29-MAR-2008 @ 2000 Local: Earth Hour 2008

Posted on 29th March 2008 by Ryan Somma in science holidays - Tags: ,

Earth at Night

Earth at Night
Image by NASA

Tonight at 8:00 pm is Earth Hour 2008, brainchild of Australia’s World Wildlife Fund. The idea is to turn off all your lights between the hours of 8 and 9 pm your local time. People all over the world are taking part, and even cities are shutting down lights around their landmarks and government buildings. Let’s get ready to do some looting!!!

Ha! Ha! Kidding. Kidding. I’ve signed up to take part as a symbolic gesture. The astronomer in me romanticizes the idea of a massive intentional blackout rolling across our planet’s time zones. Light pollution is a serious problem, but there won’t be enough participation in Elizabeth City to bring the stars back, and the event takes place too early for truly dark skies.

Maybe I’ll spend the hour reading a book by LED light, or is that cheating? How about if I read that book by the light of my cell phone. Technically that’s not a light, but the battery was charged before and after the Earth Hour, so I’m using the same electricity. I own an oil lamp. That’s not an electric light, but isn’t that a much less efficient use of energy?

I wish the WWF was a little bit clearer about this. The spirit of the event is obviously to save electricity, but people like me sit in front of our computers in the dark anyway. If I turn off my computer, then I’m just sitting in the dark, when I could be blogging about LEDs, Solar Panels, Wind Energy, and all the other innovations that will really get us out of this mess.

Sitting in the dark like stone age humans isn’t the best strategy for working our way through Global Warming, innovation is. We need to innovate our way out of this problem, overcome the oil-industry tax breaks and corporate special interests that are preventing us from evolving technologically so they can keep us reliant on their antiquated patents.

I’ll turn off my lights for the hour tonight, but I have a sinking feeling that this plays into skeptics’ arguments that environmentalism wants to deprive us of all our modern innovations, when the reality is that we would prefer technology to evolve onto better things.

Happy Near Miss Day!

Posted on 23rd March 2008 by Ryan Somma in science holidays - Tags:
Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico

Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico
Image by NASA

19 years ago, March 23, 1989, Apollo asteroid 4581 Asclepius passed within 700,000 km (400,000 miles) of Earth, passing through the exact position the Earth was only six hours before.

Had it impacted, it would have generated an explosion thousands of times more powerful than the most powerful nuclear weapon ever detonated. So let’s not forget the importance of projects like the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, which search the skies, keeping an eye on the Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) that could reset the human race back to the Stone Age in the blink of an eye.

Happy Darwin Day

Posted on 12th February 2008 by Ryan Somma in science holidays - Tags:
Darwin DayDarwin Day

Check out the official Darwin Day Website here.

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The Problem with Inventors’ Day

Posted on 11th February 2008 by Ryan Somma in science holidays - Tags:

A Happy American Inventor Day to everyone, which occurs on Thomas Alva Edison’s birthday. The same Edison who’s DC power was finally turned off in November after 125 years of inferiority and who swindled Nicholas Tesla out of $50,000. That’s right, today is in honor of Thomas Edison the hypocrite who bootlegged the film Voyage dans la Lune, distributing it in America so that the filmmaker never profited from it, while forcing American filmmakers to flee to the West Coast in order to escape his oppressive monopoly on filmmaking equipment. Today’s celebration glorifies a man who electrocuted cats, dogs, and even an elephant for publicity purposes.

Happy 161st birthday Thomas Edison. Thpppt!!!

Five Fists of Science

Five Fists of Science

These reasons are why I got such a kick out of the historically fictional graphic novel The Five Fists of Science, where Mark Twain, Nicholas Tesla, and Bertha Von Suttner join forces to battle J.P. Morgan, Thomas Edison, and Andrew Carnegie’s evil plot for world domination. Morgan, Edison, and Carnegie summon supernatural demons through occult rituals and human sacrifice, which Twain, Tesla, and Von Suttner must battle with electricity guns and a giant robot (I wuv giant robots).

The comic’s introduction goes over the characters and clarifies how much of each presentation is real, and how much is the author’s imagination. The result is a fun ride, filled with witty dialogue and characters that feel true to form based on our historical understanding of them.

Thomas Edison makes the perfect villain, one we love to hate. May he rot in peace.

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Evolution Sunday

Posted on 10th February 2008 by Ryan Somma in science holidays - Tags: ,

Today more than 618 Congregations across America and five nations will participate in Evolution Sunday. More than 10,000 ministers have signed the letter supporting the idea that science and religion are not incompatible, and support for Evolution Sunday grew 13 per cent to 530 congregations in 2007.

Several years ago, I was married to a very open-minded and warm-hearted Born Again Christian woman. Despite our differing perspectives on theology, me being an Atheist, we did work perpetually to understand one another’s point of view. I read the Bible cover to cover and began attending my wife’s church, Christ and Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church in Norfolk VA, an incredibly ornate church, hundreds of years old, which provided an unlikely place to find Enlightenment values.

While I still disagreed with many of the church’s teachings, I was willing to entertain them in order to challenge and refine my own ideas. Similarly, this church regularly entertained the ideas of other theologies, hosting representatives of spiritual philosophies that were completely incompatible with Christian teachings, such as Buddhists and New Age spiritualists. When the theologian Huston Smith gave a talk at the church, the Reverend followed it with the statement, “While you all know I disagree strongly with many things Mr. Smith has said…” he then proceeded to emphasize only those things they agreed on.

Many Creationists have stong criticisms for churches that take part in today’s activities, and many scientists have strong criticisms of the whole idea too. Such criticisms reduce debate to a zero-sum game, where one side can only win through the complete and utter defeat of their opponents. My message to the folks on both sides of the aisle who take such a perspective: enjoy pushing your boulder up the mountain forever.

Meanwhile, those of us with a bit more political savvy know that disputation is a game of inches, like American football, where we all work to nudge the ideal mean a bit closer toward our goal. I’m an atheist, and it’s doubtful many religious people read my blog, so my nudging is for what I think my fellow Brights need to take from Evolution Sunday, which will ultimately nudge the ideal mean in direction better for everyone. I think Michael Zimmerman put it best himself:

[Evolution Sunday] is designed to provide an opportunity for congregations around the world to discuss the compatibility of religion and science, to investigate why religion and modern science need not be at war with one another. The event is designed to demonstrate that those shrill fundamentalist voices that assert that people must choose between religion and science are simply incorrect, that they are presenting a false dichotomy, that no such choice needs to be made.

Got that? False Dichotomy, and that goes for us atheists too. It is possible for person who looks at Evolution without an invisible hand guiding it and a person who believes in that invisible hand to have a healthy conversation about the science of evolution without their pro or con invisible hand positions entering the conversation in any way, shape, or form. Why alienate each other over something so trivial?

Despite our many quibbles, human beings of all faiths, politics, and none of the above all overwhelming believe in and work to ensure our common welfare. Religious and non-religious people need to remember that, if all the members of one side were to vanish tomorrow, the other would be in a world of hurt without their fellow humans’ daily altruistic contributions to our common society.


The Clergy Letter Project has a large collection of sermons written by clergy and religious leaders across the U.S.

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Just Science 2008

Posted on 4th February 2008 by Ryan Somma in science holidays - Tags:

I just wanted to take a moment to direct readers to Just Science 2008 a collection of bloggers who have all agreed to blog only science this week and post at least once a day. There’s some head-spinning technical stuff up there and some very witty writing as well.

I had originally signed up for the event early in January; however, dropped out when I realized this week was Super Tuesday and there was no way I was gonna be able to think about Science while checking the polls every five minutes. I’ve got a couple more political missives coming this week, and then I promise to get back to more thought-provoking stuff… well, thought-provoking on my level, which is like “sniffing glue in the High School Boys Room” kinda thought-provoking.

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50th Anniversary of America Entering the Space Race

Posted on 31st January 2008 by Ryan Somma in science holidays - Tags:

At the time, we didn’t know a great deal, but we felt comfortable that we could put something up. And we liked the difference between our satellite and Sputnik. Ours flew science, the Van Allen experiment.
– Carl Raggio, a mechanical engineer on the Explorer team

Explorer I

Explorer I
Image by NASA

50 years ago, at this minute January 31, 1958 at 10:48 PM, the launch of Explorer I became America’s official entry into the Space Race.

Although Sputnik I and II were first into space, American’s deserve to have pride in Explorer I for going one step beyond just reaching space by performing some science while it was up there.

A Geiger counter installed on Explorer I discovered the Van Allen radiation belt, and it didn’t have to kill a dog to do so.

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Happy Kid Inventor Day!

Posted on 17th January 2008 by Ryan Somma in science holidays - Tags: ,
Benjamin Franklin age 12

Benjamin Franklin age 12
Courtesy NPS

Benjamin Franklin was 15 when he started writing notable letters to the Editor of his local paper. Thomas Edison was 15 when he began printing his own newspaper. Louis Braille was 15 when he invented the raised dots that served as a gateway to the blind reading on their own. Today is Kid Inventor Day a day to appreciate the innovative potential of young minds.

Some other ingenious innovators in our present day:

15-year-old Grayson Rosenberger invented a $10 prosthetic limb cover using bubble wrap and a heat gun, a vastly cheaper alternative to designed prosthetics, which can cost $3,000 each.

17-year-old Andrew Sutherland programmed the website Quizlet, which turns memorizing vocabulary, foreign languages, and, my personal favorite, taxonomy terms into a fun online game, perfect for cramming for the SATs or other exams.

10-year-old Taylor Hernandez invented the “Magic Sponge Blocks,” life-sized construction blocks held together with magnets that can be squished down to 20% their original size for storage.

You can find more young inventors here.

Happy Birthday Isaac Asimov!

Posted on 2nd January 2008 by Ryan Somma in science holidays - Tags: ,

Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov

Author or editor of over 500 books, including the incredible Foundation Series and I, Robot books. I was led to Asimov by my favorite author at the time, Kurt Vonnegut, who lavished much praise on his prolific friend. Asimov and Vonnegut are now equal in my eyes, Vonnegut for his humanity, Asimov for his down to Earth brilliance, both were presidents of the American Humanist Association

Despite being a member of Mensa (like myself), Asimov was very concerned with bringing complex subjects within the realm of understanding of everyday human beings. He advocated the elimination of English grammar, which he believed was so illogical as to promot illiteracy, deconstructed the Bible so thoroughly it took multiple volumes to cover it, and explained complex scientific subjects with a simplicity that promoted science in common discourse.

I got a treat yesterday as I was listening to NPR, and learned that, despite writing extensively about space travel, Asimov was too afraid to ever fly in a plane. I’ve read Asimov’s own accounts of his longtime resistance to word processors, which, once overcome, dramatically increased his productivity.

He would be 87 today.

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Gee. That’s a Pretty Crappy Dodecahedron Charlie Brown

Posted on 25th December 2007 by Ryan Somma in science holidays - Tags: ,

I had this fantastic idea for a science-themed holiday ornament for the science center, where I would elaborate on the Dixie Cup Spherical Dodecahedron, by putting string lights in the cups and everyone would look on in awe at how awesomely brilliant I am… except I put it together wrong:

Holiday Dodecahedron

Holiday Dodecahedron

I have vowed to get it right next year.

BTW: Special Thanks to Christianity for the day off!

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