From the Greek meaning 'heavy with wine'
A blog devoted to science and reason
Written after a glass or two of Pinot Noir.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Growing Pains' Kirk Cameron Learns Bananas Are Intelligently Designed

In preparation for watching this video, lie on the floor.  It will be much easier to ROFL.

I doubt that a banana could cause an atheist, much less any reasonable person, to have a nightmare, but Roy Comfort and Kirk Cameron could certainly precipitate a gut-busting fit of laughter.
The banana we eat, the Cavendish, is the result of artificial selection.  Seventh graders understand that species can change from three different forms of selection: natural, sexual, and artificial.  Being a primate after all, I'll go out on a limb and say that nearly all the food we eat is the direct result of breeding - the intentional result of selecting for certain traits by humans.

Have you ever had to worry about banana seeds?  Look at the wild fruit.  Was this banana designed for human consumption?

Corn is also pretty handy for human dining.  Was it designed to be easy to grasp? A lovely yellow for the eyes, and plenty of fiber for your intestine?  

Modern corn is the descendent of teosinte, a grass found in Central America.  

I can't help but think that Jason and Maggie Seaver feel like failed parents.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Tennessee Didn't Learn Its Lesson In 1925: Another Anti-Science Law Passed

From funnymonkeysite.com
On March 19, the Tennessee state legislature passed HB 368 (SB 893).  While these bills acknowledge that "an important purpose of science education is to inform students about scientific evidence and to help students develop critical thinking skills necessary to becoming intelligent, productive, and scientifically informed citizens," it authorizes the state board of education, school boards, and school administrators to "assist" elementary and high school teachers in finding ways to address scientific controversies.  Teachers can help students "understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories."

You may know that in 1925, Tennessee enacted a statute that made it illegal for a public school teacher "to teach any theory that denies the story of the divine creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man descended from a lower order of animals."  Soon thereafter, John Scopes was arrested and indicted.  The trial, known at the time as The Monkey Trial, held the nation's interest, especially when Clarence Darrow, Scope's attorney, questioned the state's prosecutor, William Jennings Bryan. Scopes was found guilty and fined $100, although the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned the conviction on a technicality.  What the trial did accomplish was it was a significant setback for anti-science forces.

Creationists had another court room defeat in 2005 when their thinly veiled religious doctrine "Intelligent Design" was prohibited from being taught in Dover, Pennsylvania.

The issues today in Tennessee are evolution and climate change.  Today I'll address climate change.  Let's review some of the data.
Global temperature increase since 1973.
Global temperatures from 1880.

Correlation of atmospheric CO2 (dark blue) and global temperature (light blue)
over the last 600,000 years.  The red line is projected CO2 levels. 

IT"S GETTING WARMER!  And it's anthropogenic - a fancy word for caused by people.  There's no controversy about this; that is, unless you deny the science.  

What's different about this crisis from the creationist attempts to dumb down our children is that there are global consequences.  It won't be a pretty world if we don't do something.

For more information. I recommend 350.org and the International Panel on Climate Change.

Organizations opposing this bill include the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, the American Institute for Biological Sciences, the National Association of Biology Teachers, the Knoxville News Sentinel, the Nashville Tennessean, the National Association of Geoscience Teachers, the National Earth Science Teachers Association, the Tennessee Science Teachers Association, and all eight Tennessee members of the National Academy of Sciences, including one Nobel Prize winner.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Is Your Baby in a Bad Mood?

Wouldn't it be wonderful if a parent of an infant knew what a baby was feeling?  Imagine knowing the reason why the baby is crying and not having to wonder if it's hunger, sleepiness, or a wet diaper.

Exmobaby to the rescue!  Exmobaby is "a next generation “smart garment” line of apparel specifically designed for newborns and infants."  The onesie has imbedded in the fabric conducting fibers that measure heart rate, skin temperature, and movement.  A transmitter then sends data every minute to a PC within 100 feet. [What!  No Mac version!] Software on the computer interprets the data, sends it to a website that will send alerts to cell phones, email accounts, or instant messaging accounts.

My first thought is what happens when a malfunction occurs. Suppose the heart monitor and the motion sensor fails.  A mother gets a text message that her babies heart isn't beating and the baby isn't moving.

My second thought is - isn't this onesie just weird.  Plus, isn't this company playing on the fears of first-time parents.  I should say well-to-do first-time parents.  While not available for purchase yet, distributors can buy one for $1000.  Less affluent parents will just have to rely on less current technology.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

2012 - Is this the beginning of the end?

Did you feel anything last night?  Mars and the Earth were in opposition.  Opposition, that's astronomer talk for when a Solar System body appears on the opposite side of the Earth from the Sun.  There is some thought that planetary alignments could cause earthquakes.

I'm just teasing.  That stuff about earthquakes being caused by astronomical events is hokum, woo, BS, not-even-bad-science.


Mars is in opposition every 26 months.  Tomorrow night is Mars closest approach to the Earth for this orbit.  Look for it low in the eastern sky after sunset.  Then turn around and catch Venus and Jupiter in the western sky.  Put Gustav Holst on the CD player and crank it up!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Squeeky Speaking

How many of us have taken a breadth from a helium balloon?  It's always good for a laugh, but it is also an opportunity for some good physics.

One of the most important aspects of sound that determines what you perceive is the sound's frequency - how many times per second the air pressure changes.  Your vocal folds (or cords) determine the frequency of the sound you produce.  Breathing in helium doesn't change this.

What the helium does change is the timbre of your voice.

Two musical interments can play the exact same pitch, but no one will ever confuse a flute with a trumpet.  One of the factors that determine timbre is the harmonic structure of the sound being produced.  For example, when a piano wire vibrates 440 times every second (440 Hertz), it is also vibrating at 880 HZ, 1320 Hz, 1760 Hz, etc.  However, which harmonic frequencies are produced is partly determined by the speed of sound in the vibrating material.

So when you breathe helium, you are changing the harmonic structure of the vibrating "air".  Since the speed of sound in helium is higher, the harmonic frequencies (called formants when discussing speech) shift to a higher frequency.  Hence the squeaky voice.

Have you ever wondered if the opposite effect is possible?  Can one breathe a gas that would make one sound a bit more like James Earl Jones?

I first saw this in 1995, and I've wanted to do it ever since.  I need sulfur hexaflouride.  The chemistry of SF6 is pretty awesome.  Flourine is the most reactive of the halogens; I believe chemists say that it highly electronegative.  Hydroflouric acid is so corrosive it can't be kept in glass or metal bottles.  However, because it is so reactive, it can form extremely strong bonds.  One substance using this to good effect is polytetrafluoroethylene, known commercially as Teflon.  Teflon bottles are used to store hydrofluoric acid.

So SF6 forms such a tightly bonded molecule, that it is essentially chemically inert and not hazardous.

What happens when you breathe it?  Watch Adam Savage from Mythbusters.
Freakin' cool , huh?

WARNING!  Use extreme caution when attempting either helium or SF6.  Both gases are suffocation hazards.  Take small breaths from a balloon, and take several deep breaths afterwards.  It's also a good idea to sit down, because you may become lightheaded.  Never, ever attempt to breath directly from a pressurized tank.  This is extremely dangerous.  Bubbles of gas can form in your bloodstream which can block blood flow to the brain and cause a stroke.  An Oregon teenager recently died from inhaling helium.