Showing posts with label science. Show all posts
Showing posts with label science. Show all posts

Monday, April 08, 2024

A Total Eclipse of the Sun..!

taken with my Pixel 4

Well, here in lovely Austin, Texas, we were on the edge of the total solar eclipse.  Around 1:36 PM Central, we experienced about 90 seconds of totality.

I was, honestly, pretty excited about the eclipse.  I've seen probably 4 partial eclipses, including one last summer.  And one lunar eclipse back in middle school when my family was on vacation in Mexico and a guy from a restaurant was standing there looking straight up, and because I am that guy, I looked straight up, and me and that guy stopped and enjoyed a lunar eclipse together.

Austin was a big destination for the eclipse, because we are a very hip town for reasons that escape me, but for weeks we've known it was going to be cloudy here.  A month ago, to get ahead of how crazy things would get, local and state government got involved and declared a "state of emergency" so they could handle the influx of people supposedly coming in.  I heard crazy stories about no way to get a flight in or out for days on either side of today.  But I live here, so I didn't really see anything different.

We're expecting usual Austin-Springtime horrible weather over the next 24 hours or so, and so there was a chance we'd all be standing out looking up at the sun getting hit with hail.  

But that didn't happen.  

The weather sort of held on and we were able to head out to the field and retention pond area in our neighborhood where folks brought camp chairs and blankets.  

I will be honest and say, I also brought a box of Moon Pies and distributed them to folks who wanted one.

Folks were kind of quietly excited, and I realized, thanks to my daily viewing of KXAN news and the breathless reporting they'd been doing on the eclipse for what had to have been six weeks in advance, I was quite the know-it-all about the cosmic event.  

Do bats come out for an eclipse?  NO.  It turns out that they work on an internal clock and are not paying attention to the sun.

I tried to take pictures to show the difference in how very dark it did get, but my camera auto-corrected, and you can't see the change.

I've been fighting allergies, so sitting outside was a bit concerning, but given this was a possibly-once-in-a-lifetime event, I girded my loins, and - giving Jamie a headstart to go chat with neighbors, eventually I headed out.

Honestly, it was an amazing event.  Writing it down is a little meaningless.  You've probably seen plenty of pictures or video.  And I'd argue being there with other people to witness the same thing is part of it.  For the people who were at big civic events, etc... I get it.

As the moon got into position, the sky absolutely got darker and the temperature dropped several degrees.  I wouldn't say the birds went completely quiet, but they certainly toned it down.  During totality, a small bird, maybe a finch? flew weirdly close to us, I would guess a bit confused and looking for cover.  I'd argue I noticed when the birds came back to making noise again a lot more than when it went away, which might have been gradual.

Likely because we were so close to the edge of the event, and because clouds would disperse light, we didn't experience the same total darkness I saw in Indianapolis or other locations on the same path.  I'd say it got as dark as twilight during summer when the light hangs on a long time and you can still see a bit down the street.  But the change was *fast*.  I was pulling my cardboard glasses on and off to look around, and every time I did, it was noticeably darker in the minutes leading up to the grand event.

My neighbor, Michelle, and I were pondering "oh, yes, you can see exactly why ancient cultures lost their minds about this" and I need to look into what another neighbor was describing about the ancient mounds built by the First People on North America, because I was vaguely aware of them for ceremonial purposes, but not their astronomic/ astrological significance.  

As the news had said, the totality was brief, maybe 90 seconds.  You can get a rough idea of what the corona or ring looked like in my pics.  

And, of course, these pics do it no justice.  It was genuinely beautiful and unlike even the partial eclipses I'd seen before.  And, due in part to the totality and the clouds, if you weren't just staring, you could look at it with the naked eye.

The sliver of light left just before totality is kind of lovely and almost sad, and then... the ring.  In our case it was white light shining through the clouds, just shimmering around the perfect circle of the moon.  Then, when the event is passing, you get the diamond on the ring as the first real rays of the sun break out at the edge and a spot of light formed on, to my eye, the lower left angle.  And it's really kind of lovely.

Did I eat a Moon Pie during totality?  Friends, you know I did, and it was perfect.

I don't know that I'm ready to chase eclipses around the planet, but it was something that will be locked up in my mind's eye, ready to remember.  Glad I saw it with Jamie and our neighbors.  

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Light Monday

Item #1:

Randy sent this item:

Apparently somebody (possibly the California Dairy Council?) put together a Rock Opera about... a sci-fi future in which milk has made everything better. Look, I can't explain it. But if you've got 20 minutes or so, be prepared to have your world rocked.


Seriously, you need to watch this thing. Its mind boggling.

Item #2:

I think the McBride siblings will appreciate this most of all:

Bacon Narwhal

Stolen from Calvin

Item #3:

Apparently, Dr. Robert Bakker, one of the most famous of paleontologists, is now at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. I have no idea how long he's been there, but I just saw him on a NatGeo documentary, and that's where he's at. Who knew?

I read Bakker's book "The Dinosaur Heresies" partially in high school and then all the way through in college. He's an interesting guy, and I'd be curious to know what's going on at that museum that they landed Bakker. Sounds like they've upped the ante since I used to go there in high school every few months.


I'm not sure about Bakker's reputation these days, but the way I was told in college (back in the mid-90's): he was not loved by the dino-community as he had sort of by-passed the usual route of scientific research, publishing and debate via journals and conferences, and instead went straight to a publisher and got his book out there to the public. "The Dinosaur Heresies" title was a reference to Bakker acknowledging that his hypotheses weren't accepted by the dino-community, but he wasn't letting that slow him down. And in the end, some of what he proposed is now widely accepted as theory.

More milege may vary.

I don't have an opinion on the whole thing, and I don't even know if my facts are correct.

I really, really hope a mention of Bakker doesn't accidentally draw a bunch of angry paleontologists in the comments section.

Item 4:

I'm going to get an Aye-Aye, and I'm going to put it in your kitchen.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Fist bump for the common welfare!

Apparently, CNN is endorsing the "fist bump" as a means of preventing us from spreading H1N1. Intriguingly, they point out that greeting each other with terrorist fist bumps will save lives as its less likely to spread contagion than the traditional handshake.

As The League could really do without H1N1, and also really enjoys a good dap, we're taking up the fist-bump as our new greeting.

But not only does the leader of our fair nation endorse the fist bump (although I think when Michele Obama tells you to fist bump, you darn well better fist bump), someone we all like, who may not divide us down party lines, would also like for us to greet in a hipper fashion for better health.

Superman is your friend, H1N1 is not

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The League Supports: NASA

A while back, I ordered the mid-00's HBO series, "From the Earth to the Moon". (Only $13 at Amazon)

The series leapfrogs the Mercury and Gemini missions (I recommend "The Right Stuff" for your Mercury mission entertainment. $6 at Amazon.). We've been watching the episodes, and it's astounding to watch the show and understand the difference between the national mood at the time versus the national mood of today.

As the Obama administration seeks to increase the funding of NASA by about 5% (a budget which has remained somewhat flat since 1992), its worth noting that the proposed budget of $18.7 billion is about 1/2 of one percent of the federal budget. For a single program, certainly worth noting, but an echo of '66, when it came in at more than 5% of the U.S. budget.

I'm no federal budget expert, but the NASA budget didn't shrink by a whole lot, so looking at the year, I'd assume military and social programs increased in scope around that time.

$18.7 billion is still a relatively small part compared to the $660 billion spent on the military in 2009.

But here's what I dig about NASA:

NASA is about problem solving, for the distinct purpose of human achievement. The goal of NASA is to look at the impossible, figure out the math behind what makes it appear impossible, and then work and work until you can manage the figures, the training, the machinery, etc... until the impossible is achieved. In many ways, NASA (and other space programs) are engineers and scientists unlocking the greatest puzzles put before us, and discarding common thinking in favor of seeing each insurmountable problem as an equation to be solved.

If it takes enormous thrust to lift a small capsule out of Earth's gravity, then you put a 360 foot Saturn rocket underneath it. If you need lighter materials for your LEM, then you develop that material to specification. If you realize its going to be a bit of a challenge to actually get people back from the moon, you develop the math and the science to do so. Not to mention the computers, space sextants, and lunar vehicles to do so.

If we applied that same thinking to problems outside of putting a person on the moon, one wonders how far that thinking could take us. What if we applied that same spirit to our national infrastructure issues (bridges, roads)? Feeding each other?

Instead, I'd guess, we've turned that spirit of innovation inward, to amazing technologies that have revolutionized how and why we communicate, reinvented commerce, etc... And there have been tremendous side-effects in medicine, in education, and other areas that could never have been able to get there on their own.

And while its been an amazing era in which to live, its difficult to point to much in the way of a shared national experience of the last decade aside from 9/11. Or even markers displaying that the government/ the US can achieve a specific goal if it tries.

From a pragmatic view, its worth noting that the space program of the 1960's was also a boon to our technology companies in non-military applications. North American, Grumman, and countless others were contractors and responsible for achieving the goals of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions.

Keep in mind, that Space Shuttle Discovery saw its final flight in the past few weeks, and there is no vehicle planned to replace the Shuttle program. Its not without irony that I note that we're retiring not just the name, but perhaps the very spirit of Discovery.

There's no question that something like NASA is one of those items that's easy to point to when one bemoans "big government". The average American will not be jumping in a rocket and vacationing in space any time soon.

It may be that we have to look to smaller, cheaper efforts which ride on the shoulders of giants, such as Burt Rutan and his success with Spaceship One. But for as amazing as Rutan's feat truly was, Spaceship One did not enter Earth orbit, and it most certainly did not reach the moon. It replicated a feat forty years old. And since the 2004 X-Prize, the progress has been infinitely slower than the space race.

And if we genuinely don't care? If we've got enough in the way of bread and circuses that we can't be bothered to look upwards anymore? I won't be all that surprised.

Columbus's voyage was to find a route for commerce. The western expansion of the US was to find agricultural space to feed us, to exploit natural resources, etc... Our knowledge of the ocean floors will come from energy concerns looking for new deposits of resources.

And while it gets us there, it will always be a question of dollars and cents and supply and demand. It will rarely be because its the challenge worth undertaking.

So rather than point to the possible benefits you'll get from the space program (microwaves! Tang!), I'd ask whether we've decided that we're a people who believe each dime spent should get us an entitlement? Or whether we want to celebrate, support, and demand that we're going to face down the impossible and make it a reality.

I'd like to know that kids will think that if they study hard enough or work hard enough, they get to try an EVA one day. Or design the suit that makes the space walk possible. I don't have kids, but all I'm saying is, I wouldn't want to be the one to explain to my kids that he won't ever see a manned space mission because we didn't think it was important enough.

Its been 40 years since we stepped foot on the moon. 40. Even if we want to keep that eye turned inward, then what impossible challenge should we be able to overcome tomorrow?

That's not to say NASA couldn't be operated more efficiently, or should be written a blank check. Stories you hear suggest NASA has become a slave to regulation and red tape (not just in the safety department) and has had a hard time keeping pace with modern technology management trends. But that doesn't mean you throw the baby out with the bathwater.

That said, I'd like to see a person walk on mars before I croak.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Snake Grows Foot, Terrifies League

Shoemaker just posted this elsewhere

I am going to go to bed and hide beneath the covers now.

Added Shoemaker found item bonus!!!

Collinsworth on his Romantic Life

I don't know Cris Collinsworth from his actual NFL days, but I've sort of loathed the man as first the host of Fox TV's "Guinness Book of World Records" freak show, and then as an NFL commentator and host.

Leaguers, I present to you: Collinsworth, the man in his own words:

Monday, July 20, 2009

Moonlanding - 40th Anniversary

Firstly, its mind-boggling to me that the moon-landing has become a pet conspiracy of people who cannot fathom achievement. Your belief that "we didn't have the technology in the 1960's" does not, in fact, make it so. NASA sent brave men into space, just as they do today. We might as well have said the same about any explorer who ever stepped out of your personal view.

Secondly, far be it from me to wish for another Cold War, but I cannot imagine an America today in which our citizenry has the will or which would be willing to fund the effort it took to get us to the moon. Not when we firmly believe that every tax dollar spent is wasted if its not spent on us, somehow.

That said, I am of a belief that we'd be better off leaving Earth's orbit for altruistic, and/ or scientific purposes, and not for corporate or commercial purposes. Though I suspect the minute that someone figures out how to exploit the rings of Saturn to build a sharper television, that will be what gets us past the moon and out into the rest of the Solar System. Maybe Bradbury's Martian Chronicles (aka: "The Silver Locusts") had too much of an effect upon me as a youth, and maybe I've had The Prime Directive beat into my head entirely too much over the years, but until our imagination reaches beyond exploitation, I'm not sure we're ready as a species to break free from El Sol's pull and join whatever else is out there, moving between stars.

That said, its the spirit of competition which saw Apollo 8 ring around the Moon, and Apollo 11 touchdown on cosmic dust. I'd like to see that exploratory spirit, free of commercial enterprise, guiding us outward, so that when we can look back at our blue marble, we appreciate what we've got here all the more.

Today, The League salutes not just Collins, Aldrin and Armstrong, but the entire flight crew of Apollo 11, and the armies of nameless engineers, scientists, ground crew, and everyone who made Apollo 11 possible. We've had a unique opportunity as a generation born after Apollo 11, to grow up believing, utterly and completely, that with imagination, determination, intellect and will, humanity has no limitations. And I dream of seeing that again in my lifetime.

And, dammit, if its isn't a little sad Cronkite died so very close to the anniversary of the day he guided us through.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

I bought this toy

Not just because its Ryan Choi, The Atom. But because he's got a weapon that hits people with PROTONS.

I like my Atom with more science than whatever the last run was (or most runs, meaning I kind of like The Atom as utility science guy). Science-ish fiction.

Nice to have a toy based maybe something on the LHC.

His little widget/rod thing is kind of a mace. Maybe a mini-LHC. And, of course, the LHC "is intended to play exceptionally violent and scientific games of sub-atomic curveball billiards, in which protons will barrel round corners and smack into one another at close to light speed. This will cause them to explode, hurling various kinds of mysterious sub-subatomic gubbins in all directions." Just about what you'd expect The Atom to be doing in the comics, really.

So, basically, he's smacking people with protons, as if their face were yet another proton. And that is awesome.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Pig Flu


I'm not going to say this right, and I'm going to be taken the wrong way, but here we go.

I am aware that the flu/ Spanish Influenza/ Swine Flu/ Avian Flu, etc.... are all very serious.

But before we start saying "pandemic" and "epidemic", we should keep this in mind.

According to NOAA's National Severe Storms Laboratory, something like 100 people die from lightning strikes each year in the US, and about 500 are injured.

There are roughly 300 million Americans.

While lightning does not travel like a virus, before we all believe we're doomed from pig flu, let's get a handle on the statistics. Or else I suggest we start treating lightning as an epidemic.

As of today, they found 40 non-fatal cases of the flu in the US. You are more likely to die from lightning as of today in the US than you might from Pig Flu.

That could change tomorrow, but the number of cycles being lost as everyone calms everyone else and explains basic hygiene is sort of nuts. And I sincerely hope we don't see a return of La Grippe. I'm just not sure we're there yet.

That is all.

Friday, September 26, 2008

To Infinity, and Beyond...!


Sure, financial news is dire... but just as the Depression brought us aerial circuses and barn stormers, so should be turn our eyes to the fellow who just strapped a kerosene powered jet-wing to his back and crossed the English Channel.

Here's the article.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Kid Invents New Solar Cell

This kid William Yuan, has invented an all-new solar cell. Something PhD's and eggheads are no doubt working on.

Read the article here.

What I was doing at 12:

-raiding Peabo's Mom's cabinet for Dr. Pepper and Teddy Grahams
-Reading Batman and X-Men
-Sitting second chair tuba (in a section of 2)
-worrying about if Sophia Chiang "liked" me
-Growing twice as fast as the other kids (6'3" by 8th grade, suckahs!)
-Working on my free throws
-watching "Aliens" for, literally, the 23rd time
-getting lectured by The Admiral about my most recent infraction
-getting a black eye at the bus stop from Steanso laying me out with a single punch
-Social Studies homework
-Getting a "C" in Talented and Gifted math and getting booted down to plain 'ol "honors" math because of a ScanTron mishap

I was not:
-revolutionizing energy collection

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

World Does Not End

Here's the article.

But we already knew that.

More on LHC. Once again, in song.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Imminent doom from the LHC? It's on like Donkey Kong!

Tonight Jamie and I were discussing CERN's Large Hadron Collider, and it's possibilities for accidentally ending life, the universe and everything. And it was one of those instances where I felt a little bad, because we had wildly differing opinions regarding the possibilities of the worst case scenario.

I guess I made reference to the fact that if the Hadron Collider does, in fact, end Everything, I was okay with that.

I am, I think, in the minority on this one.

It boils down to a few things:

1) If I'm gonna be ended, I would prefer it happen by my atoms spontaneously zipping away from one another at the speed of light rather than, say, eating bad clams or something.
2) At least we were trying to learn something when we'd end the universe rather than getting into some petty political squabble that, frankly, isn't that important, and so we all wind up waiting twenty minutes for the rockets to come down on our heads.
3) I have nothing planned for next week, anyway

In some ways, I am intellectually aware that my survival instincts can't deal with the abstraction of sudden proton reversal, and I just can't get worked up about this Hadron Collider stuff. But having grown up under the threat of imminent nuclear war which could break out at any time and end the world twenty times over... I've kinda been figuring on reaping the whirlwind in some firey blaze since I was in first grade. Thanks, TV.

Anyhow, I'm about as worried about this as I am about the end times coming in 2012. With the added bonus of: hey, I could be sitting at my desk reading e-mail from Randy, and.. zip... that's it. We all get blue screened. There's nothing I can do about 99% of the ways we could go, and if you have to pick one... again, sudden protonic reversal seems not all that bad.

I also suggested to Jamie that even if the universe does end, all that energy has to go somewhere, and so in a trillion years of linear time, most likely we'll all be back doing exactly the same thing when the universe simply recreates itself, following roughly the same pattern.

Sure, we might be giant flagella-wielding manta rays or something as random circumstances effect minute changes in progress... but I'm pretty sure the universe, even destroyed, will sort itself out without us. I mean, we're just recombinant DNA packages swimming in a soft atmosphere passing data back and forth to one another, when you get down to it. Sort of just little self-running programs collecting and analyzing data and passing it on through DNA or sensory-based transfer (for now). In the grand scope of things, we're a blip in the infinite and not even a picamoment in the cosmic timeline, so...

Yeah. I'm not too worried.

The LHC is part of Machine: Earth, of the Solar System. If the systems running on Machine: Earth bluescreen, well, the universe will figure its way out somehow beyond our miniscule comprehension. There is cosmic-level systems support, I assure you.

And for all we know, this is but a reboot in which we've already been here countless times, and this is the one time we've gotten it right, so when they fire up the LHC, this time its smooth sailing.

You gotta think positive about these things.

Anyhoo, here's Yakko Warner putting things into perspective (and song):

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Astronaut Traverses Continent on Bike

Cousin Jim (he of the Rocket Racing League) has written to inform me of his pal, Astronaut John B. Herrington, who is about to begin a 4000 mile bike ride to promote kid's interest in math and science.

Herrington is also a member of Jim's RRL squad.

Even as I write that sentence, it makes me feel like such an underachieving loser.

Okay, on with the post.

Starting wednesday, Herrington will be riding from Cape Flattery, Washington to Cape Canaveral, Florida. Again, he's doing this on a bike. In the summer. 4000 miles.

So what are you doing with your summer?

This is why astronauts are astronauts and I am not.

Anyway, The League will be following Herrington on his trek via the interwebs. And you can, too, at his site: Rocketrek. if you have a chance, link over to the site from your own blog and help our Astronaut Herrington in his mission.

His mission for SCIENCE!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Sci-Fi getting dumber thanks to super-heroes?

Randy sent me this link. It's worth reading. (editor's note: the link is now fixed. Don't try to watch daytime TV and blog, Leaguers.)

I wouldn't necessarily disagree with one of the author's points, which is: super-hero movies are full of bad science. A rocket-powered dynamo like Iron Man seems unlikely without some yet-untapped energy source. And where would you keep that fusion reactor in the suit, anyway? How does the Hulk grow with no means for gaining mass? Or Isn't Halle Berry's wardrobe in Catwoman a little improbable?

However, I disagree with a few of his points, or at least his accusations.

I think what he's trying to say is that: Science Fiction was once much smarter than what we get today.

I would not disagree with the merits of Blade Runner being a bit higher than what we're likely to get from Iron Man, as per moral complexity, well-fleshed-out-narrative, etc... But the author has selective perception regarding science fiction, and is ignoring the B-Movie tradition of sci-fi. For every plausible sci-fi movie (the author points to 2001: A Space Odyssey and Terminator, both of which this reader finds to be dubious choices), there were ten "Battle Beyond the Stars" or "Laser Blast".

It seems, really, as if the author is also suggesting that Blade Runner didn't have to share the market with Krull, Beast Master, and a lot of other stuff that wasn't exactly dealing with the steps of the scientific method.

Most of the characters coming to screen are not products of recent scientific development. Iron Man, Spider-Man and the Hulk made their debuts around 1963. Catching a low-budget sci-fi epic was a cheap thrill for a Saturday afternoon, and, of course, this predates most serious cinematic sci-fi by a few years. 2001 would debut a few years after Spidey, and about 30 years after Superman, for example.

He also suggests that comic book movies will somehow keep our kids from dreaming, our science from science-ing. Somehow equating Spider-Man with a lack of American students enrolled in science curricula.

From an historical standpoint, sci-fi comics were the black sheep in the sci-fi family, but there was a direct connection between the guys who were publishing "Amazing Stories" and other science-fiction publications. In fact, DC editor Mort Weisinger had worked for similar publications before coming to National. And Julie Schwartz would be the one who would insist on at least pseudo-scientific explanations for his heroes beyond "mysterious energies", bringing in the Silver-age of science-based heroes. Read more at Men of Tomorrow.

Often the earliest super-heroes, often referred to as "The Golden Age" heroes (circa 1938-1955) reflected the wisdom of the time. Hourman could gain his amazing strength from a pill (with no thought given toa ddiction, etc... but much to the power of modern chemistry). Starman was powered by the strength of his "gravity rod".

However, one of the markers of comics' move from the Golden-Age to the Silver-Age was the post WW-II interest in science and industry which fueled the country. The first Silver-Age sci-fi hero, Barry Allen as The Flash, is a walking textbook of physics issues. I recommend checking out the Showcase Presents: The Flash, which is terribly pseudo-sciency, but does try to make leaps from the textbook to the imagination, in a "look, kids... science is fun and cool!" sort of way (even when it makes no sense, whatsoever).

Further re-imaginings of characters, such as The Atom, explored the possibilities of the textbook as applied to super-hero feats of wackiness.

By 1962ish, when the FF was strapping themselves into an experimental rocket in order to beat The Commies into space, Stan and Jack were mostly concerned with drumming up new ideas to save Timely/ Marvel comics. As mentioned above, the science of the concepts wasn't necessarily rock solid. One was less likely to gain powers from an irradiated spider than one was to, say, get pretty sick. And if genetic traits were passed, Peter Parker did pretty well by not growing extra arms or having weird bug-eyes.

But that wasn't ever really the point of Marvel comics. Marvel was far more invested in the development of the characters behind the powers than in merely showcasing super-feats and displays of the mights of science. Pretty clearly, Stan and Jack were taking a page from the absurd science of movie serials and Saturday matinees. But characters such as The Hulk took also from both Doctor Jekyll & Mister Hyde with a strong shot of Frankenstein.

The point that this guy really misses, I think, is two fold:

1) The 20th century was when science came into the home of the average person. Myth and magic had to give way to the powers of the atom. Interesting ideas for a super-hero possessing the powers of the spider could be attributed to either magic or science. In 1963, science was going to win out, no matter how nonsensical the explanation.

2) Science fiction has long pre-saged actual invention. Laser beams, which are used every day in countless applications, first appeared in a science fiction story. And just because you don't see the path for Tony Stark's incredibly small, incredibly powerful power source, or how repulsors work today, doesn't mean that you won't see it in five years.

How many scientists, engineers, etc... first dreamed of becoming the next Ray Palmer, Reed Richards, Tony Stark? How many kids will look to exoskeletons and the possibilities?

We now live, eat and breath science. To suggest that we aren't surrounded by high-tech developers of cyber-space is bizarre. To lay the blame for a lack of developing science academia at the feet of Tony Stark is crazy when there are so many other factors out there from anti-intellectualism and the now popular attacks on science from politicians and folks looking for camera-time, Spidey isn't really your issue. Especially for those who really know Spidey know that his web-shooters weren't just genetic mutation, but are his own invention.

If anything, this article is somewhat depressing in that the author is suggesting that rather than dream of HOW the feats of Tony Stark or Spider-Man can be achieved, those dreams are too big and should be considered impossible. In a world where we went from a small engine propelling the Wright Bros. through the sky to landing on the moon (and coming back!) within a few decades, how can anything we see Batman, iron Man or any other super-hero doing be considered impossible? Perhaps today's suit of armor has no stabilization control, but tomorrow's might look and behave differently. Its not about the outward package, its about the problem you need to solve to get the basic concept to work.

I'm not writing off the science of super-heroes. I may know that a yellow sun will never make me defy gravity, and bullets will never bounce off my skin, but that doesn't mean we, all of us, can't imagine how that could happen.

Anyhoo, that's my two cents.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Arden loves a good narwhal

If you're planning on watching some good TV in, oh, 2030 or so, I suggest you prepare yourself for the future endeavors of young Dr. Arden Hermann-Wilmarth.

Arden, you see, is a fan of all things sciency. And especially things which live below the waves.

So, yeah... I think you can expect our apple-cheeked science-nut here to soon be the next Jacque Cousteau. Look forward to his sea-faring adventures, just as soon as he finishes grad school.

This shirt is, by the way, made by Jill's mom. Which is pretty cool. Way to go, Hope!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

NASA assists in development of SkyNet

Why not just paint a big, red target on humanity and put a countdown clock on every desktop?


Of course, as I often say, I welcome our coming robot masters.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Science: Finally Doing Something Useful

It seems science has now given us glow-in-the-dark cats.


Honestly, as often as I trip over Jeff at night on my way to bed, which is, like, twice a week... I think this is exactly the sort of things science needs to be working on.

Thanks to Jamie for the link

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Man to Ape

In the wee hours of Saturday's festivities, I made a passing remark that my high school hadn't done much to teach evolution and that my knowledge of the process came from college. What was intended to be a remark upon the value of higher education was, unfortunately, taken as an indictment of public education, especially an education from a school with local political considerations which may have played more than a small part in the discussion.

a school where I might have actually paid attention. Or paid for it with my life.

It's worth noting that I had only a passing interest in the sciences until my senior year of high school. It may be worth noting that I had mostly only a passing interest in high school. I was far more interested in skating through courses like biology than killing myself for an A+. I was too busy reading comics, worrying about art class and English, playing basketball, trying out for plays, trying to start a lacrosse team and trying to go to shows to care much one way or another about what sort of education I was getting in high school biology. At the time, I assumed most public high schools taught basically the same things, and didn't really know what I didn't know... so it didn't seem at all like a big deal.

A fairly normal track at Westwood, the first high-school I'd attended, was to take a basic intro to science course as a Freshman, biology as a sophomore, chemistry as a junior and physics as a senior. Tucked in there were other science offerings such as anatomy, bio 2 (which KOHS also offered), and a few other options.

So it was that when I moved from Austin to Spring between my Freshman and Sophomore years I was lumped into the honors science track and took biology with a herd of freshmen. That year Jeff Wilser and I dissected worms, frogs, squid, a fetal pig and I spent most of the year wondering how what I learned from The Swamp Thing and X-Men applied to what I was learning in class. And I frequently asked questions about the Swamp Thing and the likelihood of humanity ever shooting beams from their eyes.

Apparently, not going to happen.

I received few answers which I found satisfactory as to how a plant could take on the consciousness of a biologist as he lay dying in a swamp, but my instructor was patient and I felt like I had a pretty good feeling as to the difference between the innards of a pig and a worm by the end of the year. That, really, had been our focus, after all. Anatomy, eco-systems, and how far we could push our teacher without getting bounced out of class seemed to be more than enough to fill a year.

We had, in the spring, covered Mendel Squares and there had been mention of evolution as a part of our year. I believe terms like "natural selection" had been bandied about, and looking at if you could curl your tongue or which direction a hair swirl would go as an inherited trait. But, really, that was about it as far as I can recall.

I had a subscription to National Geographic, read comics about mutants (which had about the exact grasp on science as one would expect of a comic where a man can cover himself in ice and not die of hypothermia), owned a set of Encyclopedias, watched Nova on occasion and National Geographic Explorer, so I knew of Darwin. I had heard of the Beagle, knew that mutations occurred between generations, and that was the basic mechanism for the present state of the world's biodiversity, in the snap-shot view of the modern human (with an historical record).

What was not covered, as I can recall, was much about Darwin himself, nor was Darwinism heavily emphasized in our lessons. The focus, in retrospect, was more upon genetic traits and inheritance than on the advantage of a larger beak to eat a different sort of nut. Whether Darwinism was deemed beyond the scope of a basic biology class, I don't know. Or whether a political decision had been made by our creaky school board and Superintendent (who was, I think, 147 at the time), I have no clue.

But I have my suspicions.

In college I was more interested in geology than I was biology, but as these things tend to do, some of my courses began to intersect. Age of the Dinosaurs was, for some odd reason, placed under geology. I was hoping for a course that would teach me about gigantic pre-historic eating machines, and that was absolutely part of the curriculum. These teachers were no fools. But it was also about the progression of life and the minute changes of anatomy that work as an advantage in a dino-eat-dino world. Further, with a fairly clear way to read the fossil record through radioactive decay and soil layering, the picture was logical and clear.

I also took UT's Bio-for-Dummies, or biology for those of us not planning a career in a lab coat or herding lab rats. Here, the angle of biology was inverted from the broad-based/ Marlin Perkins world of Biology I'd poured over in high school. It was DNA and RNA sequences, bio-diversity on a microcosmic scale, spreading outward through non-random splitting and re-splitting, and the cause of mutation becoming abundantly, pointedly clear. Moreover, our instructor was a retired UT prof who had grown bored and returned as an adjunct. He was passionate about the topics he taught in a way I think must have come out of having that year or two of retirement to live in his own head, with no pressing publishing dates to worry about, and deciding that he'd spend the years that were supposed to be for him making sure 18-22 year olds knew how the hell a cell replicated itself and what that meant for each and every one of us.

Also, he intoned, beware of pseudo-science. Beware of the folks coming at you with an agenda that goes beyond mitochondria and gene sequencing. Heed the tenets of the scientific method, and understand the difference between hypothesis, theory and fact.

For a student, who wasn't much of a student, but who was looking for tools with which to observe and understand the world around him, the course had a tremendous impact.

In my final semesters at UT, I was able to take Physical Anthroplogy, and, again, as these courses tend to do when you've landed in your fifth year of undergraduate education, just as one sees patterns in history course after history course, and learns to make those connections that come with a more detailed approach to education than the "drink from the firehose" of the first year or so, there it was again. My own body was being detailed in its change from large-mandibled anthromorphs to protein hungry tool users. DNA and RNA sequences slowly, gradually changing.

And the knowledge that it wasn't so much that one species was some high-evolutionary (after all, leave you alone with a hungry puma and see who wins in that scenario), but that its been an advantage to be able to build wheels and spears. And the slow, gradual change over millenia was a beautiful thing, in its way.

I don't take what I learned in college for granted. Or I try not to. I was not a great student, and I doubt most of my instructors would remember me (while I suspect my high school biology instructor would probably remember me for reasons other than my raw genius).

Like a lot of folks, I don't see evolution as a matter of belief, unless you want to reduce trust in academia to some form of faith. Instead, it is a matter of observation and understanding. Part of that understanding is that, while the data is massive, should reliable data begin to move science in another direction, understanding why and how observations have produced a new hypothesis or theory.

Biologists, anatomists and scientists do not have answers to every question or unexplained phenomena in the pattern of evolution, nor do they claim to. When new and contrary evidence shows up, it's not a challenge to destroy the whole image, but an opportunity to re-evaluate what the scientific community believes it knows.

For me, while I've never been a lab-coat kind of guy, it's been a method I understand and can appreciate. It's given way to understanding how science can move forward, and in its simplicity, its something us non-scientists can embrace as a method for our own observations.

I'm not sure what the point was to this post, other than a nostalgic trip down academic memory lane. I've often regretted my own lack of more rigid academic pursuits in the sciences, though I suspect my near inability to deal with any math beyond trigonometry would have probably been a bit of an issue.

The world is a lovely place, and viewing it through the lens of what few scraps of information I was able to pick up in school only makes it all the more of an amazing universe in which we dwell.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Monkey's Inhumanity to Monkey

Every once in a while, you come across a bit of media that so accurately reflects your view of the world, it's a bit startling. The media resonates so much that it seems as if you, yourself, were responsible for the media, were you more energized to write lengthy blog posts NOT praising Superman.

Thanks to Randy, I've come across just that sort of thing. And, of course, the media I refer to is an article in the online version of the semi-defunct humor magazine, "Cracked". Such is my fate.

The article is based upon research published in the 90's surrounding "Dunbar's Number", and, I guess, the research is pretty well assimilated into primate anthropology (which means that research into good 'ol human anthropology is applied).

The story in "Cracked" describes how our brains are really only capable of caring about 150 people or so at any given time. Through some evolutionary survival instinct, or perhaps because of the limited capacity of our noodle, we seem to be hard wired to find emotional connection to only a limited number of people. This wiring, coupled with how homo sapien has set up societies across the globe is probably responsible for many of our ills as a species.

Fairly serious stuff for Cracked, I'd say, but, of course, its written in the current, abso-ludicrous Cracked fashion, and so it's a highly digestible read.

Anyway, check out the article. It's worth a read.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Hey, Leaguers. Sorry about the sad lack of posting. I've just had some busy days, and then, when I wasn't busy last night, I chose to roll over and go to sleep. I suggest you all write my bosses and tell them I'm entirely too busy and its preventing me from blogging, thus, denying the entire world a vital resource.

Minnesota Bridge Collapse

I keep turning the Minnesota bridge collapse over in my head. Of course thoughts and sympathy go out to those folks.

Part of what I find so depressing is that we know these things can happen and we still turn a blind eye. You hope as a kid that adults will make the right, obvious decisions, but...

If its not in the budget to fix the bridge, then we can't fix the bridge. Anyone who reads the paper might know that a vast number of bridges in our country are not considered safe, but there's an economic incentive not to touch the bridges as it would stop the daily commutes of millions of Americans if we were to actually bring those bridges up to code. That, and raising taxes to actually fix the bridges...

I cross an unknown number of bridges into work. I take at least one bridge over train tracks on William Cannon and, of course, I cross the South 1st bridge when I head over Town Lake on my way in to town each morning. For various reasons I took the Congress Avenue bridge leaving town this evening, but generally, it's the expansive S. 1st/ Lavaca bridge two times a day.

I may also pass over smaller bridges as I cross gullies and creeks on S. First, headed toward town. Certainly there's a dip that, when I think about it, certainly isn't flat with the ground, so that's most likely a small bridge.

Jason crosses the Lamar Street bridge twice a day or more.

I do not think about the possibility of the bridges collapsing. Never. Until
today, when suddenly you realize all those "1/3rd of bridges are considered unsafe" statistics apply to you. I am deeply saddened that the bridge collapse occurred. I think we can all see a bit of ourselves in the position of the commuters.

I wish the victims and families of the victims of the bridge collapse my best.


Hey, it's not just time for a new season of "Who Wants to be a Superhero?", there's a new show on PBS. So, may The League recommend...

Nova ScienceNow

I know, Nova is a show for geeks. BUT... it is informative and very well produced. This new version is hosted by the astrophysicist guy who makes routine appearances on The Daily Show, Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Nova ScienceNow is broken up into shorter, roughly 20 minute segments, far briefer than the usual hour-long Nova shows. Each segment focues on a wildly different topic, with Dr. Tyson popping up between segments and then give you "the cosmic view" at the end. Sort of like "Springer's Final Thought", only... not a rambling bit of incoherence.

One of my life's great regrets was that because I struggled with math in grade school and middle school, I sort of gave up on math and the possibilities for a career in anything which required a strong math or science background. Other topics came more easily, or I could skate by. So, before I ever really understood anything about math or science I was vainly deciding that I'd prusue something a bit more abstract or artistic or something. I had good teachers, I think. I loved Physics and Biology in high school, and I took a boatload of Geology in college, as well as biology, anthropology and other stuff (knowing full well I'd be doomed in physics.) I sort of thought of science, at the time, as something completely out of my grasp. Which was kind of sad and dumb of me. But if it came down to getting low marks in a class or getting the easy A in theater arts, I was going for the easy A.

Nova ScienceNow manages to simplify things so that a brain as ill-functioning as my own can understand the concepts. They're going for the coolness factor and skimming over some of how stuff actually works, certainly, but... Hell, you get to see some really neat stuff and understand how science can make a better world. Plus, you know, robots and dinosaurs.

I was particularly interested in a story on the work of Cynthia Brazeal at the MIT AI labs. She's making social robots that are learning to react to human emotions at a certain level. It was one of those moments when you see a small part of the future, and all those Asimov stories don't seem so crazy. And, for some reason, when they showed the POV of the robot, I was profoundly sad. I don't know why. I guess the idea of the little robot's brain being brought into the world and trying to see and understand the world is that first step beyond being merely a machine. It's sort of a beautiful thing, seeing those silicon neural synapses firing, and wish fulfillment of generations of kids. But you can also almost see the thing struggling.

Sure, in fifty years when the robots have driven us all onto the coasts and we've got our backs to the water while the AI gunships are hunting us down, its not going to be pathetic and heartbreaking... But now... Well, let us hope we are kind to the things we bring into this world.

Anyhow, check out Nova ScienceNow. For us armchair science enthusiasts who are still bstunned by shiny objects and promises of a future full of flying cars and cloned dinosaurs, its a great show.

Christmas is coming...

I'm just saying...

Also just saying...

More Prison dancing action!
From Randy. And this time... QUEEN!!!

Astros Win in the 14th!
Of course I wandred off in the 11th thinking they'd lose...

I Am Popeye