Category Archives: Follies of the Human Condition

Science for the People: Celebrity & Science

sftpThis week we’re looking at how famous personalities influence public opinion about science and pseudoscience. Health law professor Timothy Caulfield returns to talk about his new book Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?: When Celebrity Culture and Science Clash. We’ll also speak to Conservation and Development professor Daniel Brockington about his research on celebrities and charitable advocacy.

*Josh provides research & social media help to Science for the People and is, therefore, completely biased.

Fincha

When I want to go to GMail, I usually type in “gm” in the browser address bar, and it autofills to GMail. Sometimes this doesn’t work, and I end up looking at the Google page with stock info for General Motors.

Through a similar mishap, I recently learned about the Ethiopian town of Fincha when I tried to go to The Finch And Pea site. Fincha’s economy is largely supported by the local sugar industry, which in turn depends on the Fincha Hydroelectric Power Station, which generates electricity for over 60 thousand homes as well as the sugar factory.

Here’s a video about the sugar factory, which also touches on the production process and related research into biofuels. I learned that the sugar factory also generates electricity itself, and can be self-sufficient.

The things you learn when you clumsily try to type shortcuts in your browser!

Sunday Science Poem: The Number Pi

“The Number Pi”, Wisława Szymborska (1976)

While in Chicago for the Drosophila genetics conference last weekend, I managed to visit some Polish bookstores. My haul included a volume of poems by the late Nobel laureate Wisława Szymborska. Many of Szymborska’s poems engage with scientific ideas and their connection to our experiences of the world, and as it turns out, she wrote a poem about the number Pi.

The poem grapples with the mind-blowing idea of an infinite sequence of digits. Pi is woven into the poem, where it interrupts the narrator’s effort to draw comparisons to snakes, bird nests, comets, and stars. These comparisons fail as the number flows on, and they are replaced with numbers and fragements of the real world, including phone numbers, pocket change, and quotes from the Polish poet Mickiewicz and the bible.

And so, to finish off Pi day weekend, here is probably the only poem about this number by a Nobel Laureate.


The Number Pi

Admirable number Pi
three point one four one.
All its following digits are also initial,
five nine two, because it never ends.
It won't allow itself to be embraced six five three five by sight
eight nine by calculation
seven nine by imagination,
and even three two three eight by jest, or by comparison
four six to anything
two six four three in the world.
The longest snake on earth, after a dozen or so meters peters out.
Likewise, though a little later, do fairy-tale snakes.
The procession of digits that make up the number Pi
doesn't halt at the margin of the page,
it manages to pull itself over the table, through the air,
through the wall, a leaf, a bird's nest, the clouds, straight to heaven,
through the entire inflated and bottomless heaven.
O how short, downright mouse-like, is the braid of a comet!
How frail the star beams, that bend around the bounds of space!
And here two three fifteen three-hundred nineteen
my phone number your shirt size
the year nineteen seventy three the sixth story
the number of residents sixty-five grosz
hip circumference two fingers a charade and a code,
in which my little nightingale, fly, crow
as well as you are requested to keep calm,
and also heaven and earth shall pass,
but not the number Pi, no way no how,
it is continually its still not too bad five,
that no mean eight,
the not final seven,
urging, yes, urging a slothful eternity
to persist.

Translated from the Polish by Michael White

Science for the People: Women in STEM

sftp-square-fistonly-whitebgThis week, Science for the People is celebrating Women in Science by looking at the victories and challenges of women working in science, technology, engineering and math. Join us for a panel discussion with postdoctoral research associate and science communicator Raychelle “Dr. Rubidium” Burks, Colgate University Professor of Psychology Jessica Cundiff, Ph.D., Physics Professor Dr. Shohini Ghose, Director of the Wilfrid Laurier University Centre for Women in Science, and Catherine Hill, Ph.D, vice president for research at the American Association of University Women. We also speak to Brianna Wu, Head of Development at videogame company Giant Spacekat, about feminism, gaming industry culture, and her experience as an outspoken critic of #GamerGate.

*Josh provides research & social media help to Science for the People and is, therefore, completely biased.

The Dress

I was not particularly interested in “The Dress” for I had long ago accepted the fickle nature of both human and technological perception. That, however, does not mean one should dismiss* “The Dress” as trivial, a distraction, or a waste of time. Andrew David Thaler expresses the key point of this social phenomenon extremely well:

Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 11.34.35 AM

*One should probably dismiss all the cheap marketing attempts to capitalize on “The Dress”, as well as Time naming the original poster as one of the 30 Most Influential People on the Internet.