Friday, June 29, 2007
Thursday, June 28, 2007
While I was having coffee with a scientific colleague of mine, Ian Parnell, the originator of the excellent blog, "What's your Ecotype?" we shared an interesting conversation about "science" and both came to the conclusion that science is a much misunderstood, often maligned, field of inquiry (see what a good Starbucks coffee will do to you? Mine was a latte, actually...but I digress...) To my pronouncement that I am not a scientific "modeller" Ian suggested that in a broad sense everyone is a modeller and a scientist; humans are naturally inquisitive, seeking to make sense of a world often frought with seemingly random patterns and events. Our brains, specifically the hypothalamus via REM sleep, processes our experiences and memories of the previous day into learning. Learning is really modelling: figuring out paradigms, patterns, mosaics that work; consequences of actions. The stuff of common sense. Okay, Ian didn't say all this (it was my wonderful latte that made me think about it while we were talking). The whole discussion brought to light how symantics and language can play a vital role in how we see ourselves and our actions. Are you a scientist?
Here are some definitions that were forwarded in the past:
"Science is classifiction"--Aristotle (~340 BC)
"Science is common sense classified"--Herbert Spencer
"Science eliminates the worthless and the useless and then makes use of it in something else"--Thomas Edison
The word science came from a Latin word scientia that means knowledge and comes from scio--I know. The Indo-European root means to discern or separate (Sanskrit chyati; Greek schisein). Karl Popper (The Logic of Scientific Discovery, 1959) describes science as "a system of acquiring knowledge based on the scientific method, as well as the organized body of knowledge gained through such research." This kind of science is often called "pure science" to differentiate it from the application of scientific research to specific human needs.
It would seem that the "scientific method" separates science from other methods of inquiry. As for the scientific method, it is simply a way to explain the complexities of nature and the universe in a replicable way and to use these explanations to make useful predictions. It does this by providing an objective process to find solutions or make conclusions. All this means is that you would gather and/or use reliable (source-checked) data, cross-checked to make your conclusions. So, deciding that Vinny Garbanzo is the man to elect based on his dimpled smile isn't science. But checking all possible non-biased sources for information on Garbanzo's platform, history, etc. is.
So, are you a scientist?
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
According to the Institute, “ecosystems self-regulate, accumulate ‘ecological capital’ and are largely resilient to most perturbations.” According to Jackson, many problems faced by the agriculture industry today stem from replacing natural systems with totally alien systems, and from waging war on rather than allying ourselves with natural processes. He suggests that this has resulted in a steady loss of ecological capital (the erosion and salting of soils, the steady domesticating and weakening of our crops).
The mission of the Land Institute is to “honor natural ecosystems and mimic them.” The Land Institute argues that “the tendency of all natural ecosystems is to increase their ecological wealth. For instance, all prairie, left alone, recycles materials, sponsors its own fertility, runs on contemporary sunlight, and increases biodiversity. Agricultural systems tend otherwise. They erode and degrade ecological capital as they provide for human needs.”4
The premise behind “natural systems agriculture” is a “polyculture of herbaceous perennials, which would run on sunlight, preserve soil, maintain biological diversity, yield adequately, and not rely on harmful synthetic chemicals for fertility or pest management.”5 Polycultures of perennial indigenous plants would incorporate the dynamic properties of natural succession.
Working with four species (Illinois bundleflower, a legume; mammoth wild rye, a cool-season grass; eastern gammagrass, a warm-season grass related to corn; and Maximilian sunflower) the Land Institute’s research and development in biomimicry is finding answers to four basic agronomic questions:
In the final analysis, Jackson submitted that, “We don’t need one more breakthrough in agriculture. We need to stare hard at (our) fields . . . then reach into the vast literature in evolutionary biology and ecology to learn the rules and laws at work on the land before we got here, and out of this knowledge, put together a new synthesis, a truly new paradigm for agriculture.”
1 Malcolm G. Scully, The Chronicle of Higher Eduction, February 18, 2000, Salina, Kansas.
2,3 Janine Benyus, Biomimicry, Quill William Morrow, New York, 1997, 308pg.
4, 5 The Land Institute Web Site: www.LandInstitute.org
6, 7 Paul Hawkin, Amory Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins, Natural Capitalism, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1999, 396pg.
Monday, June 25, 2007
When I discovered that Michael Arbeider and his school buddy, Steve Da Costa, designed a Lunar Exploration Station, I interviewed them and here’s what they had to say:
NM: So, what prompted you boys to embark on this fascinating venture?
Both: Our teacher!
MA: Our Grade six teacher, Mrs. Cawker.
SDC: Yeah, she did it as part of the curriculum requirement on space and technology.
NM: So, tell me a little about this station. What were your criteria?
MA: Well, we had to come up with a design for the station and to run it for one month with a small team of specialists.
SDC: We had to draw up a team of ten specialists to pilot the spacecraft to the moon and run the lunar station. They had to run experiments and carry out the mission.
NM: Which was?
MA: To find fuel. And to figure out if it was efficient to run a full mining operation there.
NM: And did the criteria include limitations? Like space or time or money?
SDC: We had to transport everything the crew would need to live there for a month. We had to come up with what supplies and technology we would need to bring with us. It had to be existing technology that we already have and use in closed environments like spacecraft and submarines.
MA: We were given 15 squares to represent the cargo hold of our spaceship. The teacher gave us the values that things like people, air, water, technology, outdoor survival and moon transportation would take up and we had to decide how much of everything to take.
NM: How did you do your research for all this?
MA: We used Google mostly, because the internet has the most current information on available technologies. We also used Encarta.
NM: Tell me a little about your station. How will you get your food? Do you bring it all with you?
SDC: Only a week’s worth. The rest of the time we’ll get our food through the hydroponics greenhouse. It will be better than a regular greenhouse because it uses water, which is lighter and will be easier to transport. The water is also filled with nutrients, which will make the plants grow much faster. We’ll grow protein-rich soy bean, cabbage, lettuce, carrots, spinach, tomatoes and beans. The greenhouse is filled with super clean water and we’ll use it for our drinking water.
NM: How will you run your station? How will you generate power?
MA: We’ll use solar panels, which will work well on the moon because there’s no atmosphere or clouds to block out the sun’s rays. Our panels will be positioned in a broad area to catch more of the sun’s rays as it rises and sets on the moon. Our panels have special light sensors on them so they’ll activate only when the sun reaches them. The electical battery attaches to the solar panels to store power to provide a constant source of electricity even when the panels are in the dark.
SDC: We’ll also use hydrogen power cells.
NM: As in hydrogen fuel cells?
SDC: Eh, yeah. For power and to create super clean water for drinking. The hydrogen cells work like a battery. They do this by merging hydrogen and oxygen in a container with a conductor in the center. When hydrogen and oxygen merge, they create a small electric charge that can be collected by the conductor and sent to our battery. The benefit to hydrogen power is that it merges the hydrogen and oxygen separated from our dirty water by algae, to create water, so it’s two things in one: a water cleanser and a source of power for our station.
NM: So the algae split the water using sunlight?
SDC: Yeah. Hydrogen is then collected and transported as a compressed gas to the fuel cells. The hydrogen cells also provide us with the hydrogen for the explosives we need to do the mining.
MA: The station will use two kinds of power, hydraulic and electrical. The hydraulic power rams operate mechanical things like doors and hatches and the electrical power will handle all the other stuff like the lights, heat, air purification and the rover.
NM: What about the air? How will you get it and how will you keep it usable?
MA: We’ll bring the air with us. It’s part of our original payload, like the hydroponic unit and the technology. The air will be cleaned through a filter that removes the dirt particles and carbon dioxide. Our air cleaner does this by retrieving the dirty air from our station sent in through vents and air ducts. When the air passes through the filter, it gets cleaned and sent back into our station so it can be used again. Our air cleaner lets us use the same air over and over again. Just like spaceships that go to the moon do right now.
NM: What about your mission, to find fuel sources to mine and refine and research the feasibility of this venture?
MA: That’s a good question. You first, Steve.
SDC: No, you first. I insist.
NM: Well, what’s this “Labydo Do it Fast” I see marked on your schematic?
MA: It’s a rock/fuel research and excavation station. The Labydo has a fuel tester that figures out the kind and quality of the fossil fuel that we find, a rock research unit to see where we should plant the explosives and a pilot refinery to see if the rocks are refinable.
SDC: We’ll also use a rover to get to our excavation sites in the mining tunnels that we make. A battery operates the rover because gasoline won’t work in almost zero gravity. The rover, which weighs 465 pounds on Earth, would only weigh 72 lb on the moon.
MA: The miners will use space suits in the underground tunnels. They’ll be stored with the rover and airlocked. Besides air, the space suits will also provide heat and cooling in the fingertips.
NM: When you’re not working, how will you amuse yourselves?
MA: We’ll have work-out stations to stay in shape because of the low gravity. And see these? (He points to the schematic). They’re bean bag chairs: they serve two purposes, to sit on and in bean bag wars.
NM: Eh, sounds like fun. And therapeutic. What about your crew? Who will they be?
MA: Well, there’s Steve and I, of course. I’ll be captain of the craft, mission specialist and social coordinator. Steve, who’ll be second in command, will serve as chief mechanical and robotics engineer and games specialist.
NM: Ah, like bingo?…
SDC: And then there’s Marie Langlios, the botanist and doctor; Hank Simpson, the navigator and geologist; Kenney Cartmen, the explosive devices expert; Nefertiti Tut, the payload specialist, assistant miner and a fossil fuel refiner; Homer Hill, our electronic systems specialist; Andrea Griffin, our rover technologist; and Franko Antenelli, our communications specialist …
MA: Yeah, and don’t forget Jack Affro, the jack-of-all trades.
MN: As in your janitor and maybe the most important person on your mission?
Both: Gee, we never thought of that . . .
Which is why I’m doing the interviewing…
Sunday, June 24, 2007
- be genuinely interested in the person or their work (if you aren't, it'll show to both the interviewee and to the readership);
- do the research;
- find a general theme (usually something that sparked your wish to do the interview in the first place) and keep to it (at least loosely);
- vary your questions from personal to academic/work-related (personal stuff always makes an interview more interesting to the readership, no matter what the topic is--the best non-fiction books always give some juicy tidbits about the people they're writing about);
- do more research;
- don't be afraid to ask challenging questions (this makes for a very interesting read and may even bring out something the readership never read before about this particular person--BONUS for you!);
- be polite in the beginning and in the end (e.g., thank the interviewee).
Friday, June 22, 2007
- support topless women
- Blog Promotion
- 5 addictive games
- Intelligence can't be measured
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Monday, June 18, 2007
Here's how it works:
Should you choose to participate (and why wouldn't you?), please make sure you pass this list of rules to the blogs you are tagging.
Saturday, June 16, 2007
Friday, June 15, 2007
- sites for Girls interested in Math, Science and Engineering
- women who blog about science and engineering
- sites about women in science
- professional organizations
- a feature on Associate Professor of Interactive Biology at the University of Texas, Camille Parmesan, who is conducting research on the effect of climate change on wildlife
- an opinion piece on how scientists are portrayed in comics
- Glamour magazine's top ten women scientists
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
“As a society, we have become obsessed with connectedness,” said Steven Strogatz, author of “Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order”. He goes on to describe how we are making sense of complex networks that have recently infiltrated our lives. “Networks whose reach is immense, whose structure we can only dimly perceive, and whose functioning bewilders us.” In John Guare’s 1990 play, “Six Degrees of Separation”, one of his characters ponders the connectivity of life on the planet:
I read somewhere that everybody on this planet is separated by only six other people. Six degrees of separation. Between us and everybody else on this planet. The president of the United States. A gondolier in Venice…I am bound to everyone on this planet by a trail of six people…every person is a new door, opening up into other worlds.
Network theorists, when they study an abstract pattern of dots connected by lines are concerned with the pattern, the “architecture of relationships, not the identities of the dots themselves. One can draw a metaphor with information, what it is and how it is dispensed and shared among people. Laszlo Barabasi, a Transylvanian physicist showed that the distribution of links on the Web is skewed to the left with a very long and heavy tail to the right. A handful of sites on the Internet are much more connected than others, with many more incoming or outgoing links than average, with the billions of remaining pages languishing in obscurity with no incoming links at all.
What network theorists found was that the Internet, despite being an unregulated, unruly labyrinth where anyone can post anything and link it to any other page at will, is self-organizing and follows the same pattern that persists in the ‘small-world’ (e.g., with a tendency to ‘short-cut’ and cluster like the brain) and “scale-free” (wide range) patterns so prevalent in Nature (e.g., “the food-web of species preying on one another; the meshwork of metabolic reactions in a cell, the interlocking boards of directors of a large corporation, even the structure of the English language itself” says Strogatz). Laszlo Barabasi, a Transylvanian physicist, showed that the Internet was both fragile and robust, showing properties of resilience much like living cells (e.g., in protein interactions, the most highly connected proteins were the most important ones for the cell’s survival; not unlike CNN and Yahoo on the Web). The Web is also very fluid and those ‘nodes’ or clusters change (not unlike a low budget hit that starts out slowly and builds by word of mouth).
Is internet blogging a tool our global society can use to self-organize? And, if so, can this grassroots social movement influence humanity toward a better world?...As a good friend of mine would say, Let’s “Make it so!”
Barabási, Albert-László and Albert Réka. 1999. Emergence of scaling in random networks. Science 286: 509-512.
Jung, Carl G. 1973. Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principal. Princeton University Press, New Jersey
Strogatz, Steven. 2003. Sync: the Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order. Hyperion, New York, N.Y. 338pp.
Monday, June 11, 2007
"Millions and millions of exuberant monkeys...are creating an endless digital forest of mediocrity," wrote Keen. His polemic attacks the "cut and paste" ethic of Web users, who he claims are robbing professionals of their livelihoods by searching Google to copy other's work. Keen calls them "intellectual kleptomaniacs", "digital thieves of media content in a post-Napster era who spread gossip and scandal". The Globe and Mail went on to say "the Web allows anyone to post their most intimate thoughts, views or even outright lies, without any editing, under the assumption that the crowd will correct any mistakes. Keen calls for efforts to balance out the Web's powers of instant publishing against society's need for accountability."
I find Keen's position elitist and undemocratic. And dangerous.
Friday, June 8, 2007
Thursday, June 7, 2007
I live on the floodplain of British Columbia's largest river, The Fraser River, and every year there is a flood warning. This year might be the worst; we're skirting the statistical probability from the last floods. The Fraser River drains a basin of 233,000 square kilometers and runs a distance of 1370 km, a large part of BC. The annual spring snowmelt freshets of the river's system pose the greatest flood hazard to those of us who occupy its floodplain.
Over the last century the Fraser River rose to flood heights more than 25 times. The greatest flood occurred n 1894, during the very early stages of settlement in the lower Fraser valley. Not too many people were affected, but it forewarned a hazard to those who did settle there of the potential for flooding in years to come. The next major flood happened in 1948, breaching dyking systems and flooding more than 22,000hectares, nearly one third of the entire lower Fraser Valley floodplain area. Estimated damage amounted to about $20 million. The next big flood came in 1972, when high temperatures in the Interior valleys toward the end of May caused rapid snowmelt. This time a lot more people were affected and damage amounted to about $10 million.
Well, it's been really hot recently and now its raining. It's been raining for a while...
Reminds me of the Great Flood...the deluge...sent by a deity or deities to destroy civilization as an act of devine retribution for ill thoughts and deeds. The Great Flood is a widespread theme in Greek and many other cultural myths. Known by the biblical story of Noah, it is alwo well known in other versions, such as stories of Matsya in the Hindu Puranas, Deucalion in Greek mythology and Utnaphishtim in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Many of our world's cultures share a story of a "great flood" that devastated earlier civilization.
Just so you know, I've temporarily moved my office to the Mother Ship, from where I'll be conducting my business for the next little while...just looking after the business...Oh, FRELL! I left the cat behind!
Ah...I just called my neighbour to send Sammy up via the teleporter. Sammy loves the teleporter. What can I say...he's such a suck...
Wednesday, June 6, 2007
One of the things I do in my work is study water quality, what affects it and how to fix it. Limnologists define water quality in terms of its chemical, physical and biological properties. There's no magic bullet to measure water quality; we use several measurements in a kind of weight-of-evidence approach. Water quality is somewhat subjective, based on perspective. For instance water used for drinking can be used for irrigation but not all water used for irrigation is potable or will meet drinking water standards. A common phenomenon that limnologists study is something called "eutrophication". Eutrophication describes the natural process of aging for a lake or pond, with the gradual input of nutrients and sediment from erosion and precipitation. When the process is sped up through the release of nutrients and industrial and municipal effluent and poor land use practices, then we have a problem. Enhanced eutrophication is characterized by algal blooms (that scummy layer on the surface), excessive weeds, increased pests and fish kills.
Here are a few facts about water that might interest you:
- Some very simple organisms can survive without air, but none can grow without water.
- About 83% of our blood is water. It helps digest our food, take in oxygen, transport body wastes, and control body temperature.
- Freshwater lakes, rivers and underground aquifers hold only 3.5% or the world's water. Saltwater oceans and seas hold most of the rest.
- 30% of the earth's fresh water exists as ice in the form of glaciers and ice caps.
- Canada has more lake area than any other coutnry in the world.
- 10 litres of water is needed to manufacture 1 litre of gasoline.
- 1000 kilograms of water is required to grow 1 kilogram of potatoes.
- One litre of oil can contaminate up to two million litres of water.
- Many homes lose more water from leaky taps than they need for cooking and drinking.
Next post, I'll talk a little bit about urban waterways and their unique properties and challenges.
Sunday, June 3, 2007
The Swedish government is commited to environmentally-friendly living and supports the technology that helps them achieve this. By 1994 all household garbage had to be separated. 2010 is marked as the final year of nuclear power in the country.
Friday, June 1, 2007
"Silicon is pretty expensive these days, and traditional solar panels need a lot of it to convert light to energy. But two of the great opportunities for expansion in solar is using less silicon, by concentrating light on smaller panels, and increasing efficiency by tilting panels to follow the sun...roof-mounted units called the 'heliotube' concentrates the sun's rays onto a very thin strip of silicon solar panels at the base of the tube...These panels use 88% less photovoltaic material, but are almost as efficient per square foot as traditional solar panels." Eco Geek discusses some of the flaws and solutions in the works.