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

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Letter from a Father to His Son

CREDIT: Christie's
Shortly after Francis Crick and James Watson discovered the structure of DNA, Crick wrote a letter to his 12 year old son, Michael.  The letter opens with this self-effacing statement:
Jim Watson and I have probably made a most important discovery.
The letter valued at between one to two million dollars is to be auctioned by Christie's.   Michael Crick grateful for the support of the Salk Institute gave to his father has promised half to the proceeds to the institute.

The letter ends with "Lots of love, Daddy."

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Stripper Physicist

Columbia University requires all undergraduates to complete a set of courses "considered the necessary general education for students, irrespective of their choice in major." One of those courses is Frontiers of Science.
The course is designed both to introduce students to exciting ideas at the forefront of scientific research, as well as to inculcate in them the habits of mind common to a scientific approach to the world. Each semester, four scientists in different disciplines deliver a series of three lectures each describing the background, context, and current state of an area of research; readings and other activities supplement the lectures. Consistent with the Core tradition, the course also includes small seminar sections in which these topics are discussed by students.
Professor of Physics Emryn Hughes took a rather unusual approach to introduce freshmen to the concepts of quantum mechanics.  He stripped down, changed clothes, lay on the floor all while a strange video played on the screen with the audio being Lil Wayne's Drop It Like It's Hot.  Then some ninjas showed up and stabbed some puppets.

Here's the link to the Vimeo video uploaded by Bwog.

While this is an approach I would never take and for as strange as it is, his explanation at the end of the video makes some sense.
To understand quantum mechanics, you have to undress everything, start new, and forget all the bad stuff.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Kansas to Teach Evidence Against Germ and Atomic Theory

Remember Louis Pasteur and Joseph Lister?  They were two of the scientists responsible for the acceptance of germ theory - the theory that some infectious diseases were caused by microorganisms and controversial before the 19th century and the scientific evidence in its favor,

Remember Antoine Lavoisier, John Dalton, Robert Brown, J.J. Thompson, and Ernst Rutherford? These were some of the chemists and physicists responsive for demonstrating the reality of the atom and its subatomic constituents. Another example where the evidence conclusively pointed toward the existence of these once hypothesized particles.

CREDIT: University of Kansas
Now thanks to the Kansas House Education Committee, students will have to review not only the germ theory, but the competing miasma theory of disease.  Students will have to consider the counter evidence to the atomic theory presented by alchemy and the Classical Greek science of the four elements (air, fire, water, earth).

What does the K stand for in KU and K-State?  One day, it won't be knowledge.

CREDIT: Kansas State University

Monday, February 18, 2013

Jose Canseco - Physicist/Paleontologist/Geologist

CREDIT: Major League Baseball

Jose Canseco, former Oakland A outfielder, was the first to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in major league baseball.  He must now be a professor of physics, paleontology, and geology.  I can't find where.

He has recently take to Twitter to explain the changes in the strength of the gravitational interaction and the effect it has had on animal physiology.  He then hypothesizes that the reason the gravity has intensified over the millennia because the Earth's core shifted.

I look forward to reading the peer-reviewed articles.  I understand Derek Jeter, Roger Clemons, and Ryne Sandberg will be doing the reviews.

CREDIT: Gawker

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Breaking News: News Anchors Get Science Wrong.

From Feb. 7, 2013

CREDIT: Fox News
During a Fox and Friends segment on solar energy, a host claimed that that the outlook for the U.S.'s solar power industry is "dim." 

Shibani Joshi, a Fox Business reporter, then went on to say that solar power is "working out great" for Germany.  Why is it working out great for Germany?  Joshi says, "They've got a lot more sun that we do."

Nein, nein, nein.  Parts of the southwest get two and a half times more sun than Germany.  The only part of the U.S. that gets a comparable amount of sunlight as Germany is the Seattle/Tacoma area.  The fact is that Germany has better governmental policies towards solar power generation that we do.
CREDIT: National Renewable Energy Laboratory via Thurstone Energy
To Joshi's credit she corrected herself the next day on www.foxnews.com.
I incorrectly stated that the chief difference between the U.S. and Germany’s success with solar installations had to do with climate differences…
From Feb. 9, 2103

With the hubbub over the close pass of asteroid DA14, CNN anchor Deborah Feyerick led an interview with Bill Nye with the following question:
Is this an effect of perhaps global warming or is this just some meteoric occasion?
I would like to nominate Bill Nye for an award.  He handles these sorts of questions without rolling his eyes, without snark, and without in any way making the anchor self-conscious.  I believe she was trying too hard to transition from a story about the recent snow storm in the East to the asteroid item, but still I wish these anchors would do a bit of preparation for these stories. 

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Cuba Libre

My favorite mixed drink when I was an undergraduate was the Cuba Libre or as it's more commonly known, a rum and Coke, and being a purist, I never ever considered substituting a Diet Coke for the Coke.

For those who do use the low calorie option however, there may be an unintended consequence.  A recent study shows that "mixing alcohol with a diet soft drink resulted in elevated BrACs [breath alcohol concentrations], as compared with the same amount of alcohol mixed with a sugar-sweetened beverage;" that is, one gets drunker.  What's worse, the study shows that drinkers could not notice any difference in their level of intoxication.

In response to this study, the American Beverage Association countered that the "consuming calories - from any food or beverage - along with alcohol slows down its impact."  The association represents Coca-Cola, Dr. Pepper, Nehi, Pepsi Cola, and Seven-Up.

Drink up, but drink wisely.

An Inventory of the Furniture in Dr. Priestley's Study

Professor Eckstrom, a colleague of mine in the English department at Rio Hondo College, passed along a couple of poems.  They were written by Anna Laeticia Barbauld (née Aikin).  The first, reprinted below, is An Inventory of the Furniture in Dr. Priestley's Study; the second is The Mouse's Petition (To Dr. Priestly) that Prof. Eckstrom tells me is about a mouse that inhabited Priestley's study.

Portrait by Ellen Sharples, 1794,
National Portrait Galleery, London.
Joseph Priestly is usually credited with the discover of oxygen - what he called dephlogisticated air.  In his study of gases, he also discovered nitric oxide (nitrous air), hydrochloric acid (vapor of the spirit of salt), ammonia (alkaline air), and nitrous oxide (diminished air).  Priestley also wrote The History and Present State of Electricity, the authoritative text that was widely used for over hundred years.  In this text is the first demonstration of the inverse square nature of the electrostatic force and a detailed description of Benjamin Franklin's kite experiment.

In 1761, Priestley moved to Warrington, not far from Liverpool and Manchester.  He became a tutor at an academy where Barbauld's father also taught.  She became good friends with Priestley and his wife.  

Now to the poetry.

An Inventory of the Furniture in Dr. Priestley's Study

A map of every country known, 
With not a foot of land his own. 
A list of folks that kicked a dust 
On this poor globe, from Ptol. the First; 
He hopes,indeed it is but fair, 
Some day to get a corner there. 
A group of all the British kings, 
Fair emblem! on a packthread swings. 
The Fathers, ranged in goodly row, 
A decent, venerable show, 
Writ a great while ago, they tell us, 
And many an inch o'ertop their fellows. 
A Juvenal to hunt for mottos; 
And Ovid's tales of nymphs and grottos. 
The meek-robed lawyers, all in white; 
Pure as the lamb,at least, to sight. 
A shelf of bottles, jar and phial, 
By which the rogues he can defy all, 
All filled with lightning keen and genuine, 
And many a little imp he'll pen you in; 
Which, like Le Sage's sprite, let out, 
Among the neighbors makes a rout; 
Brings down the lightning on their houses, 
And kills their geese, and frights their spouses. 
A rare thermometer, by which 
He settles, to the nicest pitch, 
The just degrees of heat, to raise 
Sermons, or politics, or plays. 
Papers and books, a strange mixed olio, 
From shilling touch to pompous folio; 
Answer, remark, reply, rejoinder, 
Fresh from the mint, all stamped and coined here; 
Like new-made glass, set by to cool, 
Before it bears the workman's tool. 
A blotted proof-sheet, wet from Bowling. 
"How can a man his anger hold in?" 
Forgotten rimes, and college themes, 
Worm-eaten plans, and embryo schemes; 
A mass of heterogenous matter, 
A chaos dark, nor land nor water; 
New books, like new-born infants, stand, 
Waiting the printer's clothing hand; 
Others, a motley ragged brood, 
Their limbs unfashioned all, and rude, 
Like Cadmus' half-formed men appear; 
One rears a helm, one lifts a spear, 
And feet were lopped and fingers torn 
Before their fellow limbs were born; 
A leg began to kick and sprawl 
Before the head was seen at all, 
Which quiet as a mushroom lay 
Till crumbling hillocks gave it way; 
And all, like controversial writing, 
Were born with teeth, and sprung up fighting.
"But what is this," I hear you cry, 
"Which saucily provokes my eye?" 
A thing unknown, without a name, 
Born of the air, and doomed to flame.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Oceanside Real Estate in Whittier

If you currently own real estate to the north of Whittier Boulevard, you're in luck.  Should sea levels rise by 60 meters - that's almost 200 feet, you are the proud owner of prime oceanside property.
However, don't get too eager.  Kenneth Miller of Rutgers University says "The natural state of the Earth with present carbon dioxide levels is one with sea levels about 70 feet higher than now." Miller and his colleagues estimated* global sea levels 2.7 to 3.2 million years ago during the Pliocene Era when the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere was the same as today's.

In that case, Bellflower, Paramount, and Compton residents can enjoy a walk to the beach several hundred years from now.
Play with the map or learn more about how the map was made.

*High tide of the warm Pliocene: Implications of global sea level for Antarctic deglaciationKenneth G. Miller, James D. Wright, James V. Browning, Andrew Kulpecz, Michelle Kominz, Tim R. Naish, Benjamin S. Cramer, Yair Rosenthal, W. Richard Peltier, and Sindia Sosdian, Geology, March 19, 2012. http://geology.gsapubs.org/content/early/2012/03/16/G32869.1.abstract.