Posts about John Hunter

Growing Lettuce in My Backyard

photo of lettuce in my garden

photo of lettuce in my garden

I planted lettuce in my backyard for the first time this year. I have enjoyed growing food in my backyard for the last several years. First it is very convenient. I want something to eat I can just go grab it out of the garden. Also it is healthier that many of the other things I might snack on. In addition, you can save money by growing your own food. And it is good for the environment (granted individuals don’t have much of an impact, but millions of people growing some of their own food does – reducing the amount of food transportation on the environment).

Also, I just find it cool to grow food in my yard to feed myself.

I don’t use anything to fertilize the soil or pesticides or anything. I just plant and let it grow (sometimes I water the garden). I just have a compost pile that is mainly leaves that I stir into the garden soil. It has worked fine for years now. I will grow tomatoes, berries, peppers, beans, peas and cucumbers again this year.

Related: Rethinking the Food Production SystemEat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.Backyard Wildlife: BirdsPesticide Laced Fertiliser Ruins GardensFirst Flowers of Spring

Poor Results on Evolution and Big Bang Questions Omitted From NSF Report

Evolution, Big Bang Polls Omitted From NSF Report by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee

The section, which was part of the unedited chapter on public attitudes toward science and technology, notes that 45% of Americans in 2008 answered true to the statement, “Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.” The figure is similar to previous years and much lower than in Japan (78%), Europe (70%), China (69%), and South Korea (64%). The same gap exists for the response to a second statement, “The universe began with a big explosion,” with which only 33% of Americans agreed.

The USA continues to lag far behind the rest of the world in this basic science understanding. Similar to how we lag in other science and mathematical education. Nearly Half of Adults in the USA Don’t Know How Long it Takes the Earth to Circle the Sun.

Jon Miller, a science literacy researcher at Michigan State University in East Lansing who authored the survey 3 decades ago and conducted it for NSF until 2001. “Evolution and the big bang are not a matter of opinion. If a person says that the earth really is at the center of the universe, even if scientists think it is not, how in the world would you call that person scientifically literate? Part of being literate is to both understand and accept scientific constructs.”

I completely agree. People have the right to their opinions. But those opinions which are related to scientific knowledge (whether it is about evolution, the origin of the universe, cancer, the speed of light, polio vaccinations, multi-factorial designed experiments, magnetic fields, chemical catalysts, the effectiveness of antibiotics against viral infections, electricity, optics, bioaccumulation, etc.) are part of their scientific literacy. You can certainly believe antibiotics are affective against viral infections but that is an indication you are scientifically illiterate on that topic.

2006 NSF chapter that included the results
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Scientific Illiteracy Leaves Many at Risk in Making Health Care Judgements

Scientific literacy is important for many reasons and that importance has increased greatly over the last century. Medical research is often difficult to interpret. Often various studies seem to contradict each other. Often the conclusions that are drawn are far too broad (especially as the research conclusions are passed on and people hear of them overly simplified ways).

Many health care options are not obviously all good, or all bad, but instead a mix of benefits and risks, both of which include interactions with the individuals makeup. So we often see contradictory (and seemingly contradictory) advice. Without a level of scientific literacy it is very difficult for people to know how to react to medical advice.

We have numerous posts on the scientific inquiry process showing that acquiring scientific knowledge is complex and can be quite confusing in many instances. While understanding things are often less clear cut than they are presented it is still true that most often strategies for healthy living have far better practices that will provide far better results than alternatives.

The scientific illiteracy that has some think because their are risks no matter what is done that means there is no evidence some alternatives are far superior is very dangerous. As you can see in action now with those that risk their and others lives and health by doing things like not vaccinating their children, or driving when drunk, or driving when talking on a cell phone.

Without a scientifically literate society even completely obvious measures like not using antibiotics on viral infections are ignored.

Related: Long Term ADHD Drug Benefits QuestionedHow Prozac Sent Science Inquiry Off TrackLifestyle Drugs and RiskCorrelation is Not Causation: “Fat is Catching” Theory Exposed
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Guadalupe Mountains National Park: Ladybug City

Ladybugs crawling on rocks in Guadalupe Mountains National Parkphoto of ladybugs covering the bark of a tree near the Guadalupe Peak, by John Hunter, Creative Commons Attribution.


At Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas at 8,749 feet in Guadalupe Mountains National Park I found a huge city of ladybugs. They covered the bark of many bushes and trees and crawled over rocks (as seen in the photos). They were everywhere. It seems odd to me that they would have such a huge concentration since it would seem like food would then be a problem, but there they were.

Related: Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve, Ohio PhotosBackyard Wildlife: Great Spreadwing DamselflyNorth Cascades National Park PhotosMount Rainier National Park Photos

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Historical Engineering: Hanging Flume

Hanging flumephoto of hanging flume overlook in Colorado, by John Hunter, Creative Commons Attribution.


While driving from Dinosaur National Monument to Mesa Verde National Park last year I passed the sight above with the remnants of a hanging flume. The Montrose Placer Mining Company built a 13 mile canal and flume to deliver water from the San Miguel River for gold mining operations. The last 5 miles of the flume clung to the wall of the canyon itself, running along the cliff face in the photo above (see more photos).

Constructed between 1888 and 1891, the 4 foot deep 5 foot 4 inch wide hanging flume carried 23,640,000 gallons of water in a 24 hour period. The mining operations used water and sluice boxes to separate the gold from lighter materials (dirt and gravel).

The technology was not yet available to pump the water directly from the river at the necessary volume and pressure to wash the gold from the gravel, therefore they constructed the flume to transport the water.

Related: Mount Saint Helens Photosphotos of Manhattan (Rockefeller Center, Empire State Building…)C&O Towpath – Monocacy Aqueduct to Calico Rocks
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Ruby on Rails Job Opportunity in DC

I, John Hunter, work for the American Society for Engineering Education as an Information Technology Program Manager. My work on this blog is not associated with ASEE and the opinions I express are mine and not those of ASEE. That said, we are looking for a Ruby on Rails developer at ASEE, in Washington DC.

class Employee < ActiveRecord::Base acts_as_programmer has_many :talents has_and_belongs_to_many :computer_languages after_create :schedule_interview validates_inclusion_of :salary, :in => 60000..80000,
:message => “should be between $60k and $80k a year”
validates_inclusion_of :years_of_experience,
:in => 2..7,
:message => “should be between 2 and 7 years”

validates_presence_of :resume
validates_interest_in :ruby_on_rails
validates_interest_in :agile software development

REQUIRED_LANGUAGES = [“Ruby”,”Perl”,”Python”,”JavaScript”,”Lisp”]

def validate
errors.add_to_base(“You must know one of the languages”) unless
({|x|} & REQUIRED_LANGUAGES).size > 0

def schedule_interview
self.interviewer = Interviewer.create(
:name => “Keith Mounts”,
:url => ““,

def hire
vacation_days = 15
telecommuting_days_per_week = 0..2
office_location = “dupont circle metro stop, washington, dc”
environment = “friendly”
company = “american society for engineering education”


class ApplyController < ApplicationController def index @employee = end def apply @employee = if @employee.update_attributes(params[:employee]) flash[:notice] = "Thanks for applying! I'll get back to you very soon!" redirect_to :action => “thanks”
render :action => “index”


Modified from job announcement created by Sean Stickle when he was at ASEE. Related: Ruby on Rails Job Opportunity

Keeping Out Technology Workers is not a Good Economic Strategy

The barriers between countries, related to jobs, are decreasing. Jobs are more international today than 20 years ago and that trend will continue. People are going to move to different countries to do jobs (especially in science, engineering and advanced technology). The USA has a good market on those jobs (for many reasons). But there is nothing that requires those jobs to be in the USA.

The biggest impact of the USA turning away great scientists and engineers will be that they go to work outside the USA and increase the speed at which the USA loses its place as the leading location for science, engineering and technology work. This is no longer the 1960’s. Back then those turned away by the USA had trouble finding work elsewhere that could compete with the work done in the USA. If the USA wants to isolate ourselves (with 5% of the population) from a fairly open global science and engineering job market, other countries will step in (they already are trying, realizing what a huge economic benefit doing so provides).

Those other countries will be able to put together great centers of science and engineering innovation. Those areas will create great companies that create great jobs. I can understand wanting this to be 1960, but wanting it doesn’t make it happen.

You could go even further and shut off science and engineering students access to USA universities (which are the best in the world). That would put a crimp in plans for a very short while. Soon many professors would move to foreign schools. The foreign schools would need those professors, and offer a great deal of pay. And those professors would need jobs as their schools laid off professors as students disappeared. Granted the best schools and best professors could stay in the USA, but plenty of very good ones would leave.

I just don’t think the idea of closing off the companies in the USA from using foreign workers will work. We are lucky now that, for several reasons, it is still easiest to move people from Germany, India, Korea, Mexico and Brazil all to the USA to work on advanced technology projects. The advantage today however, is much much smaller than it was 30 years ago. Today just moving all those people to some other location, say Singapore, England, Canada or China will work pretty well (and 5 years from now will work much better in whatever locations start to emerge as the leading alternative sites). Making the alternative of setting up centers of excellence outside the USA more appealing is not a good strategy for those in the USA wanting science, engineering and computer programming jobs. We should instead do what we can to encourage more companies in the USA that are centralizing technology excellence in the USA.

Comment on Reddit discussion.

Related: Science and Engineering in Global EconomicsGlobal technology job economyCountries Should Encourage Immigration of Technology WorkersThe Software Developer Labor MarketWhat Graduates Should Know About an IT CareerRelative Engineering Economic PositionsChina’s Technology Savvy LeadershipEducation, Entrepreneurship and ImmigrationThe Future is EngineeringGlobal Technology Leadership

USA Losing Scientists and Engineers Educated in the USA

The USA continues to lose ground, in retaining the relative science and engineering strength it has retained for the last 50 plus years. As I have said before this trend is nearly inevitable – the challenge for the USA is to reduce the speed of their decline in relative position.

A new open access report, Losing the World’s Best and Brightest, explores the minds of current foreign science and engineering students that are studying in the USA. This is another in the list of reports on similar topics by Vivek Wadhwa and Richard Freeman. And again they point out the long term economic losses the USA is setting up by failing to retain the talent trained at our universities. It is a problem for the USA and a great benefit for countries like India and China.

“Foreign students receive nearly 60% of all engineering doctorates and more than half of all mathematics, computer sciences, physics and economics doctorates awarded in the United States. These foreign nationals end up making jobs, not taking jobs,” said Wadhwa. “They bring insights into growing global markets and fresh ideas. Research has shown that they even end up boosting innovation by U.S. inventors. Losing them is an economic tragedy.”

According to the study’s findings, very few foreign students would like to stay in the United States permanently—only 6% of Indian, 10 percent of Chinese and 15% of Europeans. And fewer foreign students than the historical norm expressed interest in staying in the United States after they graduate. Only 58% of Indian, 54% of Chinese and 40% of European students wish to stay for several years after graduation. Previous National Science Foundation research has shown 68% of foreigners who received science and engineering doctorates stayed for extended periods of time, including 73% of those who studied computer science. The five-year minimum stay rate was 92% for Chinese students and 85% for Indian students.

The vast majority of foreign student and 85% of Indians and Chinese and 72% of Europeans are concerned about obtaining work visas. 74% of Indians, 76% of Chinese, and 58% of Europeans are also worried about obtaining jobs in their fields. Students appear to be less concerned about getting permanent-resident visas than they are about short-term jobs. Only 38% of Indian students, 55% of Chinese, and 53% of Europeans expressed concerns about obtaining permanent residency in the USA.

On the tonight show yesterday, President Obama said

we need young people, instead of — a smart kid coming out of school, instead of wanting to be an investment banker, we need them to decide they want to be an engineer, they want to be a scientist, they want to be a doctor or a teacher.

And if we’re rewarding those kinds of things that actually contribute to making things and making people’s lives better, that’s going to put our economy on solid footing. We won’t have this kind of bubble-and-bust economy that we’ve gotten so caught up in for the last several years.

Eric Schmidt, Google CEO, recently expressed his frustration with the policies discouraging science and engineering graduates staying in the USA after they complete their education.

That is a brilliant [actually not brilliant at all] strategy take the best people hire them in American universities and then kick them out” It happens. “Its shocking.” It happens. “I know we are fighting against it.” “We America remain, by far the place of choice for education, particularly higher education.”

Related: Invest in Science for a Strong EconomyScience, Engineering and the Future of the American EconomyUSA Under-counting Engineering GraduatesLosing scientists and engineers will reduce economic performance of the USADiplomacy and Science Research

Jon Stewart Explains Twitter and John Hunter on Twitter

Jon Stewart does a great job of explaining Twitter. Still, for some reason I am going to try Tweeting. Follow curiouscat_com if you are interested.

Related: John Hunter onlineCurious Cat Investing and Economics BlogCurious Cat Alumni ConnectionsCurious Cat Web Directory

Thanksgiving, Appropriately

photo of Frew Wube in Ethiopia

This is a post from my Curious Cat Investing and Economics Blog: Financial Thanksgiving. I have tweaked a bit to tie into appropriate technology since that is the related area to me on this blog.

For me, giving back to others is part of my personal financial plan. As I have said most people that are actually able to read this are financially much better off than billions of other people today. At least they have the potential to be if they don’t chose to live beyond their means. Here are some of the ways I give back to others.

Kiva is a wonderful organization and particularly well suited to discuss because they do a great job of using the internet to make the experience rewarding for people looking to help – as I have mentioned before: Reducing Poverty. One of my goals for this blog is to increase the number of readers participating in Kiva – see current Curious Cat Kivans. I have also created a lending team on Kiva. Kiva added a feature that allows people to connect online. When you make a loan you may link you loan to a group.

I actually give more to Trickle Up, I have been giving to them for a long time. They appeal to my same desire to help people help themselves. I believe in the power of capitalism and people to provide long term increases in standards of living. I love the idea of providing support that grows over time. I like investing and reaping the rewards myself later (with investment I make for myself). But I also like to do that with my gifts. I would like to be able to provide opportunities to many people and have many of them take advantage of that to build a better life for themselves, their families and their children.

The photo shows Frew Wube, Haimanot and Melkan (brother and two sisters), an entrepreneur that received a grant from Trickle up. Trickle Up provides grants to entrepreneur, similar to micro loans, except the entrepreneur does not have to pay back the grant. They are able to use the full funds to invest in their business and use all the income they are able to generate to increase their standard of living and re-invest in the business.
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Toward a More Open Scientific Culture

Michael Nielsen wrote a great post, The Future of Science, which is also the topic of a book he is writing. He discusses how scientific advancement has often been delayed as those making discoveries did not share them openly. And how 300 years ago scientific journals and reward systems created ways for scientists to be rewarded for publication. And he continues with the need for the process to again change and promote more open sharing of scientific knowledge, which I agree with and have written about previously: Publishers Continue to Fight Open Access to Science, Science Journal Publishers Stay Stupid, The Future of Scholarly Publication, etc..

Why were Hooke, Newton, and their contemporaries so secretive? In fact, up until this time discoveries were routinely kept secret.

This cultural transition was just beginning in the time of Hooke and Newton, but a little over a century later the great physicist Michael Faraday could advise a younger colleague to “Work. Finish. Publish.” The culture of science had changed so that a discovery not published in a scientific journal was not truly complete. Today, when a scientist applies for a job, the most important part of the application is their published scientific papers.

This has been a great advance. Now we need to continue that advance to use the internet to make that publication open and increase the advantage of shared knowledge to society.

The adoption of the journal system was achieved by subsidizing scientists who published their discoveries in journals. This same subsidy now inhibits the adoption of more effective technologies, because it continues to incentivize scientists to share their work in conventional journals, and not in more modern media.

This means: making many more types of content available than just scientific papers; allowing creative reuse and modification of existing work through more open licensing and community norms; making all information not just human readable but also machine readable; providing open APIs to enable the building of additional services on top of the scientific literature, and possibly even multiple layers of increasingly powerful services. Such extreme openness is the ultimate expression of the idea that others may build upon and extend the work of individual scientists in ways they themselves would never have conceived.

To create an open scientific culture that embraces new online tools, two challenging tasks must be achieved: (1) build superb online tools; and (2) cause the cultural changes necessary for those tools to be accepted.

I agree we need to take advantage of the new possibilities to advance the practice of science. His full post is well worth reading.

Related: Open Source: The Scientific Model Applied to ProgrammingThe Future of Science is Open by Bill HookerDinosaurs Fight Against Open ScienceOpen Access Journal WarsI Support the Public Library of ScienceDoes the Data Deluge Make the Scientific Method Obsolete?