Archive for June, 2012

Gaga for Giga

ScienceShot: Get Ready for Gigapixels

98 cameras in an array, taking a picture simultaneously which are the stitched together.

[The camera] captured enough detail to read the fine print on signs as much as two blocks away

Don't Worry, It's not Contagious

Catching photons

… And the Miss Conception Award Goes to …

Misconceptions about science

MISCONCEPTION: Scientists’ observations directly tell them how things work (i.e., knowledge is “read off” nature, not built).

CORRECTION: Because science relies on observation and because the process of science is unfamiliar to many, it may seem as though scientists build knowledge directly through observation. Observation is critical in science, but scientists often make inferences about what those observations mean. Observations are part of a complex process that involves coming up with ideas about how the natural world works and seeing if observations back those explanations up. Learning about the inner workings of the natural world is less like reading a book and more like writing a non-fiction book — trying out different ideas, rephrasing, running drafts by other people, and modifying text in order to present the clearest and most accurate explanations for what we observe in the natural world.

Were We Vealed in the First Place?

America Revealed: Pizza Delivery

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AMERICA REVEALED takes viewers on a journey high above the American landscape to reveal the country as never seen before. Join host Yul Kwon (Winner of “Survivor: Cook Islands”) to learn how this machine feeds nearly 300 million Americans every day. Discover engineering marvels created by putting nature to work, and consider the toll our insatiable appetites take on our health and environment. Embark with Kwon on a trip that begins with a pizza delivery route in New York City, then goes across the country to California’s Central Valley, where nearly 50 percent of America’s fruits, nuts and vegetables are grown, and into the heartland for an aerial look at our farmlands. Meet the men and women who keep us fed – everyone from industrial to urban farmers, crop-dusting pilots to long-distance bee truckers, modern-day cowboys to the pizza deliveryman.

I'm Also A Drachma Short

June 19, 240 B.C.: The Earth Is Round, and It’s This Big

Eratosthenes knew that at noon on the day of the summer solstice, the sun was observed to be directly overhead at Syene (modern-day Aswan): You could see it from the bottom of a deep well, and a sundial cast no shadow. Yet, to the north at Alexandria, a sundial cast a shadow even at the solstice midday, because the sun was not directly overhead there. Therefore, the Earth must be round — already conventionally believed by the astronomers of his day.

What’s more, if one assumed the sun to be sufficiently far away to be casting parallel rays at Syene and Alexandria, it would be possible to figure out the Earth’s circumference.

The Hippocratic Oath Does Not Apply Here

Did the OPERA affair harm or benefit science?

I think there was a benefit, because the actual process of science was displayed. But your mileage varied, as always, depending on your source. There were a lot of good stories, in which you would find explanations of what was going on. Unfortunately, there were a lot of stories that sensationalized the events, and gave us Einstein Overturned/Relativity is Dead – type headlines and stories, despite the fact that nobody associated with the experiment made such claims (of which I am aware, at least). But that’s par for the course. You have good reporting, you have bad reporting, and you have headline editors. They care about circulation, not whether they are doing harm to physics.

There were also instances of people stepping beyond their expertise in trying to explain the results. People were awfully quick to blame GPS (but not one of the critiques I read came from within the timing community; we know how well you can do time transfer) and with that came some “problem solved” stories. That, too is probably par for the course.

I think the only real damage to any credibility was the discovery that an internal calibration/check of the local timing system hadn’t been done in a couple of years. That seemed sloppy. People at the top resigned. They took responsibility for the oversight.

Overall I’m much happier showing off science, warts and all, than allow a stereotype to perpetuate — the mistaken notion that every announced result is the final word and that scientists see themselves as infallible. We got to have a discussion about uncertainty and statistical significance that wasn’t framed by someone equating uncertainty with failed science. The effect on public perception? I don’t know. I suspect that this just reinforced their biases — if they didn’t trust science before, this is just one more reason not to. But, as the adage goes, there is no bad publicity. If it raised anyone’s interest in science, that’s got to be good.

You Can Call Me Al

It takes far less energy to recycle an aluminum can than to make one from scratch – recycling 40 Aluminum cans is the equivalent of saving a gallon of gasoline. One problem is that not all of the can is Aluminum.

Toward a Greener Soda Can

[R]ecycling the cans turns out to be harder than it looks, because the basic soft drink or beer can is actually made of two kinds of aluminum. The bottom and sides are made from an aluminum sheet that is strong enough to be stamped into a round shape without tearing. For the top, which must be stiff enough to help the can retain its shape and withstand the bending force when it is opened, can makers blend aluminum with magnesium.

Walking Into a Cloud


One of my favourite bits about being a dad is, every now and then, just casually blowing my little boy’s mind – with science. Last weekend, we were out for a stroll when he came out with “I wish I had a rocket so I could go and stand on a cloud”. Sensing an opening, I explained that clouds were made of tiny drops of water that hang in the air, so you wouldn’t ever be able to stand on one. But that, when it’s misty, that’s just a cloud that’s really low down on the ground, so it’s actually very easy to stand inside a cloud. That pleased him, as he acknowledged his chances of owning a rocket any time soon were sadly marginal.

"Granular Jamming" is not a Music Phrase

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The Power of Prefab

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I suspect not being surrounded by other buildings helped. In my own experience of having helped get a building built, it was made clear to me that logistics is a huge component of the process. Here you can see that the identical nature of the floors allows for teams to work in parallel. While floors are added above, the interior is worked on below.

Now they want to build the world’s tallest building in just 90 days.

BSB chief executive officer Zhang Yue (张跃) said the company plans to break ground on Sky City in November 2012, and that the tower will be completed in January 2013.

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