Archive for the ‘Recreation’ Category

Epic comeback

September 25, 2013

Well, I spoke too soon in my earlier post on the America’s Cup.  Oracle Team USA has since won 7 races in a row and now it is 8-8 in the best of 17 match (although they have already had 18 races). The final race to determine the winner is today. Check out the action here.  In the past, America’s Cup races had usually been best of 3 or best of 5 matches. In this new format, the races are much shorter, taking less than an hour rather than several, and they try to get in two a day if the weather permits. In the beginning New Zealand had the faster boat. They had already been racing for over a month in the challenger series and were just better than Oracle. However, the long format and some weather delays has given Oracle a chance to get up to speed and now they are definitely the faster boat. Yesterday, they flew by New Zealand on the upwind leg. The only chance New Zealand has to win today is if Oracle makes a mistake.

America’s Cup 2013

September 19, 2013

Today may be the last race for the America’s Cup yacht series between the US and New Zealand.   Here are the highlights from the last race.

It is a best of 17 series and New Zealand has 8 wins so today may be the last chance to watch these hundred million dollar multihull yachts fly around San Francisco harbour at close to 50 miles per hour.  All the races are posted on You Tube.

National Elk Refuge

March 22, 2011

Right outside of Jackson, Wyoming is the National Elk Refuge, which was established in 1912.  It is the wintering ground for a herd of ten thousand elk as well as eight hundred bison.  During winter, the elk come down from the mountains to the Jackson Hole valley where the snow is thinner so they can access grass more easily.  You can take a horse drawn sleigh right out to the herd with the Grand Tetons as the the backdrop. Here are some pictures.

Podcast update

January 4, 2011

Here’s whats on my iPod these days.  I definitely try to listen to the following three each week.  They are all about an hour so they fit into my drive home from work.

Quirks and Quarks:  Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s weekly radio science show.  I used to listen to it as a child.  The first host was former scientist and current environmentalist David Suzuki.  It is now hosted by Bob McDonald.

The Science Show:  This is Australia’s long running radio science show hosted by the inimitable Robyn Williams

Radio Lab:  Possibly the most innovative thing ever on radio.  If you’ve never listened to radio lab, your missing out on a fantastic experience.

I sometimes listen to these.  The philosophy shows are half an hour or shorter while Econtalk is often longer than an hour so they are not as convenient to listen to on my drive.

Philosopher’s Zone: A show that is probably only viable in Australia, which has a vibrant philosophical community.  Host Alan Saunders is also a food expert.

Philosophy Bites: These are usually quite short but informative

Econtalk: Salon-like conversations between George Mason economist Russ Roberts and a guest covering a wide range of topics in economics and beyond  Although Roberts is a self-professed believer in markets his show is fairly well-balanced with different viewpoints.

I used to listen to these shows more but find myself dialing them up less for some reason these days:

All in the mind:  I find this half hour radio show a little too melodramatic at times but it can be interesting

The Naked Scientists:  This is a very popular radio show/podcast out of Cambridge, England.  I find it a little too flip at times and the hosts sometimes make mistakes.

In addition to these regular podcasts, I also listen to university lectures, mostly in philosophy, available on iTunes U.

The Genographic Project

October 15, 2010

National Geographic is conducting a research project (The Genographic Project) to analyze historical genome patterns  by sampling DNA from people all over the world. The main aim is to sample from various indigenous peoples from around the world but the public can participate as well. The website for the project is here.  There is a charge for a participation kit, which is used to defray the costs of the study.  You can have your mitochondrial DNA, which follows your maternal lineage, or if you are a male, the Y-chromosome, which follows your paternal line analyzed.  I  recently did the test for my Y-chromosome and I am a member of Haplogroup O with the M175 marker.  My earliest male ancestor emerged roughly 50,000 years ago in Africa and is the common ancestor of every non-African male alive today.  The man with the M175 marker emerged about 35,000 years ago during the ice age somewhere in Central or East Asia.  There were probably something like 100,000 Homo sapiens alive at that time.

Science Museums

August 23, 2010

When I was a child, I lived across the street from the Ontario Science Centre.  I loved the place and would go quite often.  When it first opened 40 years ago, the Science Centre was quite innovative in  its use of interactive exhibits and demonstrations as well as its architecture.  It drapes over  the side of a valley.  I still remember the excitement of riding down the escalators to the lowest levels where my favourite exhibits were.

I went back to the Science Centre this past weekend for the first time in several decades.  It has changed quite a bit but some of the old exhibits still exist in a room called the Science Arcade.  The architecture looks a little dated on the outside but holds up fairly well on the inside.  As I walked around, I wondered whether people actually learn anything at these museums.  There are lots of neat things to play with but do they actually get it.  An example is an exhibit of a Cartesian Diver, which consists of a small glass fish inside a cylinder of water.  The fish is partially filled with water.  The visitor pushes a button that pumps air into the cylinder and the fish sinks to the bottom.  However, there wasn’t a detailed explanation of how it works.  The write up basically said that as air is pumped into the cylinder the pressure rises and squeezes the air inside the fish.  It didn’t say explicitly that the fish had a hole in it so that water could move in and out and as the air in the fish was being squeezed by the water moving in due to the increased pressure, the fish became less buoyant and thus sank.  I saw a boy watch the fish sink and say, “how did that happen?”  Perhaps, the exhibit will spur his curiosity to learn more about it.

I believe the current idea of curators who design science museums and exhibits is that science museums should try to make science fun and cool.  Thus the exhibits need to been highly interactive and entertaining.   Maybe this is the right strategy and people do get a lot out of visiting science museums.  I really don’t know.  The National Academy of Sciences has a report, which I haven’t read, on this very issue.  I think having a science literate public is more important now than ever.   Do science museums play an important role in educating the public?

The Philosopher’s Zone

July 3, 2010

Last Thursday I had to drive from Baltimore to State College, PA for the 16th Congress of the US National Congress on Theoretical and Applied Mechanics to give a talk in one of the sessions.  I gave a condensed version of the kinetic theory of coupled oscillators talk I gave in Warwick last month.  The theme of the session was on recent advances in nonlinear dynamics so the topics were quite diverse.  I’m not sure my talk resonated with the audience.  The only question I received was how was this related to the NIH!

During the six hours of driving I did going back and forth, I listened to podcasts of the Australian radio show The Philosopher’s Zone.  This is a wonderful program hosted by Alan Saunders, who has a PhD in philosophy and is also a food expert.  Every show consists of Saunders talking to a guest, who is usually a philosopher but not always, about either a book she has recently written or some other philosophical topic.  The topics can range from the philosophy of Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Stoicism and everything in between.  Saunders has a knack for making complex philosophical ideas accessible and interesting.  In addition to The Philosopher’s Zone, I still regularly listen to Quirks and Quarks, The Science Show, Radio Lab, and The Naked Scientists.  I’ll also sneak in All in the Mind from time to time.

The neurobiology of sports performance

February 25, 2010

Now that we’re almost through the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, we have witnessed several examples of athletes excelling and underperforming. How an athlete responds to a high pressure situation could give interesting clues into the underlying neurobiology and evolutionary history of the brain. The brain has to operate under trade-offs. There is what Stephen Grossberg calls the plasticity-stability trade-off, where a system that learns must decide when to learn and when not to learn since learning involves overwriting previously learned patterns.   There is also the question of how much cognitive control should be exercised.  People talk about just letting their “muscle memory” takeover and go on “instinct” but what does that really mean neurobiologically?  Recent research has shown that a movement resulting from a reaction is faster than one from an intention.  These experiments found that people could hit buttons faster when they reacted to someone rather than when they initiated which  shows that more cognitive control can make you slower.

I think it is quite clear that some athletes rise to the occasion under high pressure situations while others wilt.  The question is why is there such variability.   Naively, it would seem that always performing under pressure should be a good thing.  The answer must be that rising to the occasion is not always optimal in an evolutionary sense.  Let’s imagine in paleolithic times that you’re in a stressful situation where you’re trying to catch your dinner or are running away from something that wants you for dinner.  That would be an analogous situation to a high pressure athletic event.  I think that there is not always an optimal strategy.  In some instances, you would want to simply run as fast as you can and being able to reach top performance would be helpful.  In other instances, it may be better to hesitate and come up with a plan before acting.

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Darts and Diophantine equations

October 24, 2009

Darts is a popular spectator sport in the UK. I had access to cable television recently so I was able to watch a few games.  What I find interesting about professional darts is that the players must solve a Diophantine equation to win.  For those who know nothing of the game, it involves throwing a small pointed projectile at an enumerated target board that looks like this:

dartboard

A dart that lands on a given sector on the board obtains that score.  The center circle of the board called the bulls eye is worth 50 points.  The ring around the bulls eye is worth 25 points.  The wedges are worth the score ascribed by the number on the perimeter.  However, if you land in the inner ring then you get triple the score of the wedge and if you land in the outer ring you get double the score.  Hence, the maximum number of points for one dart is the triple twenty worth 60 points.

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