I received my MA in philosophy of science many years ago and currently reviving my academic interests. I hope to stimulate individuals in the realms of science, philosophy and the arts...to provide as much free information as possible.
"Fifty minerals that changed the course of history"
December 6th, 2013
When I first picked up this book, I expected it just to be about gemstones and pretty rocks. However, as the blurb suggests, Fifty minerals that changed the course of history uses the term ‘mineral’ in its loosest sense and includes a huge range of man-made as well as natural materials. While it does have those entries about quartz, diamond, jade and coral, it also includes ‘materials’ such as petroleum and asphalt, as well as a variety of metals, including gold, mercury, uranium and steel.
This isn’t a book about the chemistry of these minerals (although it does go as far as including their chemical formulae), but that doesn’t make it any less interesting. There is a separate entry for each material, and they are all listed alphabetically (by Latin or Greek name).
Each of the 50 selections describes the history of the material and its impact on civilisation, as well as including a variety of interesting anecdotes.
The book is well written, in a style that is easy to read and understand, and the entries range from two to eight pages in length, which makes it easy to dip in and out. It is beautifully illustrated with photographs, pictures and diagrams, and some of the additional snippets of information are included in separate boxes, which adds variety to the layout of the pages.
Fifty minerals that changed the course of history is a thoroughly enjoyable book that will be appreciated by a variety of audiences.
Fifty Minerals that Changed the Course of History
ISBN-10: 1845435079 ISBN-13: 978-1845435073
From Booklist... Chaline offers yet another lens through which to view human history. This reference compiles 50 essays focusing on the influence of minerals on the progression of civilization. Topics are well considered, including both the expected and unexpected, covered varying degrees of detail. The entries characterize the minerals by their type, place of origin, and chemical formula. Importance is weighed according to four categories: commercial, cultural, industrial, and scientific. Numerous images, captions, and sidebars augment the author’s discussion of each subject. This serves to enhance the overall interdisciplinary nature of this text. For example, the entry for petroleum considers the early use of the substance equally as important as its current uses. It also recognizes the harmful ecological impact that it has had over the course of history. Information on other, lesser-known minerals, such as natron and kaolin, offers the reader an opportunity to delve further into each mineral’s historical significance in an accessible way. Minerals are organized according to scientific nomenclature, detracting from the ease of use as a quick reference. The order of entries, alphabetized according to their formal name, forces the reader of the full text to jump between disparate eras and cultures. Had Chaline organized these topics chronologically, the full text may have flowed more fluidly. However, simply organizing alphabetically by common name may also have enhanced the ability of the reader to access desired information more quickly. A short bibliography and listing of helpful websites is offered at the end of the monograph. As this is intended to be a brief guide, and not a specialist-level scientific reference, it may not be useful in higher education or for professional use. However, as an interesting, affordable, and readable guide, this work is recommended for most school and public libraries. --Becca Smith.
He also wrote...
Fifty Animals that Changed the Course of History
ISBN-10: 1554078970 ISBN-13: 978-1554078974
Humans are the most successful species of mammal to ever walk the earth, according to author Chaline. We have needed help to claim and shape the planet, and we may still be beaten by what we consider to be lower forms of life. In 49 informative essays, the author profiles mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, insects, and other species that have assisted or resisted the human takeover. Most, such as horses, honeybees, and silkworms, have contributed to our geographic spread and technological advancement. Rats, lice, and mosquitoes have nearly wiped us out. The fiftieth essay is about us and how we may be our own worst enemy. Each two- to six-page essay recounts an animal’s relationship with humans and highlights “edible,” “medicinal,” “commercial,” and “practical” contributions to human history. Readers may choose to read only the essays that interest them. Natural-history students will find the essays helpful introductions to further study. A website guide is included. Recommended for most public libraries. --Rick Roche.
Fifty Machines that Changed the Course of History
ISBN-10: 1770850902 ISBN-13: 978-1770850903
This volume showcases machines such as the Jacquard loom, which automated the silk-weaving industry; the Hoover Suction Sweeper, which was the first upright electric vacuum; and the Hayes SmartModem, the first fully automated modem. The 50 entries are arranged in chronological order and range from two to six pages long. Entries are pleasing to the eye with photographs, illustrations, time lines, and quotes separate from the text. The tone of the text is readable and conversational, placing each machine and its creator within a historical context. The volume concludes with lists of books for further reading and useful websites and an index. Recommended for school and public libraries. --Blaise Dierks.
"The Science Guy Wants Money For Space Exploration"
The Planetary Science Program is facing steep budget cuts in 2014
December 6th, 2013
In a video appeal to President Barack Obama released Thursday through The Planetary Society, Nye decries the steep budget cuts that may be in store for NASA in general, and the Planetary Science Program in particular. Nye’s impassioned plea describes the potential scientific discoveries have to change the course of human history.
“The space program, NASA, is the best brand the United States has,” Nye says. “Right now what NASA does best is explore the solar system through the Planetary Science Program.”
The White House’s proposed budget for 2014 includes millions of dollars in cuts to the NASA budget, but the Planetary Science Program gets a particularly close shave, its budget trimmed from $1.5 billion to $1.2 billion. The Science Guy is not pleased — Nye calls for the Planetary Science Program budget to be held steady at $1.5 billion.
Bill Nye's Open Letter to President Barack Obama...
"Everything you need to know: Geminid meteor shower"
December 5th, 2013
The 2013 Geminid meteor shower is expected to peak on the night of December 13-14, though the night before (December 12-13) should offer a decent sprinkling of meteors as well. The sky attraction starts at mid-to-late evening and ends at dawn. The meteors tend to be few and far between at early evening, but intensify in number as evening deepens into late night. No matter where you live worldwide, look for these meteors to fall most abundantly in the wee hours after midnight, centered on 2 a.m. local time.
Although the Geminid shower favors the Northern Hemisphere, it’s visible from the Southern Hemisphere as well. The Geminids start streaking the sky by mid-evening in the Northern Hemisphere, but people at temperate latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere may have to wait until late evening, or close to midnight, to see the beginning of the Geminid shower. Follow the links below to learn more about the Geminid meteor shower in 2013.
Moonlight a major factor in Geminid shower in 2013. The December Geminids are a particularly reliable and prolific shower, one of the finest of the year. In a year when moonlight doesn’t obscure the viewing, you can easily see 50 or more meteors per hour on the peak night of the Geminid shower. However, the bright waxing gibbous moon in 2013 is sure to dampen this year’s display.
But don’t let the moonlight discourage you. A good percentage of these yellow-colored Geminid meteors are quite bright, and may well overcome the moonlit skies.
Of course, you can always work around the moon. The moon will set before dawn on December 13 and 14, creating a window of darkness for watching the Geminid shower between moonset and dawn. Keep in mind that the moon will set about an hour earlier on December 13 than it will on December 14. Click here for custom sunrise/set calendar. Check boxes for moonrise/set times..
Before the moon sets, however, the moon will be sitting low in the west. If possible, find a hedgerow of trees, a barn or some such thing to block out the moon. Sit in a moon shadow but at the same time, find an expansive view of sky. Or simply look away from the moon. The key to watching meteors is to find an open sky, away from pesky artificial lights. Lie down in comfort, perhaps snuggled up in a warm sleeping bag, and look upward.
Why are these meteors called the Geminids? If you trace the paths of the Geminid meteors backward, they all seem to radiate from the constellation Gemini, hence the reason for the meteor shower’s name.
In fact, the radiant point of this meteor shower nearly coincides with the bright star Castor. However, the radiant point and the star Castor just happen to be a chance alignment, as Castor lies about 52 light-years away while these meteors burn up in the upper atmosphere, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) above the Earth’s surface.
You don’t need to find the constellation Gemini to watch the Geminid meteor shower. These medium-speed meteors streak the nighttime in many different directions and in front of numerous age-old constellations. It’s even possible to see a Geminid meteor when looking directly away from the shower’s radiant point. However, if you trace the path of any Geminid meteor backward, it’ll lead you back to the constellation Gemini the Twins.
How to find Gemini, the radiant point of the Geminid shower. It’ll be especially easy to find this constellation in December 2013, should you want to see it. That’s because the dazzling planet Jupiter, the fourth brightest celestial body in all the heavens, beams right in front of Gemini.
Jupiter and the constellation Gemini climb into the east-northeast sky by early-to-mid-evening in December 2013.
Have you been watching the blazing planet Venus, the sky’s brightest planet, in the southwest sky after sunset? If so, let Venus give you some idea as to when Jupiter and the constellation Gemini will enter into the starry sky. As Venus sets in the southeast at evening, look for Jupiter and the Gemini stars, Castor and Pollux, to rise over the horizon in the opposite direction. Click here for recommended sky almanacs. They can help you find when Venus sets and Jupiter rises into your sky.
An earthgrazer meteor possible at early evening. You won’t see many Geminid meteors when Jupiter and the constellation Gemini first enter the evening sky, and loom close to the eastern horizon. Even so, the early evening hours present an opportune time to try to catch an earthgrazer meteor.
Earthgrazers are rarely seen but prove to be especially memorable, if you should be lucky enough to catch one. An earthgrazer is a slow-moving, long-lasting meteor that travels horizontally across the sky. As the constellation Gemini, the radiant point of the Geminid meteors, climbs upward throughout the evening hours, the meteors will cross the sky less horizontally and will rain down from a point that’s higher in the sky.
Once Jupiter and Gemini make their appearance, they’ll be out for rest of the night. Jupiter and the Gemini stars Castor and Pollux reach their highest point for the night around 2 a.m. local time. As a general rule, the higher the constellation Gemini climbs into your sky, the more Geminid meteors that you’re likely to see.
What causes the Geminid meteor shower? Every year, in December, our planet Earth crosses the orbital path of asteroid 3200 Phaethon, a mysterious body that is sometimes referred to as a rock comet.
In periods of 1.43 years, this small 5-kilometer (3-mile) wide asteroid-type object swings extremely close to the sun (to within one-third of Mercury’s distance), at which juncture intense thermal fracturing causes this rocky body to crack and crumble, and to shed rubble into its orbital stream. Annually, at this time of year, the debris from 3200 Phaethon crashes into Earth’s upper atmosphere at some 130,000 kilometers (80,000 miles) per hour, to vaporize as colorful Geminid meteors.
How to watch the Geminid meteors. Why not give the Geminid meteor shower a try? You need no special equipment – just an open view of sky away from pesky artificial lights. Sprawl back in a hammock or a pile of hay, and look upward to witness one of the finest sky attractions of the year: the Geminid meteor shower!
Be sure to give yourself at least an hour of observing time. It takes about 20 minutes for your eyes to adapt to the dark, and moreover, meteors often come in spurts which are interspersed by lulls.
Bottom line: Despite the drenching moonlight in 2013, the reliable Geminid shower is sure to add to the holiday lighting on the nights of December 12-13 and 13-14! This post contains information about the shower’s radiant point, and tips on when and how to watch December’s Geminid meteor shower.
"MIT Researchers Say They Have Created The Trickiest Tongue Twister To Date"
Try and say “pad kid poured curd pulled cod” 10 times fast.
December 5th, 2013
The old saying “Sally sold seashells by the seashore” has nothing on a tongue twister created by researchers at MIT. The verbal puzzle, “pad kid poured curd pulled cod,” tripped up test subjects who tried to spit out so much, that psychologists believe it could be the toughest one there is to date.
“If anyone can say this [phrase] ten times quickly, they get a prize,” said Stefanie Shattuck-Hufnagel, a psychologist from MIT who specializes in speech errors as a way of understanding normal brain functions, and one of the creators of the mouth-boggling phrase.
On Thursday Shattuck-Hufnagel is presenting her research about the comparison of two types of tongue twisters, including the difficult phrase, at the Acoustical Society of America in San Francisco. The presentation will be based on research conducted with a team from MIT, where scientists recorded the misspoken sounds for terms like “top cop,” and “toy boat,” to see what errors people produced.
The researchers recorded volunteers saying combinations of alternating words that fell into two categories: simple lists of words, such as the “top cop” example, and full-sentence versions of the same sounds with an inversion, such as “the top cop saw a cop top,” according to a statement about the research. After listening to the recordings, the analysts found that there were patterns in the slip-ups when volunteers tried to annunciate certain strings of similar sounding words. Based on that, they tried to induce different types of double onsets, commonly referred to as double sound mistakes by linguists.
“When things go wrong [when speaking], that can tell you something about how the typical, error-free operation should go,” Shattuck-Hufnagel said.
When they created the combination of words in the phrase “pad kid poured curd pulled cod,” it was so difficult, that participants either couldn’t repeat it, or simply stopped trying altogether.
Because errors occurred for both categories they tested, researchers believe there could be an underlying connection between how the brain takes in the information, and then spits it out of a person’s mouth. “You can get both kinds of errors in both kinds of planning,” she said.
Shattuck-Hufnagel’s presentation will be based on research with MIT scientists, and colleagues from Wellesley University, Haskins Laboratories, and Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich. The discussion will look at findings from a paper titled, “A comparison of speech errors elicited by sentences and alternating repetitive tongue twisters.”
They are already working on the next phase of their research, which includes putting tiny transducers on peoples’ tongues in order to measure their articulation.
"Drool-Worthy $99 Kit Lets Kids Build Their Own Computers"
December 3rd, 2013
Teaching children the basics of computer science isn’t as simple as teaching them to tie their shoes. How often do you see a parent sitting down with their kids, walking them through a line of code or pointing out the components of a motherboard? Probably never. Because kids think it’s boring. And parents think it’s hard. Today, children grow up surrounded by shiny objects that look and act like magic. There are screens that respond to touch and computers that can do just about anything a five-year-old can dream up. But even though kids have been immersed in technology since birth, it’s rare for them to actually know how it works.
A new kit called Kano is hoping to change that. Released last week on Kickstarter, the Raspberry Pi kit merges basic computer science concepts with gorgeous, functional design, turning just about anyone into a computer maker. Each kit, created by London startup Kano, is comprised of bits and pieces that are constructed to build a functioning computer that can be hooked up to a monitor. On the Kano OS, kids can reprogram Pong and Minecraft, compose music, learn to code and even just word-process—all through a computer they built themselves.
The idea bloomed around a year ago when co-founders Alex Klein, Yonatan Raz-Fridman and Saul Klein began talking to Alex’s 7-year-old cousin. The men wanted to know if it was possible to make a computer kit that would be fun enough to hold kids’ attention, but smart enough to actually teach them something. The kid cousin had some feedback: First, the kit had to be as fun as Legos. And second, there could be no lecturing; he wanted to be able to figure it out on his own. In other words, the Kano kit needed to feel like a toy but act like a teacher.
The founders knew a few things for sure: The instructions had to be easy to follow, it needed to incorporate storytelling and it should place an emphasis on physically constructing the computer parts. Sounds easy enough, but introducing any new technology, you only have so much time to grab people’s attention. And if you’re introducing that technology to kids? It’s even less time. That’s where design came in.
Kano partnered up with London creative agency MAP to work on the industrial design and make the kit more intuitive and cohesive. By the time Kano began collaborating with MAP, they already had a fully-developed kit—it just needed to be refined.
There were small issues; the keyboard was too small for children to use, the instructions weren’t as clear as they should be and the kit’s packaging needed to better communicate what was possible with Kano. “We said to them, we think there is an amazing opportunity to use industrial design to take what you’ve done and built on that to make it a complete experience,” says Jon Marshall, a founding director of MAP who headed up the project. “We want everything to be not only simple to use but understandable; if people can decode an object by looking at it, it helps them to understand it.”
They made some important product tweaks like bulking up the keyboard’s size and implementing separate keys for right and left clicking to account for children’s still-developing motor skills. Even the color was considered: “We really wanted the keyboard to feel like a Lego brick,” Marshall explains. “The orange makes it look really inviting and appealing and not-threatening.”
Likewise, they took a total departure from the typical Raspberry Pi cases on the market and decided to place the board inside two clear c-shaped bits of plastic that connect to form a walled cradle. This allows the board to be protected while leaving the top open for kids to easily attach the color-coded cables and tinker with the guts of the computer.
The product design was key to making the kit accessible to children; but even more than that, it was a way to unite all of the separate elements of the kit into a cohesive product. Each Kano comes with a step-by-step booklet that teaches kids how to get the most of out their computer. The goal is to ensure that kids never get bored with coding and creating. So does it work? Marshall’s own 8-year-old son tested–and approved–the kit himself. “Even though he’s actually learning, he’s having fun and creating,” says Marshall. “He’s actually gotten quite addicted to it.”
"All I want for Christmas are these badass Euclidian sculptures"
Robert T. Gonzalez
December 3rd, 2013
From London-based "paper engineer" (paper engineer!) Helen Friel comes this creative collection of colorful folding geometric designs. The name of the collection? "Here's looking at Euclid." GEOMETRY PUNS! We must have these.
The paper sculpture collection takes its inspiration (and color scheme) from mathematician Oliver Byrne's The Elements of Euclid, a book' whose subtitle reads:"In which coloured diagrams and symbols are used instead of letters for the greater ease of learners."
Friedel explains why she drew on Byrne's Elements in a recent interview with ROCKPAPERINK:
The books were published in 1847 but the colors and clean lines could be from today. Byrne also simplified Euclid's proofs by using color instead of letters and numbers. It's a more visual and intriguing way to describe the geometry. I love anything that simplifies. I find it very appealing!
The colors came directly from Byrne's illustrations. The primary colors are really lovely, bright and very reminiscent of Mondrian. Byrne was definitely ahead of his time [Ed. Note: It's true; Byrne's illustrations are absolutely beautiful, and unmistakably modern]. He was a bit of an eccentric.
Below are a few examples of Friedel's sculptures juxtaposed with their 19th Century counterparts. As far as I can tell, the actual templates for these structures are not available for purchase (the process behind their creation actually looks rather involved); their likeness, however, is available in the form of some pretty snazzy business cards..., which you can pick up here .
Annus mirabilis-1905 March is a time of transition winter and spring commence their struggle between moments of ice and mud a robin appears heralding the inevitable life stumbling from its slumber it was in such a period of change in 1905 that the House of Physics would see its Newtonian axioms of an ordered universe collapse into a new frontier where the divisions of time and space matter and energy were to blend as rain and wind in a storm that broke loose within the mind of Albert Einstein where Brownian motion danced seen and unseen, a random walk that became his papers marching through science reshaping the very fabric of the universe we have come to know we all share a common ancestor a star long lost in the eons of memory and yet in that commonality nature demands a permutation a perchance genetic roll of the dice which births a new vision lifting us temporarily from the mystery exposing some of the roots to our existence only to raise a plethora of more questions as did the papers of Einstein in 1905