Caustic Soda Podcast 5: VOLCANO!

What’s it like to be horribly killed by a volcanic eruption? What’s a cryovolcano? How would you score on the volcano pop quiz? Find out in the hottest episode yet of Caustic Soda yet. Pompeii, Mt St Helens, Krakatoa – you got nothin’ on us! Features “Too Darn Hot” by Cole Porter featuring Ann Miller. “You’ve gone too far this time, Joe, Toren & Kevin!”

Listen at causticsodapodcast.com

Caustic Soda Episode 3

Tonight Joe put up Caustic Soda: The Podcast #3. It’s all about radiation and it’s extra long and extra special because it’s our very first guest – Dr. Rob Tarzwell, nuclear physician. Check it out!

And if you use iTunes, please rate the podcast (particularly if you’d rate it favourably) so that it will pop out at more listeners. Thanks! Next episode: Black Holes.

What’s the Harm…in A Truffle Divining Rod That Also Detects Explosives?

First, read this blog post

Now, recently (paraphrased) from a New York Times Article:

Despite major bombings that have rattled the nation, and fears of rising violence as American troops withdraw, Iraq’s security forces have been relying (at hundreds of checkpoints in Iraq) on a device (a small hand-held wand, with a telescopic antenna on a swivel) to detect bombs that works on the same principle as a Ouija board – the power of suggestion.

The Iraqi government has purchased more than 1,500 of the devices at costs from $16,500 to $60,000 each. Nearly every police checkpoint, and many Iraqi military checkpoints, have one of the devices, which are now normally used in place of physical inspections of vehicles.

ATSC’s promotional material claims that its device can find guns, ammunition, drugs, truffles, human bodies and even contraband ivory at distances up to a kilometer, underground, through walls, underwater or even from airplanes three miles high. The device works on “electrostatic magnetic ion attraction,” ATSC says.

Asteroid, Not the Video Game

Recent actual news. All emphasis mine:

JAKARTA – Picture this: A 10-meter wide asteroid hits Earth and explodes in the atmosphere with the energy of a small atomic bomb. Frightened by thunderous sounds and shaking walls, people rush out of their homes, thinking that an earthquake is in progress. All they see is a twisting trail of debris in the mid-day sky. This is what happened on Oct. 8th around 11 am local time in the coastal town of Bone, South Sulawesi.

Meteor scientists have given it their full attention. “The explosion triggered infrasound sensors of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) more than 10,000 km away,” report researchers Elizabeth Silber and Peter Brown of the Univ. of Western Ontario in an Oct. 19th press release. Their analysis of the infrasound data revealed an explosion at coordinates 4.5S, 120E (close to Bone) with a yield of about 50 kiloton of TNT. That’s two to three times more powerful than World War II-era atomic bombs.

The asteroid that caused the blast was not known before it hit and took astronomers completely by surprise. According to statistical studies of the near-Earth asteroid population, such objects are expected to collide with Earth on average every 2 to 12 years.

Good idea for a story: asteroid triggers nuclear war.

I Skeptically Endorse This

Monte Cook, co-author of D&D 3rd edition, has released a book called The Skeptic’s Guide to Conspiracies. So if you love D&D and believe the moon landing is a hoax, this book may be for you!

[link to amazon.com]

For more info on skepticism, logical fallacies and how to construct an argument, I strongly suggest you check out the podcast SGU 5×5. Each is 5 minutes long and offers valuable insights on skepticism 101.

What’s the Harm?

A couple years ago I was explaining how ridiculous astrology is to my girlfriend at the time and after all my trying to explain about how the plural of anecdote is not evidence and that the arrangement of the stars cannot possibly influence one’s fate or personality (having astrology buffs try to guess my sign based on my personality is a fun hobby of mine), her final argument for being a believer or at least following it is “what’s the harm?” I didn’t really have a tangible specific answer.

Now that I have an mp3 player I’ve been catching up on all the podcasts I’ve been accumulating over the past couple of years. Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe, NPR Science Fridays, and CBC’s Quirks & Quarks to name a few. Rebecca Watson from SGU mentioned whatstheharm.net and now finally I have an answer to the above question.  The website says:

Not all information is created equal. Some of it is correct. Some of it is incorrect. Some of it is carefully balanced. Some of it is heavily biased. Some of it is just plain crazy.

It is vital in the midst of this deluge that each of us be able to sort through all of this, keeping the useful information and discarding the rest. This requires the skill of critical thinking. Unfortunately, this is a skill that is often neglected in schools.

They have stats and figures and links to news stories. Of course, as a critical thinker I have to ask where they get their figures and what is the bias of the reporters who write the stories they link to. That’s part of the process. Nevertheless, the stats don’t seem unreasonable and the stories like

astrological prediction of a planetary alignment that would cause a devastating cyclone, over 60,000 workers fled [Alang, India] in fear. This caused the ship-breaking yard there to shut down at a loss of up to $60 million

and

Myanmar’s General Ne Win’s astrologer and numerologist told him his lucky number was 9 and he would live to be 90 if he was surrounded by 9s. He reissued the currency in multiples of 9 causing mayhem and new insurgencies.

are tragically hilarious.

Pretty Planet

from esa.int

This Envisat image captures a plankton bloom larger than the country of Greece stretching across the Barents Sea off the tip of northern Europe. Envisat acquired this image on 19 August 2009 with its Medium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MERIS) instrument. MERIS’s primary objective is to provide quantitative ocean-colour measurements, but the sensor has enough flexibility to serve applications in atmospheric and land-surface science as well.