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Posts Tagged ‘learning@lunch’

Today is the first test of humanity’s nascent planetary defense system. Like Armageddon, except scientists are the heroes.

NASA will hit an asteroid with a spacecraft to change its course : NPR

“It’s just a spacecraft that is going to go and smack an asteroid.” Oh, is that all?

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NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) is scheduled to crash a spacecraft into an asteroid to test our ability to nudge potentially dangerous near-Earth objects into safer trajectories. That is excellent, and we can watch it.

How to Livestream NASA Smashing an Asteroid to Test Planetary Defense Plan

The impact day broadcast of the actual test will start on Monday, September 26 at 6 p.m. EDT, which you can watch on NASA TV, a livestream on NASA’s YouTube channel.

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What will happen and how will we know? 

Ground-based telescopes are key to DART asteroid mission success | Space

On Monday (Sept. 26), the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft will slam into a small space rock called Dimorphos — on purpose, at a staggering 4 miles (6.6 kilometers) per second. The exercise comes in the name of planetary defense, which aims to protect human civilization from any large asteroid that may be on a collision course. For the mission to succeed, scientists need to measure exactly how much the orbit of Dimorphos around its larger companion, Didymos, speeds up. And the DART spacecraft won’t be in any shape to make that measurement itself, so mission personnel are relying on ground-based telescopes to track the aftermath of impact.

If this trial run works, terrific, but even failure would better prepare us to defend Earth. 

Si vis pacem, para [asteroides].

Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus (with minor paraphrasing)

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Photo by Senad Palic on Unsplash

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I love that there are still so many things to learn. Take fox nuts, for example (the food, not the, well, you know). If you have more than a passing familiarity with Indian cuisine you’ve probably heard of them, but I had not. I ran across a reference today and thought, “Fabulous! What the heck are those?”

Where do Makhana (fox nuts) come from?

Fox nuts, or makhana, are seeds from the prickly water lily (euryale ferox). When cooked they puff up, a little like popcorn (if all the action happened inside the shell and required a blow with a wooden mallet to release the final product). It is a very popular Indian food for snacking and other dishes.

Fox Nuts: How They Are Grown and Prepared

I wonder what they taste like? Time to head over to the local South Asian grocery and find out. 

And this has been today’s edition of Learning at Lunch.

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This is a different, admittedly more photogenic, type of waterlily. Photo by Jimmy Chang on Unsplash

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I love a lot of things, including the Works Progress Administration, kick-ass ladies, secret histories, and libraries. This story combines all of the above and more. How cool is it that?

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Kentucky’s Horse-Riding Librarians | The Kid Should See This

Between 1935 and 1943, the initiative employed around 1,000 book women as mobile librarians. Paid less than a dollar a day, they traveled up to 120 miles a week on mule or horseback over rugged mountains and through fast-flowing creeks in all types of weather… In just one year they reached 50,000 families and 155 rural schools. But book women did more than just leave books on people’s porches…

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I attended the sort of progressive high school that allowed students to create their own classes. I decided to study the practical applications of plants, specifically their uses in food, textiles and medicine.

Basically, I cooked, dyed wool and made diluted poisons. Typical high school stuff.

I learned a lot about my local plants during that semester. What I’m not always great at is identifying new plants. That’s why I downloaded a plant identifier app. I won’t suggest the one I use because it’s just ok, full of tech walls designed to shunt you away from free options and toward a purchase, but I’ve charted a path around those barriers and can get the information I want.

That said, I’ve learned that iOS 15 users* already have a free alternative.

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The feature is called Visual Look Up and once you know it’s there, it’s easy to use. It works for plants but also other subjects like landmarks, art and animals.

Today I learned you can identify plants and flowers using just your iPhone camera

Just open up a photo or screenshot in the Photos app and look for the blue “i” icon underneath. If it has a little sparkly ring around it, then iOS has found something in the photo it can identify using machine learning. Tap the icon, then click “Look Up” and it’ll try and dredge up some useful information.

Is it perfect? Not in my (admittedly limited) experience, but it is surprisingly good. My father-in-law sent me a picture of a mystery flower that had appeared (quite mysteriously!) next to his pond. Despite living in the area for decades he had never seen the plant before. Did I know what it was?

I did, in fact, have a pretty good guess. It looked an awful lot like a native plant Mr Man and I bought when we first moved into the house, the Blue Flag Iris. I ran the image through my app to be sure, and it helpfully appended “Northern” to the name. Points for me, but confirmation is always nice.

After discovering Visual Look Up I tested it on the same photo. It got me to “Iris” but without additional specifics. (To be fair, when I took a quick snapshot of the clearer image below and ran Look Up, it identified the plant as a Blue Flag Iris. Points for it.)

So next time you discover something mysterious that you don’t mind sharing with the tech giant in your pocket, try out this feature.

For a free option covering multiple life and other forms?** Recommended.

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* Those in the US, Australia, Canada, UK, Singapore, Indonesia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Mexico, for now. Not an iPhone user? I haven’t tried it, but Google Lens has similar functionality and works for both iOS and Android.

** But does it work on aliens?

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I don’t really do New Year’s resolutions, but studies have found evidence that temporal landmarks can help overcome motivation problems. You may have seen it referred to as the fresh start effect. It’s not a panacea (as gym members everywhere can attest) but whatever, if it helps me to rethink my process in a productive way, great.

As New Year’s rolled around I started thinking about trying new things. Today I’m thinking about new recipes. 

Be it bread, brownies, cake, yogurt, or a magic wand, I like working out the best way (for me) to make something. And knowing that my birthday cake is going to come out exactly as planned? Priceless.

But I also like working on new projects, triangulating resources, experimenting with techniques or components. Making something new.

So far this year I’ve tested new ways to make cinnamon sugar bread, lemon cake, and mushroom soup. Next up? A quick trip to the tropics.

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Mr Man brought home a box of fresh passion fruit yesterday. I’ve tasted it before, most recently in a collection of holiday Chocolates by Enid.* Passion fruit also appears frequently on the Great British Baking Show, where bakers treat it like your average ingredient but might go bonkers for recipes I consider excellent but everyday, like Key Lime Pie. 

My lack of experience means I have questions. Why are the fruits I’ve got two completely different colors? How can you tell when they are ripe? Do you just scoop out the pulp or is there bitter pith to be avoided? How do I keep from thinking about runny noses and other gelatinous goop while engaging in said scooping? Does the goop need to be strained? And why are those seeds looking at me?!

So much to learn, and all of it sounds like fun. Wish me luck!

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Not Enid’s chocolates but hey, close enough! Photo by Massimo Adami on Unsplash

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* These chocolates appeared as a temporary holiday treat at a local farm store but the source is otherwise mysterious. Who is Enid? Where did she come from and why won’t she make chocolates past December? Has she now retreated back to Choclandia with the other chocolate fairies? And where can I find more of those passion fruit cream-filled chocolates?! 

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I’m working today but I’d rather be baking. While in Montreal last week I picked up some sugar cookies. Mediocre, not good, stale cookies. They were, to put it mildly, a disappointment.

I hate disappointment. What do I like? Recipes that are satisfying, easy enough to make whenever I want, and showcase flavor rather than perfection. A little flash doesn’t go amiss, either. 

We’re watching The Great Canadian Baking Show and I am reminded that there are so many interesting things out there to learn. So while I’m looking for the perfect sugar cookie recipe, I may also start building a list of essential* recipes and methods I don’t already know.

And then start baking.

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* My definition of essential will almost certainly differ from yours, but I’m aiming for techniques that can be used in a wide variety of recipes, help build flexibility into both recipes and bakers regardless of skill level, and eschew fiddly for fun. That said, how have I never made a pithivier? Also, buying puff pastry is absolutely acceptable in my book.

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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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What am I reading with lunch? How about a graphic novel about a woman, space, and a spunky little robot? App and interactivity are optional (but could be fun).

NASA – First Woman (read onlinedownload PDF)

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NASA

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I’m bouncing from project to project again, doing some work work and some practice work. I’ve also started about half a dozen posts but nothing feels right, because none of them said what I was really thinking, which is that today I am the Queen of Meh.

This is not to say that things are not a-ok, I’d just prefer to be making more progress.

Mood: pretty groovy, thanks for asking.

Fine, let’s roll with it.

I did nothing amazing today but do things I did. The project I had the most fun with was practicing photo compositing. Here’s a chimera that is not very good but I like anyway: Behold, the Winged Buffabear!

Original photos by Steven Cordes and Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash,
daguerreotype overlay from Spoon Graphics

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I think I’ll try to follow this advice by Christine Carter, and my own, and aim low:

The 1-minute secret to forming a new habit

Here’s why we need to be willing to be bad: being good requires that our effort and our motivation be in proportion to each other. The harder something is for us to do, the more motivation we need to do that thing. And you might have noticed, but motivation isn’t something that we can always muster on command….

The goal, remember, is repetition, not high achievement. So let yourself be mediocre at whatever you’re trying to do, but be mediocre every day. 

— Christine Carter

That I can do!

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Look at all those minutes!
Photo by Alexander Schimmeck on Unsplash

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No writing today, but I did learn a little more Affinity Photo. I spent some of the afternoon playing with images and one of the things I made was this poster with Pride and Prejudice text overlay.

Now it’s time for pizza (which does not intimidate me)!

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Text by Jane Austen, Photo by Edu Lauton on Unsplash

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