Reference Nostalgia

Generations before the Millennials may remember striving diligently through library materials, such as encyclopedias, atlases, almanacs, etc., especially for school projects.  Unfortunately, this diligence has surrendered to convenience.  The wave came first through computer software, then through the internet.  And as many have tried to “surf” the web, rip tides are inevitable.

Let’s start with Google.  It has been synonymous for quite sometime with searching the web.  Or maybe even searching, period.  In any case, let the searcher beware.

And now you have an “encyclopedia,” known as Wikipedia, which, being a public entity in which people try to look things up, there is little or no assurance of scholarly backup.  Sure, the sources in the references may be scholarly.  And there are varying differences of technicality among Wikipedia articles.  But the contributors (read:  writers) are responsible for what goes in and out of it (along with a few “bots”).  And, whether you consider it a blessing or a curse, articles constantly change!

Alas, I must confess, I am prone to using Wikipedia myself.  Therefore, I want to avoid preaching about it, but just follow your heart.  Besides, in scholastic situations, instructors advise their students not to use it (or any encyclopedia) for projects assigned.

Ok, moving on.  Yesterday I felt I had the dilemma of keeping either the print set (1981, though most content seems to been written in, say, the early 70s), and the more modern computer program (2012). But since they work as a team, there really was no “dilemma” to begin with!  Some libraries, in fact, may retain multiple editions of a reference source.  Though in the 21st century, many libraries have purged much of their reference material.

And there is much potential in that.  Back to Google (or any of its rivals, e.g. Bing), you can get even more content.  Or if you prefer print, consult a number of references.  Or even websites!  See, there is a good element to the web.  It just requires wisdom.

Until you’re satisfied with a topic, the more references, the merrier.  Think of them as a team, whether separate works and/or different editions of one work. And if you’re totally puzzled in one source, try another.  Variety is the spice of life, as they say.

Slouch, Yawn

Whenever I sit upright, say, when reading, I can usually stay alert.  But when I slouch on a bed or couch, I start yawning when I read or do something similar.

Of course, it makes sense, but is there something scientific behind it, at least in general?

In fact, there is.  I learned it in Psychology last fall.  In the 1890s, Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist, discovered the concept of classical conditioning.  He used a dog as his subject.  Dog naturally salivate at food, for it is internally wired into their brain.  They don’t need extrinsic commands. Then, Pavlov rang a bell to draw the dog to the food.  After then, the food was no longer necessary.

So, how do we explain this?  The bell, when combined with the food, takes precedence.  Thus, what was once irrelevant to the dog (the bell) has been incorporated into the dog’s repertoire of behavioral stimuli.  This incorporation is known as classical conditioning.

Now for my situation.  Keep in mind I’m no doctor or psychologist (and probably not planning to be either one), so I’m not trying to develop a direct theory of why slouching on a couch causes yawning or drowsiness when reading.  Just the correlations are enough.  Yet again, correlation does not mean causality.  But hey, at least it’s something quite practical from the course, that can be easily applied to us humans.  I guess I could do without the causality.  At least for now.

Source:  McLeod, S. A. (2013). Pavlov’s Dogs. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/pavlov.html

What is silica gel and why do I find little packets of it in everything I buy?

SilicaGelThe maligned substance “silica gel,” which is simply a porous synthetic form of the mineral quartz (the principal constituent of sand, is really more of an irritant than a poison (even though they want you to “throw it away.”)  The real reason it is placed into boxes is to desiccate, or dry, moisture that may jeopardize the quality of the packed product.  Click here for some clever applications that involve silica gel.  Of course, that does not include eating it!  (LOL)

Source: What is silica gel and why do I find little packets of it in everything I buy?

Why You Can Measure A Tree’s Age By Its Rings

Most people know that you can count a tree’s rings to determine its age.  But what makes a ring count for a year?

Remember that a tree’s true “wood” is really only the central tissue that conducts water up from the roots.  Around this constitutes the bark, which includes living tissue that distributes various substances (e.g., photosynthetic products) as well as the dead cork.

Focusing on this inner wood, development of these cells varies across a given growing season.  In the spring and early summer, there is much water and minerals (thanks to melted snow), but as summer progresses, they are depleted.  By autumn, the wood cells are smaller than what were produced earlier.  (Winter, due to its cold, does not allow many cells to be produced.)  The cycle restarts the following spring.  The study of these processes, by the way, is called “dendrochronology.”

The earlier cells (known as early wood or springwood) are the larger cells, followed by those smaller cells formed later in the season (late wood or summerwood).  The darker late wood abuts the following season’s early wood, thus separating the years marked.

To conclude, some of the oldest trees are 4,000 years old.  Some dead trees, dated to be 5,000 years old, using radioactive carbon dating.  When the earliest trees were germinating, human history (in the strictest sense) was just dawning.  Since this falls within the domain of the 6,000-10,000 years of young earth creationism, yet discussed by an anonymous evolutionist and liberal Christian, sorry, that’s a contradiction in terms.

(Source:  http://plantphys.info/plant_biology/secondary.shtml)

Tree Stump
A tree stump.  The dark periphery is the bark; the pale outer wood is the “sapwood” (living wood conducting water); the dark central wood (heartwood), is the older wood that no longer conducts water.  You can see the many rings in both regions making the years.  (Source:  http://plantphys.info/plant_biology/lechtml/stem/Slide29.jpg)

 

 

Globetrotting with Google Maps

On a tight budget?  Afraid of planes?  No worries, you can see the world with Google Maps!

I’ve looked at some European lands already, including the Nordic lands of Denmark and Sweden.  Due to a dream about traveling through what was (supposed to be) Mexico, I went to Google Maps, and I pulled up the state of Chihuahua (and there were no dogs running around!  LOL)

Chihuahua, MX
A desert road in the Mexican state of Chihuahua.

Since I was traveling through the desert in the dream, I thought it was more appropriate to showcase such in this blog post today rather than an urban scene.  From what I remember from the dream (remember, dream details, as usual, tend to fade quickly), the desert had commerce in certain pockets, with one chain restaurant, I picked a random rural road, and got as close to the dream as you can get.

Any other ideas for a virtual trip, be it foreign or domestic?  Just type it in Google Maps.

I must advise you, however, that this method is no substitute for going there.  You’ll see the region, but won’t experience it.  No social interaction, no cuisine, no folk dances, etc.  Overall, no cultural encounter.  And not only are some roads and streets not represented, some entire lands, particularly North Korea, are off-limits.  (I wonder if Cuba is, now that we’re getting more friendly with them.)

A perfect analogy, being a college student as well as an overall lifelong learner:  taking a college course on a subject give more “meat” to it than simply reading a textbook on such, sans the instructor (one thing I struggled with for quite a few years, until I figured it out and came to terms with its imperfection).  A textbook will present the facts, and perhaps explain them quite well (depending on the title, as well as the existing knowledge base and intelligence of the person reading them).  But you will not have a lecture or homework, and in the case of science subjects, a lab.  Moreover, without the professor, you may not get the exact information that the text is trying to convey, and of course, none of his/her additional factoids.  But, sometimes a text alone is enough when you want to read it “just for fun” rather than by assignment, despite the inevitable trade-off.  (By the way, now that I have settled down on Biology as a major, most of my other textbook pleasure readings, at least for now, deal with other subjects outside the curriculum.  But after graduation, there may be other texts, read for fun, that may lie in the domain of biology (namely, subjects not offered or taken), as well as outside.

The trade-off is the same with Google Maps.  Of course, in keeping with that analogy, for business travel, Google Maps is not an option.  But, for pleasure, it’s up to you if you want a more superficial “travel” through Google Maps or a real trip to the actual destination.  And if you can’t do it, so be it, just like my own academic dabblings outside my intended major of Biology.  Since in either case, I’m “dabbling,” I’m content.

Don’t be a stranger!

Site Review: Cronodon.com

Cronodon, a fictitious planet, is the home of a “curator”of a “museum of the future.”  And let me tell you, even though still a diamond in the rough, his brainchild is fantastic.

The curator, who anonymously calls himself “Bot,” to the best of my knowledge, for I am a human and hence an earthling, probably has many experts on a team.  The details are a little murky though.

Its primary areas of treatment are biology, quantum physics, and astronomy.  I have also found some topics treated as diverse as chemistry, meteorology and even some urban planning stuff.

The biological coverage is excellent, especially in the areas of botany, invertebrate zoology, and microbiology.  Alas, the only vertebrates covered are cetaceans, a group of marine mammals that includes, you guessed it, dolphins, porpoises, and whales.  But the cover almost every single kind of invertebrate.  It contains extremely rich detail yet makes it very readable, a rare marriage.  And some pages are still readable even when it could get technical (in other words, you can skip those portions of the page and still get the general message).

A central feature woven throughout the site is its robust programming base.  You may even learn to program yourself through certain pages.  In fact, many of the images are made through these methods.  Cronodon also welcomes constructive criticism (be it positive or negative), and in fact often offers a link to do so on a particular article.

Some of the downsides:

-It adds much pseudoscience to the mix, such as alchemy and certain “dark side” philosophies.  As a creationist Christian myself, the old-earth/evolution base in the biology pages could count, but since one side of the never-ending creation/evolution debate will consider the other as pseudoscientific, this leads to a draw.  Besides, personally, I typically substitute my beliefs for what is presented when I read an evolutionary material.

-Printing directly from the site is an ordeal because many of the images overlap with the text.  The extent of this depends on the browser used, e.g., Chrome and Opera have a less severe overlap of images than Firefox, etc.  I recommend that you copy it to a word processor (e.g., MS Word, Google Docs), though things can be disorganized at times upon copying.  Alternatively, you can just read it directly from the website (sometimes enlarging the text can allow for better concentration and comprehension)

-Finally, it has a British tone to the writing, so you should be aware of certain vocabulary differences.  But if you’re already British, this makes no difference!

Aside from those issues, Cronodon is a great place to learn about “science for science’s sake.”  For a Christian like me, this means getting to know this awesome world and universe God has placed us in.  I highly recommend it for any sufficiently educated adult who wishes to learn more about our beautiful cosmos.  The website is simply cronodon.com.

Enjoy your explorations all around!

Why Figure Skaters Make All Their Moves

Figure Skater
Next time you watch figure skating, observe closely this and similar patterns

Tonight I was watching part of the 20.16 US Figure Skating Championship on NBC (an American television network, for foreign readers of this blog).  Ever wonder why a figure skater can do what s/he does, particularly concerning when the skater crosses his/her arms and thereupon spins at a much faster speed?  Sometimes more elaborate moves can cause similar effects.

Some basic physics principles will do here.  First, I shall discuss friction.  Friction keeps things still when they are juxtaposed against one another.  There is a little bit of friction involved with contact of the skates on icy surfaces, which helps allow for quick motion (as inertia keeps things moving unless a force opposes it, in this case, friction applied to stop the skater).  Ice provides just enough friction for starting and stopping the skater, but otherwise it is smooth.

At the very core of figure skating, however, is angular momentum, or the momentum of rotation.  Momentum, when in a straight line, is simply mass times velocity.  In situations of rotation, however, it is the angular velocity (speed of rotation) times the “moment of inertia.”  Without going into details, the latter quantity takes into account shapes of different objects.  Since momentum, by its very nature, must be conserved, a change in the distribution of mass (and hence the moment of inertia) into a more condensed form will cause an acceleration of the skater when s/he spins!

Finally, Newton’s ever-famous third law (i.e., that of equal and opposite reaction) allows the skater to glide forward (or even leap up!), as the force directs down and back.  The exact backward force determines the exact forward force, depending on the details of each.

Like classical music, classical mechanics can sure be beautiful!

Source:  http://www.livescience.com/6120-physics-figure-skating.html