Archive for the ‘Science!’ Category

Today is booster shot day!

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Photo by Akshay Nanavati on Unsplash

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I accumulate a lot of random facts. Here’s one I found interesting: Spiders can’t spidey so well when they’re on drugs.

Just say no, spiders, just say no!*

* Unless you have a constant source of delicious insects supplied by your organization’s graduate students and no pressing engagements, in which case, you do you, spideys.

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NASA Tech Briefs, April 1995 – NASA Technical Reports Server (NTRS), file p. 106, document p. 82

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Today is the winter solstice, marking the Northern Hemisphere’s shortest day.

Why solstice? It’s science so there must be a Latin connection, right? Right.

During the course of a year, the subsolar point—the spot on the Earth’s surface directly beneath the Sun—slowly moves along a north-south axis. Having reached its northernmost point at the June solstice, it starts moving southward until it crosses the equator on the day of the September equinox. At the December solstice, which marks the southernmost point of its journey, it stops again to start its journey back toward the north.

This is how the solstices got their name: the term comes from the Latin words sol and sistere, meaning “Sun” and “to stand still”.

December Solstice 2021: Longest & Shortest Day

The good news is that it’s all uphill from here.

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This is an analemma, a map tracking the sun’s position over the course of a year. You remember that diagram Tom Hanks drew on the cave wall that one time? PolitikanerCC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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Some days I feel like I am getting nothing done. Despite the fact that I have been working on a number of projects and fighting bad tech mojo on multiple fronts,* today is one of those days.

Am I am getting nowhere? Maybe, but I’m also doing it very, very fast. Thanks to the magic of plate tectonics (ok, that part’s pretty slow) and orbital mechanics, so are you.

If you’ve ever wanted to know how fast you are moving (even when you aren’t going anywhere), check out this fun site:


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Photo by Abed Ismail on Unsplash

* Really, keyboard, backup drive, laptop, and printer, you’d have me believe that this wasn’t all planned?

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Venus de Trivia

The other day I found myself wondering, “Why does Venus spin in a different direction than most other planets?”

Short answer: Something Big Happened. We don’t know what but There Are Theories.

Longer answer, in case you need all the exciting details for trivia night: 

Why does Venus spin the ‘wrong’ way round? – 2 Sisters In STEM

Venus – NASA Solar System Exploration

Bonus fact: The average surface temperature of Venus is 864°, perfect for baking pizza.

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Thanks, but I ordered Canadian bacon. NASA

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I’m a little too caught up in work to write the piece I was planning for today, so instead we have a free story via Slate’s Future Tense Fiction. It’s long, so save it for when you have time to do a little thinking about the environment, technology, and society.

“Ride,” a new short story about climate change, A.I., and social credit by Linda Nagata, with a non-fictional response by Henry Grabar, a journalist who reports on cities and autonomous vehicles.

Jasmine’s thoughts turned to the boy. He’d claimed he’d met someone on a shared taxi ride, a nameless stranger who’d told him about the Easter egg—a hidden bit of code embedded in the programming controlling the city’s autonomous taxi fleet.

Probably, the boy had been stringing her along. Yet there had been something about him, a sweetness, a rare sincerity that made her want to believe him—and anyway, what was the harm?

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Photo by Alessio Lin on Unsplash

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I accumulate a lot of links. Work links, sure, but on my way to the data mines I often come across  fun, interesting, obscure or downright delightful corners of the web. They inform me when I need a bit of learning with lunch, cheer me up when the news is too newsy, and otherwise remind me that the internet, like the world, is not 100% terrible.

What sort of links? I’m so glad you asked:)

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Look Up! An Introduction to Identifying Raptors in Flight

  • Helpful, although I’ll probably continue to just say “hawk!” every time I see something predatory with wings. My bird enthusiast father’s reply is always (honestly, can he really be right all the time?*) “turkey vulture.” Just once I wish he’d say “dragon.”

* The answer is yes.

20 of the Best History Podcasts to Help Us Actually Learn From the Past

  • History is cool.

Honest Government Ad | Carbon Capture & Storage – YouTube

  • Is there swearing? There is. It’s warranted.

Introducing the Icelandverse – YouTube

  • Look out, Zuckerberg, Iceland is coming for you.

Bohemian Catsody – A Rhapsody Parody Song for Every Cat Queen and King! – YouTube

  • Since you’re already on YouTube. And like cat videos.

This man won a Guinness World Record for his tree that bears 10 types of fruit

  • “Hussam Saraf says his record-breaking tree with 10 different types of fruit is a metaphor for how he sees the world. … ‘[It’s] mother nature that’s united us all together. Doesn’t really matter how different we are in colour or culture or tradition. We are one, and we can respect each other as one.’” If that’s not nice then I don’t know what is.


  • Each time a user clicks on your generated link, there is a 50% chance that they will be rickrolled.

The True Story of the Blue People of Kentucky

  • Genetics, man.

Photos of the world above and below the sea by David Doubilet

  • Nature, man. These images are amazing.

Periodic Table of the Elements, in Pictures and Words

  • How many of these have you used today?

How to Identify that Light in the Sky

  • Brought to you by NASA and The League of Lost Causes, which is just about the most awesome name ever.

Scientists Create 3,000 TB Simulation of the Universe You Can Download

  • I don’t have the space for this, but maybe you do?

And since I’m a baker, here’s one last link:

All You Could Ever Want to Know About a Pumpkin Slingshot

  • I dunno, I want to know A Lot.

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Photo by Robert Katzki on Unsplash

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Part of what good fiction does is to create a world and place the reader in it, allowing you to imagine yourself battling the Empire, slaying the dragon, or rescuing the fair prince in distress. But I get it, fiction is also a distancing mechanism.

Satisfying stories open with a problem and close when that problem is resolved, leaving the reader with the sense that they’ve helped and no more needs to be done. I think that can be particularly true when it comes to real challenges like climate change. 

Sometimes what’s needed is a picture.

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Meet ThisClimateDoesNotExist, a project by a group of scientists from the Quebec AI Institute in Montreal. They’ve put together a tool that lets you visualize the impact of climate change not on the world in general, or even a region, but on an address.

This Montreal-made website uses AI to show the potential impact of climate change on any address | CBC News

Take Killian Court at MIT, overlooking the Charles River. What would it look like flooded?* Or the US Capitol Building? Or the Sam’s Club parking lot in West Palm Beach, The Alamo in San Antonio (and I’m pretty sure we can kiss the River Walk goodbye), Pike’s Place Market in Seattle, or (now it’s getting real) the Guinness Brewery in Dublin?

* Not worried about flooding? Try the options for wildfire or smog. Also unpleasant!

Then picture yourself there too. Who better to be the hero of that story?

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Photo by Javier García on Unsplash

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Grey and rainy? Not on Mars! Photo by Nicolas Lobos on Unsplash

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I found this visualization of ocean denizens and depth fascinating. It looks simple but keep scrolling down (and scrolling, and scrolling) to see what lives where and how.

The Deep Sea

Elephant seals can dive to 2400 meters deep? That may be why the Headless Chicken Fish (real name) goes 500 meters deeper. Then there’s the Cookiecutter Shark, Flabby Whalefish, Dumbo Octopus, Sea Pig, Faceless Fish (who comes up with these names, they’re awesome) and not-really-related to jellyfish Comb Jelly.

And did you know that Orange Roughy can live up to 200 years? Or that the Patagonian Toothfish is found down to 3900 meters and has antifreeze in its tissue? I didn’t.

Next time there’s a choice of fish for dinner I think I’ll head over to Seafood Watch to find the most sustainable options. And skip the Orange Roughy.

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Photo by 毛 祥 on Unsplash

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