Wednesday, December 30, 2009

How much climate change is connected with the solar cycle length?

There is a big controversy in climate science regarding the magnitude of the effect of solar variations on the earth's climate. This article discusses one of those controversial theories.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Brief: Investing in the price of food

When a trader buys food products (grains etc.) on the world markets in the hopes that the price will increase they do a huge disservice to poor people in poor nations who have difficulty finding enough money to purchase basic foods such as bread.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Improving government revenues

From a US Statistical Abstract: there are about 75 million homes in America with about 48 million mortgages. At an average value of just over $100,000 the total amount of money borrowed in the form of mortgages is 5.4 trillion dollars.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Funding for fighting climate change and world hunger

Fighting climate change is thought to be important because if we don't then some regions may produce less food and water in the future and more people will die from starvation and dehydration. No one wants starvation and dehydration to get worse.

Currently we spend about 3.7 billion dollars a year trying to feed the world through the UN World Food Programme. It was recently announced that the U.S. would commit to a climate change fighting plan which involves (eventually) contributing 100 billion dollars per year to dealing with the problem.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

An inconvenient truth

The earth is filled with problems: war, terrorism, climate change, crime, starvation, etc. It can be very difficult to properly assess which problem facing the world is the most poignant and thus the most deserving of our attention and resources, however, food and malnourishment problems appear to be monumentally large.

Food waste and world hunger

I’ve heard that the world produces enough food to feed everyone. Unfortunately there are 1 billion malnourished people in the world today (according to the UN World Food Programme). The following article presents a quick rough estimate of food waste and compares it with how much food might be needed for the world’s malnourished people.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Follow up on climate change funding

The dangers climate change presents can be described as follows: if in the future the world is significantly hotter then some regions may not produce as much food or water as they currently do and this can lead to drought, starvation and dehydration. Furthermore, many scientists have pointed out that climate change is likely to cause more episodes of extreme weather conditions. Extreme weather patterns (like say a tsunami or hurricane) can appear quite quickly and can have devastating effects on the local population’s ability to feed itself. This is all the more poignant in poor countries where the local populations tend to lack adequate financial resources.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Funding to fix climate change and making sure the world doesn’t go hungry or thirsty

Today in the news it was announced by Hillary Clinton (secretary of state for the Obama administration) that 100 billion dollars per year was what the Americans were offering as part of a multinational deal to help fight climate change.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Brief: Government spending and world hunger

Many of the world's governments are willing to spend billions of dollars in the cause of fighting climate change. The world's governments are willing to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to make sure that their banking institutions and insurance companies don't go bankrupt (out of fear of causing a prolonged recession / depression). When at war nations are willing to spend obscene amounts of money waging them.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Banks and collusion in Canada

When the economy got bad and the Canadian bank's bottom lines started looking slim they decided to steal from their customers! Many of the main banks raised the interest rates they charge on their customers in unison early this year (which is probably an example of a violation of collusion laws). The banks decided to blindly steal from everyone right when the economy was worsening and many people really were struggling.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Jews and Muslims and the weirdness of history

History is a fascinating social science. Just about every civilization and culture that has had contact with another have also experienced inter-cultural friction. Among the bristlier subjects along this vein are the struggles between Jews and Muslims and the emotions these subjects evoke in so many.

Considering the fundamental similarities between the religions (monotheistic belief in God and a common spiritual ancestory) it is remarkable how there are types from either of these faiths (or any faith) who focus purely on the differences between their religious traditions and those of others. Many people in today's world appear enthralled to the idea that the world's religions are necessarily in conflict with each other.

In reading I have come across a few tidbits in history that I thought I might share as they might have the ability to show people the big picture: that there were times in the past when the two communities cooperated together - and hopefully this will help inspire some people to believe that it is still possible for the two communities to cooperate.

Science and physics studying consicousness and God

Physics attempts to explain the universe around us. The universe is broken down into explainable equations and relationships based on a few basic principles that attempt to explain the nature of the universe. In standard physics, explaining the universe has typically been limited to explaining matter (and the fundamental forces that govern their interactions). Very few attempts have been made that try to incorporate other known natural phenomena of the universe - like consciousness - into a mathematical or physical model of the universe. I have never heard a convincing explanation for the phenomenon of consciousness that is based purely on our understanding of matter and the fundamental forces that govern matter's interaction.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The economics of charity

A short wishful article on the need for larger scale charitable integration with existing capitalism.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Humorous Aside: The Far Side

The Far Side is a great comic! You can check it out here. I collected a few of my favorites below.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Science assisted enlightenment

Buddhist texts have it that Buddha instructed monks that they could achieve advanced states of awareness through meditative practise that achieves a mental state sometimes described with the term single-pointedness - often achieved by focusing on the sensation of air currents on the nostril area (in Hinduism this is called anapana sati and is said to be able to provide liberation or moksha to the practitioner).

Monday, September 7, 2009


Homosexuality has been observed throughout the animal kingdom. Everything from elephants to dolphins to birds have been observed engaging in homosexual behaviour. There is plenty of evidence for the existence of genes that predispose the carrier to homosexuality. From an obvious Darwin - pass on your genes perspective being gay (thus probably/possibly having a pair of recessive gay genes) would not seem like a winning combination for the mere passing on of one's genes. This is one of the main reason based arguments against the naturalness of homosexuality - others don't accept it because of the dogma of some old text (such as the bible).

However, homosexuality is observed throughout the animal kingdom thus is quite natural and normal.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Humorous Aside: Professor or worse?

A professor is a nice cushy job - assuming one has tenure. The following cartoon from compares a professor with a most unusual alternative career path.

Humorous Aside: Paid too little to lose one's job?

Some funny comics from

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Humourous Aside: Grad School and moving towards a post-doc

Some funny cartoons from on entering the post-doctoral research phase of academia.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Buddhism and the Dalai Lama

Buddhism is often referred to as a science of the mind, where principles are accepted or rejected based on the mental reactions they elicit in the practitioner. Principles are also accepted or rejected based on the perception of how closely and accurately they reflect the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama (the historical Buddha who lived ~2500 years ago on the Indian Subcontinent). By personal experience I would say that the correct application of logic is inclined to elicit a positive mental reaction in the practitioner.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

World religions and predestiny

Reason can be used to support the concept of predestiny, an example of which is demonstrated as follows: What happened in our past was fixed (the thoughts we had, the actions we took etc.). In the present we can choose to do this or that but go a moment into the future and we can look back at what we just called the present and see that we chose to do one particular thing in that moment. Thus although we supposedly have a choice in the present, there is only one thing in the present that we are actually going to choose to do. Thus it would appear that all our choices/actions were/are predestined. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Einstein, light and the photoelectric effect

Einstein has blessed us with a huge quantity of scientific contributions. I'm a huge fan of the ideas he was presenting with relativity. He has also furthered our understanding of some of the properties of light. However, Einstein also said some strange things regarding the energy of light in trying to explain the photoelectric effect.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Humorous Aside: Intrinsic angular momentum

Quantum theory has some unusual ideas. A particularly unusual one is that a subatomic particle has an intrinsic angular momentum. The idea is as such:

any given sub atomic particle is spinning
however, the amount that particle is spinning never changes

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Heisenberg's uncertainty principle

Heisenberg's uncertainty principle states that we cannot know certain pairs of physical properties such as a particle's position and momentum precisely and simultaneously.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Detecting cancer with MRI based pH imaging

It is known that cancerous tumours tend to exhibit acidic pH levels. In fact the urine of patients with advanced cancer can be extremely acidic. It is plausible that the acidity of cancerous tissues is detectable via MRI when the tumour is still very small.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Humorous Aside: Funny Farside cartoons

I love the farside, special thanks to Gary Larson for producing such a hysterical cartoon as the Far Side.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Buddhism and the permanence of matter

The Dalai Lama (the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism and one of the world’s most prominent Buddhists) has indicated that he believes that Buddhism is ready for scientific analysis in the age of reason. I agree with this assessment – indeed I believe all the world’s religions need to be ready for scrutiny and analysis in the age of reason. To this end the Dalai Lama has indicated that Buddhist scriptures disproved by modern science should be abandoned.

I was thinking about how some ideas from science may conflict with the idea of impermanence which plays a moderately prominent role in some Buddhist texts.

One example may be whether matter as we know it is permanent or impermanent.

Monday, June 15, 2009

String Theory

String theorists claim that the universe has 9, 10, 11, 13 or whatever number of dimensions (depending on which theorist you talk to). These claims are based on nothing more than mathematics, however, I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that the universe does indeed have more dimensions than the 4 dimensional space-time that Einstein’s general relativity implies.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Another Bohring article?

Problems with the Bohr model of the atom: it claims that the reason the electron does not degrade and collapse into the nucleus is because the electromagnetic force pulling the electron in is balanced by the centripetal force from the kinetic energy of the electron (moving really really fast around the core). The problem with this model is that maintaining its super fast speed is the only thing that keeps the electron from degrading into the nucleus and letting off a LOT of energy (Einstein's E=mc^2). The universe has been around for some 14 billion years, I think matter is a little more stable than that!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Unknowns in the strong force

The electromagnetic force repels same charged particles and attracts oppositely charged particles. Similarly, the strong force attracts same charged particles

Friday, June 12, 2009

Humorous Aside: The significance of scientific research?

Once a scientist's experiments are complete (measurements taken, data collected) the scientist is typically expected to show that their research is statistically significant. A previous article shows that the main statistical significance test that people use was created in a beer factory over a hundred years ago and was only used on sets of up to 10 samples (way too few by today's scientist's standards). If you collect a lot of samples, the test will almost always give you the significance you're looking for. Luckily I discovered a new statistical significance test on the internet that will allow us to compute a number to determine if our research was worth anything (thank you

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Science assisting world peace

Science and technology have been advancing at a remarkable pace. One large contribution to changing our lives is the cell phone - not least of which because modern versions have the ability to take photographs and capture video clips.

MRI: Why do some things ring and others not?

As mentioned on previous posts MRI works because a proton in a strong magnetic field will polarize. We use it to image hydrogen along with a collection of isotopes (somewhat irregular configurations of matter where the nucleus has an unusual number of protons or neutrons). However, other than hydrogen, magnetic resonance has not been reported in all the remaining elements (just isotopes). But in MRI we are typically merely imaging protons which occur naturally in all elements and isotopes. Why is it that we observe no magnetic resonance phenomena in the elements? (except for hydrogen).

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Humorous Aside: Thesis realism

Some jokes from on keeping realistic thesis expectations.

Functional MRI

Functional MRI is an exciting idea: it allows us to create a map of how the brain responds when the person being imaged is subjected to some particular stimuli (say being shown a picture or told to perform a task). Functional MRI (fMRI) involves taking a measure of the amount of oxygen in a particular location of brain tissue. When a person’s mind activates with a particular thought/concept/action the activation can be measured by observing an increase in the amount of oxygen present (oxygen is delivered to activating regions by hemoglobin).

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Measuring the strong force with MRI

MRI works because a proton that's in a strong magnetic field will polarize/align with the field and then behaves like a bell when it's hit with a radio wave (it rings back with another radio wave that we listen to in order to make an image).

Monday, June 8, 2009

Free will, predestiny or do we have to choose?

We all have the ability to use our memories to look back at past events. If we were to do so we would be aware that at one particular point in our past we chose to do some particular thing. In the present moment, free will implies that we have the ability to choose to do any particular thing.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Physics: MRI a quark based dipole?

In MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) an image is obtained by placing a person in a strong magnetic field. The strong magnetic field causes the proton of a hydrogen atom to align with the field. A radio wave is applied to the person which causes the proton to be knocked out of alignment with the magnetic field. The strong magnetic field causes the proton to return to its original state, and this process of realigning lets off another (much smaller) radio wave, which we listen to. The final image is formed from measurements of the strength of these radio waves that emanate from hydrogen protons in the body.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The problems with currencies

As everyone is aware, the world's economic transactions are performed in a variety of different currencies. Currency traders share a generally accepted range of possible exchange rates for different currencies with respect to each other. If a new event occurs that appears to weaken a particular currency, currency traders are liable to buy and sell in a pattern that adjusts the exchange rate to devalue the currency.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The problems with mortgages

Economics is a fascinating science (physical scientists often look down upon the social sciences, however, social sciences are simply areas of scientific study that are affected by human behaviour – a fascinating challenge for the researcher).

Present law in Canada and the United States says that a banking institution can issue a mortgage while only actually having 10% of the amount of funds needed for the mortgage. The bank borrows the rest of the money from the central bank (a government agency: the Bank of Canada or the Federal Reserve in the USA). The banks are charged a remarkably low interest rate from the central bank and in turn charge YOU a higher interest rate on money they never even had!

Problems with economics policy

Currently the United States and Canada are funneling something like 60 billion dollars into General Motors (GM) and in exchange they are receiving 72.5% ownership of the company. The company has recently announced that it has over 170 billion dollars in debts. So the Canadian and US governments have just paid 60 billion dollars for the privilege of owing another 125 billion dollars (72.5% of 170 billion). GM will use $4-billion of the Canadian loans to address the shortfall in its pension plans. In addition, the company will inject $200-million into the pension plans over the next five years, making them fully solvent." So part of the plan that the government has funded is to provide GM with loans and GM will use 4 billion dollars of the Canadian loans to pay the pensions of former employees, and GM plans to 'fix' its pension problems by investing only 40 million dollars per year to make "them fully solvent" (ie. economically healthy). This is preposterous! How could 40 million per year fix a problem that needs 4 billion dollars right now?!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Bohring model of the atom

It is kind of weird that we use the Bohr model of the atom, a man who advocated that quantum mechanics as a theory was complete (despite all its partially explained weirdness - presumably he felt it meshed well with his model of the atom).

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Humorous Aside: God spawns the peer review process

A hilarious comic from the farside on God.

The weight of an electron

One of the main experiments to determine the weight of an electron in an educational physics class involves balancing a metal beam partially inside a solenoid (inductor – a big cork screw of tightly wrapped wire). The problem with this is that the force applied by the solenoid is dependent on the type and orientation of the metal balance beam inside core of the solenoid.

The other main way to measure the weight of the electron is by Thompson's charge-to-mass ratio experiment.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Funding for Scientific Research

Granting agencies disperse funds allocated for science which usually comes from public and charitable money. Private industry also funds scientific research, however it is typically heavily biased towards creating a new product or process that could be profitable. Unfortunately, granting agencies are also inclined to award funds to research that could lead to a new profitable product or process. This occurs by the very nature of the overly commercialized society in which we live – if scientific research is going to affect humanity for the better it is assumed that science will do so by creating a new invention that will have to become a commercial product – thus biasing scientific funding towards more commercializable endeavours.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Humorous Aside: Those quirky quarks

If you ever wanted evidence that particle physicists are confused about the physics of very small things then go to wikipedia and read the article that describes the nature of matter. Where matter is made of elements made up of protons, electrons and neutrons. Protons and neutrons are made up of quarks. And if you want an explanation of what a quark is, suddenly you’re reading about something called color charge and color confinement - weirdly arbitrary words when trying to describe something fundamental to the universe.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Who needs science when we have automatic-science!

So a few years ago some computer science students made a new computer program that will automatically create a scientist's research paper complete with text, figures, tables, methods, results etc. The papers are filled up with lots of technical terms and a lot of nonsense.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Women in Science

While women’s rights have lead to amazing strides for women in science, unfortunately, those who do choose the field may still have to put up with chauvinism and exclusionary attitudes.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Humorous Aside: Job Satisfaction

I did a quick job satisfaction survey, check out the plot below.

Humorous Aside: The significance of beer and statistics

Did you know that scientists regularly require each other to show that their experiments are ‘significant’? This is typically done with a particular test (nerd alert! the t-test) that was developed over 100 years ago in a Guinness beer factory. The test was created long before computers but everyone still uses it despite the fact that if you collect many more samples than you could have by hand, the test will almost certainly give you the ‘significance’ that you’re looking for in your experiments.

Humorous Aside: Slow peer review

A colleague of mine made an important point on peer review: it takes so long for a typical peer-reviewed journal paper to get published that by the time it reaches publication, state-of-the-art research is often no longer state-of-the-art. As my colleague points out this long turn around time also forces many researches to repeat the same work of others simply because they don’t have access to the other researcher’s work!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Peer Review

One of my main complaints with the world of science is that to advance one’s career, one must accumulate peer-reviewed journal publications. While having research articles reviewed by fellow specialist scientists clearly helps maintain a higher level of research paper quality, the present peer-review system is severely biased. 

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Humorous Aside: Career training vs. pay

For this site's first tidbit of the funnier side of science I provide for you a carefully researched and crafted plot of how much education/job training is needed compared with the pay for a variety of jobs. Note the awkward position scientists take: the gargantuan amounts of job training is not matched by a corresponding rise in pay – this didn’t bother me in the least when I signed up for graduate school, but now that I’m burdened down with debts I’ve got a bit of a different perspective.