Beyond Reading

June 14, 2008

Last Summer, I did a light post about how much people are reading.

I’ve been reading a lot of reading reports lately, and a lot of press about the reports. The press is depressing, the actual reports don’t paint nearly as dire a picture and I’m working on a post about that later.

A few key things caught my eye today. According to a new report put out by Scholastic Publishing, kids who are high-frequency internet users are more likely to also be high-frequency readers (going online once a day but also reading for fun once a day). Also, 64% of online users ages 9-17 say they participate in activities that extend the reading experience when online.

AND HOW. Read the rest of this entry »

How should the media cover Barack’s blackness?

June 10, 2008

A typo (I think that’s what it is) in today’s lead NYT campaign story caught my eye:

Mr. Obama also has sought to tie Mr. McCain to the country’s current economic woes, charging that the Bush administration has been “the most fiscally irresponsible administration in history.”
“And now John McCain want to give us another,” he said.

Read the rest of this entry »

Crafty Summer: Bicycle Repair Kit Bag

June 9, 2008

One of my “projects” this spring and summer has been finding and fixing up a cheap bicycle for use around Berlin. I began attending lost-property auctions a couple months ago and had luck at my second: I scored a 21-speed bike with a mangled back rim for 5 euros. I took a couple bicycle maintenance classes through the ADFC (German Bicycle Club), purchased a new rim, and with AFDC’s workshop assistance, replaced it myself! It’s not a bike to write home about, but my trusty steed has already been on two long bicycle excursions and does the job for rides to the shop and such.

On our first excursion, I managed to score a flat tire; thankfully my companions had a repair kit along and we were back on track within 10 minutes. I decided then that I should always be prepared myself, and went out last week and bought a cheap kit at the Euro Store. But I didn’t have any way to attach the kit to my bicycle, so I got crafty yesterday and sewed a simple cinch sack that attaches to my bike.

I reclaimed the material from the pocket of a pair of shorts my roommate had given me for sewing projects; the fabric is similar to that used in men’s swimming trunks, which I thought would dry quickly in case of rain. The fabric is also machine washable in case it gets dirty on my bike. As the pocket was already half-sewn, I just needed to trim to my size, sew a cinch track around the top, and sew together a cord from scraps.

The sack holds: 1 tire repair kit in plastic case (band-aids and mini screwdriver added for good measure); 1 package baby wipes for cleaning hands after repairs; 1 package travel kleenex (because I’m sneezy and they’re handy).

I installed it under the bicycle seat, double-knotting the cinch cord around one end of my luggage rack and using a rubber band to fasten the other end. Another solution would have been to sew a cord or loop fastener into the upper seam, but I wasn’t thinking that far ahead at the time 🙂 Velcro, if you have some lying around, would also work splendidly.

Coming soon: watch me as I attempt to fashion bicycle panniers from three IKEA thermal picnic bags!

The Importance of Wonder in Science

June 4, 2008

There was a great op-ed in the NYTimes this past Sunday called “Put A Little Science in Your Life“. The author, Brian Greene, is a professor of physics, and he makes a compelling argument that we could be doing a little better in teaching science. Specifically, teaching it in a way that helps the students retain their natural sense of wonder at all this neat stuff, rather than boiling it all down to some really dry numbers and making sure you follow the exact proper procedure for everything. Is there really a reason that science can only be interesting during elementary school and then not again until you reach high level independent research?

Some excerpts, although of course you should go read the whole thing:

When we consider the ubiquity of cellphones, iPods, personal computers and the Internet, it’s easy to see how science (and the technology to which it leads) is woven into the fabric of our day-to-day activities. When we benefit from CT scanners, M.R.I. devices, pacemakers and arterial stents, we can immediately appreciate how science affects the quality of our lives. When we assess the state of the world, and identify looming challenges like climate change, global pandemics, security threats and diminishing resources, we don’t hesitate in turning to science to gauge the problems and find solutions.

And when we look at the wealth of opportunities hovering on the horizon — stem cells, genomic sequencing, personalized medicine, longevity research, nanoscience, brain-machine interface, quantum computers, space technology — we realize how crucial it is to cultivate a general public that can engage with scientific issues; there’s simply no other way that as a society we will be prepared to make informed decisions on a range of issues that will shape the future.

These are the standard — and enormously important — reasons many would give in explaining why science matters.

But here’s the thing. The reason science really matters runs deeper still. Science is a way of life. Science is a perspective. Science is the process that takes us from confusion to understanding in a manner that’s precise, predictive and reliable — a transformation, for those lucky enough to experience it, that is empowering and emotional. To be able to think through and grasp explanations — for everything from why the sky is blue to how life formed on earth — not because they are declared dogma but rather because they reveal patterns confirmed by experiment and observation, is one of the most precious of human experiences.

Read the rest of this entry »

Science Geeking from the Pros

June 2, 2008

This is just a very quick post to point out that ScienceBlogs has started their own version of an online book club. They’ve chosen two science professors (one evolutionary ecologist and one evolutionary and developmental biologist) and two professional science writers to read, discuss, and review new science books for the general audience. Since they are currently in the discussion of the first book chosen, it is unclear to me if the panelists will remain the same each time, or if they will change depending on the book being reviewed. In any case, the first book is Microcosm: E. coli and the New Science of Life, by Carl Zimmer, and I look forward to following this and future book discussions with interest. Reading suggestions are always good, no?