At least we know if the laws of physics were to suddenly change one day, we'd notice, because of the innumerable high school and college science classes replicating basic experiments every day.
I have been doing SCIENCE! The sciencey kind of science! The kind that you see on PBS documentaries. I have been out to the Gulf Stream on a dedicated research ship, hauled up parts of the ocean floor, been seasick, thrown equipment that cost more than my car overboard, thrown fishies back to the sea, watched dolphins surfing in the bow waves beneath my feet, seen the ISS go overhead, seen the ocean turn a brilliant blue, watched a Navy weather platform colonized by seagulls, and walked through the churning engine guts of the ship.

This was all two weeks ago, and was awesome. I need to set up a flickr account, or find my old one, or something, to get them somewhere besides Facebook where the school people can see them.
I... There's really no words for how awesome this is, you need to see it for yourself. Pacific Star I & II.

They built a weather balloon and attached digital cameras to it, that flew up into the edge of space, and took pictures that show the curve of the Earth. No, not NASA, this was done by three dudes from California.

Let me repeat that. These guys, in their backyard, sent cameras up to the EDGE OF SPACE, and got back pictures. From the edge of space. With digital cameras from eBay, styrofoam, duct tape, and chemical hand warmers.

(Shamelessly stolen from Afterlife Blues' daily link. Because, DUDE.)
These autonomous flight tricks are awesome. Almost unreal to watch. Luckily these things are so little I don't think they could carry any weapons, so we're safe from the robot dragonfly revolution... FOR NOW.
The Turing Test (Wikipedia) is an attempt to figure out if a computer is actually thinking, by seeing if someone on the other end of a terminal (or some other interface) can tell if they're dealing with a human or a computer. But Neuroscience keeps finding more and more that the way our brains work isn't simple software, it's got to do with many many parts of the brain working together, and emotion is one of the foundations of reason and logic. So, if we create a computer that's intelligent, would the different sensory and processing methods of a computer versus a human make the computer's intelligence too alien to fool anyone that it was a human?
So I was reading one of the many many books about "The Very Bestest Secret Natural Cures Possible Really that Are Suppressed!"

Okay, so it wasn't quite as bad as those ones the felon ex-used car salesman guy sells. But it had somebody proudly proclaiming their PhD, and their chops as a nutritionist, and their general expertise. Okay, fine then. But then as I was flipping through it, I kept finding places where they talked dismissively about "things that work even though nobody's done double-blind experiments" and other general science and expertise bashing.

And I thought, instead of bitching about how science doesn't recognize your favorite thing's true miracle powers to cure gout, heart disease, athlete's foot, acne, and flatulence, why not just do the experiments yourself? Set up an experiment, give X people your miracle food, give Y people a regular diet, and see if the incidences of gout, heart disease, athlete's foot, acne, and flatulence are statistically different between the two groups. And do it more than once, with a pretty good sized value for X and Y.

But I guess it's more work and isn't as easy as trying to sell books by convincing people you have SEKRIT KNOWLEDGE that the Food/Medical/Scientific/Shoe establishment wants to keep from you. But it'd do you and humanity a lot more good.


May. 25th, 2010 12:48 am
Sylvia's Super-Awesome Maker Show is both super awesome and one of the cutest things ever.
A music video, remixed from COSMOS, History Channel's Universe, interviews with Richard Feynman, and many others. It's awesome. Really awesome.

Here's another, with Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking
"Think of it. We are blessed with technology that would be indescribable to our forefathers. We have the wherewithal, the know-it-all to feed everybody, clothe everybody, and give every human on Earth a chance. We know now what we could never have known before-that we now have the option for all humanity to "make it" successfully on this planet in this lifetime. Whether it is to be Utopia or Oblivion will b a touch-and-go relay race right up to the final moment."  — R. Buckminster Fuller

Though the quote makes me wonder about my choice of vocation, because we have all the technology we need to make all this happen. What we're lacking is the will, and the models, and the explanations, and the incentives. That's what we need to change. The systems.

Holy Crap

May. 30th, 2008 01:55 pm
Over at Making Light, there's a picture of the Mars Pheonix lander as it's descending, taken from ANOTHER SPACESHIP.

NASA has the pic brightened to show Mars and the freaking PARACHUTE LINES.

Dude. DUDE.
There's a lot of talk about how corn ethanol subsidies are "responsible" for part of the way food prices have run up lately. And there's some truth to that, and besides, corn ethanol is pretty much a boondoggle anyway. But it's hardly the end of the story, it's just an easy target, especially for politicians who're opposed to sustainability.

But you know what consumes a lot more grain than biofuels?

Growing corn and wheat and so on to feed concentrated grain to livestock which are grown for their meat. That's not touching on any of the other problems that come with modern factory farming methods, such as the waste, spread of diseases, breeding of antibiotic resistant bacteria, mad cow, and the ethical issues with the way many of the animals are raised.

Plus, if America cut back on meat by about 20%, it'd save as much CO2 as if we all drove cars that got 50+ miles to the gallon.

We have so many systems in our civilization that need complete overhauls, or just to be junked and replaced with something better.


May. 1st, 2008 12:52 am
Humans are odd.

I've never gone hunting, and not in favor of humans wiping out species. I mean, obviously. My entire career I'm working toward involves trying to rejigger science and technology to work in partnership, or at least not against, nature.

And yet, when I was involved in a discussion about the Pleistocene megafauna extinctions today, I wasn't really upset by the discussion.

For the uninitiated, by about 17,000 years ago, the large mammals on most continents had been wiped out. But only the largest, things over a hundred pounds. Cool things, like woolly mammoths, giant ground sloths, giant "birds from hell", etcetera. They were around, and then they weren't, and nothing else moved in to take over their ecological niches. Climactic change doesn't seem likely, because the extinctions were spread out over time and continents, and some survived in isolated areas after the rest were gone. And nothing else took their place.

The most likely reason the megafauna went extinct everywhere but Africa? Clever monkeys learned how to sharpen spears, and the megafauna were tasty. That's the likeliest reason. The times of the extinctions match the times when humans arrived on the continents, remains of the critters have been found with marks from weapons on the bones, and so on. So why are there elephants in Africa still? Because elephants evolved alongside us monkeys while we were learning to hunt, and so learned how to cope, while animals elsewhere just were surprised and eaten.

And for some reason, this thought makes me feel rather smug and self-satisfied. Humans probably killed off hundreds of species, because they were tasty.

But I suppose it's not so weird. Roving bands of hunter humans were in a completely different life than we're in now. And honestly? Dudes who could go up against mammoths and hellbirds with stone spears? That's hardcore. Hunting deer with a rifle's got nothing on that. What's the quote from Snow Crash? "Descended from a long line of the biggest badasses to walk the planet."

Still, intellectually, it feels weird to cheer this. But honestly? Great-great-great-great....great-grandparents, who went faced down the biggest things on the Earth with stone spears and fire, and won? They're why I'm here. And one of these days, I'll toast them for it, then get back to making sure we don't have to live like that again.
So today there was a song with part of the chorus, "someday we'll find out why the sky is blue."

Totally threw me off. Because, dude, seriously? We KNOW why the sky is blue. We've known for years. It's one of the basic facts explained in kids encyclopedias. So why's it still getting thrown around like that?
Articles and blog posts often have comment sections now. Which is a good thing, because it allows and inspires conversation, feedback, and interaction. Those in turn can make people more interested, learn things more, point out flaws, ask questions, etc.

And sometimes it reveals how completely people can miss the point. In this case? Comments I've seen on articles about global warming. One strain of argument I've seen occasionally is "Scientists are wrong sometimes, how do we know they're not now?" Which would be a fair enough question. The poster could learn about the process of science, repeatability, peer review, fake think tanks, astroturf campaigns, and lots of other stuff. Usually, they're not interested in actually finding out how scientists decide what's true, they're trying to discredit science and scientists.

But what makes some of these comments so unintentionally ironic, and reveal the poster's ignorance? I've seen a bunch saying "Yeah, but what about the ozone hole? Science said that'd kill us!" or even "What about how the Y2K bug was supposed to kill us?"

What makes those two in particular really terrible examples for the "global warming's not humans' fault and we can't do anything about it anyway and why should we bother it'd cost too much and China!" crowd?

Because both ozone depletion and the Y2K bug are examples of how reducing CO2 emissions could work. Scientists and engineers identified a problem, and showed how it could hurt us, government and industries took action on a global scale to address it, and it WORKED. Thanks to treaties and monitoring, CFCs were mostly phased out, and are rarely used any more and are fairly well contained. For Y2K, millions of man-hours were invested in checking and fixing code, old programmers were brought out of retirement because nobody else spoke FORTRAN, and after a lot of work, the fixes WORKED.

Y2K and the ozone layer are both examples of how large-scale major changes and fixes can actually work, and even work so well that people can look back and laugh at how scared we were of the problem. I don't think that's the point the "It's not our fault and it's too hard to fix anyway!" crowd quite intends to make.
Between Peak Oil, global warming, authoritarian regeimes that control most of the world's oil, and many other factors, we can't keep depending on oil (especially gas) as the fuel to run the country. So what do we replace it with? Well, we can't just replace it with one thing. There's no single fuel source that can easily replace oil. We're going to have to replace it with many things.

Ethanol probably shouldn't be one of them.

On the other hand, things like biodiesel made from waste vegetable oil are good. Gets at least one more use out of things that would otherwise be thrown away. Ideally, there should be no such thing as waste, everything should go back either as food for new manufacturing, or degrade to be food for growing more food.

More on this later.

Oh Dear

Dec. 7th, 2007 09:31 pm
[ profile] lolscience

And worse, it's currently ruled by geology nerds.

This one is great, though.


Nov. 19th, 2007 11:03 pm
I've been watching a bunch of the Discovery Channel and Science channel lately at my aunt's, and I just want to say this.

Science is fucking awesome!
Al Gore won a Nobel Peace Prize yesterday, for being "the single individual who has done the most" to alert the world to the process and threat of global warming.

Congratulations to you, Albert Gore Jr.
This probably sounds kinda stupid. But we've been doing wave experiments in physics, and doing physics homework, and there's something about doing the math and then having the experiment work out exactly right that strikes me as absurdly unlikely. It's probably silly to ask why math works to represent the universe so well, since math was a system developed to help describe the universe. And all of our modern technology depends on maths far weirder than waves in a string. But it still just somehow feels strange and wonderful to see something go from abstract equations to an actual embodiment in the universe. But there it is. And one of our greatest achievements of modern technology and user interfaces and stuff has been to make all that invisible, and make things Just Work. Though I suppose that has the downside of science being less glamorous than it was in earlier days, and the invisibilty letting people use things without understanding how it works and figuring science is like magic or "just like religion" because they don't understand it and don't think they have to.

I don't think most of the rest of my class quite sees the absurd brilliance of the fact we can go from these equations to something that actually describes the world pretty accurately. It's sure reminding me why I'm a geek for science, though. Maybe I'm easily amused.



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