Why Textbooks Don’t Cut It On Their Own

Since high school, I’ve had a draw to college textbooks of many kinds, especially in the sciences.  Even though a given subject is of interest, the truth is, I’ve never felt confident to finish a text front to back.

Perhaps the main reason for such is the fact that without any instructor, you can’t guarantee your getting the right information.  Even if you can comprehend the writing with no problem, textbook material needs that actual power imparted by the professor in order to know exactly what is going on. This is especially true when you consider a college’s prerequisites for a given subject.  Reading such a book (and usually, thus taking such a class) warrants previous knowledge.

Moreover, especially in the natural sciences, you need labs, field trips, and many other practical exercises to truly learn concepts.  And of course, the lecture is at the center of it all.

Also, the fact that textbooks are constantly updated means inevitably that, as you grow older, you will miss newer material taught long after you graduated.  But again, you should be content with the position you are in now.

Now if you are out of college and wish to use a textbook for additional learning (e.g., when your school didn’t offer  a given class), I don’t see anything wrong with that.  But I’ll have to cross that bridge when I get there, as I would have to test that statement.

So I must resist spending money on texts that have nothing to do with my coursework, and just take “baby steps” toward the goals I may aspire to achieve.  And I’ll leave the choices of texts to the professors.  And ultimately, all of it is in God’s hands.

So until then, just Google things, or if you dare, use Wikipedia.  LOL

Slouch, Yawn

Whenever I sit upright, say, when reading, I can usually stay alert.  But when I slouch on a bed or couch, I start yawning when I read or do something similar.

Of course, it makes sense, but is there something scientific behind it, at least in general?

In fact, there is.  I learned it in Psychology last fall.  In the 1890s, Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist, discovered the concept of classical conditioning.  He used a dog as his subject.  Dog naturally salivate at food, for it is internally wired into their brain.  They don’t need extrinsic commands. Then, Pavlov rang a bell to draw the dog to the food.  After then, the food was no longer necessary.

So, how do we explain this?  The bell, when combined with the food, takes precedence.  Thus, what was once irrelevant to the dog (the bell) has been incorporated into the dog’s repertoire of behavioral stimuli.  This incorporation is known as classical conditioning.

Now for my situation.  Keep in mind I’m no doctor or psychologist (and probably not planning to be either one), so I’m not trying to develop a direct theory of why slouching on a couch causes yawning or drowsiness when reading.  Just the correlations are enough.  Yet again, correlation does not mean causality.  But hey, at least it’s something quite practical from the course, that can be easily applied to us humans.  I guess I could do without the causality.  At least for now.

Source:  McLeod, S. A. (2013). Pavlov’s Dogs. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/pavlov.html

Putting Flavored Plain Oatmeal to the Test

OatsFor many years, I couldn’t stand the smell of plain oatmeal.  I preferred the instant flavored packets that were enough to mask the odor.  According to the book pictured below, however, flavored packets contained “a bevy of excess sugars and other ingredients that don’t belong in your breakfast bowl.”

So, as a person who should watch his diet, last night I tried using the oats (pictured above) as a snack to put plain oats to the test by adding to apples and cinnamon to it.  While it didn’t “mask” the overall oat taste, at least it’s better than no flavor at all.

Cookbook
This is the cookbook I plan to use as a dieting tool.

So, let’s just say it’s an acquired taste.  One test probably just isn’t enough.

Putting God In Charge of All Intellectual Pursuits

Our individual lives are a tiny fragment of all time.  Yet God gave us a mind to learn, reason, analyze, and create.  We must therefore come to terms with certain areas of our transient lifetime, and let our intellect follow suit.

1.  Unlike God, knowledge always changes.

Consider great minds like Newton, Descartes, Franklin, Jefferson, Pasteur, Einstein, and sundry others.  Some were Christians, some were not, the important thing to remember is that we have moved far beyond the potential of their time.  Yet they never got to see this later activity and development.  Not to get too morbid, but all people should consider what they have achieved and leave the achievement of future generations to God.  In the case of Christians, we could care less what happens on earth once we enter and eternally enjoy the overwhelming and magnificent heavenly fellowship with God and his people.  That’s at least how I see it.

For practical consideration on this earth today, we must accept the fact that we will never know everything.  As a budding scientist (and most likely a biologist of some sort), I understand that people in my bunch may make discoveries (or at least participate in such activity), but those discoveries always change.  A college textbook used when one is say, age 20, will be a dinosaur (no pun intended) when one is 50.  Yet people aren’t chasing after newer editions.  Instead, they keep up to date with scholarly periodicals focused on their field.  While some people love holding onto their textbooks, others would rather limit it to those books that are relevant as a reference, especially in the courses most pertinent to your current job.  The rest might as well be rubbish.

2.  Only God is omniscient and only He knows the “exact truth”

Earthly information is not only subject to change, it is also really only a shadow of the exact truth.  Whether antiquated or cutting-edge, all human knowledge is fallible.  Even the Bible, God’s Word, is subject to interpretation.  (This causes splits in churches, but that’s for another post.)  In any case, what is quite commonsense today was highly arcane at one time.  Newton was quite intrigued by the falling apple, which we now know as the law of gravity, which is now a mere staple (unless you wanted to study it in detail).  Same thing with living cells (the name came from the resemblance to a prison “cell”).  And let’s not forget Franklin’s kite, which could have put his life in jeopardy.  Copernicus and Galileo were the first heliocentric proponents, yet they got some pretty nasty treatment from the Inquisition, etc.

Whatever it is, science is an interpretation.  Hypotheses and theories change over time, and they are the backbone of science.  Another type of scientific statement, the law, is a more stable, observational principle, e.g., Newton’s three laws.  Even they could occasionally be modified.

Conclusion

All human endeavors (including science and many others) are imperfect.  Thanks to Jesus, we now enjoy the freedom of exploring our world, sometimes to a scientific extent.  And that includes people like me.  As Thomas Aquinas put it, if faith or reason need to be chosen, pick faith.  There is nothing wrong with reason, but it is always secondary to faith.  God created our minds, not vice versa.

Because knowledge is a creation of the Creator, it should never be worshiped.  It may very well be fruitful to detach from books that it would be time to move on from, as you have learned many of the main principles, though perhaps not all the details, and certainly not verbatim (hardly anyone can do that!)  I think God is in action when “pruning” the knowledge that is not needed.

What is silica gel and why do I find little packets of it in everything I buy?

SilicaGelThe maligned substance “silica gel,” which is simply a porous synthetic form of the mineral quartz (the principal constituent of sand, is really more of an irritant than a poison (even though they want you to “throw it away.”)  The real reason it is placed into boxes is to desiccate, or dry, moisture that may jeopardize the quality of the packed product.  Click here for some clever applications that involve silica gel.  Of course, that does not include eating it!  (LOL)

Source: What is silica gel and why do I find little packets of it in everything I buy?

Why You Can Measure A Tree’s Age By Its Rings

Most people know that you can count a tree’s rings to determine its age.  But what makes a ring count for a year?

Remember that a tree’s true “wood” is really only the central tissue that conducts water up from the roots.  Around this constitutes the bark, which includes living tissue that distributes various substances (e.g., photosynthetic products) as well as the dead cork.

Focusing on this inner wood, development of these cells varies across a given growing season.  In the spring and early summer, there is much water and minerals (thanks to melted snow), but as summer progresses, they are depleted.  By autumn, the wood cells are smaller than what were produced earlier.  (Winter, due to its cold, does not allow many cells to be produced.)  The cycle restarts the following spring.  The study of these processes, by the way, is called “dendrochronology.”

The earlier cells (known as early wood or springwood) are the larger cells, followed by those smaller cells formed later in the season (late wood or summerwood).  The darker late wood abuts the following season’s early wood, thus separating the years marked.

To conclude, some of the oldest trees are 4,000 years old.  Some dead trees, dated to be 5,000 years old, using radioactive carbon dating.  When the earliest trees were germinating, human history (in the strictest sense) was just dawning.  Since this falls within the domain of the 6,000-10,000 years of young earth creationism, yet discussed by an anonymous evolutionist and liberal Christian, sorry, that’s a contradiction in terms.

(Source:  http://plantphys.info/plant_biology/secondary.shtml)

Tree Stump
A tree stump.  The dark periphery is the bark; the pale outer wood is the “sapwood” (living wood conducting water); the dark central wood (heartwood), is the older wood that no longer conducts water.  You can see the many rings in both regions making the years.  (Source:  http://plantphys.info/plant_biology/lechtml/stem/Slide29.jpg)

 

 

Dr. Phil, 14 Years Is Enough

Since 2002, Dr. Phil McGraw has made unnecessary stardom out of psychology.  A specialist in forensic psychology, Oprah Winfrey chose him for advice on some case years ago, and he got his own show.  The rest, as they say, is history.  And that history spanning 14 years has just never makes any progress.

In today’s episode, first to be profiled was a 12-year-old girl who was extremely homicidally violent and it got so medically based he had to surrender this case to the realm of psychiatry.  With the help of an MRI radiologist, a prescription was dropped from her profile, a diagnosis was proposed, and she was behaving herself better.

But did they really need Dr. Phil?  They could have gone to a local psychologist and/or psychiatrist, and settle the matter there.

The other story covered was a grown man addicted to video games, perhaps as an excuse for a blood disorder.  Now Dr. Phil has nothing to do with blood, so he shouldn’t even go there.  Leave that to cardiologists and hematologists.  As for the relationship with his wife and child, psychology or even plain marital/family counseling could fit the bill.

See?  The white flag was flown twice.  Also, a few years ago, via Internet, he was equating a suicidal nature to not fearing death.  In reality, though, suicidal thoughts mean wanting to die, a completely different thing.  Could this be his misapplied forensic training haunting him?

In the ending credits, as usual, despite being an “advice” show, you’ll still need a professional for genuine advice.  (Just like the medical shows “The Doctors” and “Dr. Oz.”)  But I personally wouldn’t (pardon the pun) recommend any one with an social or emotional problem to Dr. Phil.

After all, are these matters really our business?

Globetrotting with Google Maps

On a tight budget?  Afraid of planes?  No worries, you can see the world with Google Maps!

I’ve looked at some European lands already, including the Nordic lands of Denmark and Sweden.  Due to a dream about traveling through what was (supposed to be) Mexico, I went to Google Maps, and I pulled up the state of Chihuahua (and there were no dogs running around!  LOL)

Chihuahua, MX
A desert road in the Mexican state of Chihuahua.

Since I was traveling through the desert in the dream, I thought it was more appropriate to showcase such in this blog post today rather than an urban scene.  From what I remember from the dream (remember, dream details, as usual, tend to fade quickly), the desert had commerce in certain pockets, with one chain restaurant, I picked a random rural road, and got as close to the dream as you can get.

Any other ideas for a virtual trip, be it foreign or domestic?  Just type it in Google Maps.

I must advise you, however, that this method is no substitute for going there.  You’ll see the region, but won’t experience it.  No social interaction, no cuisine, no folk dances, etc.  Overall, no cultural encounter.  And not only are some roads and streets not represented, some entire lands, particularly North Korea, are off-limits.  (I wonder if Cuba is, now that we’re getting more friendly with them.)

A perfect analogy, being a college student as well as an overall lifelong learner:  taking a college course on a subject give more “meat” to it than simply reading a textbook on such, sans the instructor (one thing I struggled with for quite a few years, until I figured it out and came to terms with its imperfection).  A textbook will present the facts, and perhaps explain them quite well (depending on the title, as well as the existing knowledge base and intelligence of the person reading them).  But you will not have a lecture or homework, and in the case of science subjects, a lab.  Moreover, without the professor, you may not get the exact information that the text is trying to convey, and of course, none of his/her additional factoids.  But, sometimes a text alone is enough when you want to read it “just for fun” rather than by assignment, despite the inevitable trade-off.  (By the way, now that I have settled down on Biology as a major, most of my other textbook pleasure readings, at least for now, deal with other subjects outside the curriculum.  But after graduation, there may be other texts, read for fun, that may lie in the domain of biology (namely, subjects not offered or taken), as well as outside.

The trade-off is the same with Google Maps.  Of course, in keeping with that analogy, for business travel, Google Maps is not an option.  But, for pleasure, it’s up to you if you want a more superficial “travel” through Google Maps or a real trip to the actual destination.  And if you can’t do it, so be it, just like my own academic dabblings outside my intended major of Biology.  Since in either case, I’m “dabbling,” I’m content.

Don’t be a stranger!

Site Review: Cronodon.com

Cronodon, a fictitious planet, is the home of a “curator”of a “museum of the future.”  And let me tell you, even though still a diamond in the rough, his brainchild is fantastic.

The curator, who anonymously calls himself “Bot,” to the best of my knowledge, for I am a human and hence an earthling, probably has many experts on a team.  The details are a little murky though.

Its primary areas of treatment are biology, quantum physics, and astronomy.  I have also found some topics treated as diverse as chemistry, meteorology and even some urban planning stuff.

The biological coverage is excellent, especially in the areas of botany, invertebrate zoology, and microbiology.  Alas, the only vertebrates covered are cetaceans, a group of marine mammals that includes, you guessed it, dolphins, porpoises, and whales.  But the cover almost every single kind of invertebrate.  It contains extremely rich detail yet makes it very readable, a rare marriage.  And some pages are still readable even when it could get technical (in other words, you can skip those portions of the page and still get the general message).

A central feature woven throughout the site is its robust programming base.  You may even learn to program yourself through certain pages.  In fact, many of the images are made through these methods.  Cronodon also welcomes constructive criticism (be it positive or negative), and in fact often offers a link to do so on a particular article.

Some of the downsides:

-It adds much pseudoscience to the mix, such as alchemy and certain “dark side” philosophies.  As a creationist Christian myself, the old-earth/evolution base in the biology pages could count, but since one side of the never-ending creation/evolution debate will consider the other as pseudoscientific, this leads to a draw.  Besides, personally, I typically substitute my beliefs for what is presented when I read an evolutionary material.

-Printing directly from the site is an ordeal because many of the images overlap with the text.  The extent of this depends on the browser used, e.g., Chrome and Opera have a less severe overlap of images than Firefox, etc.  I recommend that you copy it to a word processor (e.g., MS Word, Google Docs), though things can be disorganized at times upon copying.  Alternatively, you can just read it directly from the website (sometimes enlarging the text can allow for better concentration and comprehension)

-Finally, it has a British tone to the writing, so you should be aware of certain vocabulary differences.  But if you’re already British, this makes no difference!

Aside from those issues, Cronodon is a great place to learn about “science for science’s sake.”  For a Christian like me, this means getting to know this awesome world and universe God has placed us in.  I highly recommend it for any sufficiently educated adult who wishes to learn more about our beautiful cosmos.  The website is simply cronodon.com.

Enjoy your explorations all around!

Why Figure Skaters Make All Their Moves

Figure Skater
Next time you watch figure skating, observe closely this and similar patterns

Tonight I was watching part of the 20.16 US Figure Skating Championship on NBC (an American television network, for foreign readers of this blog).  Ever wonder why a figure skater can do what s/he does, particularly concerning when the skater crosses his/her arms and thereupon spins at a much faster speed?  Sometimes more elaborate moves can cause similar effects.

Some basic physics principles will do here.  First, I shall discuss friction.  Friction keeps things still when they are juxtaposed against one another.  There is a little bit of friction involved with contact of the skates on icy surfaces, which helps allow for quick motion (as inertia keeps things moving unless a force opposes it, in this case, friction applied to stop the skater).  Ice provides just enough friction for starting and stopping the skater, but otherwise it is smooth.

At the very core of figure skating, however, is angular momentum, or the momentum of rotation.  Momentum, when in a straight line, is simply mass times velocity.  In situations of rotation, however, it is the angular velocity (speed of rotation) times the “moment of inertia.”  Without going into details, the latter quantity takes into account shapes of different objects.  Since momentum, by its very nature, must be conserved, a change in the distribution of mass (and hence the moment of inertia) into a more condensed form will cause an acceleration of the skater when s/he spins!

Finally, Newton’s ever-famous third law (i.e., that of equal and opposite reaction) allows the skater to glide forward (or even leap up!), as the force directs down and back.  The exact backward force determines the exact forward force, depending on the details of each.

Like classical music, classical mechanics can sure be beautiful!

Source:  http://www.livescience.com/6120-physics-figure-skating.html