Monday, August 27, 2012

The Third Man On The Moon

I so much more like what Charles P. (Pete) Conrad, the third man on the moon said: 

"Whoopee! Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but that’s a long one for me"

Apparently this was not entirely impromptu. Capt. Conrad had made a bet with an Italian journalist that NASA does not script what astronauts are supposed to utter on this momentous occasion. Here is a snippet from the Apollo 12 Lunar Surface Journal.

 115:22:09 Conrad: Okay. (Pause) Down to the pad. (TV still)

115:22:15 Bean: Okay.

    [After pausing on the next to last rung, Pete steps down to the last one, gets his hands in position and jumps down, sliding his hands along the outside rails as he drops. Once he gets down to the footpad, the bottom rung is about level with his waist. (TV still)]

115:22:16 Conrad: (As he lands) Whoopie! Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but that's a long one for me. (Pause)

    [Jones - "I understand that there was a bet on your saying that."]

    [Bean - "Who'd you bet?"]

    [Conrad - "You know who I bet."]

    [Bean - "Nope. I forget."]

    [Conrad - "A reporter, who thought the government put words in our mouths."]

    [Bean - "Oh!"]

    [Conrad - (Laughing) "I also had $500 riding on it, but I never got paid."]

    [Bean - (Laughing) "I didn't know that! Is that right? I kind of remember it, a little. Oh, well."]

    [Jones - "Do you want that story as part of the record?"]

    [Bean - "Put it in. It will be good for the myth. We're trying to create a Conrad Myth. Big Bucks on this. Can't have too many human interest things."]

    [Conrad - "I tell the story, but I don't tell who I bet."]

    [Actually, Pete does occasionally reveal that the reporter was Oriana Fallaci. A more detailed version of the story can be found in Andrew Chaikin's "A Man on the Moon".]

Meanwhile... RIP Neil Armstrong.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Darwin Just Made It Up

Another gem from the annals of religious stupidity:

“The theory of evolution is a theory, and essentially the theory of evolution is not science — Darwin made it up,” state Sen. Ben Waide (R) said. “My objection is they should ensure whatever scientific material is being put forth as a standard should at least stand up to scientific method. Under the most rudimentary, basic scientific examination, the theory of evolution has never stood up to scientific scrutiny.”

This comes from a Huffington Post article  (via: WEIT) which quotes Kentucky republican Sen. Ben Waide protesting the inclusion of evolution in science classes.

Darwin this... Darwin that.... Isn't it revealing that it is religious fundamentalists who claim that the theory of evolution will stand or fall based on what Darwin said?

Monday, August 20, 2012

50th Anniversary of Kuhn's Structure Of Scientific Revolutions

John Naughton at The Guardian has a very readable account of Thomas Kuhn's book on how scientific developments and progress take place.

Kuhn is credited for making popular the term "paradigm" with consequences that go beyond understanding the history of the development of scientific thought.

From the article:

As for his big idea – that of a "paradigm" as an intellectual framework that makes research possible –well, it quickly escaped into the wild and took on a life of its own. Hucksters, marketers and business school professors adopted it as a way of explaining the need for radical changes of world-view in their clients. And social scientists saw the adoption of a paradigm as a route to respectability and research funding, which in due course led to the emergence of pathological paradigms in fields such as economics, which came to esteem mastery of mathematics over an understanding of how banking actually works, with the consequences that we now have to endure.

And about the publication of the first edition of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions:

The following year, the book was published by the University of Chicago Press. Despite the 172 pages of the first edition, Kuhn – in his characteristic, old-world scholarly style – always referred to it as a mere "sketch". He would doubtless have preferred to have written an 800-page doorstop.

But in the event, the readability and relative brevity of the "sketch" was a key factor in its eventual success.

Do I see a parallel here with another book that was transformative? Charles Darwin wanted to write a tome on natural selection but was hastened by Alfred Wallace's entry into writing a slimmer version of his theory... a sketch which perhaps due to its relative brevity became widely read.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Mars Rover Scientist John Grotzinger Explains What It Is All About

Science Friday hosted Mars Rover Project Scientist John Grotzinger. He explained with clarity the instruments on board and what the mission is about:

From the transcript:

But from orbit, we could already tell that as we approached this mountain in the middle of Gale Crater that we informally refer to as Mount Sharp, that there's a succession of layers that are five kilometers thick, so that's a bit over three miles. And it's almost three times as deep as the Grand Canyon. And what we learned ever since the time of John Wesley Powell's pioneering trip down the Grand Canyon, staring up at the walls of the canyon and wondering what those layers preserved, I think we're doing the same thing.

We look up at this, and we can only imagine that this represents a tremendous swath through the geologic history of Mars, its early environmental evolution of what might be tens, hundreds, maybe even a billion years, hundreds of millions of years to a billion years. And that interval of time that we're sampling occurred somewhere between three and four billion years ago.

So we're for the first time really probing the next dimension of Mars exploration, which is the dimension of deep time.

Fascinating....Curiosity is not equipped to directly sense any signature of life like microbial respiration. It's all about doing as thorough a job of documenting the mineralogy and geochemistry of the rocks and piecing together a story of the geological evolution of the sampled terrain. In doing so, the hope is to identify habitable environments, a place that had or has water.

Back on earth, life in the Pasadena diner called Conrad's frequented by Mars mission scientists just got a lot busy. From the recent Nature News article :

Grotzinger was a regular at Conrad’s in 2004, before and after his working days on the rover Opportunity, which landed that year along with Spirit, its twin, comprising the Mars Exploration Rover mission. Because the rovers were positioned on opposite sides of Mars, one team would be having breakfast while the other would be eating dinner. “The waitresses were always confused,” he recalls. This time there is only one rover, but still no standard working day. Adapting to ‘Mars time’ requires starting each Earth day 40 minutes later than the last to match Martian daylight, inducing a state of perpetual jet lag.

Also, Mars Rover Curiosity is tweeting. You can follow the mission @MarsCuriosity. What a great way to engage the public in this mission and get them excited about science.

I am the 1,001,964th follower! Looking forward to at least two years of updates from the mobile geology lab on Mars...

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

You Now Have Easier Access To Some Of My Favorite Posts

This was suggested to me by Indian Top Blogs who reviewed my blog some time back and I've been wanting to do this for a while. Give readers easier access to posts written long back. I've created categories just below the blog banner image that describe some of my favorite topics and experiences. These are not necessarily the most popular posts by the metrics but are topics which I've enjoyed covering.

Great Conversations- I love listening to a good science conversation and these posts cover some of the more engaging talks I've come across.

My Book Shelf - I've posted passages from books that I had been reading at that instance, often with my commentary and thoughts.

Humor - Can't live without that!

Field Trips - Can't live without that either!!

Maps - Wouldn't be a geology blog if I didn't cover interesting maps.

Geology and Livelihoods - Where I explore the myriad ways in which geology impacts our lives.

I might add categories, so readers following my blog via email or feed do go over to the site once in a while to see if any new category has been added.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Indian Versus Western Universities

Prof. Krishna Kumar delivers a devastating indictment of Indian Universities:

1) Faculty recruitment is not meritocratic.
2) Our concept of what constitutes teaching and learning is mechanical, based on criteria like number of hours taught and percentage attendance by students.
3) Teachers are restricted to narrowly defined syllabi and don't have the freedom to innovate- "Teaching goes on following the grooves of preset syllabi, like the needle boring into an old gramophone record" ... What a line!
4) Our Libraries suck.

He goes on:

These four critical differences are, of course, symptomatic of deeper problems entrenched in structures that govern higher education in India. Those who perceive all problems in financial terms miss the barren landscape of our campuses. Inadequacy of funds is, of course, worrisome, but it cannot explain the extent to which malice, jealousy and cussedness define the fabric of academic life in our country. There is a vast chasm that separates the Indian academia from society. Let alone the masses, even the urban middle class cares little for what goes on inside classrooms and laboratories.

There are off course centers of excellence. But the vast majority of Indian graduates pass through the dystopian lands that Prof. Krishna Kumar describes.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

My Rather Tenuous Connection With The Mars Rover Project Scientist

I have no connection with the Mars Rover program :)...but this @geosociety tweet a few days ago caught my eye:

@geosociety Fellow John Grotzinger, JPL geologist on Mars Curiosity rover mission, in LA Times.  MT @earthmagazine

John Grotzinger was profiled in an article in the LA Times. He is project scientist for the Mars mission and in charge of directing the earth science effort to glean information about the geology of Mars. Here is what the article says about his work-

For much of his post-PhD career, the geologist kept his feet planted firmly on Earth. He combed ancient sedimentary rocks for signs of early life. He took trips around the globe, family in tow, to collect 550-million-year old specimens in Namibia and Oman.

What it left out was that Prof. Grotzinger is a carbonate sedimentologist. So.. I guess I can claim that I share an academic kinship with him :)

I am quite familiar with his work in carbonates. When I was working on my PhD in the mid 1990's he was already a faculty at MIT. His PhD research on Proterozoic carbonates of the Northwest Territories in Canada was directed by J. Fred Read at Virginia Polytechnic. During several GSA meetings I did get an opportunity to listen to his presentation on various aspects of Proterozoic carbonate platform evolution. He later moved to Cal Tech and JPL in Pasadena, California.

For long, carbonate sedimentologists gave much more attention to Phanerozoic carbonates and less attention to Proterozoic carbonate deposits. There was an economic incentive in that. Many Phanerozoic carbonate basins host prolific oil and gas deposits. The origin, growth and architecture of Phanerozoic carbonate sedimentary platforms,  a term for depositional basins in which hundreds to thousands of feet of calcium carbonate sediments accumulate, was studied quite intensely and we gained a very detailed understanding of these systems. All this work ultimately helps exploration geologists make reasonable predictions on the location and thicknesses of strata best suited to be oil reservoirs.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

5 Years And I Am Still Blogging!

Just realized that its been 5 years to the day that I started blogging!

Here is my very first post, an essay on early human evolution and the topology of the evolutionary process  - The Trunk-Less Tree Of Life

Yeah.. I still feel pretty enthused about the whole blogging experience, so expect a fairly regular supply of posts!

And I got some recognition from Indian Top Blogs, who after a survey of the Indian blogosphere placed my blog in their platinum category, which is in their top 50 list.

And I am now tweeting @rapiduplift... so do follow this space as well as my Twitter feed.

Thanks for all your support over the years!

Richard Muller On Reconfirmation Of Temperature Data

NPR Science Friday hosts Berkeley professor Richard Muller whose Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project investigated whether measured temperature data collected and reported by climate scientists was flawed. His conclusion is that the previously measured data faithfully records that the earth has been warming and that humans are primarily responsible for the temperature increase:

FLATOW: So tell us about your change of mind and heart about this issue.

MULLER: Well, if you had asked me a year ago, I might have said I didn't know whether there was global warming at all. But we had begun a major study, scientific reinvestigation. We were addressing what I consider to be legitimate criticisms of many of the skeptics.

But about nine months ago, we reached a conclusion that global warming was indeed taking place, that all of the effects that the skeptics raised could be addressed, and to my surprise, actually, the global warming was approximately what people had previously said.

It came as a bigger surprise over the last three to six months when our young scientist, Robert Rhode, was able to adopt really excellent statistical methods and push the record back to 1753. With such a long record, we could then separate out the signatures of solar variability, of volcanic eruptions, of El Nino and so on. And actually, to my surprise, the clear signature that really matched the rise in the data was human carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. It just matched so much better than anything else. I was just stunned.

Prof. Muller also talks about the urgent need for a policy that provides incentives and financial assistance to switch to natural gas thus cutting down on the need to burn coal. Clean fracking is his rallying point!

Also the Guardian has a long article on Richard Muller and his work.