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Items for students and others, interested in learning about science and engineering and the application of science in our lives. Most posts are included here.
Recommended posts: Tech Talks at Google (webcasts) - Electron Clouds - Quantum Mechanics Made Relatively Simple Podcasts - How do antibiotics kill bacteria?

Items for students and others, interested in learning about science and engineering and the application of science in our lives. We post many of the general interest items here.

Pedal Powered Washing Machine

It is very easy to forget billions of people alive today do not have access to electricity, clean water and things like washing machines at home. As I have said before I love appropriate technology. Even more than that I love to see successful deployments of appropriate technology that make people’s lives better.

It is also great to see kids with the perseverance to make these products to meet needs they see around them. We need to do what we can to encourage these types of kids. They are the future engineers and entrepreneurs that will make lives better for the rest of society.

Remya Jose, a 14 year school girl from Kerala, India created this wonderful machine. Another version of it, has the normal bike pedals (closer together, instead of spread out, on opposite sides of the machine, like in the video).

As far as I can tell the original video was from 2008 (and Remya created the machine in 2005). I haven’t been able to find the current status of the product, this is the best I could find (from 2008). Turning these innovations into products that succeed commercially is very hard.

If I had control of a national development program (or if I just become super rich and have millions to devote to making the world better, I think an effort like this would be something I would try) I would put working with these kids to make the products work very high on my list of priorities. The learning process and creation of engineers and entrepreneurs would be extremely valuable on top of any success the products had.

Related: Appropriate Technology: Washing Clothes by Machine Instead by HandWashing Machine Uses 90% Less WaterEngineering a Better World: Bike Corn-Shelleranother bicycle washing machineAutomatic Dog Washing Machine

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Learn About Biology Online

Very cool site for learning about biology. I have tried the courses offered by Coursera but they are too structured for my taste. I want to be able to learn at my pace and dip into the areas I find interesting. Coursera is more like a real course, that has weekly assignments and the like.

Survivebio is a resources that matches my desires exactly. You can go and learn about whatever topics you desire, when you desire. The site offers webcasts, games, flashcards, chapter outlines, practice tests and a forum to discuss the ideas.

In this webcast, Paul Andersen discusses the specifics of phylogenetics. The evolutionary relationships of organisms are discovered through both morphological and molecular data.

The aim of the SurviveBio web site is to aid AP (and college) biology students. But it is also a great resource to learn about biology if you are interested in that topic. Hopefully they will add more webcasts. The site uses webcasts from Bozeman Science which has a huge number of very good videos on biology and also, chemistry, physics, earth science, statistics, anatomy and physiology.

Related: Great Webcast Explaining the Digestive SystemsCell Aging and Limits Due to TelomeresHuman Gene Origins: 37% Bacterial, 35% Animal, 28% Eukaryotic

Pew Science and Technology Knowledge Quiz

The Pew Science and Technology Knowledge Quiz is a simple 13 question quiz to get a very simple look at scientific understanding in society. Obviously these types of quizes are just extremely simple views, still it is interesting to see how you can do and what questions people struggle with.

graphic showing 13 of 13 answers correct

graph showing distribution of correct answers by those taking the quiz

I am surprised the fewer than 50% of the people got 2 true or false questions correct, including “Electrons are smaller than atoms. Is this statement…” Looking back at my previous post, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, in the 2009 Pew Science Knowledge Quiz it is also the case that under 50% got the are electrons smaller than atoms question right.

They also provided a breakdown by demographic factors. Men had better percentages of correct answers, for the 2 true or false questions men were correct 55% of the time while women got 40% correct. The two other true of false questions had much higher correct answer rates 77% (83% for men 72% for women) and 66% (70 for men, 63 for women).

There was also a substantial tendency for the youngest ages to do better and the performance to decline for each age group. I am not surprised by the question answered incorrectly most often (only 20% got it right), see if you can guess which it is.

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Scientists Don’t Look Like They Do in Movies

The Myth of the Scientist: Crystal Dilworth at TEDxYouth@Caltech

Scientists don’t fit the stereotypical mold some people think they do. It doesn’t take much to replace those views. The main point, in my opinion, is to let kids know they can be a scientists even if they are not like the stereotypical examples – though it will take a lot of work.

Related: Movie Aims to Inspire College Students With Tales of Successful Minority ScientistsWomen Working in ScienceCitizen ScientistsScientists Singing About Science

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Many Great, Free, Online Courses in Science, Engineering and More

The video, above, provides an overview of an online course, Calculus: Single Variable, via coursera from the University of Pennsylvania. This course provides a brisk, entertaining treatment of differential and integral calculus, with an emphasis on conceptual understanding and applications to the engineering, physical, and social sciences.

Robert Ghrist is the Andrea Mitchell University Professor of Mathematics and Electrical & Systems Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. Coursera offers many courses in all sorts of disciplines including: Introduction to Genetics and Evolution (Duke), Scientific Computing (University of Washington), Principles of Economics for Scientists (California Institute of Technology), Game Theory (Stanford University and The University of British Columbia), A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior (Dan Ariely, Duke University), The Modern World: Global History since 1760 (University of Virginia), Microeconomics for Managers (University of California, Irvine), Data Analysis (Johns Hopkins University), Fundamentals of Human Nutrition (University of Florida), Algorithms, Part I (Princeton University), The Ancient Greeks (Wesleyan University), Astrobiology and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life (University of Edinburgh) and Epigenetic Control of Gene Expression, (University of Melbourne).

All the classes are free. These courses, and many more, are extremely appealing. I signed up for 2. I would be interested in signing up for much more but I worry about having the time to commit to keeping up with the coursework. I hope the first two go well and I can sign up for more in the future.

Related: Top Online Graduate Engineering Programs in the USAOpen Source Education CurriculaScience and Engineering Education ResourcesExploring Eukaryotic Cells

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Quick Webcast With a Few Interesting Science Facts

Interesting facts: I didn’t know that we require 13 minerals or that alcoholic beverages contain amounts of all the minerals we need. An amazing fact: the average person walks the equivalent of 3 times around the earth in a lifetime.

The minerals we need (and the recommended daily amount)

Calcium – 1,200 mg
Magnesium – 320 mg
Phosphorus – 700 mg
Potassium – 4.7 g
Sodium – ?

trace amounts needed
Cobalt (as Vitamin B12) – 2.4 mcg
Copper – 1,156 mcg
Iodine – 150 mcg
Iron – 8 mg
Manganese – 1.8 mg
Niacin – 14 mg
Riboflavin – 1.1 mg
Selenium – 55 mcg
Thiamin – 1.1 mg
Zinc – 8 mg
Chromium?, Molybdenum? Fluoride?

Frankly, in my quick looks around the internet I am not sure what they base the claim we need only 13 minerals on. It seems we need trace amounts of more minerals – did they just ignore those not in alcohol?

I couldn’t find good sources confirming just what minerals are needed. Many list some minerals but don’t list others. I am not really sure what the answer is. I am glad I seem to somehow get whatever I need just by eating somewhat healthfully. It is pretty cool we get these things that way. Of course if we didn’t our ancestors wouldn’t have survived to create descendants that finally became us – as they had a much harder time than me (who can just go the restaurant and grocery store and get all sorts of wonderful food).

Related: the atoms that make up the human body, were created in the crucible of starsScience Explained: Cool Video of ATP Synthase, Which Provides Usable Energy to UsVideo of Young Richard Feynman Talking About Scientific ThinkingScientific Illiteracy Leads to Failure to Vaccinate Which Leads to Death

Circumhorizontal Arcs – Fire Rainbows – Cloud Rainbows

photo of rainbow in a cloud

Fire Rainbow, Johor Bahru by John Hunter

Yesterday afternoon I spotted this odd, colorful, spectrum seemingly in a cloud in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. The colors are similar to a rainbow but the prism effect takes on a bit different form than a rainbow as I learned with a bit of searching online. I added a short post to this blog, about the phenomenon a few years ago.

photo of a large cloud over Johor Bahru

Johor Bahru under a large cloud which is topped with a fire rainbow.

A circumhorizontal arc is an optical phenomenon – an ice-halo formed by plate-shaped ice crystals in high level cirrus clouds. They are also known as “fire rainbows,” if the cloud is at the right angle to the sun, the crystals will refract the sunlight just as when rainbow is created.

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Working as a Software Developer

For most of my career I have been focused on management improvement – helping organizations improve results. Technology plays a big role in that and along the way I found myself becoming a programer for a while; and then a software development program manager. This is a good post on working as a software developer:

reading code is a very important skill. Before a program can be modified, you need to understand what it does, and how it does it. Only then can new functionality be added so it fits in with the existing structure, and without breaking anything. Reading and understanding a program can be a major effort, and one sign of a well-designed program is that it is relatively straight-forward to modify it.

Write for people first, computer second. The code you write will be read many times in the future (by you, or another developer). The computer doesn’t care how the code is written, so make it as easy as possible to understand for the next person that has to read it. A corollary to this is: don’t be too clever. It’s better to be clear than to be clever.

When there is a compelling need to write for the computer first and people second make sure to document that code well. For example, some code that is extremely dense and complex and confusing but greatly enhances the efficiency of a critical area of code.

I recently wrote a book, Management Matters: Building Enterprise Capability. There are many great things about a career in software development. It certainly is also challenging and not for someone looking for the easiest career but I have seem a higher percentage of happy software developers than I have seen in any other discipline.

Related: How To Become A Software Engineer/ProgrammerThe Software Developer Labor MarketAvoiding Tragedy of the Commons for Software DevelopmentPreparing Computer Science Students for JobsHiring the Best Fit For Your Company in an Inefficient Job MarketWant to be a Computer Game Programmer?What Graduates Should Know About an IT Career

Promoting Innovation in Sierra Leone

Another inspirational kid that shows that the potential for human good is much greater than the talking heads and politicians that litter the TV screen so often.

In the video Kelvin says, “That is my aim: to Promote Innovation in Seira Leone, among young people.” See another video as Kelvin explains his homemade battery.

Support these young engineers in Sierra Leone via innovate Salone.

Related: Inspirational Engineer Build Windmill Using TrashSupporting the Natural Curiosity of KidsWhat Kids can Learn If Given a ChanceI was Interviewed About Encouraging Kids to Pursue Engineering

Arduino Introduction Video Tutorial

Arduino is a very cool open source programable hardware engineering initiative. It is great for kids and adults who like to learn and create electronic devices. The Arduino Starter Kit is a great education gift for those interested in such things.

The video explains how to build a basic circuit with the Arduino board, and how to use each of the basic components such as LEDs, switches, and resistors. See more videos on related topics. Massimo Banzi, the co-creator and CEO of Arduino, and seen in the videos, also has a book: Getting Started with Arduino.

Related: Schematics of Electronic CircuitsEZ-Builder Robot Control Software

Solar Powered Water Jug to Purify Drinking Water

Deepika Kurup, a 14-year-old New York student, won the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge for her invention of a solar-powered water jug that changes dirty water into purified drinking water. She won the top prize of $25,000.

During “the 5 minutes of my presentation 15 children have died from lack of clean drinking water.”

I am thankful we have kids like this to create solutions for us that will make the world a better place. We rely on hundreds of thousands of such people to use science and engineering methods to benefit society.

Related: Strawjet: Invention of the YearCheap Drinking Water From SeawaterWater and Electricity for AllThanksgiving, Appropriately (power of capitalism and people to provide long term increases in standards of living)

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