Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Dancers

Nature of Science
History of Science
Astronomy
STEM
Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

"What's happening at the center of 3C 75?," is the question posed by the October 22, 2017 Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD).

Dancing, that's what. Well more or less.The APOD entry describes this dance as two "co-orbiting supermassive black holes powering the giant radio source 3C 75."  When they merge, gravitational waves will be released. This is not close-dancing yet although given the size of the universe it is.  The two dancers are separated by a mere 25,000 light years. The Pin Wheel galaxy is roughly this distance from us. It is found in the constellation Ursa Major, no doubt a familiar friend.

Theoretician Sean Carroll of CalTech has a nice but somewhat technical entry (at least for your's truly) on what the recent collision of two neutron stars means to cosmologists. an event known by professionals as GW170817.  Astronomers and cosmologists would like to know how far away such events are from us.

This collision opened the era of "multi-messenger astronomy," which provides a way for astrophysicists to detect both gravitational waves and electromagnetic radiation emanating from a single source. What this means is distance measurements from here to there are now possible. 

Previously the amount of redshift which is essential to measuring such distances, didn't allow this. As Carroll explains, gravitational waves don't provide sufficient spectral structure to measure the redshift. Additionally, the energy of the gravitational waves varies.

In traditional measurements stars known as standard candles are used to construct step-by-step, a "cosmic distance ladder."  This is explained by Carroll but I include another link, a Wiki entry.

I include this reference to Sean Carroll because this event has some personal relevance to Carroll. Additionally it is a lovely story in the history and nature of science.  It turns out that when two of Carroll's colleagues were writing one of the early papers on such measurements, Carroll said to the authors "Well you have to call these things 'standard sirens.'" And so they are.

It turned out that this name had also been proposed by Sterl Phinney. Hughes and Holz acknowledged their work: We thank Sean Carroll and Sterl Phinney for independently suggesting that the gravitational-wave analogue of the standard candle be named the “standard siren”. 

Professor Carroll's blog entry includes links to LIGO explainer, a table of the various spectra, waveforms and the chirp where you can hear it, as well as the link to the acknowledgements section of the Hughes and Holz paper. 

Note: APOD entries are time-stamped so if you look for the October 22 entry after today it can be found in the archive.

h/t, several of them to Sean Carroll who writes the well-named blog, The Preposterous Universe. 







Friday, October 20, 2017

Lead Detecting Device

Pollution
STEM
Edward Hessler

Meet Gitanjali Rao, 11 yo winner of the 2017 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge in this NPR report by Laurel Wamsley.

The embedded video amazed me.

What a talented young person (and fast talker, too).

And what an important and promising and necessary and clever and smart invention.




Friday Poem

Poetry
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Two-time Pulitzer prize winning poet Richard Wilbur died October 4, 2017, age 96. He was one of the great gifts to American poetry and also a renowned translator of poetry.

Wilbur was a graduate of Amherst College and a remembrance of him and his career may be found on MassLive. I include another from The New Yorker, a publication to which he was a frequent contributor. This tribute to him ends with two evocative lines from the last poem he published in that magazine, "For now, the long blue shadows of these trees / Stretch out upon the snow, and are at ease" (Sugar Maples, January).

His poems never fail to please and inform me as well as challenge my sensibilities so it is not easy to choose just one. So what to do?  Choose a favorite, that's what! It is a poem I read it this time of year and perhaps you do or have as well.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Wildlife Maps



STEM
Models
Behavior
Earth Science

The book below was reported on in September by retired William and Mary anthropologist, Barbara J. King.  She is one of my very favorite NPR commentators.  King opened her column/radio report with a question. "Have you spent quiet time poring over a set of maps? Maybe halfway around the world that you've always wanted to visit--or even the mountains or coastlines of your home area? Maps transport us. They 'make the landscape fit indoors, make us masters of sights we can't see...in the word of Robert Harbison...."

The book was recently published in the U. S. and makes the "monumental journeys taken by wild animals fit indoors...." The  title is  Where the Animals Go: Tracking Wildlife with Technology in 50 Maps and Graphics by James Cheshire and Oliver Uberti. I thought of Where the Wild Things Are, a glorious book of a different stripe!  The aim of Cheshire and Uberti is to connect people to the lives and intentional choices of individual animals.  We see individuality in our pets; it's much harder to see in the wild. As a result, to some, elk in Yellowstone or baboons in Kenya may seem like furry robots following a predetermined...loop." 

You can all think of exceptions, mostly professionals, who see wild animals as individuals. Several came to my mind: Jane Goodall (chimpanzees), the wife-husband team Dorothy Cheney and Robert Seyfarth (baboons), David Mech (wolves, and Doug Peacock (grizzly bears).  An important value of this book is "in terms of geographic needs, the point to stress is that to protect animals, we must protect where they go." This is all too easily forgotten or neglected or.... Consider, for example, monarch butterflies.

Here you can learn more about the book and see a few maps--seals, baboons (early in her career, King studied baboons in Kenya), albatrosses, jaguars, warblers and crocodiles. I wish the map for the elk of Yellowstone was included. One member of the Cody herd is highlighted and it is tantalizing. She is #35342. King devotes a few paragraphs to her and her calf. "We may trace her route with our fingers as well as our eyes...." 

And along the way imagine richly, wonder, raise questions....

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Ballerina Dances With the Geometry She Creates While Dancing

Miscellaneous
STEM
Edward Hessler

It was a long time ago when I talked with a local physicist about an unconventional mechanics course he offered for students of athletics and dance. The student laboratory was a gymnasium and the tools, primitive these days but innovative then, included the use of small lights that could be attached to participants and an inexpensive photographic technique that allowed students to analyze human motion.

The laboratory was classic "sticky tape and string physics," i.e., it made use of uncostly, common materials and human cleverness, one based on a good understanding of physics.

I was reminded of that conversation when I watched a short video posted on AEON of ballerina Kurimu Urabe. The Japanese design group EUPHRATES found inspiration from a once widely used animation device, the rotoscope. I'd never heard of this device. The rotoscope allowed animators to trace over actions, a frame at a time in the process of making a film. It was once widely used and still finds some use, e.g., the sabre light fights in Star Wars.

However, the EUPHRATES design team goes well beyond the rotoscope, making use of an "innovative computer algorithm...to create dynamic animations that gracefully interact with the dancer." The title of the film captures the nature of the interaction: A ballerina dances with the geometry of her own movements.

Here is the short video which I found captivating.

Now about that rotoscope.  A Google search quickly opens the territory to more than someone like me wants to know. I didn't look at everything but found this short film instructive, interesting and nuanced. There is more out there.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

First planting day

CGEE Student Voice
by Jenni Abere


In preparation for Planton Movil, in class last week, we build plant/human connectors, screenprinted old shirts, and created informational signs about the plants. We worked in one of the art studios at Hamline, and were provided with tons of material from the sculpting studio. This was a rare opportunity in college to actually create something with your hands, so people got into it. I participated mainly in the building, and created several sling-like pouches that allow you to carry a medium-sized plant like a baby.

On Sunday, we planted many of the large plants at the site. There wasn't much a parade; we just sort of carried the plants over and went right into planting. I should have used one of my slings though; I carried one chokecherry plant in each arm, and my arms were sore the next day. The plant-human connectors have a level of practicality beyond just being decorative.

We distributed the plants according to the plan for the site. Trees and taller plants, like the oaks and service berries, had to go farther down the slope so they don't block visibility on the road. We also considered where the path from the road, through the prairie, to the outdoor classroom space would be. The planting was relatively easy, since the damp soil was easy to dig into it. The one challenge was planting on a steep slope. One or two plants went rolling down the hill.

We still have a number of small plugs to plant on the site next weekend. The entire site has been seeded with a prairie mix, so any bare spots will be filled in the spring. I'm starting to envision how this space will look; It will be exciting to follow its growing progress next summer!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Kilonovas: Now the Evidence

Astronomy
Nature of Science 
History of Science
STEM

WaPo's Sarah Kaplan and Ben Guarino report on the collision of two collapsed stars that happened only recently when one thinks of time in terms of the universe. A mere 130 million years ago (mya). Like yesterday.

The result was a "kilonova," a merger of two neutron stars and is the first time this event has ever been observed, the "first cosmic event in history to be observed via both traditional telescopes...and gravitational wave detectors...". Unitl this event, kilonovas have been theoretical (This event demonstrates the power of a robust theoretical framework.). Neutron stars are composed of neutral particles and the collisons are the source of heavy elements such as gold, platinum and silver.

Julie McEnery, a NASA astrophysicist at Goddard Space Flight Center (Greenbelt, Md.) involved in this work is noted that this find is "transformational," and now scientists will be "able to combine dramatically different ways of viewing the universe, and I think our level of understanding is going to leap forward as a result." This new science is called "multimessenger astrophysics."

Kaplan and Guarino describe the fascination and excitement of the race to find the source of the signal. Scientists studying such events are constrained by the mechanics of the universe. First, it is a needle in a haystack event. Secondly, the haystack is on the move (as the universe races outward from us) so the signal grows more and more faint. There is a very short open window--about an hour--to observe this event before it disappears from view.

This place, the universe is big and fast.

Kaplan and Guarino  write that the "events... hewed closely to theories about the merger of neutraon stars based in nuclear physics, general relativity and research on the origins of elements." Ryan Foley, one of the scientists involved said that "'as a civilization (we) have been confined to the Earth, and almost all the information we've ever received from the universe has been through light. Yet we were able to predict...things as extreme as two neutron stars colliding when even the idea of neurtron stars was incredible.'"

McEnery put it this way. "While I'm not surprised that Einstein is right, it's always nice to see him pass another test." Here is the WaPo article which includes visualizations of the event.

Here are some of the numbers: 70 laboratories and telescopes around the world and ~ 4500 authors of the paper published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. They represent 910 institutions.This is not the largest collaboration ever.

There is also another report from NPR with animations that include how "it actually looked to astronomers." I especially liked this view. I think the two reports, WaPo and NPR complement one another and that both deserve a look so please at least scan them if you want to know more.

Nell GreenfieldBoyce, the author of the NPR essay calls attention to one thing most of us might be interested in: the gold, the platinum and the silver produced resulting from this mash-up.

She writes "Now to the scale of the debris.'That debris is strange stuff,' according to theoretician Daniel Kasen.'It's gold and platinum but it's mixed in with what you'd call just regular radioactive waste, and there's this big radioactive wast cloud that just starts mushrooming out from the merger site. It starts out small, about the size of a small city, but it's moving so fast--a few tenths of the speed of light--that after a day it's a cloud the size of the solar system.'"

GreenfieldBoyce writes that "according to (Kasen's) estimates, this neutron star collision produced around 200 Earth masses of pure gold, and maybe 500 Earth masses of platinum." 'It's a ridiculously huge amount on human scale.' Kasen wears a platinum wedding ring and notes that 'it's crazy to think that these things that seem very far out and kind of exotic actually impact the world and us in kind of intimate ways.'"

Earth masses represent a lot of tons, way more than I'm prepared to calculate. Atlas would struggle. One Earth mass equals 5.972x10^24 kg. The ^ represents to the power of 24.

Calculate away at heart's content!








Sunday, October 15, 2017

Finish Lessons...Singapore Lessons

Education
Society
October 15, 2017

A few weeks ago Diane Ravitch posted a very short piece on Pasi Sahlberg, a well-known Finnish educator. He is the author of "Finnish Lessons."

Here is the link to Ravatch's post where you will find a link to seminar he participated in at Columbia University. Ravitch extracted four big ideas from this long seminar--more than an hour which is a lot of time for most of us. Here are the four ideas.

--All children should have ample time for unstructured play.

--Small Data, the kind that teacher collect daily through their observations has more value to teaching/learning than Big Data captured by yearly standardized tests.

--Equitable funding, i.e., sending money/resources where it is most needed.

--There are many urban legends about Finland, one is that they recruit the very best and brightest into teaching.  Instead, teacher candidacy is about a strong commitment to being a teacher in addition to being bright. "There is no Teach for Finland."

To give you an idea of Sahlberg's thinking, here is a link to a shorter talk Sahlberg made several years ago on the germ/virus affecting school systems. It is followed by a provocative talk by a Finish student who also spent some of her time in Hong Kong as a student which she described as the best of two educational worlds. 

She asks what the Finish education system can learn from Hong Kong/Asia and she makes some strong recommendations. You may skip ahead to the talk by Hannankina Tanninnen.

The presentation is very thoughtful, one that makes me think about schools and schools systems in general, as well as the contrasts between Finland and Hong Kong and, of course the U. S.


Friday Poem (on a Sunday)

Poetry
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Events have a way of changing plans. I was out of the office unexpectedly Friday. I'll tell you what it was all about in one word used for all kinds of reasons in Minnesota and designed for this occasion.

It was INTERESTING. It was--it led to several new learnings, ideas and insights. I'll leave it there.


The idea of October continues in this poem.

Take care.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Puerto Rico: A Graphic

Disaster
Miscellaneous
Edward Hessler

Hurricane Maria's aftermath can be seen in a startling Washington Post graphic.

You will also find information about the Puerto Rico Electric Authority (PREPA). I can't imagine ~3988 km (2478 miles) of downed powerline and replacing it if access was clear. It isn't. There are landslides, downed trees and brush covered roads.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Correlation...Causation

Statistics
STEM
Mathematics Education
Edward Hessler

We all know or have heard the rule that a correlation doesn't imply causation. By the way, not all people like this comic xkcd.  Here is a take-down on this particular panel.

Hmmm?  A correlation implies something and the trick is to separate promising leads from dead-ends. I like the way statistician Douglas Whitaker so beautifully and suggestively puts it in his short post about the xkcd panel. (Whitaker is a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, just a hop, skip and a jump east of here.)

Correlation doesn't imply causation, but it does waggle its eyebrows suggestively and gesture furtively while mouthing look over here.

You will have to scroll down quite a bit to find the quote. It is under "Association."  The entry includes links to quite a few comics/cartoons about stats which Whitaker thoughtfully comments on throughout.

Minute Physics doesn't miss much and here is a quick primer on correlation and causation (causal networks) and how one can winnow down possibilities.  If you don't get it all the first time, it is short enough (4 minutes) that it can be reviewed easily. These videos challenge notetaking, perhaps even discourage it, but I find there is time to scratch down questions if you decide to take another look.


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Waking Up at Night with Worries About the Fate of the Planet

Society
Pollution
Sustainability
Sustainable Energy & Transportation
Technology
Water & Watersheds
Edward Hessler

What global problem is at the top of your mind when you awake at night and can't go back to sleep?

There were 151 responses and for each question they selected one submission from a listener.


The results are reported by Malaka Gharib. Before you take a look at the results of this informal and unscientific poll, what is the problem of most concern to you? If, like me, I don't lie awake thinking about global problems most of the time. If you have this experience think of the question as a hypothetical.

I agreed with the first choice on the list which was my choice before I looked. I wish now I had chosen the top three.. I was surprised by the position of some of the other answers.

In September NPR's Malaka Gharib asked Amina J. Mohamed, Deputy Secretary-General of the U. N. (# 2 position) at the Global Global Goals Award ceremony.  She wove her response into remarks she made at the ceremony. You may read her response and those of a few others on #Curious Goat.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Bunny's Goodnight

Literacy
Society
Miscellaneous
Edward Hessler

I didn't know that astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson was a fan of Goodnight Moon, so much so that he "occasionally long(s)" for someone to read it aloud to him. 

His wish comes true with LaVar Burton reading this story to him and to us.

So many things happening on the occasion of a rabbit going to bed.

Goodnight moon. Goodnight Dr. Tyson. Goodnight Mr. Burton. Goodnight bunny.

"Goodnight house, goodnight little mouse."

Goodnight to one and all.

What a lovely project.


Sunday, October 8, 2017

Rain gardens along the Green Line

CGEE Student Voice
Water & Watersheds
by Jenni Abere


On a rainy Friday afternoon, my Environmental Studies class went on a tour of some of the stormwater features along University Ave in Saint Paul. When the Green Line was constructed here five years ago, Capital Region Watershed District took the opportunity to integrate some rainwater best practices. This was possible due to CRWD's regulatory authority; the Green Line route in Minneapolis does not have the same features.


The first feature we learned about is the tree trench system. The Green Line project led to a much greener University Avenue: there are trees on both sides of the street. The bricks around the trees are pervious, allowing rainwater to soak through the cracks instead of running off into the street. The picture above also shows the informative signs that are on display. The sign, titled "Rooting Out Pollution," explains the many benefits of permeable land and plants; less water runoff, cleaner water, and cleaner air.


In this rain garden, water from a nearby parking lot is piped in, and water from the street runs through the decorative grate. The plants here, mostly grasses, are selected specifically for their ability to withstand high levels of pollution. In the time that we stood there, I watched the rain carry some oil from the road along the curb, and into the rain garden. Despite these tough conditions, the plants looked healthy. All things considered, it's better for pollution to end up in a rain garden than directly in the river. CRWD performs regular maintenance on rain gardens.


The above rain garden is located next to a McDonald's. Because of this, there is a fair amount of litter. But the plants and trees are doing very well. It's great to be more aware of rain gardens, because once you notice them, you see them in a lot of places. But after this field trip, every time I see a regular patch of grass I just want to plant a rain garden there.

The good news is, a large rain garden will be planted near Hamline this month! Seeing the nearby rainwater infrastructure made me very excited to participate in this project.

Stardust and Us

STEM
Environmental and Science Education
Edward Hessler


"We are stardust," Joni Mitchell famously sang.

Everything is.

The general theme of the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physics was stellar evolution and two awards were made, one for theoretical studies of physical processes leading to structure and evolution of stars and one for theoretical and experimental studies of the nuclear reactions in the formation of the chemical elements in the universe.

How this happened is nicely explained in a short video (4 minutes) by NASA astronomer, Michelle Thraller.

Reminds me of a Grook--aphoristic verse by Piet Hein.

I'D LIKE --
 
I'd like to know 
what this whole show 
is about 
before it's out.
 
But none of us will be here to see that. 
 





Friday, October 6, 2017

Friday Poem

Poetry
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

It's October!

Octember, if you are of the Stan Laurel school of meteorological fall.

Robert Frost notes this event.

And here is a short biography although I may regret sending it or you may. There is an ad at the beginning before the speaking starts which is accompanied by pictures worth waiting for. There is text, too.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Humor
Miscellaneous
Edward Hessler


I once joined LinkedIn (for no reason) then tried to de-link. I've given up on that. I still receive mailings telling me about jobs, people and more. I don't respond.

If I ever decide to respond I think I might choose to this way.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

A Snowy Day

Art and Environment
Literacy
Miscellaneous
Edward Hessler

The Snowy Day (1962) by Ezra Jack Keats is one of my all-time favorite books.

This lovely book is about the pleasure snow brings to Peter, a young boy which is delightfully and beautifully expressed in the illustrations. These take me back to childhood and the wonder of a snow.

Today, October 4 2017 the U. S. Postal Service is releasing four stamps featuring illustrations from the book. They are, Peter forming a snowball, Peter sliding down a mountain of snow, Peter making a snow angel, and Peter leaving footprints in the snow.

The book was awarded the Caldecott Medal in 1963 for "most distinguished American picture book for children."

You may see the stamps here.




Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology 2017

Nature of Science
STEM
Nature of Science
Edward Hessler

The names Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash of Brandeis University and Michael Young of Rockefeller University apparently were not on anyone's list to receive the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology in 2017. The so-called "smart money" was on others. But Hall, Rosbash and Young did just that. The award made October 2 acknowledges "their discovery of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm."

The earth rotates and life is adapted to this daily turning. Life has an internal "clock" that allows it to anticipate this regular cycle and to adapt to it through well-know processes of evolution.The press release (cited above) announcing the award notes that Hall, Rosbash and Young showed that "(a) gene that controls the normal biological rhythm encodes a protein that accumulates in cells during the night, and is then degraded during the day leads to remarkable regulatory functions."  The gene was given the name "timeless."

Jerome Groopman who writes about medicine and biology for The New Yorker wondered why these particular candidates were given the prize. After all their work was with fruitflies and one could ask (as many have about this kind of work) who cares how fruitflies make sense of this turning planet. Of what use is it?  Groopman recalled a conversation he once had with a member of a Nobel selection committee who told him that among the considerations is message, the message that is sent by making the award.

Groopman asked himself about the meaning of the award. This "announcement, and last year's, is that both are about the divide between basic research--the pursuit of scientific knowledge for its own sake--and applied research, which focusses on work with obvious, immediate effects." As Groopman  notes in the short essay linked above the award "is a kind of rebuke" to those who rail against the waste of this kind of investigation into nature. However, "the Nobel Committee made clear this morning, the science that informs and occasionally upends our understanding of human health and disease often comes from unexpected places."






An Ending I Wish Were Otherwise

Miscellaneous
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

You all know that Tom Petty died, age 66.

The end of an era.

In addition to his career in rock with his band The Heartbreakers--one of its great writers--he was also a member of the mega-group, the Traveling Wilbury's. Its members were Tom Petty, George Harrison, Ray Orbison, Jeff Lynne, Bob Dylan, and Jeff Lynne. The original group is now down to four following the deaths of George Harrison, Ray Orbison and Tom Petty.

Here is a favorite by them, aptly titled End of the Line.

See Urbanization Happen

Sustainability
Archaeology
Behavior

Visualizations are very helpful in thinking about things that occur over time.  The History of Urbanization: 3700 BC - 2000 AD from Metrocosm, does just that.

Creator Max Galka notes that By 2030, 75 percent of the world's population is expected to be living in cities. Today about 54 percent of us do. In 1960, only 34 percent of the world lived in cities.

Galka tells us how the data before then were obtained.  In addition, Galka plots these data in Mapbox which allows further exploration. 
 Neat!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Man Who Chose to Wait

STEM
Technology
Miscellaneous
Edward Hessler

On May 19, 2017 a former Soviet Union officer died whom I'd never heard one word about. Nothing.

His name was Sanislaw Petrov and he was 77 years old. He had been a lieutenant colonel in the Air Defense System.

It seems fair to say that he was the man who saved the world. 

From what?

As Greg Myre reported for NPR, Petrov was on routine duty monitoring the USSR satellite system. He was rudely interrupted by a what must have been a frightening siren alarm. The screen told him that the U. S. had launched "five nuclear-armed international ballistic missiles." The red screen had a single word on it, LAUNCH.

Petrov chose to wait. He was faced with a number problem. Five missiles, not the many he had been trained to expect in an all-out nuclear attack. Petrov once reported to the BBC, "I couldn't move. I felt like I was sitting on a hot frying pan." The window of time from launch to strike was about 20 minutes.

Petrov was working without a rule. There wasn't a rule that said after such and such a time you will report this to the commanders who would launch a counter attack. He checked on whether it was a computer malfunction and continued waiting. "Twenty-three minutes later I realized that nothing had happened," he said in 2013.

This is one way to express relief!

Myre's essay is a thriller and includes a link to a promotional trailer for a Kevin Costner, Robert DeNiro film titled The Man Who Saved the World. It was released in 2015. Rotten Tomatoes has information about the film and has assigned it 3 stars based on 14 reviews.

Movies are one thing; life quite another. 


Friday, September 29, 2017

Celebrate

Miscellaneous
Sustainability
Edward Hessler

I just learned that it is National Coffee Day (part of International Coffee Day).

Here are some songs about coffee. Dan Newton, Bob Marley, and The Divers.

And while this is late, here are some places you can get a cup of joe for free today.

Of course, everything we do has impacts: social, environmental, economic and.... Here is an essay about some of the social and environmental costs.

I am drinking a cup of coffee right now and had an iced coffee early this morning, the latter a near daily treat in the warm time of the year.

Friday Poem

Poetry
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Some notes about the poet Sarah Freiligh and her poem for this Friday here.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

4 Minute History of the National Parks

Nature
Edward Hessler

Aeon posted a film on the history of the national parks by U. S. filmmaker Ryan Maxey.  It is an unofficial history.

The film is entertaining and also thought provoking.

Take a look.


Hamline learning lawn & garden signs

CGEE Student Voice
by Jenni Abere


In two of my classes this fall, one of our tasks is to create explanatory and educational signs for the new Hamline garden.


We need signs with basic information including: what is planted here, who started and maintains the garden, and how to get involved. Then we need signs to explain the importance and broader context of the garden.

For the basic explanatory signs, I like the idea of rotating "plant of the week" signs in addition to basic labels. These could be aligned with when the plant is ready to harvest, and include instructions for harvesting and cooking. A permanent sign is also needed to give instructions for tending to the garden (watering, weeding) and to invite people to take food.

My group in class started working on the significance/context sign. We want to focus on the topic of food security because a recent survey at Hamline found that many students are food insecure. The garden could be a small step to providing healthy food, and helping people develop the skills to grow their own food.

I'm excited about this project because I helped build and plant the garden last spring and tend to it during the summer. It's a really cool addition to campus, and I want to make sure people know how they can become involved.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Mystery in Madagasgar: Fossil Beds


Biological Evolution 
STEM
Environmental and Science Education
Edward Hessler

The mystery referred to in the title of this post would be less of a puzzle had it not occurred so long ago: 70 million years before the present. It involves an extraordinary series of enormous mass graves of dinosaurs of all sizes and kinds and literally cheek to jowl.

In the August 29, 2017 daily letter from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Science staff writer Carolyn Gramling summarized research in which "researchers proposed a culprit behind this ancient mystery." For this area of Madagasgar, periodic drought has been the default explanation for these animals with burial provided by sediment following torrential rains.

One of the researchers is Raymond Rogers, a paleontologist at Macalester College. He has been studying a site in the Maevarano Formation for twenty years. In Gramling's article Rogers refers to the site he and colleagues have been studying as "the most fossiliferous package of rock I've ever seen."  That particular bed is a "third the size of a tennis court" and has yielded some "1200 specimens."

Rogers and others grew skeptical of the standard explanation. There are large problems. The animals "nestle against each other, suggesting that the bodies were buried where they died and that the killer struck all kinds of animals without discrimination." Clearly, the cause acted fast. And then there was the "arched-back posture of the dead" (suggesting convulsions which is known as hyperextended neck posture), the large number of dead birds and a "carbonate crust, similar to those left by algae in other sediments."

Together these suggested harmful algal blooms (HABs).  There is some previous evidence which Gramling discusses--an 1878 paper "in dead livestock near a lake; testing confirmed that the animals had ingested toxic cyanobacteria" and a recent paper suggesting "that toxic algae periodically killed hundreds of whales and other marine animals off the coast of what is now Chile, starting 11 million years ago."

What is missing is the famous "smoking gun": direct evidence of the algae. The next step Rogers and his team plan is to look for "chemical traces of algae" (biomarkers).

It is a lovely and fascinating research story and also an example of how science works--constantly examining the evidence, wondering about the pieces and suggesting an alternative hypothesis. The original paper is protected by a subscription firewall but the short summary from the research article may be found here.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

What's That Light Up There?

Astronomy
STEM
Miscellaneous
Edward Hessler

A dichotomous key on how to identify some of those lights up there in the sky.

It is from Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) for September 24, 2017 so if you open it on another date go to the archives.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

New rain garden near Hamline

CGEE Student Voice
by Jenni Abere


This fall, Hamline University has the exciting opportunity to be involved in a prairie restoration/rainwater management project just a short walk from campus. The site is on the inside of the cloverleaf leading from Snelling to Pierce Butler. There is already a small holding pond here; soon, native plants will be seeded and planted. The site will also act as an “outdoor classroom” for Hamline and other schools in the area, with educational signage.

Earlier in September, the non-native plants and weeds were killed with herbicide and then burned to prepare for prairie planting. Later, on October 15th and 21st, there will be two Plantón Móvil events and native plants will be carried to the site and planted.

My class witnessed the controlled burn of the site. 
Plantón Móvil is a participatory art project started by Lucia Monge, where people and plants become one for a walk, and then a park or green space is created or added to. There are great photos of previous Plantón Móvils on her website.

The event on October 15th will be with Hamline Elementary students. The event on October 21st will be open to everyone.

My Sustainability on Campus class this fall has been focused on planning these events. I’m in the facilitation committee, so we are thinking about all the logistics involved: where and when we meet, what route we walk to get to the site, music and food to provide, planting the plants once we get there.

We have also put a lot of thought into the ways that people can move with the plants. We won’t have many large plants, especially at this time of year. We will mostly have small plugs. So, we’re considering different ways that people can wear plants.

This project is a fun way to get people involved in water issues. It’s clear that our approach to water management is flawed; we get the water out of cities as fast as possible, and it carries pollution into rivers and to the ocean. We don’t let water soak into the ground, and refill aquifers; we funnel it into the ocean, where it contributes to sea level rise. This garden will allow water to stay where it falls, and soak into the ground instead of rushing off in the sewer.

This small project connects to a lot of big picture issues, and will be a great learning experience for everyone involved.

An Energy Plan for Minnesota

Sustainable Energy & Transportation
Sustainability
Edward Hessler

A few days ago I received an e-mail from Greg Laden who called my attention to Minnesota Gubernatorial Candidate Rebecca Otto's energy transition plan.  It's aim is to move Minnesota rapidly to clean energy.

It is a progressive plan but that hasn't stopped meteorologist Paul Douglas, an evangelical Republican from endorsing it. Douglas is compelled by the ideas, not the political orientation.The plan has also been endorsed by 350.org Bill McKibben, University of St. Thomas climate scientist John Abraham, and Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann.

Here is the link to Greg's post in which you will find a link to the Otto plan. Greg provides a convenient elevator speech version. 

The plan is worth reading and thinking about as well as discussing with others. As Professor Abraham notes this plan is bold and a "big, big idea."


Friday, September 22, 2017

Friday Poem

Poetry
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Today is the autumnal equinox, the astronomical marker of fall.

September 1 on the other hand was the occasion of the beginning of meteorological fall a different marker. Critters have their own way of marking seasonal changes, not waiting for  human computations.  Some birds and monarch butterflies have already left for points south. And my beloved nighthawks are long gone.

The link above includes several interesting links, one of which is a video clip I've referred to before from A Private Universe.  On graduation day, graduates of Harvard are asked what causes the seasons. Hmmm. By the way, these misconceptions as they are called (there are at least a 100 different names; one I like is "intelligently wrong.") provide valuable information to teachers as they begin units of study.

This occasion deserves two poems or rather I limit my exuberance to two. One is by Annie Finch. The other by Edward Thomas.

Happy AE day and this year the steam heat is on..

Thursday, September 21, 2017

3 Things You Need to Know about Eco-Friendly Cleaning

Guest Blogger: Charlotte Meier
Charlotte's website: HomeSafetyHub


We are learning more every day about the hazards of cleaning supplies, from children suffering after ingesting laundry detergent pods to the harmful effects of toxic household cleaners. As parents, we want to keep our homes and belongings clean, but we also want to keep our children safe from the chemicals in the supplies that we think clean our homes safely.

Truthfully, cleaning supplies that are safe for use around children also are safe for the environment. By using these types of eco-friendly cleaning supplies, we can ensure the health and safety of our families and our world.


1. Swap Toxic Cleaning Supplies with Natural Ingredients

The first step toward eco-friendly cleaning is reading the labels on your cleaning supplies. Discard any product with a label containing a warning about being hazardous to humans or domestic animals. The key is to dispose of them responsibly before replacing them with natural cleaning ingredients.

Image via Pixabay by evitaochel
Many household cleaning products, even those with hazard warnings, are water soluble and will not harm the environment in quantities that you will dispose of from home. In fact, the majority of cleaning products are specially formulated for safe disposal in a public water system or home wastewater treatment system, even if you have a septic tank.

Any cleaning products that do not list disposal methods on the label should be set aside to take to your local landfill during hazardous waste collection. Do not pour the remaining portions of these cleaners down your drain, as they may contain chemicals that should not enter a wastewater system. Avoid mixing remaining cleaning supplies, as some may cause an unfavorable reaction when combined.

When you are ready to replace your toxic cleaning supplies, replace them with natural ingredients. Many people begin with vinegar, baking soda, and essential oils. White vinegar is a natural fabric softener that removes soap residue in the rinse cycle and prevents static cling in the dryer. To make an all-purpose disinfectant, mix a few drops of tea-tree oil with a tablespoon of vinegar and a couple of drops of lavender essential oil with water in a spray bottle to create a cleaner that kills germs and smells pleasant. Vinegar also effectively cleans mirrors and windows; dilute it with a little water and wipe with a newspaper.


2. You Should Clean Away Toxic Residue While You Declutter Your Home

Eco-friendly cleaning is something that you should start doing as soon as possible. But, you also want to think about things you have cleaned previously with toxic cleaners. For example, children often load totes, bins, and other containers with their toys to keep their homes organized and tidy.

Chances are, as flu bugs and other illnesses hit your home, you scrubbed these toys and containers with bleach or toxic cleaners and threw stuffed animals in the washer with detergents, fabric softeners, and dryer sheets that contain hazardous chemicals.

The next time you declutter with your kids and organize their toys and belongings, scrub plastic toys with a natural all-purpose cleaner and throw stuffed animals into the washing machine with homemade laundry detergent.

Many detergent recipes call for washing soda, Borax, and a natural bar of soap such as Dr. Bronner’s. Add white vinegar to the rinse cycle to remove toxic cleaner residue and to soften clothes. Then, use an organic wool dryer ball rather than toxic dryer sheets while drying clothes, blankets, and stuffed animals.


3. Lemons are an Ideal Disinfectant and Deodorizer

Some people steer clear of eco-friendly cleaning simply because they fear that their homes and belongings will smell like vinegar. The truth is, you can disinfect and deodorize while giving your home and clothing a fresh scent by using lemons. Lemons boast powerful antiseptic and antibacterial characteristics in addition to being natural deodorizers. If you don’t like the smell of vinegar, combine lemon peel with white vinegar in a jar and marinate it for a few days.

Then, strain out the peel and use the lemon-scented vinegar in your cleaners and washing machine. You also can absorb household odors by combining vinegar and lemon juice in a small dish and placing it near your garbage can, kitchen sink, or bathroom.

Eco-friendly cleaning is much better for your family and the environment. Get started by replacing toxic cleaners with natural ingredients, cleaning away toxic residue while you declutter, and relying on lemons to clean and deodorize.

Prairies!

Biodiversity
Environmental and Science Education
Nature
Edward Hessler

Another tuesday in the tallgrass prairie under a "certain slant of light" and the "blank blue brightness of a cloudless sky."

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A Photographer's Regret

Biodiversity
Environmental and Science Education
Miscellaneous

A couple of days ago I posted 13 images that were finalists in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year (Natural History Museum, London). 

One of them is of a teeny-tiny seahorse attached to a Q-tip. The very thought still makes me squirm and my skin crawl.

Washington Post reporter Lindsey Bever talked with the photographer, Justin Hofman, Monterey, California. He took the photograph "off the coast of Sumbawa, an Indonesian island in the Lesser Sunda Islands chain.

Hofman told Bever that his "blood was boiling" when he watched the creature on its journey through the litter and trash. Hofman said that he "wishes the picture 'didn't exist'--but it does and now he said, he feels responsible 'to make sure it gets to as many eyes as possible.'" ... He wants "everybody to see it and everybody to have a reaction to it."

My reaction: Ugh +.  It is sickening and powerful.

Indonesia dumps "3.22 million metric tons of plastic debris per year" (3549442 US tons). It is second in the world in producing marine pollution.

You may read Linsey Bever's essay here.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Blue Skies Smilin' at Me....

STEM
Culture
Edward Hessler


Of course the sky is blue. Everybody knows that. Look up and there it is blue as a bluebell or the wispy veins in blue cheese.  

This is something we learn growing up. We later learn the mechanisms in school although we may have to check our memory as we become older and also more distant from the physics of the sky's color and our biology. 

Makes me think of an explanation that I might have used as a small child. "Why is the sky blue?" "Cuz."

So what happens when we take our American understanding and our language deep into the tropical rain forests of South America? This is what Massachusetts of Technology cognitive scientist Edward Gibson did. He took a “car-battery powered light box and 80 standardized color chips,” hopped a boat and went down the Amazon River to the Tsimane’.

The Tsimane’ are a very isolated group hearing mostly their own language.  Gibson learned that they have many fewer color words “than American Engllsh speakers and Bolivian Spanish speakers.” They showed difficulty in agreeing on what to call the colors of the standardized color chips.

The conclusion of the study is “that the ability to describe colors isn’t as rooted in our biology as many scientists thought. And that means that language development may be far more rooted in our culture than in how we literally see the world.”

Science writer Zach Zoarch reported this story in a short essay in Science, September 18, 2017.  Click on that link to see the experimental set-up. There is a link to the original scientific research publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

I think it is a great study, one that makes a rich world of differences ever richer.






Monday, September 18, 2017

Mathematical Thresholds: Two Minutes Worth

Mathematics Education
STEM
Environmental and Science Education
Edward Hessler

A clever, whimsical two-minute video on thresholds in maths.

Graph on one side; the phenomenon being explored visually on the other.

Great music, too.

Good fun.

h/t Aeon

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Harry Dean Stanton

Miscellaneous
Edward Hessler

Character actor Harry Dean Stanton dies at age 91.

And what a musician, too.

The Last Image

STEM
Environmental and Science Education
Miscellaneous
Edward Hessler

Cassini's final image before it was shut down after literally slamming in Saturn's atmosphere. It was moving at 113000 km/hour (70,000 mph) when it hit Saturn's atmosphere. It took 83 minutes for it reach the Deep Space Network antenna in Canberra, Australia.

The image is from Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) for September 16, 2016 which means you will have to go to the archives if you don't view it today.

This achievement is stunning and Cassini seems to have been a bit of an over-achiever. There are many to thank who made all this possible, including each of us in a very small way through our financial support of NASA.

The Cassini orbiter owes its name to the discoverer of Saturn's ring divisions and four of its moons.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Some of Cassini's Numbers

STEM
Environmental and Science Education
Edward Hessler

Everyone knows that Cassini's mission ended today when it crashed into Saturn. There are more animations and photographs than one can count (or almost) and I'm reluctant to add one more but not so hesitant that I'm not going to do just that..

Here is a short BBC video on some of the things Cassini did in its 20 year journey.

Quite a record.

Friday Poem

Poetry
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

This Friday poem is by Ron Rash.

And speaking of trout take a virtual visit if you've not been there to the National Trout Center, Preston, Minnesota.  Here are the three trout of the Driftless Area. There is not much to say in the presence of such beauty. Bow and say thanks to evolution.

Trout country and much more (Goat Prairies!).

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Pictures From A Birthing Center

Health
STEM
Miscellaneous
Edward Hessler

These photographs notice the daily work of doulas and nurses in birthing.

They were taken at the Sutter Maternity & Surgery Center, Santa Cruz, CA by RN Sara Deitrich.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Wildlife Phots of the Year: Finalists

Biodiversity
Art and Environment
Miscellaneous
Edward Hessler

Photographs taken by 13 finalists for Wildlife Photographer of the Year.

It was great to see a plant and an invertebrate among the images.

I like 'em all but the red squirrel taking a rest before moving on tugs me in all the right places. I thought that to be a bear cub mama is to require a lot of patience. The image of the seahorse was bittersweet showing where things we use and throw to this place called "away" can end up.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The First Day of School

Education
Edward Hessler

A few weeks ago I watched two YouTube videos on what the first day of school was like in Russia, elementary and secondary. There were some nice traditions to see unfold. Some pomp, some circumstance, some performance, and some ceremony.

HuffPost (I often refer to it as PoHuff, don't ask why because I don't know.) has 14 photographs showing the first day of school around the world.

This is an occasion to be honored no matter where in the world one lives.

What Science is Like

Nature of Science
STEM
Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

Neil deGrasse Tyson is a champion and gifted tweeter.

This tweet is an example. It demolishes in 15 words climate deniers' favorite argument. 

And it is also instructive about the nature of science.  I have previously mentioned  one of my favorite science educators, the late Mary Budd Rowe. She wrote a science methods text a long time ago, Teaching Science as Continuous Inquiry (1973).  It remains an intelligent and wise book.

The Wiki entry includes comments on some of her important ideas: wait time, praise and fate-control

Rowe noted in that book that science is a social enterprise but not always sociable. Scientists argue, sometimes even angrily, about data and evidence, enough once in a while to become personal and lasting. After all, like us, scientists are human.  

Joe Humphreys writing for The Irish Times (April 10 2016) describes one row this way. "A few years ago, (Richard) Dawkins trashed  (Edward O.)Wilson’s book The Social Conquest of the Earth, saying in a memorable review, “this is not a book to be tossed lightly aside. It should be thrown with great force.” Wilson later dismissed his Oxford (University) counterpart as a “journalist”. Unlike the author of The God Delusion, Wilson said, he had “actually been with scientists doing research. Meow."

Humphreys article for which see here is about a project on disagreement among scientists.