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Category Archives: Things I like

Songs ‘Bout Science: Space Edition

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Songs about science are kinda my specialty. That and mushrooms. In this series, I’ll share some of my favorites with you, one subject at a time. 

1. Jonathan Coulton- I’m Your Moon

(Video is ASL translation by CaptainValor)

Let’s start with a love song to Pluto from Charon, its moon before losing planet status. As Coulton likes to explain at concerts, the two revolve around a fixed point between them while also being tidally locked, meaning they spin together like a pair of ice skaters. Yeah, it’s okay if you tear up.

2. David Bowie- Space Oddity

The classic lonely astronaut song. Also the first song I ever learned on guitar. Thanks, Papa Feltman!

3. Peter Schilling- Major Tom (Coming Home)

I’ve always preferred the original German version of this riff on Bowie’s character, but the English was more popular in the US. There’s also a great cover by Shiny Toy Guns, and a really terrible one by William Shatner that I can’t condone listening to.

4. They Might Be Giants- Why Does The Sun Shine?

Okay, so it’s not strictly the most correct explanation, but we all love the original more than their correction.

5. Symphony of Science- A Glorious Dawn 

I love all the Symphony of Science series, but this is probably my favorite. Featuring the words of Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking.

6.  Peter Mulvey- Vlad the Astrophysicist 

Almost forgot the best one. This song sums up everything I love about the grandiosity of the universe we live in. Enjoy.

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A Little Bird Told Me You Love Literary Theory

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I can say from personal experience that Twitter is a great tool for procrastination, but could it also be one for learning and productivity? A new study says it might be the tool that literature teachers have been looking for. Lots of professions (including science writing!) now practically require an active Twitter presence, but many still scoff at the idea that the social media site could actually become part of the serious literary world.

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Stalk your favorite celebrity or write a novel, the choice is yours

Launched in July 2006, Twitter takes microblogging to an extreme by allowing a maximum of 140 characters per entry, or “tweet”. With over 500 million users, it’s easily the most popular platform for social blogging. Twitter has destroyed careers and fueled movements, and following the site during a presidential debate is arguably more interesting than watching the real thing.

“Twitteracy: Tweeting as a New Literary Practice,” addresses the idea that Twitter could be considered a new literacy practice, or a tool to use in increasing student literacy. The study, published by Christine Greenhow of Michigan State University College of Education, compiles previous research on Twitter and other forms of social media. Greenhow concludes that using Twitter for literature classes makes college students feel more connected to what they’re reading. Use of the website improved communication between students and professors, taught students how to voice their thoughts succinctly, and even allowed students to reach out to authors and researchers.

Outside the classroom, the site has already become a new literary platform: Of course there are thousands of authors on Twitter, but some of them are actually authoring on Twitter. Much as Charles Dickens once released his classics in serial form, some writers have taken to breaking down their novels into 140-character tweets. Perhaps less gimicky are those who use Twitter to publish high-concept poetry, who use the website without leaving their readers literally hanging on each sentence of a long story.

Wanting to celebrate their new position as a literary form, Twitter has announced the first Twitter Fiction Festival, a “storytelling celebration” to “feature creative experiments in storytelling from authors around the world.” If you think you have a good idea for a literary experiment that’s made for tweeting, you can submit it now. The five-day festival will start on November 28th and highlight the most creative proposals.

Just keep in mind how short 140 characters is! It’s really easy to run out of room, especially when you’re just getting to the really good–

Things I’ve Learned in the First Month of (Science) J-School

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Hello there, readers!

A lot has happened in the past month. I’ve moved to the city, settled into my apartment in Hamilton Heights, and (most importantly) started grad school at SHERP. My blog has been grossly neglected, but hopefully pretty soon some of my early assignments will start making their way onto Scienceline and you’ll no longer have a Rachel-Feltman’s-Awesome-Science-Writing-Shaped hole in your life.

To illustrate my findings, here’s a really tired meme:

 

 

But seriously, here are some things I’ve learned so far:

1. Stephen Hawking runs over journalists’ feet. I must have my foot over by Dr. Hawking as many times as possible in my lifetime.

2. I hate interviews, but I’m not totally terrible at them. Seriously though, I’m a socially awkward person and a child of the 21st century. I don’t even like to order pizza from places that make me talk to them on the phone, and suddenly I have to talk to four or five strangers a week at length. I’m probably going to give myself an ulcer. Good thing I love everything else about the job, yeah? And I think it’ll grow on me. Like a fungus. A flesh-eating fungus.

3. Science writing takes you to really exotic places…Like Long Island.

 

In all seriousness (or at least some seriousness), SHERP is amazing and I’m having a great time. We’re off to Brookhaven for our big overnight tomorrow, and I’ll definitely be posting about it when we get back! Then I’m spending the weekend covering The Maker Faire. It’s just a whirlwind of science journalism over here, folks.

Mushroom Hunting Success!

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I’ve just come back from an utterly glorious hike in the Pittsfield State Forest. It was a little over four miles all together, through a nice mix of rugged terrain and rambling foot trails. Though I just intended to hike with my family, it didn’t take me long to start looking for mushrooms.

Artist’s Conk

Turkey Tails

The first picture I snapped was of a Ganodermayour run-of-the-mill Artist’s Conk, so named because you can etch drawings into them that will remain when they dry out. It was high up and pretty dried out already, so I didn’t tug it down to doodle on it. Later in the afternoon I did pry one off for this purpose, but it was pretty buggy and gross.

Also in the “not that exciting” category, some Trametes versicoloraka Turkey Tail Mushrooms.

Despite being a mycological superhero, there are some species I’m not able to identify on sight. That’s why I never feed other people stuff that grows on the ground; Even if I feel pretty safe about it, I’m just not *that* good. For example, here’s a specimen I was less sure about:

Cheesecake!

I went up to this hoping it was a jelly baby (a very cute fungus indeed), but I know now it isn’t. The waxy body and red stipe lead me to believe it’s a scarlet hood, but I didn’t collect it or take note of what kind of tree it was growing under, so that’s all just guesstimation. For those of you who don’t know, proper fungi identification requires info like gill color, spore print color, stipe (stem) color, cap color, flesh consistency, smell, taste, habitat (down to specifics like nearby trees), and sometimes even spore shape (which requires a microscope) among other things.

I was able to identify the white cheese polypore pretty easily based on scent alone. It’s so sweet! One of the foragers I originally learned from actually called it a “cheesecake polypore”, which doesn’t seem to be the norm…but I think it should be.

Russula

The award for pretty picture of the day goes to this Russulapossibly the common and extremely acrid emitica, which had the good fortune of being home to a lovely moth.

There were TONS of that genus to be found. They’re very easy to spot, with their thick gills and stipes that look and feel a lot like chalk. Lactarius can look similar, but all you have to do to a fresh one is bust it open and see if it, you know, lactates. These didn’t. Ergo, Russula.

Amanita

Lest we forget that mushrooms can be as deadly as they are beautiful, here’s an Amanita (probably a deathcap) that I found. Check out that beautiful veil remnant around the stipe! It’s a perfect specimen.

 

Last but not least, I did end up finding quite a harvest. I was hoping I’d run into a couple of Oysters, and I did!

I screamed

I love oyster mushrooms, because they can’t be confused with anything even vaguely poisonous. That, and they’re delicious. In other words, the Feltmans (Feltmen?) shall feast this evening. I plan on sauteing them with olive oil and a bit of salt and pepper. I haven’t had fresh oyster mushrooms since last fall, so I’m very excited.

To end this meandering, meaningless blog post, I’d like to remind you to always forage with a buddy. Mine is pictured below.

Arden Feltman, budding Naturalist

This Is What A Scientist Looks Like: My Submission Is Finally Up!

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This Is What A Scientist Looks Like.

 

Featuring Papa Feltman himself.

Take my love, take my land…

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This is a piece I wrote for my senior thesis in the theme of a magazine column. Every month, a different science-fiction book/show/film/video game would be analyzed and given a letter grade for energy efficiency. The articles would occasionally relate technology/practices from the sci-fi universes with current or forthcoming technology in ours. 

FIREFLY

Joss Whedon‘s beloved, if tragically short-lived, series about cowboy-esque space pioneers has a way of seeming pretty believable, even now, nine years after its demise. Firefly is that rare science fiction universe that is new without being unrecognizable. The featured spaceship is populated by people who lack teleportation decks and personal androids. Their technology is futuristic, but not alien, which makes Firefly the perfect show to start our list with.

love keeps her in the air when she oughta fall down

Serenity, the ship featured on the show, has an engine room that looks like it could belong to a cargo boat a little past its prime (fitting, since that’s exactly what she is…in space). Whedon started with the idea of a rough-and-tumble world on the edge of the galaxy, and he stuck with it. “I seldom come up with any cool inventions,” He said in a Q&A with fans a few years back, “Which is very good for a guy who stopped taking science when he was fifteen.”

We don’t really find out what exactly is getting poured into Serenity’s engine on a regular basis, but we do know what kind of engine she has: A fuel cell. If that sounds familiar, it’s because they already exist.

In the most basic terms, a fuel cell consists of an anode (a negative side) a cathode (a positive side) and an electrolyte (a substance that can conduct electricity) between the two. In general terms, hydrogen atoms enter a fuel cell at the anode. Here, a chemical reaction strips away their electrons, which leaves the hydrogen atoms positively charged. The lost electrons, which carry a negative charge, provide the current that produces work. The electrolyte only allows the positive hydrogen ions through, forcing the electrons through the attached electrical circuit. On the other side (the cathode), the electrons, positive ions, and outside oxygen combine to form water, which drains out of the fuel cell. With a constant source of oxygen and hydrogen, a fuel cell will produce electrical energy with only water as a waste product.  

Should’a used Duracell

Here’s a tidbit for diehard Browncoats: Fuel cells differ from batteries in that they can only produce electricity as long as they have a constant source of fuel. They can’t store what they produce. Remember “Out of Gas”? In this harrowing episode, a piece of Serenity’s engine breaks. Not a rare occurrence, but for once in the series the mechanic can’t fix it with duct tape and moxie. Captain Mal Reynolds has to send his crew out in shuttles and hope they find help before everyone runs out of power and air. If Serenity is running on a fuel cell, it would make perfect sense that engine trouble would kill the ship’s systems dead within a few hours. Unless they were dragging along some kind of battery, the crew wouldn’t have any way to save up power.

Hydrogen fuel cells are available in cars now, but they only have about 20% efficiency, and prices for the technology are still pretty high. Fuel cells using fuel like diesel can have up to 40% efficiency, but their waste products aren’t as neat and tidy as hydrogen cells.

As for the rest of Firefly’s energy use, it seems to be pretty efficient. In the universe of the show, the known galaxy is divided

Earth-That-Was is long gone. Gorram fossil fuels.

between “core planets”, members of the bureaucratic Alliance (a sort of conglomeration between the US and the People’s Republic of China, except with lasers) clustered together, and border or rim planets. The core planets have a suggestion of extremely advanced technology and seem to be free of pollution. Conversely, the border planets are so poor that they have to be conservative, basically living like spaghetti-western cowboys and pioneers. People live off blocks of compressed protein powder and ride horses, so it’s probably safe to say that their energy consumption is pretty low.

What we see in the Border and Rim planets is a great example of forced localization. When resources dwindle (on account of Earth-That-Was getting “used up”), people have to find new resources or just use less of what they’ve already got. One of the easiest ways to accomplish the latter is to downsize, and not just on the individual or household level. By building smaller communities and making work, play, and home very close together, people can redesign modern civilization to allow foot (or horse) travel instead of cars and planes. Space travel exists in Firefly, but most Border planet children have never used it. They live in small, simple communities that can sustain themselves through farming. We’re a long way off from being able to terraform a cluster of solar systems to our liking, but the basic system of Firefly, a few rich cities using alternative energy and many small communities living on small quantities of what we already have, isn’t an unlikely future.

Grade: A-

A little love for the Cephalopods

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Today I read “Deep Intellect: Inside the Mind of the Octopus” by Sy Montgomery for what I am not ashamed to admit was probably the fifth time. As I sat in the library, silently weeping and wishing for a tentacled hug, I began to think of my own favorite Cephalopod.

Personally, I’m a fan of the Cuttlefish.

I think it was those W-shaped pupils that won me over first. Don’t mistake my meaning, I love octopuses, but their floppy mantles really freak me out. I said it quite eloquently this morning: “They look like aliens with giant brains, except if then the skull sometimes went like…*flop* and just kinda…splooshed.”

Don't be fooled. It wants in your brain.

Without further ado, reasons why everyone should have an affinity for the members of Phylum Mollusca, particularly those that are also members of Class Cephalopoda. Actually, I’m really talking about Subclass Coleoidea. That’s where it’s at.

  • Cuttlefish are distinguishable from other squishy tentacled things because of their cuttlebone, a hard structure made of aragonite (crystalized calcium carbonite) that controls buoyancy. The anatomy that controls gas flow is called a “siphuncle”, which is surely the best word you’ve come across today.

The Doctor is actually one heart short of perfect

  • They have three hearts, the better to love you with. Two hearts (one each) pump blue-green blood to the gills, and one last heart covers the rest of the body. Their blood uses hemocyanin instead of hemoglobin to carry oxygen (copper vs iron, hence the blue color) so the hearts have to pump faster to get enough oxygen around.
  • Cephalopod eyes are the most advanced of all invertebrates. They have a camera-type eye (image projected by a lens onto a retina) like we do but it evolved independently. This is one of the coolest examples of convergent evolution. To summarize, the idea was such a good one that multiple branches of the animal kingdom got to it without any help from each other. Bam. Cuttlefish and their brethren don’t see color, but they can detect the polarization of light.

Constant vigilance!

  • Oh yeah: Their eyes also lack the blindspot that we’ve all got, and it’s generally accepted that Cuttlefish start using their eyes while still in their eggs.

 

  • “Sepia” ink is named for the Cuttlefish (genus Sepia) because the Ancient Greeks loved them some Cuttle-juice. Luckily, it’s manufactured now.
  • Cuttlefish can change their color at will to communicate with each other and hide themselves from predator detection. It’s pretty trippy.

    These are not the cuttlefish you're looking for...

  • Last but not least, these guys are crazy intelligent. Cephalopods actively hunt their food, even going after prey as tricky as crabs. Their tentacles have incredible dexterity, enabling them to open jars and otherwise mess with your business at will.

In conclusion, this is a Sub-class of awesome.