Monday, November 17, 2014

Mankind Leaps Again mankind's journey into the universe beyond the planet, the greatest leap was the moon walk. Not only has there been no progress that size since, there have been few feats that were equal, or even comparable. (OK, driving a car on the moon wins). Huge events, nonetheless, include Sputnik, the re-usable space vehicle, private satellite launch and robots on Mars. This week has seen another milestone for the history book: landing a robot on a comet.
It had some problems, but what's cutting edge if it doesn't occasionally bleed? Maybe for the next mission, they'll reconsider the wisdom of solar power in the far solar system.
(Update Nov18/14) They were looking for organic molecules on the surface and they found them. We'll have to wait until the sunlight gets better before we get any more detailed analysis.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Frankenstein Used to be Science Fiction
Researchers in Switzerland have taken a paralyzed rat, implanted electrodes and made it walk upright.

Swiss Chocolate is involved.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Fusion Heats Up
Lockheed Martin has caused a buzz this week by announcing* a nuclear fusion project.

Nuclear fusion is, of course the ultimate energy source: clean, safe and inexhaustible. It produces no carbon dioxide or pollution. It can't explode and produces no nuclear bomb making materials. There are about a thousand trillion tons of fuel, deuterium aka heavy hydrogen, available in the ocean.

Nuclear fusion looks like a sure thing at the multi-billion dollar ITER project. Unfortunately it won't happen until 2030+ and will cost $15+ billion. The LM project promises to be smaller, cheaper and sooner. The thing is: LM's project looks less feasible than General Fusion's. Their big advantage, as far as I see it is that Lockheed Martin can guarantee the funds to make the project happen while General Fusion has to beg for venture capital money. Making big announcements can be a strategy to dry up the other guy's funding.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Satellites are Expensive

What do you think about  your "communications satellite" being replaced by a hundred or so "communications weather balloons.".

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Our 60 Year Experiment in Moral Education

 Thinking about the two cardinal innovations in teaching morality that began in the 60's,
No one speaks more authoritatively about the Socratic method than Plato, and Plato maintained that it was to be reserved for mature men over the age of thirty. "One great precaution," said Plato, "is not to let them [students] taste of arguments while they are young" — the danger being that they would develop a taste for arguments rather than a taste for truth. Young minds, like young puppies, said Plato, would only "pull and tear at arguments."

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Kvass: Old World Pop

I was exploring Toronto's St. Lawrence market this summer. Ambling past a Ukrainian deli, I came upon a bottle marked “KBAC”. Suspicious, I called over a Slavic friend who happened to be there and asked her to read it to me. “Kvass”, she said.
I've heard of that! in a book I once read about Mennonite foods. It was some fermented drink involving bread. It sounded weird (even weirder since I was confusing it with kefir, fermented milk.) Of course I bought it.
I've heard kvass described as low alcohol beer. I think it is more like pop. It has a distinctive flavor and yet reminds me of something familiar. I haven't yet put my finger on it, maybe plum.
Researching, I find that it comes in bread and beet varieties. It has been brewed for over a thousand years (though I wonder if the traditional recipes had sugar for the yeast.) Kvass is enjoying a resurgence in Russia and Ukraine lately. Coca-cola has developed a brand and a monastery near Moscow has started bottling its traditional recipe. Modern enthusiasts rave about its probiotics, which would have been important in the days before clean water.
You can make it yourself. It is basically rye toast tea. I have been trying a few batches at home based on Angelina's recipe. She flavors it with raisins. Others suggest lemon or mint. (Both inhibit bacteria growth.) I tried a batch with raisins, then with raisins and lemon (crushing the lemon and careful to capture the oils from the zest.) My current batch has raisin, mint and lemon.
Compared to Angelina, I make batches a quarter the size, only 2.5 liters. Remember, it is alive and will only last 2-5 days. Where Angelina emphasizes the need to burn your toast, I discovered that there is such a thing as too burnt. You want to see some blackening, but no charcoal. Mine has 2/3 the sugar. You can recover 20% of the liquid if  you put the bread in a colander after scooping it from the pot.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Mining Opportunities in the New Frontier in South America, California, the Yukon or Fort MacMurray, Mining has always been a challenging and rewarding opportunity for ambitious youth.

Last week, the US congress decided that any material recovered from an asteroid belongs to the people that recovered it. In other words, asteroid mining is legal. Now, by all appearances, asteroid mining is real. (Sept'14)

Update (Oct'14): How mining might work

Saturday, September 13, 2014

If 20% of Your Students Drop Out...

...whose fault is that? the student's? the university's? the public's? some combination?
If the public invested $50,000 and the student (and parents) invested $50,000 in two wasted years, does anyone deserve a refund?
(In the US, the actual rate is ~40%, in Canada it is harder to find.)

Friday, September 12, 2014

How To Identify Life

...from a few light-years away.
 If we are looking for life on an exoplanet, What do we look for? Well, radio signals and TV broadcasts would be sure signs, but awfully unlikely. Seeing trees or animals moving on the surface is proof but far beyond the ability of any telescope we can build or imagine building*.

Instead, we hope to analyze light from the planet. From this light we can identify the chemicals in the atmosphere using spectral analysis. Oxygen (O2) would be a good sign. It reacts so well that most atmospheres would use it all to make CO2 or H2O unless there was life to release it. Computer models now show that it is actually possible for an atmosphere to have oxygen and even ozone without ever having life. So even though oxygen is still a good sign. It is not proof. For solid proof, you would need to find oxygen, ozone, carbon dioxide, and methane with no carbon monoxide.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Pinewood Derby Tips

This video is design done right.
  • Identify all the factors you can think of. 
  • Do some testing to know what the effects are and how big they are. 
  • Keep it simple.

Grade Inflation: The Empire Strikes Back

Would you like me to grade easier? Are you sure?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Strike and Resolution: 4 Views

There are three significant parties in BC. What are their positions on the teachers' strike?

The Liberal government's news releases are here, with strike messaging is here.
  • The minister says he is eager for a resolution but the union won't move enough.
  • They have issued an FAQ sheet.

The official opposition, the NDP, has news releases here.
  • They think we should do mediation and return to school in the meantime.
  • They say the government is "putting up roadblocks."
  • They have asked for education minister Fassbender to resign.
The Green party has called for arbitration, specifically including binding arbitration last Friday, shortly after the BCTF had requested it.

The Conservatives have surprisingly detailed policy ideas on the issue, especially on the government dropping the court case.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Titans of Society, Tremble

Hannah Wallen wargames gamer culture and discovers the source of their secret power.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

What if Memorization IS Teaching How to Learn?
They say kids need to memorize their arithmetic. Other "they"s say kids need to learn how to figure things out on their own. Now they say memorization builds the brain that can figure things out.
(The "math wars" refers to a battle between math teachers that has been going on at least three decades now: to emphasize understanding or performance?)

50 years of pop wisdom is wrong

Aristotle was right.

People with self control are happier.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A Scientific Approach to Good Luck

Talk of making luck always reminds me of Heinlein's quote about making luck on a national scale.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

High-School Crushes - Anylysed Mathematically!

John Paulos considers some statistics relevant to romantic crushes.
The second relevant statistical notion is Bayes’s theorem, a mathematical proposition that tells us how to update our estimates of people, events and situations in the light of new evidence. A mathematical example: Three coins are before you. They look identical, but one is weighted so it lands on heads just one-fourth of the time; the second is a normal coin, so heads come up half the time; and the third has heads on both sides.
Pick one of the coins at random. Since there are three coins, the probability that you chose the two-headed one is one-third. Now flip that coin three times. If it comes up heads all three times, you’ll very likely want to change your estimate of the probability that you chose the two-headed coin.
Bayes’s theorem tells you how to calculate the new odds; in this case it says the probability that you chose the two-headed coin is now 87.7 percent, up from the initial 33.3 percent.