Kara Babcock

I read, write, code, and knit.

13 Articles Tagged with “science”

  1. Happy Ada Lovelace Day, now dismantle the tech patriarchy

    I just started writing my review for Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet, by Claire L. Evans. If I had timed things better, I could have written this review earlier and published it today, on Ada Lovelace Day. As it is, I’ve paused writing my review of this amazing book for a quick blog post about this day and women in STEM in general.

    Ada Lovelace, by the way, is often called the world’s first computer programmer. This is because she designed the first algorithm for Charles Babbage’s never-built Analytical Engine, which was itself the first stab at a mechanical computer. Additionally, Lovelace was a kickass mathematician—although she was reluctant to draw attention to herself by publishing her own work, she ended up translating a bunch of other work and adding annotations of her own that were often longer, in total, than the original work!

    Lovelace, and the many women who follow her (read Evans’ book for more!), demonstrate that women have always been a part of tech. Women don’t just belong in STEM; women are an essential component of STEM and have been from the very beginning.

    Yet we have what…

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  2. On being skeptical, politely

    At lunch today I was talking with a colleague. She’s cool; I really respect her attitude towards pedagogy and also like her as a person. But our conversation on the environmental dangers of cows led us to talking about lab-grown meat, which then led to a discussion of whether food grown in a lab is any better or worse for someone than food grown in a farm. And my colleague mentioned that she thought the meat from a lab would not have the same “energy” as meat from a farm.

    I blinked. “Energy?” I asked, already fearing the response.

    “Yes, energy! You know, how everyone has an Energy, and everyone can feel everyone else’s Energy?”


    So this led us into a discussion in which I played the role of Skeptic and she played the role of Believer, where I insisted I can’t believe in “energy” and she related examples: the way you “know” someone is angry across the room; the way you “recognize” people you’ve never met before; clairvoyance; and reiki practitioners.

    It’s always a little awkward when you stumble onto these points of contention with people who are more acquaintances than close friends. I am not a confrontational…

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  3. Universal fat jokes, Doctor Who will be everywhere, and apparently the Internet is no longer for porn

    I’m comfortably ensconced (this is the correct word) in the well-worn couch in my grandparents’ basement. In a few hours I’ll be on an Air Canada flight to Thunder Bay, where I shall while away my summer in whatever manner pleases me (think coconut milkshakes, ninja dance parties, and suffocating under a massive pile of library books). Until then, though, things happen on the Internet.

    • We should be getting a Doctor Who 50th anniversary special trailer any time soon, because they screened it at Comic-Con. But apparently, according to the comments section, that isn’t going to happen. However, I am somewhat assuaged because the special will be simulcast around the world, which means I don’t have to worry about spoiling it for my dad (or Twitter spoiling it for anyone else).
    • Watch this “in memoriam” video for the myriad characters who have died during the first three seasons of Game of Thrones. Spoilers, obviously.
    • In an interesting spot of science news, evolution might be more predictable than we thought. It’s hard to get testable hypotheses out of macro-evolutionary theory, thanks to the time scales involved, but scientists are always finding ways around that.
    • Also, on the

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  4. Science is awesome in this week’s link roll

    Eight days of school left, and then I get to return to Canada for a month! I had a nice dinner in Norwich on Friday with the math department. My train ride home should have been uneventful, but I stupidly forgot my suit carrier on the train from Norwich. So it’s somewhere in London Liverpool St Station, with any luck, and I get it back.

    I didn’t have that many links to share, and I was busy last weekend, so I held them over until this week. But that means I have much more to highlight!

    • I’m always happy to read about how the atomic bomb has changed our world. Wait, that sounded wrong. Let me start that again.
    • I’m always interested to find out new side-effects of using atomic bombs in our atmosphere. For instance, it’s possible to determine if a supposedly pre–World War II painting is a forgery by checking the quantity of certain isotopes, like strontium, in the paint. Atomic testing has markedly increased such isotopes in the atmosphere, so paint manufactured after World War II is different from paint manufactured before! Now, scientists have used a similar process to confirm that our brains grow new neurons

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  5. Protest by reading seems about my speed

    It’s been a good week. On Friday night I went to the school’s Year 11 prom. I wore a suit and trainers, with a new bow tie and even some bracers. And somehow I ended up winning Best Dancer (no one could step to that).

    Meanwhile, on the Web this week, here’s what I found interesting:

    • I fondly remember watching Captain Planet as a kid. Looking back, it might seem cheesy (indeed, it probably seemed cheesy to me even then). But both the story and its pro-environmental message spoke to me. So I’m very excited and intrigued to learn that Sony has decided a Captain Planet move is in order. While we’re on the subject, does ayone else remember that one time Captain Planet turned people into trees?
    • Speaking of science and the environment, Bill Nye is one of my heroes. He’s one of the reasons I like to wear bow ties. Bill Nye the Science Guy was another favourite as a child. The New York Times has an excellent spotlight on him. Go read it!
    • Someone has put together an explanation of the various archetypes met during the Hero’s Journey (à la Campbell) using puppets

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  6. Iday Diary for Monday, June 18

    In order to better cover my experiences in detail, I’ve decided to write a post for each day I was away in England, publishing it on the same day this week. I also recorded video footage that I hope to have edited by the end of the week! Without further ado, here’s what happened on Monday.

    My flight from Thunder Bay to Pearson left at 6:30 Monday morning, so I was up a few hours before that to finish packing and prepare for what I knew would be the longest day of travel I had ever had. After much Youtubing about folding my sports coat properly, I zipped up my suitcase and headed out in the rain to the car, where my dad was waiting to drive me to the airport.

    The flight to Toronto went without incident, and we landed slightly before 8. My flight to England wasn’t until 10 pm. Fortunately, I had arranged for one of my friends from professional year to pick me up. After a brief tour through Terminal 3 to see where I should go that evening and a stop for an unsatisfying breakfast sandwich, I returned to the arrivals area and lurked there…

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  7. The census controversy: a travesty of Galilean proportion

    In 1633, Galileo was found "vehemently suspect" of heresy. His heretical opinion: holding and defending the belief that the Copernican, heliocentric model of the solar system was true in contravention to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Galileo was placed under house arrest for the remainder of his life and forced to recant, verbally and in writing, any belief in the Copernican model. His book, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, was banned. All because the Copernican model contradicts Biblical scripture. Well, mostly that. The conflict between Galileo and the Church was as much political as scientific or religious. Galileo had made some powerful enemies, people who also opposed Pope Urban VIII, accusing him of being too soft on heretics. So Galileo was in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Nearly five centuries later, the entire affair is one of the most stark examples of the conflict between science and religion.

    It was an unfortunate conflict, an unnecessary conflict. Whether science and religion are irreconciliable or incompatible is a much larger debate than I can discuss here, but in this case the conflict seems minor. Galileo was not a villain attempting to derail the Church; he…

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  8. Rap video about physics = BEST THING EVER

    Have you ever looked at someone who is walking down the street listening to an MP3 player and said, "Gee, I wonder if that person is listening to a rap song about physics!"((If the answer is yes, and you haven't heard of the Large Hadron Rap, then you may be a closet physicist. Don't worry, there's support groups for those now.))

    Because that's what I spent most of Monday and yesterday doing. Seriously.

    Today marks the first circulation of particle beams through the Large Hadron Collider. This is the largest particle accelerator ever built--27 km in circumference! Soon scientists will begin high-speed particle collisions, and thousands of scientists from around the world will analyze the results of these experiments to help us better comprehend the universe.

    I love physics. It interests me almost as much as math does. I'm also one of those people who believe that science, especially physics, doesn't need to be inaccessible to laypeople. While you may not be able to grasp the more esoteric mathematics behind the theories, it is possible to distill it down to the most basic points. Katherine McAlpine managed to do just that with her Large Hadron Rap. If you…

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  9. Today I saw dead bodies

    Lauren, her mom, her friend Briana, and I went to Cincinnati today to see BODIES... The Exhibition. It was fantastic. The human body is just so wonderfully complex and amazing. It's almost enough to make me believe in Intelligent Design.

    The exhibit went through each of the body's systems and structures. Since it used real preserved bodies, everything was realistic and amazingly detailed. I find the digestive system the most gross, the reproductive system the coolest, and the brain the most interesting. The digestive system reminds me of how we are, at some level, still just apes. We ingest meat and plants, turn them into paste, suck the nutrients out of them, and then eject them from our body. The process is disgusting at one level, although just like with everything else in the body, it is also amazing: so many complicated organs, tissues, and cells working together to make sure that we get the energy we need to survive. The reproductive system, with its dichotomous division of labour, is really cool. For women, the entire experience of carrying a life inside oneself must be astounding. For males, well ... every sperm is sacred!

    I find the brain…

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  10. Why scientists are illogical

    Many people, especially religious pundits who want to knock "cold, logical science" down a few notches, claim that science is as faith-based as religion. I would tend to agree. Those who disagree argue that science relies on painstaking experimental method and proof to back up its theories--which is true, but only to a certain extent. When it comes to the things that science just can't determine (or at least hasn't determined yet), we depend utterly on faith.

    A specific example of why scientists are illogical, however, is evident: the afterlife (or lack thereof). When you die, if any of the major religions are correct, you proceed to some sort of afterlife. If you're an atheist, you believe (mmm, sounds faith-based) that there is no afterlife. Or at least, there's no afterlife with God in it.

    But here's the clincher: if a "God" does exist, then you are screwed--at least according to those religions again, since the non-believer infidels usually enjoy a fate such as being "consigned to suffer the flames of Hell for all eternity". :fear: Nicer religions stick them in limbo or some such dimension like that. What it comes down to is: believers prosper, non-believers don't.

    So, logically,…

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  11. Get over it

    Pluto is not a planet anymore.

    Get over it.

    It's still orbitting the sun; it is a "dwarf planet", and it is not going to go away any time soon. So unless you happen to be an astronomer whose doctorate depends upon a study of Pluto's planetary characteristics--does it really matter? Honestly, we spend way too much time talking about semantics--it's maddening! Did everyone turn into lawyers overnight?

    So if you're upset over all this nonsense about demoting Pluto, don't be; it hasn't really been demoted. It's a "dwarf planet", and thus is still important. It's just been recategorised.

    We now have 8 major planets and a heretofore yet undetermined number of dwarf planets. Don't like it? Tough. The Earth is still going to orbit the Sun (shocking, yes, I know) and your bills are still going to arrive, you'll still have to pay them too.

    Deal with it.

  12. Is Pluto a planet?

    The short answer: yes and no. (You can tell when science and politics mix.)

    The long answer. Heck, I don't want to bother explaining it. If I did, would I really be writing it in a blog? Wikipedia sums it up nicely, as does this Washington Post article. Pluto is in trouble, but not of losing its planetary status--not quite.

    You see, the problem with Pluto is that it's puny. It's the runt of the litter; it's the planet that other, bigger, manlier planets bully in the solar schoolyard during celestial recess. And this size has recently become an issue as more and more planet-like objects are being discovered orbiting that star out there we call the Sun, which hundreds of years ago some guy named Copernicus tried to convince everyone all the planets orbit.

    You know, if we had stuck with geocentrism, this probably wouldn't be much of a problem, now would it? Alas, heliocentrism is a cold and unforgiving solar model.

    So basically, the International Astronomical Union has to finally decide if Pluto is a planet or not? Unfortunately, no. It isn't that simple. Because we've never really had a good idea of the definition

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  13. Meet the Meat

    Some scientists are working on artificially grown meat, which would be "test-tube meat" rather than from dead animals. It's an interesting concept, and one with many ramifications. They claim it would have lower fat content. Plus it would eliminate the need for 40 billion smelly animals that are kept in poor farming conditions, and solve that tiny problem of world hunger.

    What about vegetarians, eh? If you're a vegetarian, why? Obviously if you don't eat meat for a physiological reason or such, you would not eat this meat. But if it is just because you think that eating meat is wrong (since we're killing animals), would you eat this artificial meat (no animals were harmed during the making of this product).

    Oh, and the universe runs on toast. Thank you. :)