Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Questions to Ask a University

Universities have a reputation as havens of expanded minds and stimulating thinking. They can be. They can also be among the most closed, fearful places in contemporary North America. If you are interested in your university getting these issues right, here are some questions to ask.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Making a Lush, Green Planet

http://www.fondriest.com/news/carbondioxidemonitoring.htm
Increased CO2 is helping plants grow around the planet. It seems that there are two effects at play. CO2 is good for plants, a type of fertilizer. CO2 also helps plants use water more efficiently. A third effect of CO2 is on rainfall. This one is so far unresolved: many models (and nearly all the press) predict that a hotter planet will be dry. Others (and the evidence so far) say that warmer means wetter. Beyond dispute, is that so far the increase in carbon has correlated to a greener planet.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Friday, January 24, 2014

That's Not an Explosion...

There is a supernova happening in the neighborhood. Actually, it happened about 12 million years ago but we get to see it now, for a couple of weeks. It seems like a busy neighborhood.
http://www.universetoday.com/108386/bright-new-supernova-blows-up-in-nearby-m82-the-cigar-galaxy/


Sunday, January 12, 2014

Cheap Digital Microscope

http://www.instructables.com/id/10-Smartphone-to-digital-microscope-conversion/?ALLSTEPS

Instructables.com has plans for a lens and stand that lets you use your smartphone as a digital microscope. They claim up to 175x magnification (with two lenses, up to 375x!) That is enough to look at onion cells. This is a maple seed pod at only 60x.

Project cost: $10

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Brown Dwarfs Detected


http://www.popsci.com/article/technology/brown-dwarfs-racked-planet-sized-storms-molten-iron?dom=PSC&loc=topstories&con=brown-dwarfs-racked-by-planetsized-storms-of-molten-iron

A brown dwarf is not like a white dwarf: on the death march of a real star. A brown dwarf is a star too small to kickstart full fusion, too small to emit light, but big enough to emit energy (as infrared) for billions of years and fantastic enough to have liquid iron falling from the sky as rain. A Canadian team is using the Spitzer IR Space Telescope to study them.




Monday, January 6, 2014

Video Analysis

http://www.kinovea.org/en/screenshots/
If you can take a video, you can use that video to measure speeds and accelerations. The tool involved is called "video analysis software" and there are free versions that seem to work pretty well. After looking at a few, I have comments on a smaller few:

1. Tracker: My favorite so far. It is free, computer-based, open-source and looks transparent and powerful, for example:
  • Fixed or time-varying coordinate system scale, origin and tilt.
  • Multiple calibration options: tape, stick, calibration points and/or offset origin.
  • Switch easily to center of mass and other reference frames.
  • Protractors and tape measures provide easy distance and angle measurements.
  • Define custom variables for plotting and analysis.
http://www.cabrillo.edu/~dbrown/tracker/
http://www.cabrillo.edu/~dbrown/tracker/help/frameset.html

2. Kinovea: a free, open-source sports analysis software with some good analysis tool including video magnification, slo-mo, data export to spreadsheets. The output looks beautiful
http://www.kinovea.org/

3. Vernier Physics: a $5 app for iPhone & iPad. Vernier is popular and looks convenient for people who already use iPhones. But it requires you to:
1. not move the camera and
2. mark each frame manually.
3. You can't export your info to a spreadsheet. 
http://www.vernier.com/products/software/video-physics/

Monday, December 30, 2013

Antarctic =/= Arctic

If you, like me, always assumed that the Antarctic was pretty much like the arctic but with penguins instead of polar bears, Dr. Kyla would like to set you straight.
http://www.smalldeadanimals.com/archives/i-have-stood-on.html

Saturday, December 21, 2013

What Do the Boys Like?

http://theaskacademy.org/?cat=3


A 2009 study "asked teachers and students to 'narrate clearly and objectively an instructional activity that is especially, perhaps unusually, effective in heightening boys’ learning.' The responses–2,500 in all–revealed eight categories of instruction that succeeded in teaching boys.":
  • Lessons that result in an end product–a booklet, a catapult, a poem, or a comic strip, for example.
  • Lessons that are structured as competitive games.
  • Lessons requiring motor activity.
  • Lessons requiring boys to assume responsibility for the learning of others.
  • Lessons that require boys to address open questions or unsolved problems.
  • Lessons that require a combination of competition and teamwork.
  • Lessons that focus on independent, personal discovery and realization.
  • Lessons that introduce drama in the form of novelty or surprise.


Actually, lessons that include this kind of stuff tend to get praise from the girls too.
via

Saturday, November 16, 2013

You're Over-Thinking It


http://b-womeninamericanhistory19.blogspot.ca/2012/06/before-i-phone.html
Scientific progress went much quicker in the 1800's. We figured out the electric motor, electricity,  steam train, engine, car, typewriter, mechanical calculator, telegraph, fiber optics, telephone, record player, movie, sewing machine, rubber, plastic, photograph, revolver, dynamite, antiseptic, pasteurization,


Nowadays, electronic devices become ever-smaller, medicine becomes ever more sophisticated but it seems our massive research efforts are just fine-tuning details. At best, we are just optimizing the great discoveries of yesteryear.

Around 1900, people discussed the idea that science must end. We had already discovered everything. My father ruminated on the thought through the 50's and asked me during the 80's whether there was anything left to discover about cars. Then a science prof of mine planted a slightly different explanation; we have already made all the easy discoveries. From here on, advances would only happen through careful analysis of subtle, hard-to-interpret results. Math, especially statistics, was about to get a whole lot harder.

Alternative explanation.


Friday, November 15, 2013

This is Saturn

A real, true-color, photograph of Saturn, taken with the sun in the background!
(Click and zoom to read the labels.)

http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/figures/PIA17172_fig3.jpg

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Earliest "Computers"

Looked like this:
And I can recall a professor who could tell stories about them.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Global Warming Crisis


Larry Bell makes the case that global warming is causing a crisis: its effect on science.The latest IPCC report deals with the fact that the climate models (computer programs) that it has relied upon for predictions of the next 50-200 years have been proven spectacularly wrong. The IPCC response:
2001: “Most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations”.
2007: “Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.”
2013 (leaked draft): “It is extremely likely that human influence on climate caused more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010.”
That's right, the first half-decade of test results show no evidence to support the hypothesis.
      conclusion: we are "very likely" right.
The second half decade of results are an undeniable refutation.
      conclusion: we are "extremely likely" to be right.

This, my friends, is a dramatic new development in the scientific method. For those of us who liked the old scientific method, it is a crisis.

Update (Feb '14)
Background: Climate models have been around for 15-25 years now. That should be just barely enough time to test the model but then we didn't expect results to be this clear.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Head, It Does Not Always Rule the Heart


That quote from Luba in 1983 may be true in ways she never imagined.

90% of the cells in your body are not your body cells at all. They are the bacteria along for the ride. Bacteria help control how we think, or at least feel.
Most of them are benefical, they say. They help with digestion and immunity, I suppose. A Boston psychiatrist named James Greenblatt is having success with his claim:

...Greenblatt’s provocative idea — that psychiatric woes can be solved by targeting the digestive system — is increasingly reinforced by cutting-edge science. For decades, researchers have known of the connection between the brain and the gut. Anxiety often causes nausea and diarrhea, and depression can change appetite. The connection may have been established, but scientists thought communication was one way: it traveled from the brain to the gut, and not the other way around.
But now, a new understanding of the trillions of microbes living in our guts reveals that this communication process is more like a multi-lane superhighway than a one-way street....

... this radical treatment protocol has actually been decades in the making...

Greenblatt's actually targeting a vast, complex, and mysterious realm of the human body ...recent research suggests that early microbiome development might play a key role in at least some aspects of one’s adult mental health...

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Exclusive for 90 Years



Intellectual property rights are intended to encourage creators (inventor and authors) to create. The idea is that we give the creators exclusive rights to make money from their creations and they will spend more effort in creating them. It seems to work pretty well in the patent world. An inventor has 20 years to earn an income from his invention.

Authors get 90 years. Few authors even live 90 years beyond their publication date. How can this be a good idea? Sure, it may be good for the author but how is it good for society? (...and if it isn't good for society, why would society enforce it?) The lawyers' claim is that the ability to make money will ensure that the books stay in print and are accessible.

This does not match my idea of common sense. When works are out of copyright, they will be cheaper. Also, other writers can use parts of the work or make new creations around it: write a screenplay, use poetry as lyrics or incorporate segments of video. A new generation of creators can create without the cost or legal confusion of navigating copyright. Evidence says that my intuition is right and the lawyers are wrong.