Where will your imagination take you?

Cambodia, home to some of SE Asia’s poorest people, a history of warfare and mass graves, and undiscovered minefields, can now lay claim to one of the cheapest space projects of all time. The space-borne payload, named Preah Atet (“The Sun”) by a local high school student, was a 20×30 cm Styrofoam box containing a digital camera that flew for 2.5 hours underneath a helium balloon before parachuting back to earth. Click on the image to see the 5-minute (edited) video of Preah Atet’s journey. Read more about Preah Atet here (Science, 15 Oct 2010, 330, 301, Random Samples, “From Cambodia, With Helium”)

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Why I don't work too hard on my blog

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The Whole World is Watching

And so am I. Are you? Who are you rooting for in World Cup 2010?

It all starts tomorrow. 3 ways to follow the action

Added 7/7/10: Joy. My favorite team, Barcelona, I mean Spain, beat Germany 1-0 today on a flying header from one of the most soccer savvy players to ever lace up his boots: Carlos Puyol (fans of the header can rejoice twice because Puyol’s blast was preceded yesterday by an equally emphatic cannon off the forehead of Arjen Robbens). FYI I’m not the only one to get confused about Barca-Espana. The NY Times took notice of the connection today with “Successes Nurtured In Barcelona“. When Barca fans see Xavi and Iniesta weaving the ball around and around, Pedro zipping up the side, and Puyol and Pique and Busquets taking the air out of every attack, its easy to forget that Spain boasts some other strong clubs that are contributing some truly great players. I’ve been cheering myself hoarse for Villa (Valencia), Casillas (Real Madrid), Ramos (also RM), and Alonso (RM). I can’t wait for Sunday’s final.

Added 7/11/10: What a finish! I hope everyone got to see the last two games, Germany-Uruguay and Netherlands-Spain. I heard of lots of commentators today complaining about the final game not being “beautiful” enough and being too “rough”, but these comments are undeserved. The things that make a game truly ugly — players spending more time diving than playing, or the ref determining the outcome instead of the players — were absent. Both teams created good chances for a win, just what you want from a final. The Dutch showed their ability to coordinate a strong defense and unleash a fast-paced counterattack. The Spaniards answered with their own sublime ability to take over and control the ball, involve lots of players in the attack, and fend off their opponents (Spain didn’t allow a single goal in its last four games). Totally mesmerizing. I can’t wait for the next La Liga season to begin.

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Hypnotizing Chickens (with PowerPoint)

One of my favorite Dilbert cartoons (Aug 16, 2000) deals with the dark consequences of PowerPoint:

6845.strip.gifAccording to a recent NY Times story, PowerPoint poisoning has begun cutting a deadly swath through the US military, leveling the top brass one bullet (point) at a time: “We Have Met the Enemy and He is PowerPoint” (April 26, 2010). I suspect our generals barely knew what hit them.

The article points out that PowerPoint’s deadly venom actually strikes in two directions at once,┬ákilling off all mental activity in the listeners, while simultaneously sacrificing the lives of the soldiers who are forced to give up hours creating mind-numbing presentations.

Fortunately, not all appears to be lost. The military has discovered a set of acceptable victims for their latest weapon system:

Senior officers say the program does come in handy when the goal is not imparting information, as in briefings for reporters.

The news media sessions often last 25 minutes, with 5 minutes left at
the end for questions from anyone still awake. Those types of PowerPoint
presentations, Dr. Hammes said, are known as “hypnotizing chickens.”

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Award-winning online science education

The pundits keep telling us that traditional textbooks will be replaced any day now by online resources, but science textbooks seem like a particularly tough nut for online authors to crack. Students don’t like modern textbook prices and they don’t like lugging textbooks around in their overflowing backpacks, but they seem to like online books even less. So traditional books persist.

In to the fray comes the 2010 prize for “Online Resources in Education” offered by Science magazine. If you like, skip the two page description of the award winners (Science, 29 January 2010, 327, 538). Just go straight to the winning web site, Learn.Genetics (http://learn.genetics.utah.edu) which is published by the Genetic Science Learning Center, U. Utah, and check out award-winning online science education for yourself.

Let me know what you think. Have you tossed your genetics textbook in the paper recycling bin yet?

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Campus Rape – An Uncomfortable Reality

As I prepped myself for work this morning, a mind-rattling story, “Campus Rape Victims: A Struggle For Justice” (NPR Morning Edition, Feb 24, 2010), came over the radio. (Note: this is the first installment in a longer series. I plan to listen to the remaining installments in the days ahead.)

A story about campus rape and violence isn’t the kind of thing that says, “Good morning, the sun is shining, doesn’t breakfast smell good?”. And it would have been easy to turn the radio off or turn my attention to the morning comics, but I couldn’t. I work on a college campus. Rape and violence are unavoidable, if unwelcome and uncomfortable, facts of campus life.

As it happened, just last night my wife and I had been discussing a student who said (we received this story second-hand) that she was a victim of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of another student on her campus, and she wanted help. We had wondered aloud about all sort of questions. What policies cover abuse? Does it matter if the student is an adult? Who should the student talk to on her campus? What kind of help does the campus provide? What duties and actions need to be performed by the campus officials/faculty that she has already contacted?

A lot of our confusion and ignorance were driven by the mercifully low frequency that these horrors arrive at our door. But, as much as we might wish otherwise, uncomfortable realities barge in. Our job is to help keep our students safe and, when that fails, to help them recover.

Added June 21, 2010 – Yesterday’s Oregonian carried an article regarding sexual assault in the Opinion section: Assaulted and abandoned: sexual assault survivors on campus often are victimized again by colleges. The article took a close look at Reed’s procedures and some recent episodes involving sexual assault.

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Reversal of Zeeba Fortune

Fans of Pearls Before Swine are all too aware of “Zeeba’s” sad story. By nature, a peaceful creature, vegetarian, and good neighbor, the zebra is endlessly pursued by Larry, the insanely ravenous (but dangerously stupid) crocodile next door. Larry makes one attempt on Zeeba Neighba’s life after another, but all comes to naught because, on Oct 27, 2009, Zeeba eats Larry. R.I.P.?


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Commentary from an unknown Reedie

Last night, Emily, one of my Chem 201 students found this heartfelt commentary scratched into one of the old wooden chairs in Eliot 314:

“If I had one hour to live, I would spend it here because it would last forever”

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John Daido Loori, 1931-2009


John Daido Loori was a chemist, photographer, and leader (roshi) of the Zen Mountain Monastery. Some of his photos and a remembrance. More links.

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Summer ends, new school year begins

Summer still has several weeks to go unless you’re a Reed prof whose job it is
to teach a large course like o-chem on Aug 31 and you’ve got to get
READY. Here are some items to help returning students (if you want to know what I did for MY summer vacation, skip to the next page):

  • O-chem (201) students: go to the Chem 201-202 home page for news and instructions (there’s also a link on this page under Courses). The 201-202 site will be updated many times in August so keep checking back.
  • Transfer courses:
    I am no longer the Chem dept chair so I will not be signing credit
    transfer requests (see below for one important exception). If you want to transfer
    a “foreign” chemistry course, see our new dept chair, Ron McClard, but
    first read the Transfer Credit instructions (there’s also a link on this page under Visitors). The exception: if you want to transfer geology course credit, come see me (and please read the Transfer Credit instructions).
  • Chem seniors looking for thesis projects:come
    see me. I have two types of projects to offer you this year: lab experiments directed at the
    synthesis and study of new Fe-TAML oxidation catalysts, and
    small-molecule computational experiments that can be directed at any
    topic of mutual interest. Project descriptions will eventually be posted in the Research zone (there’s also a link on this page under Visitors).
  • Green science project: the Project entered a dormant phase last spring, but its ready to be rebooted this fall with a new band of student volunteers. Want to get
    involved? Read the latest post [posted 8/30/09] on the Green Science blog to see what I have in mind (and send me your comments, supportive or otherwise)

Oh, and here’s what I did for my summer vacation:
Continue reading

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