Tag Archives: Science

The Bad Astronomer Claims our Universe is Really Bad

Past Gnomedex speaker and long-time friend Dr. Phil Plait has a very cool new project in the works with the Discovery Channel. His new show, Bad Universe is his latest attempt at galaxy-wide domination. He’s on a mission to debunk the junk and reveal the REAL science behind the mysteries of our planet, our solar system and the icky universe we all call home.

Phil Plait is an astronomer, author, blogger, and skeptic… which means you better have some good evidence for any claims you make to him! In fact, Phil is the President of the James Randi Educational Foundation, a non-profit based on the works of noted conjurer and skeptic James Randi – famous for debunking the spoon-bending efforts of Uri Geller. The critical thinking movement is growing by leaps and bounds, and the JREF has been at the center of a grassroots effort to bring more skepticism into everyday life, especially online.

Phil writes the Bad Astronomy Blog, now hosted by Discover Magazine, and he blogs for the JREF and for SkepticBlog.

His books debunk many misconceptions about astronomy, and to his chagrin he still deals with Moon Landing deniers, astrology, and UFO believers to this day.

What is Wolfram Alpha?

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While walking around the conference floor during SXSW recently, I happened across the Wolfram Alpha booth. Their long-term goal is to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone. Wolfram Alpha’s goal is to deliver to you answers that are definitive. It has an amazing inventory of numbers and facts known in the world. It has an engine on top of that which allows it to make new calculated facts based on that already-known information.

Wolfram Alpha’s goal is to “build on the achievements of science and other systematizations of knowledge to provide a single source that can be relied on by everyone for definitive answers to factual queries.” They hope to bring expert-level knowledge to people everywhere, no matter what education level or field of study/work they may be in.

As of right now, Wolfram Alpha contains 10+ trillion pieces of data, 50,000+ types of algorithms and models, and linguistic capabilities for 1000+ domains. The possibilities for adding more information based upon new calculations of existing data are nearly limitless.

Thanks to AMD for their help in getting me to the SXSW conference.

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The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth

There’s an old saying in the Bible or some book that I don’t even remember for sure. It says “And the Geeks shall inherit the Earth”. A friend of mine argued with me the other night, claiming that it’s supposed to be the meek shall inherit the Earth. I beg to differ. I know what it says, thank you very much. We all know it’s pure fact that Geeks are taking over the World, and that we will one day rule inherit the World. Why haven’t you given in and joined us yet? You know you’re going to have to!

Seriously, being a Geek is an amazing thing. Geeks are not just computer guru’s, you know. A Geek is anyone who is passionate about something, whether it’s computers, motorcycles, or even gardening. Using this definition, it’s easier to imagine Geeks one day making a huge difference in this World of ours. What am I saying? We already have. Look at some of the strides in medicine, technology and science in just the past few years. There are an astounding number of new inventions, cures and gadgets on a daily basis.

If you could change the World somehow, make an impact so to speak, what would it be? Just imagine for a few moments that you have the brains/money/power to change any one thing. What would you do?

While you’re contemplating, make sure you take the time to check out what others are up to in our community!

Death from the Skies: the End of the World?

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Death from the Skies is an aptly titled book. It’s written by my good friend Dr. Phil Plait, otherwise known as the Bad Astronomer. It was written to explain all of the ways the World might end… scientifically speaking.

Plait, an astronomer and author of the popular Web site badastronomy.com, presents in loving detail the many, many ways the human race could die, from temperature extremes and poisonous atmosphere to asteroid impacts and supernovae explosions. Such a state of destruction existed some 65 million years ago, when a giant meteoroid struck Earth, sending up so much flaming debris that the whole planet caught fire and the dinosaurs were wiped out. Solar flare activity could bring on another Ice Age. Worse yet would be a gamma ray burster, a collapsed star whose radiation would be comparable to detonating a one-megaton nuclear bomb over every square mile of the planet. Plait discusses insatiable black holes, the death of the Sun and cannibal galaxies—including our own. Balancing his doomsday scenarios with enthusiastic and clear explanations of the science behind each, Plait offers a surprisingly educational and enjoyable astronomical horror show, including a table listing the extremely low odds of each event occurring. He gives readers a good scare, and then puts it in context.

I knew right away when Phil got the contract to write this book. He was extremely excited about this. We met back when I was hosting Call for Help, and we hit it off immediately. We have the same sense of humor, and he is just hilarious! If you think this is just some boring science book… you have another thing coming.

I just started reading the book, and I’m looking forward to getting through it all. I can’t imagine there could be any better book on this subject. From a purely scientific standpoint, Dr. Plait knows his stuff. Realistically, the World could end. And death could come from the skies. Make sure you check this book out, educate yourself, and have some laughs along the way.


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Can Physics be Fun?

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Math and I get along like oil and water. I realized it wouldn’t be in my future when I took Physics in high school. I remember playing with Crayon Physics years ago, and it was a lot of fun to play with. What I want to show you today is something that will run on your desktop, whether you run on Mac or Windows.

OE-Cake is demonstration software for 2D-based multi-physics simulation. Use your imagination to create your own unique world!

This software supports various physical materials with real life properties such as fluids, gases, rigid (hard) objects and elasticity (soft) objects as building blocks.

Users can combine these objects to create and play with more complex objects and mechanisms such as cars, gears and moving dolls. Users can also attach pictures and photos to objects and change their shape, break them apart, or melt them.

If you know of other cool applications that no one else may have heard of, pass them along to me. Don’t send me the fun ones that everyone is playing. I’m talking about fun, interactive things that the rest of us have yet to discover.


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Is the Future of Science Research Open?

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What was the last magazine you read? Every once in awhile, a magazine floats through my house with an article that catches my attention. The May, 2008 issue of Scientific American has on the cover “Science 2.0: The Risks and Rewards of Web-Based Research”. Whoa… I thought that maybe this would be an interesting article, but I wasn’t sure how it would turn out. I wasn’t sure if Scientists are embracing the Collaborative Web, or if they’re pushing it away. One quote in the article said: “Although Wiki’s are gaining, Scientists have been strikingly slow to embrace one of the most popular Web 2.0 applications: Weblogging (Blogging)”.

The four key concepts of the article are:

  • Science 2.0 generally refers to new practices of scientists who post raw experimental results, nascent theories, claims of discovery and draft papers on the Web for others to see and comment on.
  • Proponents say these “open access” practices make scientific progress more collaborative and therefore more productive.
  • Critics say scientists who put preliminary findings online risk having others copy or exploit the work to gain credit or even patents.
  • Despite pros and cons, Science 2.0 sites are beginning to proliferate; one notable example is the OpenWetWare project started by biological engi­neers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The first generation of World Wide Web capabilities rapidly transformed retailing and information search. More recent attributes such as blogging, tagging and social networking, dubbed Web 2.0, have just as quickly expanded people’s ability not just to consume online information but to publish it, edit it and collaborate about it—forcing such old-line institutions as journalism, marketing and even politicking to adopt whole new ways of thinking and operating.

Science could be next. A small but growing number of researchers (and not just the younger ones) have begun to carry out their work via the wide-open tools of Web 2.0. And although their efforts are still too scattered to be called a movement—yet—their experiences to date suggest that this kind of Web-based “Science 2.0” is not only more collegial than traditional science but considerably more productive.

I don’t think Science could be hurt by more collaboration. By mixing more Macro with more Micro may produce more interesting conversations within the Scientific community. The potential for collaboration to exist is Infinity… in both directions.


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When Politics and Technology Collide

Let’s bring up another failed American war (the “war on drugs,” which has been hypocritical from the very start) to talk about marijuana in the courts. Our judges need to smoke more! No, just kidding – I’m not advocating that they inhale anything that can’t be regulated effectively by our government. Only a fool would suggest such a thing.

Stop freaking out, friends – this is actually going to be a TECH related post! Now you can go on with your illusion that I’m nothing more than a simple-minded geek who doesn’t have any right or ability to discuss more serious matters beyond which social network is leeching your identity more.

After reading this recent PC World article, I almost wish I could smoke a natural substance to take my mind off of what’s happening with our country…

The case points to the dangers of electronic voting systems, which make it harder to ensure fair elections, Luke said. Electronic voting machines have been widely adopted in the U.S. since the disputed presidential election of 2000. Laws in California and some other states now require paper records of all votes, but the California law wasn’t in place for the Berkeley election.

This isn’t a joke, people – it’s NOT A JOKE. It doesn’t matter who you want to vote for, there’s absolutely no “checks and balances” inherent in the system.

Governments are installing computerized voting systems with no paper record to verify accuracy. Elections will be controlled by companies that do not allow voters to inspect their software. If vote counting becomes privatized, there may be no way to get it back. Hightech vote fraud is already a reality. If you value your vote, you must get this information to your friends – and fast!

Yeah, I’m just a wacky conspiracy theorist… voter fraud couldn’t exist… that’s impossible… couldn’t ever happen… we must trust our government… we should do what we’re told… we should do what we’re told to do…

Astronomers eat Kittens, Scientists are Assholes

My friend, Dr. Phil “Cranial” Plaitt, is a really bad astronomer. He’s so bad, he’s been writing about things not related to astronomy:

This may sound crass, but it’s true: it’s my blog, and I’ll write what I want to. If you don’t like it, there are lots of other sites about astronomy on the web. Spare me the lectures, the drama, and the grandstanding in the comments… In a recent post, I was accused of bashing Christians, bashing religion, saying that all global warming deniers are also young-Earth creationists, and I’m sure if I look more carefully there’s something in the comments about me eating kittens, too. I never said any of that. People are reading their own issues into what I wrote, and and not reading what I actually wrote.

I can’t believe he’s admitting to eating kittens – or, that he’s putting down people who do happen to eat kittens (which I do, on occasion, in a white wine sauce). Seems that this “thought freedom” virus is spreading to other well-known science blogs, like Pharyngula:

…the single most common epithet people were flinging around was ‘asshole.’ Even people who were defending me would often say things like, “You’re an asshole, but…” / There are people who read Pharyngula just for one of those topics, and I get email all the time telling me that one or the other of those is “boring” (except the cephalopods, everyone loves those). I’m not surprised that many people are utterly uninterested in some part of what I write — probably the only person on the planet with exactly my constellation of interests is me, and that’s who I write for. So telling me that some aspect of this blog is “boring” will never have any impact at all, especially not when it is apparently exciting enough to stimulate you to write.

So, why do I write about whatever it is that’s on my mind…? Because, I write about whatever it is that’s on my mind. My audience isn’t just you, it’s anybody who cares to read – and, more importantly, respond. The world has been flooded with tech blogs and tech bloggers, and that makes me more of a commodity if I don’t clearly illustrate that I believe I have a modicum of understanding of the world beyond this stupid (and yet wonderful) keyboard.

America Doesn't Belong to Americans Anymore

Via Bad Astronomy comes news that the United States government is pulling a “Catholic Church” by squelching science and wisdom:

So now we have an ex-Surgeon General saying the Bush White House pressured him not to talk about stem cell research and other topics not deemed palatable by this troglodyte Administration that is so routinely antiscience that if they said the Sun rises in the West we’d have a hundred slavering “journalists” saying they have been saying that for years, and hardly anyone would notice.

And this is what Carmona stated, quite clearly:

“Anything that doesn’t fit into the political appointees’ ideological, theological or political agenda is ignored, marginalized or simply buried,” Dr. Richard Carmona, who served as the nation’s top doctor from 2002 until 2006, told a House of Representatives committee.

This is not a partisan issue – everybody in government with a modicum of power and responsibility is to share this blame equally. If you truly believe that the government has your best interests at heart, I’d encourage you to start thinking with your brain instead of your goddamned television set.

Either they haven’t figured out how to properly monetize stem cell solutions, or the pharmaceuticals’ pockets are far deeper. Trust me – at the end of the day, this is a money issue (not a science issue, nor a religious issue). This is the way politics works – and your ignorant life is the one on the line.

If you already know that your life is on the line and you’re not doing anything about it, you’re not ignorant – you’re stupid. You can’t keep dismissing these issues and expect that some pundit on the radio or television is going to give it to you straight. There is no supreme source for information (despite what CNN or Fox News or The New York Times or Time Magazine or Sean Hannity or Al Franken would have you believe).

The Earth is flat. It’s the truth because we’re told it’s the truth. It’s the truth because those in power tell you it’s the truth. It’s the truth because everybody believes it’s the truth. The Earth is flat – common sense.

Now, let’s see how long it takes before Dr. Carmona suffers a character assassination

When Copernicus published his work, he was contradicting what the Church taught and thus was a heretic. Since Copernicus died before anything could be done to him, the worst punishment was that his book was placed on the Index (list of “naughty” books) in 1616 and wasn’t removed until 1835. However, people who came later suffered by way of the Catholic Church, in particular Bruno and Galileo who were both called before the Inquisition and charged with being heretics.