, nonetheless, include Sputnik, the re-usable space vehicle, private satellite launch and robots on Mars. This week has seen another milestone for the history book: landing a robot on a comet.
It had some problems, but what's cutting edge if it doesn't occasionally bleed? Maybe for the next mission, they'll reconsider the wisdom of solar power in the far solar system.
(Update Nov18/14) They were looking for organic molecules on the surface and they found them. We'll have to wait until the sunlight gets better before we get any more detailed analysis.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Frankenstein Used to be Science Fiction

http://www.technologyreview.com/news/531051/paralyzed-rats-take-1000-steps-orchestrated-by-computer/
Researchers in Switzerland have taken a paralyzed rat, implanted electrodes and made it walk upright.

Swiss Chocolate is involved.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Fusion Heats Up

http://chemwiki.ucdavis.edu/Physical_Chemistry/Nuclear_Chemistry/Fission_and_Fusion
Lockheed Martin has caused a buzz this week by announcing* a nuclear fusion project.

Nuclear fusion is, of course the ultimate energy source: clean, safe and inexhaustible. It produces no carbon dioxide or pollution. It can't explode and produces no nuclear bomb making materials. There are about a thousand trillion tons of fuel, deuterium aka heavy hydrogen, available in the ocean.

Nuclear fusion looks like a sure thing at the multi-billion dollar ITER project. Unfortunately it won't happen until 2030+ and will cost $15+ billion. The LM project promises to be smaller, cheaper and sooner. The thing is: LM's project looks less feasible than General Fusion's. Their big advantage, as far as I see it is that Lockheed Martin can guarantee the funds to make the project happen while General Fusion has to beg for venture capital money. Making big announcements can be a strategy to dry up the other guy's funding.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Satellites are Expensive

http://www.technologyreview.com/news/531041/emtech-googles-internet-loon-balloons-will-ring-the-globe-within-a-year/

What do you think about  your "communications satellite" being replaced by a hundred or so "communications weather balloons.".

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Our 60 Year Experiment in Moral Education

 Thinking about the two cardinal innovations in teaching morality that began in the 60's,
No one speaks more authoritatively about the Socratic method than Plato, and Plato maintained that it was to be reserved for mature men over the age of thirty. "One great precaution," said Plato, "is not to let them [students] taste of arguments while they are young" — the danger being that they would develop a taste for arguments rather than a taste for truth. Young minds, like young puppies, said Plato, would only "pull and tear at arguments."
http://www.viewfromthebleachers.net/2010/10/a-preview-of-tv%E2%80%99s-mid-season-reality-tv-replacement-shows/

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Kvass: Old World Pop

I was exploring Toronto's St. Lawrence market this summer. Ambling past a Ukrainian deli, I came upon a bottle marked “KBAC”. Suspicious, I called over a Slavic friend who happened to be there and asked her to read it to me. “Kvass”, she said.
I've heard of that! in a book I once read about Mennonite foods. It was some fermented drink involving bread. It sounded weird (even weirder since I was confusing it with kefir, fermented milk.) Of course I bought it.
https://04varvara.wordpress.com/tag/kvass/
I've heard kvass described as low alcohol beer. I think it is more like pop. It has a distinctive flavor and yet reminds me of something familiar. I haven't yet put my finger on it, maybe plum.
Researching, I find that it comes in bread and beet varieties. It has been brewed for over a thousand years (though I wonder if the traditional recipes had sugar for the yeast.) Kvass is enjoying a resurgence in Russia and Ukraine lately. Coca-cola has developed a brand and a monastery near Moscow has started bottling its traditional recipe. Modern enthusiasts rave about its probiotics, which would have been important in the days before clean water.
You can make it yourself. It is basically rye toast tea. I have been trying a few batches at home based on Angelina's recipe. She flavors it with raisins. Others suggest lemon or mint. (Both inhibit bacteria growth.) I tried a batch with raisins, then with raisins and lemon (crushing the lemon and careful to capture the oils from the zest.) My current batch has raisin, mint and lemon.
Compared to Angelina, I make batches a quarter the size, only 2.5 liters. Remember, it is alive and will only last 2-5 days. Where Angelina emphasizes the need to burn your toast, I discovered that there is such a thing as too burnt. You want to see some blackening, but no charcoal. Mine has 2/3 the sugar. You can recover 20% of the liquid if  you put the bread in a colander after scooping it from the pot.
(Dec'14) I just tried Schweppes dark ginger ale. I wonder if it isn't kvass.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Mining Opportunities in the New Frontier

http://www.nss.org/settlement/calendar/2009/BryanVersteeg-asteroid_mining.htmWhether in South America, California, the Yukon or Fort MacMurray, Mining has always been a challenging and rewarding opportunity for ambitious youth.


Last week, the US congress decided that any material recovered from an asteroid belongs to the people that recovered it. In other words, asteroid mining is legal. Now, by all appearances, asteroid mining is real. (Sept'14)

Update (Oct'14): How mining might work

Saturday, September 13, 2014

If 20% of Your Students Drop Out...

...whose fault is that? the student's? the university's? the public's? some combination?
If the public invested $50,000 and the student (and parents) invested $50,000 in two wasted years, does anyone deserve a refund?
(In the US, the actual rate is ~40%, in Canada it is harder to find.)

Friday, September 12, 2014

How To Identify Life

...from a few light-years away.

http://scienceblogs.com/startswithabang/2012/06/12/sometimes-size-is-everything/
 If we are looking for life on an exoplanet, What do we look for? Well, radio signals and TV broadcasts would be sure signs, but awfully unlikely. Seeing trees or animals moving on the surface is proof but far beyond the ability of any telescope we can build or imagine building*.


Instead, we hope to analyze light from the planet. From this light we can identify the chemicals in the atmosphere using spectral analysis. Oxygen (O2) would be a good sign. It reacts so well that most atmospheres would use it all to make CO2 or H2O unless there was life to release it. Computer models now show that it is actually possible for an atmosphere to have oxygen and even ozone without ever having life. So even though oxygen is still a good sign. It is not proof. For solid proof, you would need to find oxygen, ozone, carbon dioxide, and methane with no carbon monoxide.

*