Science Verse…….

Science Verse I have read many children’s books and Science Verse is one of my favorites. The illustrations are bold and the layout is designed to break the rules in a fun, playful way. Jon Scieszka’s science poems are set to traditional rhymes and luckily, there are no clunkers. For instance, instead of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star there is Twink- about a twinkle-less black hole.

Twink-

Twinkle-less, twinkle-less Spot of black, In the starry Zodiac. Sucking in all Matter and light. Turning sunshine Into night. Twinkle-less, twinkle-less– LOST CONTROL! Now we’re trapped in the black hole.

Since this is a concept driven book there is a real danger of the creators being clever for no other reason than to prove they can. Kids are generally not impressed by this and it gives adults cause to cringe when they read the book. Thankfully, this is not the case. The rhymes are fun and stand up to repeat readings.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I must confess my deep respect for science. It is one of the most powerful tools humanity has invented to better understand the physical world. The thought of a return to the dark ages holds no romantic appeal for me. I would much rather risk having my feeling hurt over a factual disagreement than be burned at the stake as a heretic.

Crank it up……..

MIT Laptop

When I first saw Nicholas Negroponte’s one-hundred dollar crank-powered laptop, I didn’t get it. Sure, it was cool, an interesting gadget like those Soviet era crank-powered flashlights at Restoration Hardware. And then I read this:

…Ghana, a western Africa nation in which adolescents represent almost half of the population, provides one example,

Researchers lead by Diana L.G. Borzekowski of John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health surveyed online experiences among 778 teens, ages 15 to 18, in Ghana’s capital, Accra.

Two-thirds of the 600 youngsters who attended high school said they had previously gone online, as did about half of the 178 teens who didn’t attend school. Among all Internet users, the largest proportion-53 percent-had sought online health information on topics including AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, nutrition, exercise, drug use, and pregnancy. Science News: July 17,2006 Vol. 169, No. 24 pg. 378

 

AIDS is ravaging Africa and Ghana is no exception. According to The Ghana AIDS Commission, 160,000 children are now orphans due to AIDS. These kids are on their own to figure things out. It seems Nicolas Negroponte’s green machine is poised to make a huge impact.

Crank-powered, outfitted with durable flash memory and a multi-use LED screen, the green machine is ready for inhospitable environments. The machine encourages collaboration between users by running open source software allowing users to independently modify the code and then submit it to the group for approval. One of the most exciting features is the built in mesh networking capability. This allows one machine to share a scarce Internet connection with other green machines allowing each machine to act a hub so more and more machines have access.

UPDATE: I just received the August 2006 issue of Wired which has an article on designer Yves Behar and his latest version of the laptop. The crank is gone, which is too bad. Instead, it is replaced with a battery designed to have a five year life span. Check out this article and if you yearn for more visit One Laptop per Child.

Net neutrality…….

"Today, in the fast-changing, affluent nations, despite all inequities of income and wealth, the coming struggle for power will increasingly turn into a struggle over the distribution of and access to knowledge." –Alvin Toffler, Power Shift series of tubes

Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) likes to do things old school. During the Katrina aftermath, Senator Stevens vowed to hold up recovery funding unless his pet project the infamous Gavina Island Bridge or "Bridge to Nowhere" was promised every pork dollar necessary for construction.

He threw another hissy fit when Senator Marie Cantwell (D-Washington) suggested oil company executives testify under oath while explaining high gas prices before the Senate Commerce Committee.  One guess as to who is pushing to open the ANWR (Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) to oil drilling.

Now Senator Stevens is playing footsie with the telco industry. One of the most powerful members of the ownership party now wants to help the telcos privatize the Internet by rewriting the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

 Instead of the open platform we have now, the plan is to let the telcos decide what content you have access to. This scheme is roughly based on the cable-tv pay-per-view format. So, the more money you pay the more bandwidth you will be allowed.

 And who has the deepest pockets to purchase bandwidth and dictate the content streaming over the Internet, private citizens or corporate America?

Anyone who decides to overhaul the Telecommunications Act of 1996 must have a deep and rich understanding of the intricacies of the Internet? Well, the hard working people at AlterNet have an answer for you. Listen to Senator Stevens explain how the Internet works with A Series of Tubes. Afterwards, visit Save the Internet and contact your representatives. Demand they support net neutrality.

Citizen Science…….

"Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing."  -Benjamin Franklin

ben franklin

Science was once the gentlemanly pursuit of the Enlightenment. This revolutionary philosophy was based on rationalism and the belief, that through careful experimentation using the scientific method, verifiable facts could be discovered.  Facts, which could be harnessed for the public good and the belief in human progress.

This was a direct threat to the older method of explaining the nature of the physical world, which relied on a powerful authority, usually embodied by the church. Above questioning, the church was believed to posses the one truth. Scholars spent their time creating elaborate explanations, which harmonized any troubling natural observations with the official story offered by the church.

One American who embodied the spirit of the Enlightenment was Benjamin Franklin, who conduct experiments to better understand the nature of electricity.  He was the first to suggest that the different behavioral characteristics of electricity could be related to its charge.

Mr. Franklin also introduced the concept of the conservation of charge. This discovery led to the invention of the lightening rod. In fact, Benjamin Franklin’s experiments concerning electricity earn him membership into the elite Royal Society of London.

The motto of this prestigious group illustrates its radical break from the past and its embrace of rationalism. The motto reads, "Nullius in Verba" which translates in Latin to be, "On the words of no one." No longer would citation of authority be accepted as an irrefutable truth.

Instead, the truth of scientific matters would be established through verifiable experimentation. Today, science is under attack by those who feel threatened by facts. Citizen science provides a vehicle for the lay person to support the underpinnings of solid public policy by taking part in rigorous and meaningful research.

Using this model, a group or institution designs an experiment and then recruit members of the public to help gather data. It is the 21st Century blend of the do it yourself (D.I.Y) aesthetic and the people powered open source movement.  Imagine Benjamin Franklin in an anorak.

Playlist track five: Billy Bragg with Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards from Workers Playtime

Daily upgrade…….

Science News ( Feb. 25, 2006 Vol. 169, NO. 8 ) published an article detailing the effects of exercise on brain fitness. Recent research has found exercise to boost brain function. More surprisingly, this benefit extends to brains which have been damaged by disease or injury. What is the cause of this boost? During exercise the brain excretes chemicals know as neurotrophic factors. These proteins produce numerous positive effects on nerve cells. They protect against injury, promote growth and encourage neurons to strengthen their connections which is interpreted as a sign of learning. The most important protein in this class turned out to be brain-derived neurotrophic factor which is commonly referred to as BDNF; not only does BDNF produce growth but also acts as a modulator which stimulates other chemicals to switch on and amplify BDNF’s effects. As one researcher, Fernando Gomez-Pinilla of the University of California in Los Angeles noted, "Locomotion played a very important role in evolution. Animals had to move to find food and run away from predators. Exercise had a direct action on brain regions related to cognition. Normally, when two functions evolve in this way, you can’t separate them."