Built to last

Earth Primer is an app that teaches earth science through game-like simulations. It's an interactive textbook that permits you to raise up volcanoes, shift techtonic plates, and sculpt sand with wind. None of the info will be new to anyone with a high school education, but it does a nice job illustrating concepts with short simulations, and it's fun to play with. [This is not an advertisement.]

I've only just started goofing around with the app, but I'm hoping it will build in complexity and become more like a sandbox in which I can try building some landscapes. I'm in the early stages of worldbuilding for a planned book (the stage comprised mostly of daydreams) in which the geological environment plays a meaningful role in the action. I'd like my world to be at least plausibly authentic.

Regardless, I'd like to hand Earth Primer over to some kids and see what they make of it. 

The [redacted], it is a-changing

NASA, risking complete shutdown, has posted an image gallery of places that have experienced significant geological, hydrological, or glacial changes visible through satellite imaging. Better yet, you can view the changes side by side, or compare them in a single image via a little sliding bar. Many are unrelated to climate change, and a few aren't necessarily even anthropogenic. Others, well...

Give me two insulated travel mugs and a free morning

I received a new travel mug for Christmas, from a much-touted brand, so naturally I wanted to know whether it lived up to its reputation. 

New silver mug on the left, identified as "Y" for the purposes of our experiment. Older red thermal mug on the right, identified as "C."

New silver mug on the left, identified as "Y" for the purposes of our experiment. Older red thermal mug on the right, identified as "C."


1 - Heat 2 cups of water to a set temperature (150 degrees, or as close as possible). Divide the liquid into the the tumblers, with each receiving 1 cup. This is just under half full. The reason I picked this amount was that this seems to be the tipping point where insulated mugs begin to lose the battle with lukewarmness. 

2 - Using a meat thermometer, measure the temperature of the fluid at the center of mass, using as uniform sampling techniques as possible.

3 - Record the temperatures on your fridge white board.

4 - Consider transferring the data to an excel spreadsheet so you can generate handsome, informative graphs.

5 - Get back to editing a story instead. 



"C" (a Contigo autoseal) wins by a small margin in both the "no lid" (left) and "lid" (right) conditions. "Y" (a Yeti rambler) puts in a decent performance but is edged out. After 30 minutes, the Contigo's liquid is 3 degrees warmer than the Yeti's. 

Not pictured: When temperatures were tested after three hours, the Contigo still had a 3 degree advantage (107 degrees) over the Yeti (104 degrees).


The Yeti experiences a significant decline in temperature initially; after that, the two tumblers cool at a fairly constant rate. 

I theorize that the Yeti has a larger thermal mass, causing initial cooling as heat is drawn out of the liquid to raise the temperature of the tumbler. Heating both mugs before the liquid is added might give different results, but I will leave that important work for other scientists. 


Some interesting social research is focusing on the phenomenon commonly known as bullshit.

Although bullshit is common in everyday life and has attracted attention from philosophers, its reception (critical or ingenuous) has not, to our knowledge, been subject to empirical investigation. Here we focus on pseudo-profound bullshit, which consists of seemingly impressive assertions that are presented as true and meaningful but are actually vacuous. 

On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-profound Bullshit appears in the journal Judgment and Decision Making. 


It's Alive

Researchers at Ohio University claim to have successfully grown a nearly fully-formed human brain

Though not conscious the miniature brain, which resembles that of a five-week-old foetus, could potentially be useful for scientists who want to study the progression of developmental diseases.

This will probably attract a measure of controversy, which could precipitate a meaningful conversation about the dilemmas of medical ethics, but won't. 

My actual reaction to reading this article was that science fiction writers (including me) had better get on their game, because in some fields, reality is really starting to chase the event horizon of imagination.