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Archive for the ‘science’ Category

East Coast people, first, let me be honest: yes, we’re all giggling about your 5.8 earthquake on this coast.  And no, it isn’t fair, but you probably laugh at our occasional funnel clouds.

Second, it’s still very important to go report what you observed if you felt the earthquake; use this USGS link:

USGS: Did You Feel It?

Why? Because it helps geologists map exact earthquake soil response for specific types of seismic waves, and it helps engineers assess actual and potential damage. I makes everyone safer in the long run.

Even with itty-bitty little quakes…  (Kidding!)

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Sigh.  Although my students do the best they can with the background they have, I continue to be stunned at the low requirements of the American education system. A sizable portion of college and university classes here are basically remedial high school. I’m getting lots of people in their second or third year in a four-year engineering program who have never had any statistics at all. They will have to take one stats class before they graduate, but it’s not prerequisite to many other classes so they tend to take it late in the program. It seriously limits their tools and understanding.

Let’s compare:

Requirements to graduate from Polytechnique of Montreal:

  • Need to have enough high school math, physics and chemistry to take the 2-year Pure and Applied Sciences program at a CEGEP (junior college)
  • There, 3 physics classes, 6 math classes, 3 chemistry classes, 1 bio class, plus 4 PE classes, 4 philosophy classes, 4 French classes, and some English (60 units total).
  • Polytechnique: 120 units of solid, wall-to-wall engineering.  No relief from any GEs or electives.

Requirement to graduate here:

  • No requirements on high school classes, though math, physics and chemistry are recommended.
  • 27 units of GE
  • 106 units of sciences and engineering including the same math, physics, and chemistry I had to take in junior college.

Conclusion: Canadian engineers graduate WAY more prepared.  I cringe when I hear people talking about how difficult the program or a class is.

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I am so very mortified. I just received the e-mail invitation from the American Society of Civil Engineers for the ASCE’s 139th Annual Civil Engineering Conference. And who do they proudly boast is the guest speaker for the Closing General Session Breakfast? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Yes, it’s Mister Ben “Expelled” Stein himself. Mr. Ben “science leads you to killing people” Stein. Mr. “Intelligent Design” himself, who kept a straight-face while comparing President Obama with Adolf Hitler, Juan Peron, and Evita Peron. But then, Mr. Stein likes to compare all sorts of things to Nazi depredations, he’s like Godwin’s Law walking out there outside the Internet.

Prepare yourself for a hilarious morning as he delivers advice with his unique sense of humor, while telling you what you need to know.

You know what, guys? You’re definitely along the hilarious track there as you make us a laughingstock by inviting someone who stands decidedly against science, fact-based thinking to speak at an engineering conference. This goes against everything an engineer is trained for and against our obligations toward society.

Thanks for nothing, bozos.

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NASA, AS17-148-2272, taken from Apollo 17 mission on December 7, 1972, at 5:39 a.m. ESTWe live on a beautiful, fragile yet amazingly resilient world, which we celebrate on April 22.  It’s the third planet from our star, the sun, formed over four and half billion  years ago from accreting stellar matter, along with the rest of our system.  Life developed rapidly on the new planet, taking merely half a billion year or so, maybe a little more, but took another two billion before jumping to a multicellular arrangement.  All the time, it has branched and multiplied, trying all sorts of crazy strategies to get the edge in survival.  The whole system is an intricately interconnected web stretched around a lovely blue marble.

To the right is the most famous photo ever taken of our world, NASA’s image no. AS17-148-2272, taken from the Apollo 17 mission on December 7, 1972, at 5:39 a.m. EST.  We’re more used to see it reversed, with the South Pole at the bottom.   It was the the first clear image of an illuminated face of Earth we ever received — this was a new trajectory never used before by an Apollo mission — and is sometimes described as the most reproduced image of all times.  (That’s an unverifiable claim, but it’s true that this is a widely known, iconic image.  I posted the South-Pole-up version rather than the more familiar reversed version to remind myself that up and down, north and south, are entirely relative to our frame of reference.

I think I’m going to go listen to Vangelis’ Albedo 0.39 now.

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Here are a few sites I want to gush about, as educational resources, as entertainment, and as serious technical and scientific resources. Not only can they be used in the classroom, or browsed for the sheer enchantment of discovery, but they are pure gold for for professionals in the environmental fields as well.

NatureServe Explorer

A huge online database of species, NatureServe Explorer is a collaboration between natural heritage programs and conservation data centers operating in all 50 U.S. states, 11 Canadian provinces and territories, and 20 member programs in Latin America and the Caribbean. The database provides information on the conservation status of species throughout the territory covered, their vulnerability, ecology and life history, etc., and provides techinal references to learn more.

Lifemapper

The visual tool Lifemapper is the work of a University of Kansas team with support from all over the world. It uses an advanced geographical database to display where species are found and documented, and to predict where we might expect to find them. This tool also allows users to create Google Earth maps with the data. Note: You need to supply the scientific (Latin) name of the species to search.

ITIS

The Integrated Taxonomic Information System, or ITIS, provides taxonomic information on plants, animals, fungi, and microbes of North America and the world. ITIS is a cooperatice project between Canada, the U.S., and Mexico. Hey, here is a good place to look up scientific names so you can query Lifemapper!

PLANTS Database

Created and maintained by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the PLANTS national database contains life history, range, and taxonomic information, photos, native/non-native status, and much more. It can be searched using either common names or scientific names.

FishBase

Another product of international scientific cooperation, the FishBase information system provides images, life history, distribution, taxonomic status, and much more for over 31,000 fish species. It can be searched using either common names or scientific names.

BirdWeb

Much more subdued, regional, and low-tech, BirdWeb is nonetheless a work of love and excellence, offering carefully gathered information and on-the-ground observations. It’s the work of the Seattle branch of the Audubon Society, and the information it contains is useful for a large part of our ecoregion.

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The various stages of collapse of the Wilkins Ice Shelf in the Antarctica has been in the news over the past couple of weeks.  Now you can watch an animation of the process in Google Earth, as assembled by the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).

After downloading the file and opening it with Google Earth, I recommend first clicking the little clock icon to the left of the slider bar in the image, moving the animation speed slider so it is about 1/3 of the way from the left, and selecting “At end of time range, animation should stop.”  Then click “OK” and press the play button (arrow) at the right of the slider.  Repeat as needed.

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We’ve already established that I’m a nerd, so don’t be too alarmed when I tell you that today’s topic is snazzy periodic tables. I have three favourite sites I want to share, plus as a bonus, a fantastic chemistry database. If you’re not excited by the concept, maybe your high school-age kids will be!

You see, I have this theory that everything I do well — engineering studies, environmental impact assessment, business development, blogging, organizing events — is about 75% information management. I’m fascinated by clever uses of display and organization methods that make a lot of information available in a coherent fashion. The periodic table is a remarkable example because it organizes and presents tons of information in relatively little space.

Here are three versions that use hyperlinks and online capability to extend the power of the periodic table.

Ptable.com: Dynamic Periodic Table

Michael Dayah’s Ptable.com is the dedicated domain for an entirely HTML-based application (i.e., no Flash animation, no weird scripts) and resource that packs an amazing amount of useful information: properties, orbitals, isotopes, in glorious detail. It displays and prints well with most browsers. Mr. Dayah is constantly adding refinements and new features or information.

Los Alamos National Laboratory

The Periodic Table of the Elements on the Los Alamos National Laboratory site is less advanced in terms of both coding and information displayed, but is still a very nice resource. It too is HTML-based, so not prone to interference with other scripts and plug-ins.

Touchspin’s Interactive Periodic Table

Brian Adams’ (Touchspin’s) Interactive Periodic Table is Flash-based and provides less information than Ptable.com (about the same as LANL’s but somewhat different), but it displays very fast and cleanly. Like Ptable.com, it also links every element with its Wikipedia page. It also uses some nice colour-coding to convey additional information.

ChemIDplus Database

As our bonus chemistry site, we’re leaving the realm of the periodic table and simple elements to visit molecules. The National Institute of Health’s ChemIDplus is a searchable database of 360,000+ chemical substance records that provides tons of information on physical properties, structure, toxicity and even, if you add the plug-in, a representation of the molecules.

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