Archive for: April, 2006

>Poor, Poor Max Planck

Apr 28 2006 Published by under Links, Physics

What a life. You found the field of quantum physics and this is the thanks you get?

After several happy years the Planck family was struck by a series of disasters: in October 1909 Marie Planck died, possibly from tuberculosis. In March 1911 Max Planck married his second wife, Marga von Hoesslin (1882-1948); in December his third son, Herrmann, was born.

During the First World War Planck's oldest son, Karl, was killed in action in Verdun, and Erwin had already in 1914 been taken prisoner by the French. Grete died in 1917 while giving birth to her first child; her sister lost her life two years later under the same circumstances, after marrying Grete's widower. Both granddaughters survived and were named after their mothers.
Planck endured all these losses with stoic submission to fate.

Finally in January 1945 Erwin, to whom Max Planck had been particularly close, was executed by the Nazis because of his participation in the failed attempt to assassinate Hitler in July 1944.

Planck was hands down one of the greatest physicists of the 20th century. He theorized that radiation could be released in quantums, or tiny packets, instead of the acceptable notion of

This lead directly into Einstein's explanation of light as a particle (photon) or as a wave. So, in quantum physics, radiation acts as both a particle and a wave, at the same time, and Planck helped bring this notion to the forefront.

Planck's constant, the h in E = hν (or 6.626 E-34 J -s), helps determine the relation of these energy packets to the frequency of radiation.

See? Get too smart and God will punish you.

Quote: Wikipedia

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>The Bottom Line: Tangible Steps Forward in Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Apr 27 2006 Published by under Genetics, Links, Physiology, [Politics]

>The Bottom Line: Tangible Steps Forward in Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Just linking my article to The VG for posterity...

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>ANWR is a Cheap Date

Apr 27 2006 Published by under Conservation, Energy, Environment, [Politics]

Republicans are trying once again to sneak into the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drill for our energy independence.

They snuck the latest push behind a bill that would refund motorists $100 for the recent gas price increase. Here we go again.

The area they want to drill is 1002, in the nothernmost area of ANWR, an area described as barren and desolate by most pro-drillers and as unique by most scientists.

In 2003, Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton gave a speech trying to convince the House Committee of Resources that drilling in ANWR was a viable solution to our oil problems.

In the speech, the secretary states the following,

5% chance of 5.7 billion barrels in ANWR

95% chance of 16 billion barrels in ANWR

then tries to use a "mean" of 10.4 billion as a qualifier for this data:

10.4 billion barrels would supply "every drop of petroleum for the entire state of Arkansas for 144 years, Missouri for 71 years or South Dakota for 479 years."

First of all, I'm no statistician, but the mean from that set of projected data would not be standard, it would fall closer to the 95% mark. Second, Arkansas represents about 1% of our population. Third, according to (a pro-drilling propaganda site), the maximum yearly capacity of the pipeline is only 2 million barrels of usable oil. It may last a certain number of years, but it will most certainly not release us from foreign dependence.

They can keep the damn $100.

The info is out there, and I wish more people would take the time to do a little research. The talking TV heads are not always reliable.

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>Ethanol and Your Feelings

Apr 27 2006 Published by under Academia, Chemistry, Energy

> I have been poking around on the internet for information about ethanol, and while most of the sites are boring MSDS clones - chemical encyclopedias - the best of the bunch by far are the chemistry professor sites. They just make me smile.

I imagine these professors sitting in front of their computer, books strewn all over the desk (so big they don't need to be dogearred) papers stacked haphazardly, squinting at the screen, switching noisily between the reactivity of aldehydes and an html code book, wife/husband on the phone calling about dinner ("I'll be home soon, I'm just finishing up some things."). The sheer dedication is endearing.

They spend their week teaching dumbed-down chemistry courses called "Chemistry and Your Feelings" to students who don't care, trying to relate to biology students by spritzing organic chem with biochemical principles like amino acids, and squeezing in whatever research in which they are personally interested.

And yet, they still find time to type up a cohesive, clear explanation of the facets of ethanol, like this one. The professor presents the facts very clearly, touching on the industrial and recreational uses of ethanol (fuel, alcoholic beverages). At the end of the page, he warns students about the dangers of drinking in college. All in all, I thought it was a good tie-in. :-)

Science professors catch a bad rap from students. Most see them as silly or off-putting or uncaring, but the reality is that they are none of the above. They love what they do, can't help that it is "hard," and want students to learn.

It just makes me smile.

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>The Bottom Line: TBL Preview: 4/26

Apr 24 2006 Published by under Publishing

>The Bottom Line: TBL Preview: 4/26

The newspaper looks good this week! I just hope there are no major errors.

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>Lost Wallets and Flaming Wreckage: Fall of Troy at the Ottobar

Apr 23 2006 Published by under Journalism, Music

When Tom Erak hopped on the Ottobar stage, orange Grunge amp head under one arm, guitar in the other, he was irritated.

Tom, the lead singer of the Fall of Troy (FOT), plugged in, ran up and down the fretboard with long, nimble fingers, and signaled to bassist Tim Ward and drummer Andrew Forsman. The band broke straight into a bit of start-stop heavy staccato improv, which is usually a large part of their set.

This time, however, they only had about 15 minutes in which to play. Time was short.
After losing a wallet in Norfolk and sitting on I-95 for hours waiting for a burning hulk to be removed, the boys of FOT had missed their window to play the Ottobar in Baltimore, between Criteria and headliners Poison the Well. In fact, Poison was forced to play directly after Criteria while FOT sat in a van down on the highway.

Needless to say, Poison the Well was not ready. Understandably, the performance was a sleeper; the band looked like they had just rolled out of bed, and not in a fashionable kind of way, in a “We were up until 6 a.m. this morning driving” kind of way.

Poison only played two tracks off their latest (and most dynamic) release, 2003’s You Come Before You, kicking off the show with “Ghostchant” and later throwing in “Zombies Are Good For Your Health.” Most of the set, however, was filled with the snorecore Strife/Earth Crisis-replica hits of Opposite of December. The crowd was bored. The pit was sluggish.

Poison vacated the stage, and a giant Norseman of a bouncer announced FOT’s predicament to boos and screams of “Riot!” from the crowd. It seemed like most of the audience was there for FOT, not Poison the Well.

The scenesters were getting restless just as FOT broke onto the stage to raucous applause, cursing I-95.

FOT stole the show, dominating the stage with quick, insane proficiency, unabashed by the occasional imperfection, one of the cornerstones of rock and roll in the past.

Tom and bassist Tim Ward took a synchronized running leap into the supportive crowd during an instrumental break, clocking a couple of fans in the head with backs and guitar necks.

“We’re not trying to hurt anyone,” said Tom after the tune. “We’re just trying to get out and reach you.”

Tom Erak’s guitar powers are worthy of a show of their own. The power trio might be a little “out of fashion” right now, but FOT are poised to bring it back.

“Ghostship Part 4” from early FOT demos and “F.C.P.R.E.M.I.X.” from Doppelganger closed off the erratic set, only about 15 minutes in, a disappointing end to a great little show.

“We didn’t have a set list,” said Tom outside after the show. “We were basically looking at security and they would tell us ‘Okay, play another one.’”

If you are not on board with FOT yet, get there. Pick up the Doppelganger disc, or download it from iTunes or Ruckus. FOT will be playing the Ottobar again in late June with He Is Legend and Showbread, so keep an eye out for tickets. Hopefully they’ll get to play a full set this time.

**Photo: Steph Thornton

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>A Short History of The Fall of Troy and Nearly Everything I Have to Do Today

Apr 22 2006 Published by under Editing, Journalism, Music, Site News

>The semester is winding down and I find myself less interested in what I am being taught, and more interested in things I want to teach myself. I'm currently reading Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything, and despite his many critics (especially the scientific commmunity, he's written a good book thus far, but then again, I'm only 30 or so pages into it.

I just started a blog for The Bottom Line, where we can bounce around ideas whenever we want. I want it to be a window into our operation for the campus, to see what we really do, and what our writers are really thinking, sort of a living newspaper. Hopefully Frostburg State University will pay attention, it can only make us try harder.

I have to finish the Fall of Troy show review (which will be posted here very soon), by tonight, hopefully. Steph's transcribed interview with lead singer Tom Erak is huge, just under 2,000 words. I'm have to find a way to trim it while leaving the good bits, like the interplay between the two of them. She'll be a great music journalist one day if she sticks with it.

Well, I have editing to do.

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>Interesting Evolutionary Tidbits

Apr 19 2006 Published by under Animals, Evolution, Physiology

>Here's a couple interesting articles I found this evening.

Finches Provide Answer to Another Evolutionary Riddle in Scientific American and
Study Shows How Octopus, Ever the Impersonator, Turns Tentacle into Jointed Limb in Scientific American

Apparently, octopuses assume stiff, jointed tentacle formation when feeding, even though, as invertebrates, they can theoretically bend however they wish. A team of biologists, including Binyamin Hochner at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, did a study on the cause of the curious tendency, proposing that the stereotypical bend-point position for limbs is favorable from an evolutionary standpoint. The octopus has a near-infinite number of arm positions to deliver food to its mouth, but it sticks with an almost-human conformation. The original journal article can be found here, at The Journal of Neuroscience

The finch story is almost as interesting (cephalopods are one of my favorite topics), but almost purely from the amount of work that went into the study. University of Arizona scientists studied a mating population of 10,000 finches, finding that somehow females chose mates based on significant genetic differences from themselves, not purely from plumage, or in this case, a bright red breast.

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>Border Collie Found in Frostburg, MD

Apr 19 2006 Published by under Animals, Maryland


In the past two years, my girlfriend and I have rescued two lost, starving animals: a long-haired tabby and more recently, a border collie mix. Its both frustrating and saddening that people do not take better care of their animals.

Heather and I just spent an hour posting FOUND fliers all over campus and town. Hopefully, the dog's family comes forward, and it was just a big mistake. She escaped and they couldn't find her.

People's attitudes towards animals need to change. Animals deserve your respect and depend on you. They will love you no matter what, you can always turn to Lily or Thistle or Fido or Max for unconditional consolation. They have nothing to say but a wag of the tail or a rumble in the throat. They don't care what color you are or how you dress. They are unashamed of their nature. Animals don't need to justify their existance; they have no qualms about what they are. Humans could learn a few lessons from our evolutionary cousins.

Yeah, I'm being a bit sappy. I just wonder at the insensitivities of people.

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>Redefining Science

Apr 18 2006 Published by under Creationism, Evolution, Links, Religion, [Politics]

>I want to wake up tomorrow not angry at Republican Conservative Christians.

I would be embarrassed to call myself conservative in 2006. Last November, the Kansas Board of Education redefined science in the elementary curriculum, leaving room, critics say, to insert creationist ideals. The definition was modified to exclude "natural explanations" of phenomena.

The six to four vote was a resounding Republican victory.

Decisions like these made under the influence of certain members of the Republican Party have been puzzling at the least to the rest of the world. In America, we have to debate whether or not to teach creationism or some facsimile (intelligent design) in the science classes of our public schools. In Europe, it is not even considered.

In fact, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Most Rev. Rowan Williams, seemed surprised that the question was even asked:

"Asked specifically whether creationism should be taught in schools, the archbishop responded, 'I don't think it should, actually.' But he added that opposing creationism in the curriculum was 'different from discussing, teaching about what creation means.'"*

The Archbishop is dead on; we are taking the risk of devaluing science and religion by trying to mix the two as substantial equals. They are not, and never have been, equal in this manner.

Let's clarify. Scientific theory is driven by evidence. Scientists do not, as Isaac Asimov sarcastically stated, wake up one morning after a night of drinking and say, "I have it!" without sufficient evidence to support the idea.

Take evolution. Evolution is a theory - a scientific idea supported by overwhelming evidence - that has been built from the original observations of Charles Darwin. In the 20th century, fossil evidence has shown, if nothing else, a move from less complex organisms to more complex, and even some clear transitional stages, such as the recent find of a prehistoric fish that showed a definite similarity to subsequent tetrapods. Finally, in the past few decades, genetics has supported evolution in the short run; the genes of the strongest survive, passing on to the next generation.

Evolution is a theory, not a path to righteousness.

Religion, on the other hand, is not based on hard evidence or fact; it is based on individual faith in a higher power or principle. Religion is a personal experience, reading the stories, identifying with scriptures, lifting the mind or spirit or soul or higher-self into a place where the world can be interpreted in spiritual terms.

When Christians pull on science to try to validate some of the physical claims in the Bible - Noah's Ark and the flood, Christian ancestry, "eyewitness accounts" of Christ's resurrection - they seek rebuttal and argument. Skeptics will never accept these ideas as fact, even if presented with "scientific evidence." Faith is the pillar supporting these events, not fact.

Does it really matter whether or not these events took place? If Jesus was not the Son of God, or even if he never existed, would it change the values of his teachings?

It seems to me politicians are preying upon the faithful, and painting the evolutionary scientist as heathen and blasphemer, just to snag the votes they need to stay in office. At the cost of advancement, they are willing to risk everything.

God says no abortion, and I agree. God says theology is science, and so do I. God says no gay marriage, and I'm with Him, aren't you?

Well, aren't you?

*From "Anglican Leader Says the Schools shouldn't teach Creationism" by Sarah Lyall, New York Times, March 22, 2006

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