Thursday, September 17, 2015

Computers in the Class
Do we want more or less?
Principals, politicians and the public have long been enthusiastic about technology modernizing the classroom. They want to prepare student for the future. I saw a study a year ago providing data to push back on the enthusiasm: computers encourage multi-tasking and distractions.
This year there is a bigger study: less speculation on causes, more detail about how much use is ideal.
These guys are more enthusiastic.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Poison-injecting robot submarines

Queensland University of Technology has developed an autonomous, poison-injecting robot submarine to kill sea stars and save coral reefs.

The 21st century is upon us and autonomous assassination robots are here.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Why We Fall for Bogus Research

Take it away Megan. I can't improve on this:
...on Thursday, Science published the results of a project that aimed to replicate 100 famous studies -- and found that only about one-third of them held up. The others showed weaker effects, or failed to find the effect at all.
This is, to put it mildly, a problem. But it is not necessarily the problem that many people seem to assume...
My favorite line:
Journalists who find themselves tempted to write "studies show that people ..." should try replacing that phrase with "studies show that small groups of affluent psychology majors ..."

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Red Lightning
This is what you see when you look at weather from the other side.

It is only seen above a thunderstorm and it only lasts for 1/50th of a second.

Major Success

College major success rates, that is. Who earns, who works, who is full-time, who is in his field. Ben Casselman of FiveThirtyEight has compiled a list of 173 college majors and correlates it to how much new grads earn and how likely they are to use their degrees. His method has a pretty big flaw (which he addresses in the details) that you should not miss. As long as you keep this in mind, the results are useful: is it possible that the average petroleum engineer is smarter, harder-working and more motivated than your average library science practitioner? Casselman compares average earnings for university grads to high-school only grads. Is that a similar pool of people?

I've made similar posts before.

The Amazing New Space-Age Material is ...Wood?

OK, not exactly wood. If you take wood and extract cellulose, then extract from that nanocrystalline cellulose, you get a fiber that is as strong as steel but as light as water (1/3 as heavy as aluminum.)

Enlisting the Troops Against Invasive Species

One creative solution to invasive species:

Friday, August 21, 2015

Fusion Comes Together

I see two big headlines in the fusion world currently. Both of them rely on the idea of producing energy in pulses. The biggest project in the world, ITER, continually squeezes hydrogen until it fuses, then continuously removes the waste while continuously supplying more fuel. These smaller, private organizations hold the fuel in place magnetically and compress it with a pulse of mechanical inertia. Dan Gelbart (Laberge's boss when he was hatching his plan) used to say that innovative technologies proceed in batches and efficient development moves toward continuous processes.
Steam Punk Fusion
General Fusion's innovation is that they crowd-sourced the solution to a tricky sealing problem. Progress seems to be proceeding according to the plan they boasted of three years ago: break-even* will be achieved in 2016 with viable power plant construction in the 2017-2022 range.
Helion Energy's big announcement is that it has raised $11 million and will raise $21M on the stock market. They claim they'll build a break-even machine in 2016! and a commercially viable machine in 2019! The final machine will be the size of a Mack truck, will produce 50 MW of power and will burn a combination of hydrogen (deuterium) and helium (He-3).

Helion spun off from this firm that wants to make fusion rocket engines.

*break-even (aka net-gain) means that it produces more energy in the fusion reaction than it takes to squeeze the atoms together.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Staying Healthy Amid Pressure Not To
For decades people have grumbled that university environments can be unhealthy. The Coddling of the American Mind (A reference to this pivotal work) in the Atlantic examines popular trends in the context of the powerfully successful psychological field of cognitive behavioral therapy. They make the case that emotional reasoning, trigger warnings, labeling microagressions and “catastrophizing” are literally harmful to mental health. Solutions could come from contemporary psychology or ancient philosophers like Marcus Aureluis* or Buddha.

*Relevant at 2:00, Aurelius at 4:20 of 33:00.

(Aug'15) McArdle adds: College as a consumer experience serves to "shelter" students from any benefit. 

(Sept'15) After a massive response, Lukianoff responds to the controversies in this video.
"Learn better how to argue fairly with yourself."

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Do You Buy It?

"The internet is making our children stupid."

The Backyard Scientist

Mario Fireballs in high-res, slow motion video, home-made foundry, CO2 rocket launcher. Do I really need to add the “do not try this at home”, except, maybe the Lichtenberg figures. Maybe!

Drifting Tanks

If you thought drift cars were awesome, check out this from the Russian International Tank Biathlon. (Apparently, that last line translates to something like "You can't see that on YouTube." Russian speakers please advise in comments.)

Via the jaw-dropping military technology of Foxtrot Alpha.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Key to Understanding the World

In 1958, Leonard Read wrote a couple of pages on the seemingly mundane subject of how to make a pencil. “I, Pencil”, though an essay, works like Robert Frost's idea of a poem: it “begins in delight and ends in wisdom.”
If you had all the elements of a pencil right in front of you, could you make a pencil? It's not as easy as you might think. In fact, no single person on the face of the earth could do it without the help of countless others. And this is the key to understanding the world.
Here is a video adaptation.

Old-School High-Technology

While TED lectures are quickly dropping their fact-to-flash ratio into narcissistic preening territory, the high content, low pizzazz, ironically entertaining educational films of yesteryear are posted onto YouTube. Here is a 1936 film on transmissions that builds all the way from basic lever theory to the workings of a synchromesh manual shift transmission in 10 minutes.
h/t-Popular Mechanics

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Hidden Benefit of a Really Crappy Job

The best job I’ve ever had was cleaning deep fryers at McDonald’s at 4:30 in the morning. By “best,” I don’t mean most pleasant. Each morning, I would take a filtration device (basically a heavy bucket with a filter, on wheels) up to each deep fryer, empty the fryer’s oil into it and, while it churned away, I would scrub the sides and bottom of the fryer. After the filter was done working, I would pump the filtered oil back into the fryer and turn on the heating element to prepare it for that day’s cooking.
Read on.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Ground-Breaking Study that Should Change Your Life
An important study has been published
This spring, Dr. Johannes Bohannon and a team of German scientists discovered that people on low-carbohydrate diets could lose weight faster if they used one weird trick: Eat a bar of chocolate every day.
Newsrooms around the world responded eagerly to Bohannon's findings.
"Excellent News: Chocolate Can Help You Lose Weight!" Huffington Post India declared in a report...Even Europe's highest-circulation newspaper, Bild, got in on the action, publishing a report titled "Slim by Chocolate!"
Journalists and readers looked past the too-good-to-be-true nature of the findings and devoured the story wholesale.
But Bohannon's research was a hoax.
The health study was deliberately faked to test the hypothesis that scientists and reporters rarely detect junk science. No one caught on to this ruse.
No, not the one about the chocolate, the study about the quality of science reporting in our news. Bottom line: you need to learn science, method and critical reasoning because your betters aren't going to do it for you.

Monday, July 6, 2015

How Much of Human Nature is Optional?

Rachel Ryan doesn't feel like a man... but she feels a little guilty of that fact. She thinks that gender is not a social construct and discovered that makes her transgressive!
Nowhere is this oppression more apparent than in the workplace. God forbid
a young, ambitious career woman admit to wanting romance and a family as much as she wants that corner office. Instead, feminist champions of our gender-neutral society encourage “single young women in their sexual prime” to suppress conventional female desires in favor of “more-important things… such as good grades and internships and job interviews and a financial future of their own.”

Since entering the professional world, I’ve found amusement in openly admitting to wanting a family in the not-so-distant future. After all, I’m a fan of shock-value, and this statement is almost always guaranteed to raise eyebrows.
She is also a social science type and reads journal articles.

How Scarce?

Economists vs Ecologists, moderated by Matt Ridley, who wears both hats.
Economists ... What frustrates them about ecologists is the latter's tendency to think in terms of static limits. Ecologists can't seem to see that when whale oil starts to run out, petroleum is discovered, or that when farm yields flatten, fertilizer comes along, or that when glass fiber is invented, demand for copper falls.
That frustration is heartily reciprocated. Ecologists think that economists espouse a sort of superstitious magic called "markets" or "prices" to avoid confronting the reality of limits to growth. The easiest way to raise a cheer in a conference of ecologists is to make a rude joke about economists.