Imagine a world without algebra. We can hear the sound of school children applauding. What practical use are parametric equations and polynomials, anyway? Even some scholars argue that algebra is the Latin of today, and should be dropped from the mandatory curriculum.
But why stop there? Maybe we should do away with math classes altogether.
An astronomer says he’d be out of work: we can all forget about understanding the origins of the universe, the cycles of the moon and how to communicate with alien life. Also, no math = no cybersecurity + hackers (who have taken math) will have the upper hand.
Also, without mathematics, you’ll laugh < you do now. The Simpsons creator Matt Groening has peppered his animated show with hidden math jokes.
And why mathematics = love.Guests:
- Andrew Hacker – Professor of political science and mathematics at Queens College, City University of New York. His article, “Is Algebra Necessary?”, appeared in The New York Times in 2012.
- Bob Berman – Astronomy editor of The Old Farmer’s Almanac, the author of The Sun’s Heartbeat: And Other Stories from the Life of the Star That Powers Our Planet, and columnist for Astronomy Magazine. His article, “How Math Drives the Universe” is the cover story in the December 2013 issue.
- Simon Singh – Science writer, author of The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets
- Rob Manning – Flight system chief engineer at the Jet Propulsion Lab, responsible for NASA’s Curiosity rover
- Edward Frenkel – Professor of mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley, author of Love and Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality. His article, “The Perils of Hacking Math,” is found on the online magazine, Slate.
I swear that I’ll put some science blogs up, but right now I have something important to say! Always feel free to improve any attempted jokes by sending comments.
Everyone knows that there is nothing worse in the world for you than butter, right? But it tastes so good! And besides, they said for decades that margarine was more healthy than butter, but then they found out that there is nothing in the world worse for you health than margarine.
So butter is making a comeback. I even heard of a study that shows eating 4 oz. a day butter makes you smarter than you would be otherwise, though that is controversial.
But my mother-in-law will having nothing of it. She’s ate margarine for 50 years and she ain’t gonna quit now. My wife hails from Quebec, which is a French speaking state full of French people speaking French, surrounded by Canada. And boy do they like cheese! Wisconsin has nothing on Quebec. They eat cheese for breakfast every morning, with toast, and frequently have cheese as a pre dessert course at dinner.
And we’re talking serious cheese, stinky cheese, cheese that melts into pudding at room temperature I heard of a cheese; they start with cream, and to get the cheese going they add — crud from between their toes! I am not making this up. I haven’t had the experience of trying it yet, but I have to first conquer a cup of coffee made from coffee beans that were previously eaten, digested, and uh, eliminated by rats. If you don’t believe me, google “coffee rat poop.”
Getting back to milk, they make a “traditional” holiday drink in Japan called amazake. It is fermented milk — sort of the Japanese answer to egg nog. Ha ha! I am joking. It tastes exactly like vomit. This is the only food that has defeated me — I could not finish a 1 oz. cup. At first I manned up, “I’m not going to let this tiny drink beat me. I have my pride as a guy who’s willing to try anything and eat what he’s served. I guess no matter how strong you get, there is always some food out there that’s bigger than you.
But I’m getting off topic. When I pulled out the butter for my toast one morning Mrs. Pinet. By the way, I do NOT call her Alice, because that’s not her name. But even if it were, I may not call her first name. Mrs. Pinet suggested I use cheese instead. Its better for me. I said, hey, they’re made from the same stuff, what’s the big deal? Oh no, butter is much fatter than cheese.
Well here’s the slice. Butter is 80% butterfat (which leads to the question, what is in butter that isn’t butter?). Your super-duper triple cream cheese, that is the creme de la creme (Some brie, Cambozola, and American Red Hawk) have the same fat content. They are essentially spoiled butter. Choose your poison.
Regular (double-creme) Brie is only 3/4 as fatty as butter, so you can use just a little bit more. But who are we kidding? One dinky cocktail cracker can hold at least an ounce of Brie. When was the last time you ate an ounce of butter in one bite, when you were sober?
Cheddar is bedder, with only 2/3 the fat of butter. I bet that’s more than you thought!
Next I went for the bottom of the barrel, Kraft American pasturized process cheese singles, individually wrapped in plastic. The label says it is 60% fat. That’s right on target. But… what kind of fat? My concerns were immediately abolished when I read further down… “Kraft singles are always made with milk!” Whew! I was worried for a sec.
A Piece of Mars: Two-toned ripples have formed on a steep slope, created by winds rushing downhill (from top to bottom in this frame). The larger ones are big ripples, with peaks more than 30 meters apart. What makes them unusual, however, is stark contrast between the dark (bluish) upwind side and the light (pale tan) downwind side. How did that happen? It’s because sand blowing downhill preferentially scours the dark upwind side of the ripples, leaving the downwind side untouched. (PSP_002208_1755, NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)
A Piece of Mars: These rocks look like hooded figures from some dark fantasy story. European standing stones should be jealous, they don’t typically get a shroud of dark sand to add to their mystery and etch them into beguiling shapes (but then perhaps they don’t need it). Here, sand moving from the upper right to lower left slowly carves out these lovely shapes. (PSP_007535_1755, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)
ENCORE We’ve all had an “oops” moment. Scientists are no exception. Sometimes science stumbles in the steady march of progress. Find out why cold fusion is a premier example why you shouldn’t hold a press conference before publishing your results. Also, how to separate fumbles from faux-science from fraud.
Plus, why ignorance is what really drives the scientific method.
And our Hollywood skeptic poses as a psychic for Dr. Phil, while our Dr. Phil (Plait) investigates the authenticity of a life-bearing meteorite.Guests:
- Phil Plait – Skeptic and author of Slate Magazine’s blog Bad Astronomy
- Michael Gordin – Historian of science at Princeton University, author of The Pseudoscience Wars: Immanuel Velikovsky and the Birth of the Modern Fringe
- David Goodstein – Physicist, California Institute of Technology
- Stuart Firestein – Neuroscientist, chair of the biology department, Columbia University, and author of Ignorance: How It Drives Science
- Jim Underdown – Executive Director, Center for Inquiry, Los Angeles
First released January 28, 2013.
A piece of Mars: Is it a comet? With Comet ISON in the news these days it’s hard to tell. No, this is a brand-new meteorite impact on the surface of Mars. The impactor hit the ground, blasted through a layer of bright dust blanketing the surface, and threw out some underlying dark material. The long dark streak to the lower right shows where wind blew some of the dark material exposed by the impact. (HiRISE ESP_033302_2030, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)
After the winds and water of Typhoon Haiyan abated, grief and hunger swept though the Philippines, along with the outbreak of disease. Are monster storms the new normal in a warmer world? Some scientists say yes, and if so, climate change is already producing real effects on human life and health.
A hotter planet will serve up casualties from natural disasters, but also higher rates of asthma, allergies and an increase in mosquito-borne diseases. It is, according to one researcher, the greatest challenge of our time, straining health care efforts worldwide. But could a “medical Marshall Plan” save us?
Also, why the conservative estimates from the U.N.‘s climate change group don’t help people prepare for worst-case scenarios. And, a controversial approach to saving our overburdened planet: a serious limit on population growth.Guests:
- Jeff Masters – Meteorologist, Wunderground
- Linda Marsa – Investigative journalist, contributing editor at Discover, author of Fevered: Why a Hotter Planet Will Hurt Our Health — and how we can save ourselves
- Fred Pearce – Freelance author and journalist, environment consultant for New Scientist. His article, “Has the U.N. Climate Panel Outlived It’s Usefulness?” appeared on the website Yale Environment 360
- Alan Weisman – Author, Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth?
A piece of Mars: Right at the edge of the largest volcano on Mars (Olympus Mons) is a steep cliff. Here, near that edge, are some car-sized boulders poking out from a thick blanket of dust. Strong winds blow down the mountainside (lower right to upper left), leaving behind streamlined hills and grooves. Much of the surface of the volcano looks like this, although the boulders are relatively rare. (ESP_033303_1980, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)
A computer virus that bombards you with pop-up ads is one thing. A computer virus that shuts down a city’s electric grid is another. Welcome to the new generation of cybercrime. Discover what it will take to protect our power, communication and transportation systems as scientists try to stay ahead of hackers in an ever-escalating game of cat and mouse.
The expert who helped decipher the centrifuge-destroying Stuxnet virus tells us what he thinks is next. Also convenience vs. vulnerability as we connect to the Internet of Everything. And, the journalist who wrote that Google was “making us stupid,” says automation is extracting an even higher toll: we’re losing basic skills. Such as how to fly airplanes.Guests:
- Ray Sims – Computer Technician, Computer Courage, Berkeley, California
- Eric Chien – Technical Director of Security Technology and Response, Symantec
- Paul Jacobs – Chairman and CEO of Qualcomm
- Shankar Sastry – Dean of the College of Engineering, University of California, Berkeley, director of TRUST
- Nicholas Carr – Author of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains and the forthcoming “The Glass Cage”. His article, “The Great Forgetting,” is in the November 2013 issue of The Atlantic.
ENCORE Time keeps on ticking, ticking … and as it does, evolution operates to produce remarkable changes in species. Wings may appear, tails disappear. Sea creatures drag themselves onto the shore and become landlubbers. But it’s not easy to grasp the expansive time scales involved in these transformative feats.
Travel through millennia, back through mega and giga years, for a sense of what can occur over deep time, from the Cambrian Explosion to the age of the dinosaurs to the rise of Homo sapiens.Guests:
- Lorna O’Brien – Evolutionary biologist, University of Toronto
- Ivan Schwab – Professor of ophthalmology, University of California, Davis. His blog
- Don Henderson – Curator of dinosaurs, Royal Tyrrell Museum, Drumheller, Canada
- Gregory Cochran – Physicist, anthropologist, University of Utah
- Todd Schlenke – Biologist, Emory University
First released April 2, 2012
“Sorry, closed for business.” That sign hung on doors of national laboratories when the US government shut down. What that meant for one Antarctic researcher: her critically important work was left out in the cold.
So just what do we lose when public funds for science fade? The tools for answering big questions about our universe for one, says a NASA scientist … while one of this year’s Nobel Prize winners fears that it is driving our young researchers to pursue their work overseas.
Yet one scientist says publically funding isn’t even necessary; privatizing science would be more productive.
Plus, an award-winning public-private research project changes the way we use GPS … and a BBC reporter on the fate of international projects when Americans hang up their lab coats.Guests:
- Jill Mikucki – WISSARD principal investigator and a microbiologist at the University of Tennessee
- Max Bernstein – Lead for research at NASA’s Science Mission Directorate
- James Rothman – Professor and chairman of the department of cell biology at Yale University, recipient of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Medicine
- Alexandre Bayen – Civil engineer and computer scientist, University of California, Berkeley
- Pat Michaels – Director for the Study of Science at the Cato Institute
- Roland Pease – BBC science reporter
A piece of Mars: Barchan, or crescent dunes, are generally thought to form from winds blowing from a single direction. Reality isn’t usually that nice. Here are two barchans with crescent-shaped slip faces on their eastern (right) sides, indicating that the main dune-building winds blow from the west (left). However, ripples, an elongated dune arm, and steeper northern slopes hint at a secondary wind from the SE (lower right). (ESP_033272_1400, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)
It was the most famous invasion that never happened. But Orson Welles’ 1938 “War of the Worlds” broadcast sure sounded convincing as it used news bulletins and eyewitness accounts to describe an existential Martian attack. The public panicked. Or did it? New research says that claims of mass hysteria were overblown.
On the 75th anniversary of the broadcast: How the media manufactured descriptions of a fearful public and why – with our continued fondness for conspiracies – we could be hoodwinked again
Plus, journalism ethics in the age of social media. Can we tweet “Mars is attacking!” with impunity?
And why we’re obsessed with the Red Planet.Guests:
- Michael Socolow – Associate professor of communication and journalism at the University of Maine
- Jesse Walker – Senior editor at Reason Magazineand author of The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory
- Katy Culver – Assistant professor at the school of journalism and mass communication at the University of Wisconsin, Madison
- Kevin Schindler – Outreach manager at the Lowell Observatory
Your brain is made up of cells. Each one does its own, cell thing. But remarkable behavior emerges when lots of them join up in the grey matter club. You are a conscious being – a single neuron isn’t.
Find out about the counter-intuitive process known as emergence – when simple stuff develops complex forms and complex behavior – and all without a blueprint.
Plus self-organization in the natural world, and how Darwinian evolution can be speeded up.Guests:
- Randy Schekman – Professor of molecular and cell biology, University of California, Berkeley, 2013 Nobel Prize-winner
- Steve Potter – Neurobiologist, biomedical engineer, Georgia Institute of Technology
- Terence Deacon – Biological anthropologist, University of California, Berkeley
- Simon DeDeo – Research fellow at the Santa Fe Institute
- Leslie Valiant – Computer scientist, Harvard University, author of Probably Approximately Correct: Nature’s Algorithms for Learning and Prospering in a Complex World
I am back from the 45th annual Division of Planetary Sciences meeting in Denver, Colorado, where I presented my findings on the study of the triple asteroid system (87) Sylvia through a poster and in a press conference (video here). Located in the asteroid main-belt, we know that (87) Sylvia possesses two moons since our publication in Nature Journal in 2005. Our team has combined observations from professional-class telescopes and from small telescopes used by amateur astronomers to reveal that this 270-km diameter main-belt asteroid has a complex interior, probably linked to the way the multiple system was formed.
Since the discovery of its second moon, we have continued to observe this triple asteroid system by gathering 66 adaptive optics observations collected with various 8-10m class telescopes such as the W.M. Keck Observatory, the Very Large Telescope and the Gemini North telescope.
Because (87) Sylvia is a large, bright (V=10.5) asteroid located in the main belt, it is a great target for the first generation of adaptive optics systems available on these large telescopes. We have combined data from our team with archival data to get a good understanding of the orbits of these moons.
With expert assistance from colleagues at the Institut de Mécanique Céleste et de Calcul des Éphémérides (IMCCE) of the Observatoire de Paris, we developed an accurate dynamical model of the system, allowing us to predict the position of the moons around the asteroid at any time.
The “drop test” of this work was the prediction of the relative positions of the moons during an occultation on Jan. 6, 2013. Observers equipped with small telescopes located on a narrow path across the south of France, Italy and Greece could see the triple system (87) Sylvia occulting a bright 11-mag star.
In collaboration with EURASTER, a group of amateur and professional astronomers, the team successfully motivated ~50 observers to watch the event. Twelve of them detected the occultation by the primary of the system which lasted between 4 and 10 seconds depending on their position on Earth.
Additionally, four observers also detected a two-second eclipse of the star caused by Romulus, the outermost satellite, at a relative position close to our prediction. This result confirmed the accuracy of our model and provided a rare opportunity to directly measure the size and shape of the satellite.
The chords of this occultation revealed that Romulus is a body 24 km in diameter with an extremely elongated shape, possibly made of two lobes joined together. This is not surprising if the satellite formed from the accretion of fragments created by the disruption of a proto-Sylvia by an impact, which occurred several billion years ago.
We derived the shape of the 270-km primary asteroid Sylvia by combining data from the occultation of the asteroid with other sources of information. These included archived recordings of the variation of light caused by the spin of the satellite, and direct imaging by adaptive optics systems. Because the satellites’ orbits do not seem to be affected by the irregular shape of the asteroid, we concluded that the large asteroid is most likely differentiated. The asteroid likely has a spherical core of dense material, surrounded by a fluffy or fractured outer surface layer.
Combined observations from small and large telescopes provide a unique opportunity to understand the nature of this complex and enigmatic triple asteroid system. Thanks to the presence of these moons, we can constrain the density and interior of an asteroid, without the need for a spacecraft’s visit. Knowledge of the internal structure of asteroids is key to understanding how the planets of our solar system formed.
I would like to thank NASA PAST NNX11AD62G for their support and Danielle Futselaar for her fantastic drawing. This work is about to be submitted to Icarus Journal (Berthier et al. 2013). Let me know if you want me to send you thee submitted version.
A piece of Mars: This is what the relentless work of the wind can do. That vaguely circular structure in the center of the image is probably the remains of a ~150 m diameter impact crater. Since it formed, it’s been at least partially buried in dust. That dust was probably scoured from elsewhere on the planet during many successive dust storms, and slowly accumulated on the surface here. That dust lithified and is now once again being eroded away by, you guessed it, the wind. (PSP_010345_1635, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)
Discovering bacteria on Mars would be big news. But nothing would scratch our alien itch like making contact with intelligent life. Hear why one man is impatient for the discovery, and also about the new tools that may speed up the “eureka” moment. One novel telescope may help us find E.T. at home, by detecting the heat of his cities.
Also, the father of modern SETI research and how decoding the squeals of dolphins could teach us how to communicate with aliens.Guests:
- Lee Billings – Journalist and author of Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life Among the Stars
- Olivier Guyon – Optical physicist, astronomer, University of Arizona and Suburu telescope; 2012 McArthur Genius award winner
- Jeff Kuhn – Physicist, Institute for Astronomy in Honolulu, Colossus Telescope
- Frank Drake – Astronomer, SETI Institute
- Denise Herzing – Behavioral biologist and research director of the Wild Dolphin Project
A piece of Mars: These sharp-tipped hills are dunes near the north pole of Mars. At the height of summer they’re lovely dark dunes, but because it’s just barely spring here they’re still covered in white frost (mostly CO2 ice, but a little water ice). Like penguins who huddle in the dark of the polar night, these dunes are waiting for the sun to return so they can wake up and start moving with the wind. (ESP_032895_2615, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)
Let there be light! Well, it’s easy to do: just flip a switch. But it took more than the invention of the light bulb to make that possible. It required new technology for the distribution of electricity. And that came, not so much from Thomas Edison, but from a Serbian genius named Nikola Tesla.
Hear his story plus ideas on what might be the breakthrough energy innovations of the future. Perhaps hydrogen-fueled cars, nuclear fusion electrical generators or even orbiting solar cells?
Plus, a reminder of cutting-edge technology back in Napoleon’s day: lighthouses.Guests:
- W. Bernard Carlson – Professor of science, technology and society, University of Virginia, and author of Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age
- Michael Dunne – Physicist, program director for laser fusion energy, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
- R. Tom Baker – Chemist, director of the Center for Catalysis Research and Innovation, University of Ottawa
- Paul Young – Radio engineer, director of Powersat Ltd.
- Theresa Levitt – Historian, University of Mississippi, and author of A Short Bright Flash: Augustin Fresnel and the Birth of the Modern Lighthouse