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.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

What Do the Boys Like?

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.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

You're Over-Thinking It
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.)

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.

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.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

20 Habits Associated with Success

Tom Corley has identified 20 things that rich people do overwhelmingly and poor people do rarely.  Correlation is not causation but it's not hard to imagine how the the "rich" habits might have something to do with success.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Salt! What's Next?

I'm always skeptical of diet advice but some facts are clearly established. For example: most Americans should eat less and exercise more; eat less fat; eat less processed foods; eat more fruits and vegetables, especially raw; eat less salt. Surely the basics are true?

Next, they'll be telling me not to wear sunblock!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Laugh or Cry?

A species of swift, the white-throated needletail, was seen in the UK for the first time in 22 years. I suppose you can guess how this story turns out.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Update: brushing my teeth

What? You aren't interested? If it was Chris Hadfield would you be interested?

Chris Hadfield, the first Canadian, lead a mission in the space station, recorded a series of fun videos showing what it is like to do everyday activities in space. He was up for nearly six months, re-entering on May 13.
The Daily Mail Collection

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Easy Study = Weak Memory?

There are two ideas in this article. Today I am interested in the second:
1) Easy come, easy go; information quickly found is quickly forgotten.
2) Divided attention makes weak learning.

Mr. Enns says that of course this is true. What's more, it gets to the heart of the difference between interesting education and boring education.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Cooking is Science

Look at Amazon link to read the captions

At least, it can be: chemistry mostly (chemical reactions, changes of state) but also physics (temperatures, heat flow). [short videos]

There is a movement about that goes by the name "modernist cooking". It seems to be about analyzing the science behind cooking. (What is the reaction that changes my meat from "raw" to "cooked the way I like it" to "overdone" or "burnt".) then measuring it precisely and finding a process that achieves the exact conditions I wanted: nothing more, nothing less.

If you want your steak medium-rare, that means 55 °C. Now, how can we cook this thing so the whole steak is 55 °C, we keep all the juices and achieve any other properties we were looking for? The short answer to that puzzle seems to be found in sous vide cooking techniques. There are other puzzles to be solved.

It started in the 80's, but has flourished recently. The gold standard is called Modernist Cuisine and there is a home version and a simpler version (and tips). It is the pinnacle of a whole series of cooking science books. Finally, here is a feature-length promo from Harvard.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Fusion Powered Rockets?!

 Nuclear fusion has been done by humans for 50 years now. Doing fusion without blowing things that's another story. There are several multibillion dollar projects on the go. None of them have produced yet. What if you could blow things up a little bit?

Friday, March 8, 2013

Scientific Basis for a Viking Myth

The Vikings traveled far, to France, to Iceland, to Greenland, to Baffin Island and to Newfoundland. But they had no compass. How did they navigate, especially when clouds blocked the sun? Legend tells of a sun-stone that could locate the sun on a cloudy day. In 1967 an archaeologist proposed Icelandic feldspar as the mythical stone. In 2011, a scientist demonstrated its effectiveness. Now we have found a Viking shipwreck with a crystal found beside a navigational tool.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Going to Mars Sooner?

NASA plans a manned trip to Mars in the 2030's. A private businessman wants to pull together a trip in 2018. Neither one involves landing, just orbiting.

Safety requirements in the private world are a lot lower than for NASA.
I provide the article from three sources. Compare the comments.

It is also possible that they will be visiting a much-changed Mars. An extinction-sized comet will  make a close approach to Mars in October 2014. It probably won't hit.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Pie Chart


A Scientific Proposal

How to read a scientific journal report:
  1. Avoid reading the whole thing. That will put you to sleep.
  2. Read title. (If interesting, continue.)
  3. Read abstract. (If interesting, continue.)
  4. Look at graph
  5. Read conclusion (If interesting or suspicious, read the body of the report.)

Via Science is Beauty (with lots more good stuff ) and IFLS

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Higgs Boson and the End of the Universe

We humans have been talking about the Big Bang for some time. The story we tell explains the beginning of the universe. Usually, we gloss over the part about it being impossible. That, as I understand it, is the excitement behind the Higgs Boson. The Higgs Boson suggests a storyline that makes the Big Bang possible.

Unfortunately, within a year of its discovery, the Higgs Boson folks have been doing some thinking. Fresh from declaring the beginning of the universe possible, they have now noticed that so is the end.

Hat tip to Glenn Reynolds, who adds his usual practical application.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

A Boy in Philidelphia

Anthony Esolen does some thinking about boys in Philadelphia, where about half the kids drop out between grade 9 and graduation, more if they are black or Hispanic boys. He imagines the letter one might write about his situation and how well society has served him. He sounds angry.
Our government has failed to admit that its own selfishness is the root of many societal problems it has tried to address.