Friday, 1 March 2013

Plants and People

One thing I really love about working at Mount Royal is that I get to work with some really interesting people.  My colleague David Bird is teaching "Plants and People".  He's bringing into the class a lot of content that shows how agriculture was established. 

Until we were chatting in his office, I hadn't thought about how much we've worked against natural selection as we created our crop species.  I knew in principle how threshing worked, but hadn't thought it through until Dave showed me this video:

Here's what's so cool:  natural selection says that the seeds should detach easily so that the progeny can be distributed.  That's a successful strategy for a species.  And we consumers should want that as well - we don't want the chaff with our wheat.  But think about doing this on an industrial scale.  You're a farmer, and you've selected for wheat where the seeds come out easily.  But when you go to harvest, all the seeds fall off and get buried in the ground! 

So humans have ended up selecting for wheat that keeps the seeds intact, but force us to devise ways to sort out the food parts from the not-food parts.  Look how much work that was done by our ancestors!

Friday, 16 November 2012

Shatner and his Deep Fried Turkey Fixation

Awhile ago I posted a PSA from State Farm Insurance and William Shatner ("Eat, Fry, Love").  Of course this was timed to coincide with the American Thanksgiving holiday (when such advice is likely to be more appropriate and effective).

Rather than make a whole new message, the clever people promoting safe frying re-mixed the video with an autotuner.  Magnificent!

Chimeras from another dimension

Chimeras are fascinating. They form the basis of a lot of mythology (Medusa was a chimera of a woman and snakes - the latter forming the coiffure to complete a hideous woman whose gaze can turn you to stone).

A graphic artist was intrigued by this concept and collected a bunch of old x-ray films from hospitals.  He pieced together new creatures from the mash-ups and set them to animation.  What resulted is creepy, yet seems like a quite plausible enactment from another world or dimension.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Out of the Box Thinking

I was taking a survey for a publishing company, and they put a lot of videos to explain their product on YouTube.  My eyes wandered to the "suggested videos" column, and I saw these!

10 best you will never lose:
10 bets you will always win:
Wanna bet?

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

2 minute history of the Earth

My mother sent me a link to this.  Very cool ... but I didn't like how it all turned out.  :(

Monday, 17 September 2012

The Autotuning Talents of John Boswell

Personally, I'm not a big fan of autotuned music for musicians.   It was new and interesting when Cher did it for "Believe" (Yeah, I like Cher's music.  Sorry for the TMI).  I don't think she invented it, but it was the first mainstream song that incorporated it blatantly in a release.  Since then, I get to hear it every time my daughter comes into the car with me and she's within arm's length of the radio tuning dial.

I can certainly forgive it when it's remixed and particularly when it can bring the voices of the dead back to life in ways they most certainly would have approved of!

Here's "Mr. Rogers Remixed".  This was done by John Boswell, who does "Symphony of Science".

What I really like is how he slid science into the tape recorder scenario.  I never really thought about science that way.  You encounter something you don't really understand, and develop a strategy to look deeper.  An unmarked cassette can easily be played ... well, it could back then.  As the years go by, it becomes a little more challenging to decode the information, even with the advent of brand new technologies.  Science is a way to cultivate the gardens of our imaginations.

The "Symphony of Science" series has a bunch of great songs performed - sometimes posthumously - by interesting people.  The latest one is on climate change:

You can see lots more at

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Non-Newtonian Fluids

Perhaps you've fooled with "goo" or "gack" ... a mixture of water and cornstarch which behaves as a solid or a liquid under different conditions.  I've seen demos of people dipping their hands into, or standing upon, buckets of this stuff. 

The technical term for this property is "dilatant" or a non-Newtonian fluid.

Here's what it looks like when you have a big budget and someone else to clean up the mess!