#Cosmos E3: Know The Ledge

(For all of my Cosmos recaps, please click here)

For the next 12 or so Sundays, join me on Twitter (@ShareefJackson) as I livetweet the show Cosmos.  The most recent episode "When Knowledge Conquered Fear", deals mostly with comets. Ancient civilizations saw comets as messages from God of impending doom. It took scientists like Robert Hooke, Edmond Halley, and Isaac Newton to prove that comets were a part of the solar system whose travel patterns can be predicted with startling accuracy.

Knowledge is power, and also inspires great music. Check out Eric B and Rakim's "Know the Ledge" off of the soundtrack to the movie Juice. After that, check out the Storify of my tweets below!


Check out the tweets below!

Last Night a #Cosmos Saved My Life

Last night the series premiere of Cosmos, a miniseries exploring the universe, debuted on Fox. Its a reboot of the original 1980s series which was hosted by astronomer Carl Sagan, and is one of the most widely watched miniseries in history. I saw part of the original series in the mid and late 80s, but I was still young and didn't fully appreciate it.

Last night, a Cosmos saved my life.

After graduating college, my good friend Raymond told me about Sagan's book Cosmos, which was made after the TV series gained in popularity. I immediately recognized the name as the series that I watched so many years before, but I did not know that the book would become one of my favorites of all time. OF ALL TIME.

Sagan has a way of describing complicated topics such as the length of time since the big bang in terms that can be grasped by a variety of folks. His Cosmic Calendar - where the entire history of the universe is placed in a calendar year - remains one of my favorite ways to explain exactly how new humans are to the universe. All of recorded history takes place at the very, very end of the calendar. Puts things into perspective.

I had so much fun watching Cosmos and participating in the discussions that followed on and offline. Be sure to check me out on Twitter (@ShareefJackson) every Sunday at 9pm Eastern as I tweet about Cosmos during the show. A sample of my tweets from the premiere are shown below via Storify.

White House Recognizes STEM Champions of Change

This week, the White House is continuing its Champions of Change series with a focus on science.

 

From the press release, via The Urban Scientist:

 

WASHINGTON, DC – On Wednesday, February 26, 2014, the White House will honor ten local heroes who are “Champions of Change” for their innovation in creating diversity and access in STEM fields. These champions are creating opportunities for young people typically underrepresented in STEM industries by using unconventional approaches to enhance student exposure ranging from photography and film, to Hip Hop music, to coding competitions and community-based workshops.

 

Besides the fact that it seems weird to see "hip hop music" in an official government communication, I'm always excited to see science be rewarded.  I'm especially excited to see folks that I've previously featured on my blog be honored. In my post "Wu-Tang and Science are for the Children" (props to you if you get the reference), I talked about Christopher Emdin and the hip hop science competitions that he helped organize in New York. I'm happy to see Chris be honored!

 

Christopher Emdin, Director of Science Education at the Center for Health Equity and Urban Science Education, Columbia University
New York, NY
Christopher Emdin, Ph.D is an Associate Professor of Science Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, where he also serves as Director of Science Education at the Center for Health Equity and Urban Science Education. He is also a fellow at the W.E.B. DuBois Research Institute at Harvard University. In these roles, he prepares teachers for STEM classrooms, conducts research in urban science education, and coordinates both the Science Genius B.A.T.T.L.E.S. and the #HipHopEd social media movement. The Science Genius B.A.T.T.L.E.S. are focused on bringing attention to transforming teaching, learning, and engagement in science by using hip-hop culture to create science competitions among youth in New York City Public schools. The #HipHopEd movement focuses on engaging the public in conversations about the intersections of hip-hop and education. Dr. Emdin writes the provocative “Emdin 5” series for the Huffington Post. He is also author of the award winning book, Urban Science Education for the Hip-hop Generation.

 

In my post "Hey Science? Respect Matters", I discussed how the scientific community has no room for discrimination, especially gender based. I've spoken with Danielle several times and met her in person, so I was thrilled to see her featured as well.

 

Danielle N. Lee, Biologist on Animal Behavior
Stilwater, OK; Ithaca, NY
Dr. Danielle N. Lee is a biologist who studies animal behavior. Her current research examines the natural history and individual differences of African Giant Pouched Rats. Her science outreach efforts emphasize sharing science to general audiences, particularly under-served groups, via outdoor programming and social media. She blogs about her research, evolutionary biology, as well as diversity and inclusion in the sciences at The Urban Scientist hosted by Scientific American Scientific American Blog Network. She is also a founder of the National Science and Technology News Service, a media advocacy group to increase interest in STEM and science news coverage within the African-American community.

 

Congrats to Chris, Danielle, and the rest of the folks being honored today!

Science Experiments ... Eggscellent!

Peace to Sheldon.

Peace to Sheldon.

I like eggs. Usually scrambled, with cheese. I don't like my eggs too runny. I don't do many science experiments with my eggs besides the chemical reaction between my stomach and the egg when I swallow it.  That's why I'm happy that YouTube user Taras Kul shows a ton of science experiments with eggs. He has a great sense of humor and shows that every science experiment doesn't have to be a success to learn something. Science is about the journey, after all.

Awesome moments from the video include how to make an egg float in the middle of a glass of water, telling whether an egg is boiled or not by the rotational speed, and a hilarious attempt to walk over crates of eggs without breaking them. Enjoy!

Future City: I Believe the Children Are Our Future

Our kids rock! But you wouldn't know that if you listened to the doom and gloom that's often reported in the mainstream news. Disparity sells, and there are always more stories about kids doing bad in school and failing tests than there are with our kids achieving.  Positive programs never get the attention that they deserve, even national ones with a great track record like Future City. From the website:

The Future City Competition is a national, project-based learning experience where students in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade imagine, design, and build cities of the future. Students work as a team with an educator and engineer mentor to plan cities using SimCity™ software; research and write solutions to an engineering problem; build tabletop scale models with recycled materials; and present their ideas before judges at Regional Competitions in January. Regional winners represent their region at the National Finals in Washington, DC in February. 

 

Last weekend I had the pleasure to serve as a judge for the Wisconsin Regional finals at the Kern Center for the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE).  It's a beautiful gym and it was fun to see all of the students carrying their city models that they built out of recycled materials into the center. Here's a pic from the outside at the wonderful time of about 7:30am. The white truck in the background is from a Fox news van that was covering the event.

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The judges sat in a room and teams would come in and give a short presentation and Q&A session. The teams spoke about their ideas on how to solve transportation using the model that they built, and had moving parts and visual aids. The models themselves were quite cool as they were made of recycled parts - everything from Starbucks cans to computer speakers.

Unfortunately, as a judge i could not take photos of the individual science models, but below is a photo of the main hall.  You can see quite a few well-dressed kids next to their visual aids, ready to explain the feats that their city accomplishes.

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I left the event pumped and optimistic for the future of science in our country. We are in good hands, but we can't get lazy - we need to encourage this spirit of innovation in ALL grades.  Once kids find out that #ScienceLooksGood, they'll help move us to the next era.

Also, the title to this post refers to one of my favorite songs, the Greatest Love of All by Whitney Houston. I had to learn this song while attending the YMCA as a kid.

Not to be outdone, the Eddie Murphy film Coming to America featured a hilarious rendition of Greatest Love of Y'all by Randy Waaaatttttttssssoooooonnnnn and Sexual chocolate.

#CES2014: Gaming, Printing, Excercising

Last week, I was lucky enough to break out of the balmy -20 degree Milwaukee weather and take a trip to Vegas to the Consumer Electronics Show. I had a great time at last year's show, and this year did not disappoint!  

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But let's skip the technobabble. Here are three things that will potentially change the way we entertain, build, and excercise in the next few years. 3D gaming, 3D printing, and fitness.

 

3D gaming

Imagine walking down a street in a video game, and being able to look up, down, left, right.  Now imagine being able to look in back of you. That's what the Oculus Rift. promises to bring to gaming.

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Looks stupid, right? It was. And I loved it.  Reminds me of the horrible virtual reality games in the arcades of the 80s and early 90s. Remember these?

Transient

Also. Display port had an amazing 3 monitor setup. 3 FREAKING HUGE monitors. I couldn't even fit this inside of my apartment, but I want it!

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3D printing

I've blogged about 3D printing in the past, and there was a huge showing at the conference. 3D printing is pretty much what it sounds like - a printer that can print a plastic object such as an action figure, a ball, or a mask.  Tons of cool companies like Makerbot, Kevvox, and Sculpteo were printing small 3D trinkets left and right. Some great examples are below.  3D printing is still a little too expensive ($2000+, plus printing material) to bring into the mainstream, but give it a good 5 years or so and we'll be printing our own toys at a reasonable price. Secret Santa will be even more awesome.

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Fitness

I've been borrowing a Fitbit Flex from Verizon Wireless for review, and it's become my best buddy.  I leave it on my wrist (even in the shower - it's waterproof) and it automatically tracks my steps, active minutes, calories burned, etc.  

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I forget that it's on, which is exactly the point.  The only time I don't forget about it is when I have to charge it by removing a smal part and plugging it up to a computer, which is more often then I'd like (every day or two). For these things to really go mainstream, wireless charging would be a huge benefit. Imagine that I can just throw my Fitbit Flex on a wireless pad like a Powermat. Or even better, placing a wireless charger under my pilow (or make the whole pillow a wireless charger) so that going to sleep instantly charges the device. I know, big dreams, and I could fry my head ... but it would be awesome.

My favorite fitness gadget was the Infomotion 94Fifty - a basektball with a bunch of sensors in it that measure ball rotation, velocity, the arc of your shot, and tons of other variables.  As you dribble, shoot, and pass, you get instant feedback from the voice of a snarky coach.  

For example, when shooting a free throw, you shoudl shoot at an arc of 40 degrees, which is REALLY hard for the average person. All I heard most of the time was the coach saying "Get that arc up" and other remarks. If I had this as a kid, I might actually have been a good basketball player. Maybe it would have helped me grow to 6' tall to.

 

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Keep an eye out on 3D gaming, 3D printing, and fitness gagdgets in the next few years - things are gonna change!

Space Is Not Friendly to Myopic Idiots

"You don't get to go live on the space station because you're a myopic idiot. So you don't need to treat the people that are speaking on behalf of the program as if their myopia and inherent idoacy will constantly cause them to say bad things."

Successful communication of your ideas can be just as important as the idea itself.

There is a stereotype that scientifically inclined people have communication problems. Scientists are seen as folks that can only speak with other scientists, either because they lack the basic communication skills or because they view themselves as above other non-scientific people. I've definitely seen both cases of this, but it's a small minority. Part of the mission of this blog is to eliminate this stereotype.

The above quote about myopic idiots by Chris Hadfield, former International Space Shuttle (ISS) Commander, speaks to the importance of opening our space research to all. The scientists and others involved with getting machinery and humans into space and back again should be trusted to share the awesomeness with others.  Astronauts in particular are trained to do incredible things - why not share it to as many people as possible? 

It's so funny to see Hadfield participate in a video chat from Earth. He's been a prolific fixture in audio and video chats during his time in space, so I'm used to seeing him in a spacesuit.  Check out the Google+ hangout below where Hadfield speaks about the space program and the need to be open and communicate the value of NASA and other government organizations.

 

Les Paul Is a Science God

I recently attended the Time Warner STEMFest at Discovery World here in Milwaukee.  I was floored by the museum's Les Paul exhibit.  Since he is a Wisconsin native, the exhibit is a vast exploration of his life and how his inventive mind literally transformed music.

I knew Les Paul's name from his Gibson guitar line, but I had no idea that he was a true scientific inventor at heart. He grew up learning about sound by using the family piano, studying the rumbles from the nearby train station, and analyzing a record player (phonograph). He built most things that he used, from his original guitar idea that he shared with Gibson to his own recording studio.

 Distortion, reverb, and delay were all terms that Paul mastered within the musical lexicon.  He also helped launch multitrack recording, which enabled him to put different vocals / instruments on different tracks and mix them together.

Check out the pics below from Paul's exhibit and make sure to swing by if you're in the Milwaukee area! 

My turntables might wobble but they won't fall down

My turntables might wobble but they won't fall down

Les Paul was an inventor at heart.

Les Paul was an inventor at heart.

From wikipedia: Les Paul , a friend of Crosby's and a regular guest on his shows, had already been experimenting with overdubbed recordings on disc. He received an early portable Ampex Model 200A from Crosby. He invented Sound on Sound recording using this machine. He placed an additional playback head, located before the conventional erase/record/playback heads. This allowed Paul to play along with a previously recorded track, both of which were mixed together on to a new track.   

From wikipedia: Les Paul , a friend of Crosby's and a regular guest on his shows, had already been experimenting with overdubbed recordings on disc. He received an early portable Ampex Model 200A from Crosby. He invented Sound on Sound recording using this machine. He placed an additional playback head, located before the conventional erase/record/playback heads. This allowed Paul to play along with a previously recorded track, both of which were mixed together on to a new track. 

 

Basic hardware behind a recording studio

Basic hardware behind a recording studio

One of Les Paul's mixing boards

One of Les Paul's mixing boards

Make 8 bit music after the Les Paul exhibit

Make 8 bit music after the Les Paul exhibit

NASA Shut Down, But We Still Celebrate 55 Years

(Editors Note: Most of the NASA links are inactive because of the government shutdown. Yay Congress.) 

In the midst of the Cold War, the US government created NASA in 1958 to gain an edge in space exploration. It was partially a defensive move agains the Soviet launch of the first Earth satellite, Sputnik, in 1957.  NASA superseded the existing National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which was formed in 1915 to pursue aeronautical research.

In the past 55 years, NASA has grown beyond its iniitial goals to be part of a global initative in support of space travel and harnessing its benefits for Earth. Check out the following infographic to get a sense of accomplishments as well as future endeavours. My hope is that this blog will be around long enough to cover each of the "things to come"! For more info, click on the infographic or visit this site.

 

Some more detail is available on NASA's site:

We’ve sent 12 humans to walk and work on the moon, sent four rovers and four landers to explore Mars and sentVoyager into interstellar space.
We’ve studied our home planet, every other planet in the solar system, and the sun at the center of it all.
We’ve peered deep into the distant past of the universe with Great Observatories like HubbleSpitzer and Chandra.
We’ve built an International Space Station larger than a five-bedroom house and sent humans to live and work off the planet continuously since November 2000. 
We've flown 30 years of space shuttle missions to launch and repair Hubble, build the space station and perform science in Earth orbit.
We've developed experimental aircraft and tested technologies that make today's airplanes safer and greener
We’ve produced hundreds of innovations that enable current and future NASA missions and improve the daily lives of everyone on Earth, from life-saving medical technologies to advances in telecommunications, weather forecasting, robotics and emergency response.
There’s way too much to list it all … and we’re not done yet.
We plan to land humans on Mars in the 2030s. We're getting set to send MAVEN to Mars and OSIRIS-REx to an asteroid, and we'll be watching as Juno arrives at Jupiter and New Horizons arrives at Pluto. We’ll launch the James Webb Space Telescopeto follow Hubble in the quest to understand our universe, looking all the way back to the first luminous glows after the Big Bang.   We’ll continue looking at the home planet from our unique perspective in space, improving air travel and developing cutting-edge technologies for the benefit of all mankind.

Yeah They Still Work #4: '96 Tech

This is the latest post in my Yeah They Still Work (YTSW) series, where I review my old tech that still works and brings me joy.  

In December of 1996, I was a skinny, optimistic high school junior, ready to take on the world!  I kept one of my high school papers because I wrote a front page article and I'm a packrat. Little did I know that 17 years later, it would serve as a perfect time capsule for some of the technology of the day.

Check out the video below for a journey into the ridiculous TVs, CD players, and phones of the past! 

A Curious Year for NASA

Curiosity Rover's First Anniversary  (201308060002HQ)

When you think about government accomplishments in the past year, many of NASA's achievements get overlooked. As entertaining as constant partisan deadlock between the legislative and executive branches can be, let's not forget about our tech success! Despite the end of the space shuttle program, NASA has been steadily moving toward exploring space.

This week marks a year since NASA landed the Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars. You can check out the multiple posts that I did last year on the "7 minutes of terror" landing process here. For some new media, relive the landing with the crew in the following 4 minute video from NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) site. And yes, that is Mohawk guy (MSL systems engineer Bobak Ferdowsi) front and center.

A longer, in depth video celebration by NASA is below. It clocks in at about an hour.

An Awesome Poster on Social Media for Space

One of my space geek Facebook friends has recently taken it to the next level. Remco Timmerman put together a poster on social media and the space industry. If my tons of NASA posts haven't let you know already, social media has played a huge impact in furthering the public impact of space research.

Remco's poster,  "Social Media for Space",  was presented at the International Space University ISU alumni weekend poster session last weekend. According to the ISU Facebook page, "ISU provides an interdisciplinary education in the context of an intercultural and international environment to support the development of future leaders." They always have a great YouTube channel chock full of space stuff.

Check out the poster below. A higher res version is available for download here. 

 

Your Library May Have 3D Printing

Inside 3D Printing Expo

As I've blogged about before, 3D printers are awesome! They are a little expensive - Makerbot's 3D machines hover around $2000 - but you can print out small 3D trinkets and have a blast! The main store where you can see demos is the Makerbot store in NYC.  Luckily, some libraries are getting into the act and opening up their own 3D printing stations so that you can get in on the fun! 

According to the Washington Post :

Cleveland and D.C. are part of an expanding club of public libraries making 3-D printers available to patrons, often as part of a “maker lab” type environment. The Johnson County Public Library in the Kansas City suburbs debuted a “MakerSpace” in the spring with a MakerBot 3-D printer, iMacs, cameras and other equipment and software people might not normally be able to access at home.
The Westport Public Library in Connecticut launched a similar Maker Space with a 3-D printer this month after a successful “Maker Faire” showcasing the tech in the spring.   Ben Miller, director of the public library in Sauk City, Wis., called their acquisition of a 3-D printer in 2012 part of a larger move to “creation rather than consumption.”

Check out a video of the 3D printing area at the Harold Washington library in Chicago: