31 May 2006

Baby born with three arms

Though perhaps calling it one and two halves would be more accurate, as neither of the two left arms is fully functional. I find it nauseating that the Chinese doctors are contemplating arbitrarily chopping off one of the "extra" arms just so the child will fit in, despite the fact that they have no idea which arm is "better."

30 May 2006

29 May 2006

Issues-based shopping

I feel like I've posted about IdealsWork before, but it was a while ago and I just stumbled across them again. If issues such as human rights, women's issues, and the environment matter to you, IdealsWork helps you pick which company has the best track record on those issues. HINT: You probably want to check OFF Nuclear Energy, since as far as I can tell they're saying that companies that use nuclear energy get a LOWER rating, while nuclear energy is significantly better for the environment than coal or oil or natural gas. You can also pick the "advanced" tab to weight different issues more heavily. Vote with your money!

Speaking of sound...

There's an article briefly highlighting age-related hearing loss. In short, as people get older, they start to lose the upper range of frequencies that they can hear, and this starts as young as in your twenties. If you want to test your hearing, there's a high frequency sound here.

I wonder though, whether all computer speakers are capable of producing that sound in the first place. I'm sure there's a way to look up the high-frequency cutoff for any given speaker, but I'm too lazy to check on mine. :-P As for why older people can't hear it, there's a little info here and and here, but it appears that the cause isn't all that clear, or else isn't clearly known.

Thanks to the_xtina for the head's-up.

25 May 2006

The Physics of Sound

Inspired by a post by galbinus_caeli about singing off-key.

Sound is a type of wave perceived by the human ear. Sound waves travel through air (or water and other materials) by compressing (squishing together) the air molecules. The air actually jiggles, alternating moving slightly towards and away from you. (If it moved in a big clump towards or away, that would be wind or a breeze.) When the air next to our ear drum gets moved one way and another, the material of our ear drum gets pushed in and out correspondingly. Nerves and the brain then interpret this and we hear things around us.

[As an aside, hearing loss can be caused by damage to the ear drum (as in old age or a "blown" ear drum), or by nerve damage, or by damage within the brain itself. Damage to the ear drum can be fixed I believe, or sounds amplified by a hearing aid. Hearing aids can also be useful for some forms of nerve damage, but not all.]

How "fast" the air "jiggles" is described by scientists as the frequency of the sound wave - technically it's the number of jiggles or cycles per second. Our brain interprets this as pitch. A high pitch is a big number for frequency, while a low pitch is a small number for frequency. Of course, there is more to sound than this.

When a sound is generated by a simple machine (a frequency generator), it will have only a single frequency, meaning the air only jiggles at one rate, and it will sound "simple" or "pure" to our ear-brain combination. This single frequency is sometimes called the fundamental. However, sound (music) is usually created by some (musical) instrument, and this is not simple: we do not get out only one frequency. Similarly to how the ocean has tides, and on top of the tides are waves, and on top of the waves are ripples, sound will have layers of waves. In the water comparison, tides are the lowest frequency, and ripples the highest. In sound, the fundamental has lowest frequency/pitch, and higher frequencies are added on top of it, called harmonics.

When you pluck a guitar string with no fingers on it, the full length of the string vibrates in one lump (called a node). This vibrates the air around it and the human brain most easily perceives this lowest frequency or the fundamental, and we perceive it as the "note" or "pitch." In addition, the string vibrates at the same time in two lumps/nodes, giving the first harmonic. It also vibrates with three nodes, four nodes, and so on. Some of these harmonics vibrate more strongly than others, and which ones depends upon the specific instrument. Most humans don't consciously observe the harmonics, we just put them all together. How strong (loud) the various harmonics are compared to each other and the fundamental is perceived by the brain as the quality or timbre (pronounced "TAM-burr") of the instrument, and what distinguishes one instrument from another (and one person's voice from another).

To change what note is being played on the guitar string, you would then put your finger down somewhere, changing the length of the string, and therefore how fast it vibrates, which means the frequency of sound. For guitars and other stringed instruments, the pitch of each note is also affected by the tension in the string (how tightly the string is wound, changed with tuning pegs) and the density of the string (how thick the string is and what it's made out of, which is why there are multiple strings).

In reed instruments (clarinet, sax), you first vibrate a bamboo or plastic strip, which then vibrates air inside the instrument, and the fundamental is determined by the distance between the reed and the first open hole, and the thickness of the tube of the instrument (that is, the tube the air is traveling through). In wind instruments (flute, piccolo) you're more directly vibrating the air. In most brass (trumpet, tuba) you vibrate a little diaphragm or plate in the mouthpiece and then it follows as above. Percussion instruments you vibrate the material that you're hitting - the face of the drum, wood on the xylophone, cow bell, whatever.

As for what makes a chord, or music, that is cultural, and there's no way I get that, let alone being able to explain it! :-P

How to cheat on papers

From a college prof, this list of common, easily caught, cheating mistakes is amusing. I tend to give less papers and more problems, so I don't see all of these, but they're definitely similar to things I have seen. *Sigh* As a commenter says, if you're good enough to cheat right, you probably don't need to cheat. It's probably more effort to actually do those things, than to do the work in the first place!

ETA: Whee, I just got to delete a spam comment for an essay writing webpage! (Same as someone legitimately commented about below, but this one was clearly spam.)

23 May 2006

The Firefox Nebula

A group of researchers using the HST have recently discovered the Firefox nebula.

I don't really get why a blog hosted at a Uni has Google ads though...

22 May 2006

Only in America

would an ad like this get airplay. Reminds me of when I went to the Oil Rig Offshore Drilling Museum in Galveston, TX and they had mulitple rooms dedicated to the benefits oil rigs - like that they make good beds for forming new coral reefs! And -- um, that's all the talked about. For rooms!

Anyone actually seen the ad on TV?

21 May 2006

Science Music Wanted!

Calling all geeks! I am looking for bouncy science music. Things such as Oingo Boingo - Weird Science, They Might Be Giants - Why Does the Sun Shine, or a billion things by Jonathan Coulton. While Christine Lavin - Planet X fits the science theme, it doesn't fit bouncy, so it's iffy. The reason for this request is that every Halloween I throw a big bash, theme usually picked by August. Recently I've been stuck on the idea of having this year's theme be Science, but I don't know if I can pull it off music-wise.

So if you have favorite science songs, please list them. Thanks!

19 May 2006

Academic Fraud

Ward Churchill, Colorado Univ, has been found guilty of academic fraud, including plagiarism, by a committee five full professors. That link was to the full report (124pgs), but the one in the header has some highlights. Highlighting the highlights, he is biased in his analysis and interpretations, and there are two-and-a-half pages of passages he copied from other works without giving them credit. In conclusion, all five profs say he committed serious misconduct, two recommended a two-year suspension w/o pay, two said they could outright firing him (revocation of tenure and dismissal) but should do the milder suspension, and the fifth says they could and should fire him.

In some ways this is a triumph of peer review, in that they weeded out someone (another person) who was falsifying work. In other ways, it is an absolute failure that he got this far, and will seriously damage the credability of science. If it ever made it to the news headlines, that is, for good or bad.

18 May 2006

Sci-Fi story idea

I get in the most interesting discussions c/o sclerotic_rings. The latest one is about colony ships, or self-sustained man-made artificial environments, whatever you feel like calling them. Think of things like 2001, Ring World, and Dyson Spheres. I got to talking with galbinus-caeli about configurations of them, and concerns such as precession. We observed that although energy is near-limitless, power is not. Now, that gave me an idea for a short story - I haven't written enough lately.

A colony ship is built around some star or other. (Maybe later in the story it's a dying red giant, that could account for energy issues.) Though energy is essentially limitless (if you have enough time), how fast you can get it (power) is not. The limit is set by the area of the solar panels and their efficency. Because of the limit, the builders (maybe a mythical first generation of inhabitants?) designed the system so that the power priority is to life-sustaining processes. For example, maintaining the spin (and therefore gravity), purifying air, light for hydroponics. However, it was built to be overrideable, and a few generations ago the colonists/inhabitants voted to do so to sustain some aspect of their lifestyle. The current generation is now seeing the effects of the poor power management.


So I decided I'd have a little fun with this. I've got the outline up on PBwiki here, and if you feel like contributing, go right ahead!

16 May 2006

Time

NASA's Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft carry metal plaques showing the spacecraft's time and place of origin.
--Kimm Groshong / New Scientist


I wonder how they showed time. Probably based upon the position of various celestial objects, but I found myself wondering if they could've included a radioactive sample and used half-lives. But without a common definition of "second," it could be difficult. I guess we'd have to go entirely by quantity of sample, not rate of emission, but again we'd have to somehow communicate the initial quantity of sample, a daunting task.

My favorite way would be to include some 3-10 radiactive samples with varying length half lives. These samples would all have their density of radioactive isotopes very carefully controlled, so that they all had the same percent of the radioactive material when the device was created (roughly). What I would expect to happen is that any sufficiently advanced civilization finding the samples would study each and determine their halflives (if not already known in detail). Some clever soul will put two and two together and realize that when they plotted the decay back in time, all the graphs intersected at one point: the date that the ship was launched.

This of course assumes that any civilization advanced enough to retrieve a spaceship also lives in a region of the galaxy (universe?) metal-rich enough to have observed radioactive materials previously. We'd also have to give small enough samples that they wouldn't be harmful to an ingorant culture, but strong enough that they're likely (for some values of "likely") to observe that they're radioactive.

Today is Resource Day: Science Degree Statistics

In case you're ever curious about how many people of what sort get what science degree, the NSF has already compiled that info for you. It's not all that easily digestable, but it's got all the info you'd ever want, and then some. Google on "NSF science engineering degree statistics" to get a slew of other data - such as by ethnicity and other years.

When does sexism start?

Sclerotic rings got me to thinking about when girls drop out of science, or when they're pushed out. This got me to recounting my own experiences (or mostly lack thereof) with sexism in my studies...

My parents raised me to think anything was possible, so when I struggled with math in elementary school it was an individual personal failling, not because I was a girl. When I got to math that wasn't just about memorizing anymore but instead was about logic and connections (i.e., geometry, algebra, and higher), I actually did well in it, so I had no phobia at all. However, I never saw the point of it. As for science, well I did well in it, probably because of my electrical engineer father, but I wasn't really interested in it either. Until I took physics and made the connection between the formulae which I was good at manipulating, and the things going on around me in nature that I was good at understanding. Put the two together and a love was born.

With my best friend (J***) I went from high school physics to AP physics, enjoying every last proof (except when a sliding bowling ball starts rolling, I think I get that one now). And then, near the end of my senior year in high school, the other girl in the class came up to us and told us how sexist she thought the teacher was. My best friend and I blinked, looked at each other, blinked some more, and turned back to the girl entirely confused. I think she just wasn't doing well in the class and interpretted it as sexism, because she never presented any evidence whatsoever.

J*** went on to study chemical engineering; I went on to study physics. I never considered an all women's school - it's not realistic, so I saw no reason to handicap myself but not continuing to work with guys. My entering class was 4 men, 2 women. All of us graduated on time, but only 3 men and myself in physics. All of us dual majored in something - myself and two others in Math, the last man in Ceramic Engineering. Three of us and the other girl who entered in physics (and left in math) also minored in astro. Two of my male compatriots told me they thought our physics professors were actually reverse discriminatory. I had never observed this, and they again did not have tangible evidence, but in a moment of candor I actually confronted my mentor with the men's opinion. He said he didn't think he was doing so, and sounded surprised at the accusation. He felt that he was giving both men and women students equal opportunities, based upon their abilities. But, he confided, if he really was encouraging us two women more than the men, it simply made up for the many years where women weren't allowed to do science at all.

Throughout most of my college career I was in the minority in classes - usually around a third of us were women in physics, rising to maybe a half in math. It was small number statistics though, as physics classes were often less than ten students. In physics and astronomy classes I paired up with my friends in the same major - Observational Astro first semester there were four of us majors/minors on the same telescope; E&M had me and the other girl with one of the guys. I was good at the theory, she was good at performing the experiment, he was good at doing the calculations. We made a great team - until I TA'd the course and realized I didn't know how any of the equipment worked. I had to admit it to the prof, too.

In one engineering class I took, I paired up with a non-traditional student, as he was the only other hard worker. After finals, he and the other engineers went to check their grades, which were posted outside the prof's door. He told me later what they said to each other. He said "that A's me," and they replied "and that one must be the girl." It wasn't until he told me this story that I became aware that there was only one other girl in the class.

I wasn't actually sure of a confirmed case of sexism, unfortunately with myself as victim, until graduate school, from the graduate program director (GPD). Some of the comments he made to me:
  • "If you only want to teach, you should reconsider whether you want a PhD." This is discouraging, but not explicitly sexist.
  • "You're not as smart as your classmates." This is HORRIBLE, but again not overtly discriminatory rather than judging me individually.
  • "Its a good thing you broke up with your boyfriend because if you were still dating him you'd have to take care of him, like cooking for him, and that would take time from your studies." Bingo.

He had many similar comments for other female grads in the department, such as explicitly telling one woman in the department that she wasn't as smart as her own fiancee, also in our department. These things happened overwhelmingly to the women graduate students, not the men. We communicated instances of his discouragement to the department chair - but through grad student representatives, without individual names, and therefore without genders - and we were always brushed off. Perhaps we would've had better luck if the women grads had gone to him personally as a group, but we didn't want to make ourselves vulnerable that way. It wasn't until after I left that a concerted effort was made by the grads (male and female) to air specific grievances against the GPD. Upon hearing these, he resigned from the position, though he is still a member of the department, and no official complaint was lodged anywhere. Shockingly to me, a group of grads then protested his resignation - despite the fact that they had the opportunity to dissent at any time prior to the main grads presenting their statement - but less shockingly these were all mainland Chinese males, as was the GPD.

*Sigh* That whole event still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, and a weight in my heart. If many girls have to put up with that sort of crap from day one, it's no wonder they're leaving science in droves. But to any girls or women out there reading this blog: It's not gonna be easy, but there are going to be MANY people along the way who will support you and help you. I still keep in touch with a number of my mentors throughout the years. Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.

15 May 2006

How to Learn Quickly / Pass / Do Well

I found this article from Xtina, with steps to learn difficult material quickly. No need to repeat the details here, but it's prompted me to make two of my own lists: how to pass, and how to do well in a class. These are based upon my own teaching style and what I've observed with my own students, so they might not work for ALL classes, but they'll probably work for LOTS of classes.

How to Pass A Class
  1. Show up to every class/lab. Seems like a no-brainer, but it's worth repeating. Nearly every student who's failed my courses missed at least a quarter of the class meetings. Once you're in the classroom, you can't help but hear what the prof has to say - some students can learn from the textbook without coming to class, but most can't. And certainly if there's an attendance policy, showing up helps. It also shows effort and will incline the prof to feel kindly towards you when assigning grades.

  2. Take notes in class. The process of writing down what the teacher says often helps you to retain it. It certainly can't hurt, and if you're in class anyway, might as well. Try and have a binder with folders so you can throw in any handouts the prof gives out, and anything you need to bring to class to turn in (see next items).

  3. Turn in all the HW and labs. The hardest part to HW is just starting it. I'm not saying spend hours and hours working on it, just turn in something. If you're only trying to pass the class, don't bother reading the chapters assigned, just look at the questions the night before it's due, or the morning of, and come up with what you can. Something is better than nothing, and some profs (including myself) will give "pity points" - you'll always get some minimum, like 30%. If your prof allows late work, turn it in late if you must, but it's better to get it in on time. For labs, if nothing else you should have data if you showed up to lab, turn that in, and answer any word questions if you can't do the calculations. And once you get started, who knows, you may end up trying to do a good job, but if you don't, at least you have something to turn in.

  4. Front load your work. That is, work more at the beginning of the semester than the end. It's a lot easier to start off on the right foot and then slack off later, than to start off on the wrong foot and scramble to catch up when you realize you're failing. This also builds in a cushion in case you really DO have three grandmothers after midterms.

  5. Turn in all projects or papers. Again, even if you start the night before, turn in something. BS if you haven't done the work. Even a blind squirrel occasionally finds a nut.

  6. Cite sources / DO NOT PLAGIARIZE. If you write a paper that takes ANY info from someone else, make SURE you include the name of the author and the title of it. Plagiarizing is WORSE than not doing the work, as some profs will fail you (in the whole course) for a single plagiarized assignment. Schools can even kick you out for a single case of plagiarism. At the least, you'll have to redo the assignment, and that's a pain and invalidates everything you actually did do. Don't risk it. If you were thinking of buying a paper on the internet, don't forget: profs have Google too.

  7. Take all exams. Even if you haven't studied. If you've got no clue on anything, just guess. By random chance you'll get 20-25% on a multiple choice exam. Answer all questions, as profs don't usually have equipment that can take more points off for wrong answers than ones left blank (as the SAT does). 20% is still better than a 0%, which is what you get if you don't show, and some profs will fail you. And who knows, you may know some!



How to Do Well in A Class
  1. Show up to class/lab on time every day, from the first day of class. Try not to add classes late, as a lot of foundation material (and a list of the teacher's expectations) is covered in the first week, and sometimes even the first day. Missing a day from adding late is NOT an acceptable excuse to not do the work.

  2. Sit in the front row. Studies have shown that students in the front row tend to have higher grades. While correlation doesn't prove causation, it can't hurt. And perhaps sitting in the front means you won't be as distracted by people in the back. And maybe that'll get people who ARE good to take note of you.

  3. Start HW/projects/papers/labs the day they're assigned. Work as far as you can on it, then go to the professor with your questions. (You can also try asking your study group - see next item - for help.) For each credit that the course is worth, expect to spend at least three hours a week doing work. For example, if it's a 4 credit lab course, allocate 12 hours a week for the work - roughly two hours a day. When you get things back, check what you did wrong or can improve upon next time.

  4. Form a study group. It's actually kinda irrelevant whether it's with more or less smart students, they just need to be willing to work. If they're better in the subject than you, they'll explain difficult things to you. If you're better than them, you'll reinforce what you already know and figure out new things BY TEACHING THEM. At a minimum, meet once a week for an hour to work on HW, projects, papers, labs, and study for tests.

  5. Study for all exams, and review them after. Now that you've been working your butt off all semester long, you might not even have to study all that much extra for tests. Put in at least an hour just in case, reviewing topics that the prof has hinted will be on the exam (and they DO, pay attention in class and watch for it), or topics that you've had difficulty with. When you get the exam back, check where you made mistakes. If there's a cumulative final, rest assured some of the same topics will be on it, and you can fix the ones you screwed up before. You'll also get a better idea of what the prof is looking for and how to meet their demands.

  6. "How well do I need to do on this exam for a ... ?" Don't worry about what you need on a specific assignment. Simply do your best on each and every one of them, and you will exceed what you think you "need" in the class. If you think you've worked pretty hard on a paper, see if you can edit it one more time. If you think your lab is ready to be turned in, double check your calculations. If you've already studied three hours for the final, study another hour. Unless you can't think straight anymore, then sleep instead.



I'm thinking about handing out a couple lists like these, with just the boldface items, to my (non-physics) students in the Fall. Physics students usually know these things already, they're a self-selected group.

Save the Internet!

Here's an email petition you can sign that'll go to your senator and representative. If you're at a loss for what to say, I said:

The internet is based upon the principle of Net Neutrality: the belief that all data should be treated equally and without preference. This is the same principle upon which our own Nation was established: all are created equal. In non-digital law, we have passed acts further bolstering this belief in the realms of race, class, gender, age, and disability status. It is a shame that the United States government is considering such a law that will take us a step backwards in the realm of the Internet and discriminate based upon the paying ability, and therefore class, of the individual.

14 May 2006

Zandperl's Fancies

Now that the semester's over, I don't really know what to do with myself when I get home from work! So I stopped by a craft store with a friend, and I ended up making a few sets of earrings that I'm going to try and sell online. If you have any reason to buy jewelry, or just want to laugh at what a science prof thinks is sellable, go check out Zandperl's Fancies.

It's not so much that I think I'll make any money off of them. It's more that it's something creative for me to do, and I have too much junk lying around the house, so I might as well get rid of it somehow. :-P

13 May 2006

Hosting and Domain Name info requested

I'm looking for information on hosting and DNS. For all of my geekitude, I don't know how to host my own webpage.

Have/Know
  • Desktop PC running Win XP Pro (could serve as host, but I don't know how)
  • Cable internet (Charter?)
  • Know how to make page
  • Know how to ftp

Want/Need
  • Hosting space (?)
  • Rememberable URL
  • Hosting/DNS tutorial
  • List of hosting services (?)
  • List of DNS-es


If you can help me figure out the Want/Need stuff, I'd be much obliged.

12 May 2006

Species: Polar and Grizzly bears

Traditionally, the definition of species has been that if two animals could produce viable, fertile, offspring, they were the same species.

TORONTO, Ontario (AP) -- A DNA test has confirmed what zoologists, big-game hunters and aboriginal trackers in the far northern reaches of Canada have imagined for years: the first documented case of a hybrid grizzly-polar bear in the wild.
...
"It's something we've all known was theoretically possible because their habitats overlap a little bit and their breeding seasons overlap a little bit," said Ian Stirling, a polar bear biologist with the Canadian Wildlife Service in Edmonton. "It's the first time it's known to have happened in the wild."
...
Stirling said polar bears and grizzlies have been successfully paired in zoos and that their offspring are fertile, but there has been no documented case in the wild.

CNN/AP


Well, by that definition, polar bears and grizzly bears are the same species! Now, DNA evidence did conclude that this hybrid had a polar father and grizzly mother, so there are significant enough DNA differences between the two species. Evolutionary biologists have definitely been moving towards a more genetic-based definition of species, and this seems like further evidence that we should do so.

10 May 2006

Another video

This one is combined launch footage and computer simulation of the NASA Mars Pathfinder / Sojourner mission - set to Nine Inch Nails!

This one's a less technically stunning video than the last one I posted, however it is notable for its near-seamless transition between actual launch footage and artist's conception videos. Two things I'm uncertain about though are the fast spinning (and the associated strings-with-things-attached that get flung out) after the ship detached from the various launch mechanisms but before the "seven years later," and at the end when the virtual camera pans up the sky appears black while it should be pink. The former can be chalked up to artist's conception with insufficient information (if it turns out that the quick spin is incorrect), but while the second could be as well, I think it should be criticised anyway, as it's common knowledge within the astronomy-loving community.

Huygens descent video

You may have seen this video before, I gather it came out earlier this week. The intro's a little dorky, so you can skip it, or wait through it.

The video's a mosaic of various stills from Huygens from approaching Saturn, to resting on the surface of Titan, along with commentary explaining much of what you see. The actual skills required to stitch together and clean up a video like this amaze me. Even my friend at the CfA with whom I'll be working this summer doesn't have the skills, despite being lead author on some press-release photos.

I'm really amazed at the extent of the canyon-like systems on the surface - I suspect their depth has been enhanced in the video, or at least that we have no good notion of speed and size so they appear deeper than they really are, plus (presumed) lower surface gravity would make liquid flow differently. However, the fact remains that there are significant dry river beds, presumably from liquid methane! It's awesome. :) And if you have trouble wrapping your mind around methane rivers, keep in mind that the "boulders" in the foreground near the end are actually pebbles of water ice.

There's more info available at this CNN/Space.com article that I found the link through. They link to other articles in a sidebar on the right, and I'm sure NASA's got more still.

And foo, I was so excited about writing this (and the fact that I *can* since I'm done grading!), that I let my pizza burn.

Technological strides

Has technology gone too far? Nah, I think it's awesome when they can make a prosthetic leg for an endangered species of kiwi!

09 May 2006

Vatican: "Creationism is Pagan"

BELIEVING that God created the universe in six days is a form of superstitious paganism, the Vatican astronomer Guy Consolmagno claimed yesterday.

Brother Consolmagno, who works in a Vatican observatory in Arizona and as curator of the Vatican meteorite collection in Italy, said a "destructive myth" had developed in modern society that religion and science were competing ideologies.
...
"Religion needs science to keep it away from superstition and keep it close to reality, to protect it from creationism, which at the end of the day is a kind of paganism - it's turning God into a nature god. And science needs religion in order to have a conscience, to know that, just because something is possible, it may not be a good thing to do."

--Ian Johnston, New Scotsman


My oh my, the Vatican sounds more and more liberal by the moment. Sometimes I wonder how much of these statements is genuine reconcilliation with science though, and how much just good publicity.

Brother Consolmagno, who was due to give a speech at the Glasgow Science Centre last night, entitled "Why the Pope has an Astronomer", said the idea of papal infallibility had been a "PR disaster".

07 May 2006

Overheard

In the style of Blue102's blog Overheard, I overheard the following at a LAN party last night.

Person 1: So there's this parasite that gets in crabs, and instead of them running and hiding from seagulls, it - I kid you not - this parasite makes the crabs dance! [Speaker demonstrates, waving both hands in the air, and rocking his body side-to-side.] And the gulls eat the crabs, and the parasite can get into a host higher up the food chain.

Person 2: That's the best argument against Intelligent Design that I've ever heard. If there's a Designer, he's really f***ed up.


I found it especially amusing that the first speaker would wave his arms and move around in his chair to demonstrate, but wouldn't get up. I guess it was a LAN party after all... :)

06 May 2006

Science confirms "unsaveable" soccer goals

The physics of soccer (or "football" in the rest of the world) has been analyzed! - the mechanics of how the ball moves, and the biomechanics of how the goalie and kicker (striker) move - and found that there's around 30% of the goal area that the goalie physically can't get to before the ball. His only hope is to guess which way the ball's gonna be kicked and move that way before the actual kick. Here, statistics comes to the rescue: "It's been shown that in about 85 percent of cases the direction in which that foot points is the direction of the shot." [CNN/Reuters]

Neato. Too bad they're confusingly linking to the article throughout CNN as "Score one for quantum science" - the scientist (Ken Bray) doing the research (published in a "press release" -style book, "How to Score") is a quantum physicist by day, but there's absolutely no quantum to the explanation, just mechanics, bio, and stats.

[off-topic] Free Comic Book Day!

Today, Saturday May 6, 2006, is Free Comic Book Day. The majority of comic book stores are particiating: use that URL to find a comic book shop near you, walk in with no money, and walk out with special introductory comic books written just for folks like you. These are NOT just superhero comic books, though those are included. You can expect things like sci-fi, fantasy, crime/noir, teen angst, manga, webcomics-to-print, whatever. Some places have a cap of how many free ones you can take. Some ask for donations to charities. But it's pretty cool, and gives you the chance to see what's out there, risk-free. You can usually browse the shop's free selections before picking one (or more), just don't read the whole thing, that's rude. Go!

And let me borrow them when you're done, I'm not sure if I'll get to a comic book shop myself. :(

04 May 2006

Incompetent Design

If you haven't seen this video yet, then you probably haven't yet climbed down from your tree. Or out from the water, whatever. It still cracks me up.

This is a video made by Dr. Don Wise at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who is trying to start a new movement to step up our response to Intelligent Design and the campaign they are waging against evolution. This was presented in a technical session at the Geological Society of America Annual Meeting on October 17, 2005, in Salt Lake City. [Earth Science Webshare]


Stories say that Wise is trying to ridicule creationism out of the classroom. If logic won't work, then humor will! :) Spread it around.

01 May 2006

We're #1 at #2!

Today I was checking out my blog stats (c/o Blog Explosion), and started browsing through what pages referred people to me. And I saw something shocking and amazing. I'm the number one hit on the phrase "modern science" (without quotes) at both Yahoo and MSN! I'm guessing they must use the same search engine, but still, it's really cool to see. :) Below are a couple partial screen shots - I didn't save the whole screen to save you bandwidth.

Yahoo 5/01/06 - http://search.yahoo.com/search?p=modern+science

MSN 5/01/06 - http://search.msn.com/results.aspx?q=modern+science

Geek Music - Jonathan Coulton

Found this link through a link to his song about cubicle zombies. When I got to the chorus I started squealing.

Take a point called Z in the complex plane
Let Z1 be Z squared plus C
And Z2 is Z1 squared plus C
And Z3 is Z2 squared plus C and so on
If the series of Z’s should always stay
Close to Z and never trend away
That point is in the Mandelbrot Set


You can download it for free. Go do so! And then tell all your friends. A number of them are also on iTunes, and you can get Re: Your Brains if you subscribe to his podcast. Does this guy do live shows? If so, I have to go!

Fermi's Paradox

There's lots of stars out there. We've found more than 150 of them with extrasolar planets around them. Evidence on Earth shows that it's relatively easy to form life on a hospitable planet, and that once life starts it becomes more sophisticated and propagates exponentially. So why haven't seen met aliens?

This is the crux of what's dubbed "Fermi's Paradox." There's an amusing response that intelligent species become addicted to computer games before they can propagate too much, and that only Luddite species can eventually colonize the galaxy.

While amusing, the version of the paradox that interests me more is that involving time travel. If we assume that time travel is possible, we should expect to see all sorts of time tourists all the time, and yet we haven't had a single (credible) report of one. Does this mean that time travel is impossible? And besides, how do we resolve chronological/continuity/causality paradoxes, like when you kill your grandfather or knock your younger self up? The possibilities are:

  1. Time travel is impossible. We haven't seen time tourists because there aren't any.

  2. Time travel is possible, but the timeline protects itself - that is, prevents paradoxes somehow. This solves the chronological paradox issue, but not Fermi's, and therefore is incomplete.

  3. Time travel is possible, and chronological paradoxes (or any time a choice is made) spawn parallel universes. (See Larry Niven's All the Myriad Ways short story - and if you have a link to the full text online for free, I'd love to see it!) This could possibly explain why we don't see time travelers because they get shunted into alternate universes. Not entirely sure why the one universe we observe happens to be the one without the time travelers, the chance of it happening randomly is vanishingly small, so therefore this hypothesis is not satisfying either.

  4. Time travel is possible, and paradoxes all play out in the same universe. This is my personal favorite. Each time someone does something, the changes ripple down through future history and things somehow work themselves out. That last bit's a bit fuzzy, but oh well. Eventually something will be changed in the past that prevents time travel from ever being invented. At this point, there can be no more time travelers to alter the timeline, and therefore things are static. So in short, if time travel can happen unrestricted, it won't. *glee!*