Monday, January 25, 2016

Thought for the Day: Snow Edition

Nashville received a backhand blow from the storm that knocked out the East Coast: we got 8 inches of snow (the heaviest snowfall since I've lived here), which completely paralyzed the city. Nashville's method of snow removal is called "solar power." We lost electricity for several hours on Saturday morning and watched helplessly as the temperature inside the house dropped about a degree every hour. Power was restored before it got too uncomfortable, but this led me to the following thought experiment. Suppose that all of our technological infrastructure (electricity, gas, cable TV) collapsed for a month in the middle of the winter. Which one of these people would you want at your side to help you survive?

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Kardashev Scale for Extraterrestrial Civilizations

Back in the 1960s, the Soviet scientist Nikolai Kardashev proposed a scale to measure the technological level of extraterrestrial civilizations. I was reminded of his work by this paper, which appeared today. Here is an explanation of the Kardashev scale, with some minor additions of my own:

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Historical Memory of Children

I'm too young to remember the day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated, but I remember the assassination of Martin Luther King with crystal clarity. I was 9 years old at the time, attending a small Catholic school in St. Louis. The morning after King was assassinated, all of the nuns at my school were deeply upset, which puzzled me, because I was under the impression that Martin Luther had been assassinated. A little historical knowledge is a dangerous thing, and we forget what it was like to be young and have such a distorted understanding of history.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Happy 50th Anniversary, Batman!

Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the premier of Batman, the television show. It's difficult today, within our fractured popular culture, to appreciate what an overwhelming phenomenon this show was at the time, but I can give one example from personal experience.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

When Young People Watch Old Movies

In preparation for taking my children to the latest Star Wars movie, we pulled our copies of the original Star Wars trilogy out of storage for the kids to watch. And what did my kids think of them? One main comment: the special effects weren't very good.

Now when I was a kid, special effects were downright awful, and yet I somehow managed to look past them to enjoy all of the classic SF movies of the 50s and 60s. I know this sounds like the typical complaints of a grumpy middle-aged man about how when I was a kid ... a line of argument that goes back, I believe, to the ancient Sumerians.

Friday, January 8, 2016

How to Raise a Scientist in the Xbox Age

I had another op-ed in the Wall Street Journal a few weeks ago, entitled "How to Raise a Scientist in the Xbox Age."  You can't read it unless you are a subscriber -- the Wall Street Journal is behind a paywall that makes the Berlin Wall look like a speed bump -- but the article basically details my experiences growing up as proto-scientist in the 1960s and 70s.