The greatest discoveries of science have always been those that forced us to rethink our beliefs about the universe and our place in it.

– Robert Lee Park, in The New York Times, 7 December 1999

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What makes us human?

Artificial Intelligence has been a recurrent theme that has appeared in a lot of science fiction movies and games. It’s also a recurrent theme in the human experience because it explores questions such as “What makes us human?”. I will discuss a few thoughts on some examples that I have come across recently in one game (Thomas was Alone) and two films (The Imitation Game, Ex Machina) after the jump.

Continue reading What makes us human?

My 3 Favorite Fun Science Channels on YouTube

1. Kurz Gesagt

I’ve featured their animations before, but I’ll say again that it’s worth checking out these videos (which sound like they were narrated by the guy from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) are creative, fun, and cover a wide variety of current topics related to science and society.

 

2. The Brain Scoop

Emily Graslie used to make her own videos on YouTube, and then she was hired by Chicago’s Field Museum to make videos on taxidermy, lost dioramas, and a dead squirrel with a face tumor. A mix of natural history, museum behind-the-scenes, and gross (aka cool) stuff.

 

3. NPR Skunk Bear

I just discovered Adam Cole and NPR’s Skunk Bear, with this fantastic video that further proves how peeps are useful for little outside of experiments, animations, and dioramas! Certainly not eating.

Peep Galileo is adorable!

 

I know there are a lot of science-related YouTube channels out there—what are your favorites?

The Science Slug

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George Mayerle’s International Eye Chart

I found this little gem while exploring the National Library of Medicine’s “Hidden Treasure” collection of interesting items of the past. This chart is for eye examinations, published in 1907 and created by German eye doctor George Mayerle, who worked in San Francisco, California. He helped form the first national optical association, the Optical Specialists’ Association of America, and developed this eye chart to aid in diagnosing eye ailments.

When the chart was sold, advertisements promised that it would help increase the income of general practitioners, because  the chart “convinces the patient as to his professional skill and ability to diagnose, and, at least, correct defective eyesight.” I find this amusing because it seems to imply that persuading people that you know what you’re doing is just as, if not more, important than fixing some visual disorders!

Luckily, I am freshly practiced to look at eye charts because I just got my own eyes checked yesterday! Let’s take a closer look (pun intended). Continue reading George Mayerle’s International Eye Chart

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Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” artist honored admirably in The Banner Saga

The Banner Saga is the first game of a series based on a mythical world in which humans and Varl, Norse-like giants, are struggling to survive. The intriguing story begins with an ending: the gods are dead, the sun has stopped moving in the sky, and no one knows why.

This opening sets the stage for a Viking-esque world embedded with a deliciously deep mythology, ethically challenging choices for the player, and interesting and complex characters. However, the real icing on the cake for me was the graphics: upon reflection, I would say that The Banner Saga was by far the most beautiful game I played in 2014. Continue reading Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” artist honored admirably in The Banner Saga

Coding plurals in the English language

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Code for returning the plural form of an animal or English noun.

My coworker shared with me a little bit of interesting code he was working on so that the game returns the correct plural form of nouns. In the code, you can see there’s a list of exceptions in which the singular form is the same as the plural (moose, sheep, etc.), and unique cases (children, oxen). Then there are a few rules for singular nouns with particular endings:

  • if the singular ends in -y, the plural ends in -ies (e.g., butterflies)
  • If the singular ends in -lf, the plural ends in -lves (e.g. wolves)
  • If the singular ends in -s, -ch, -sh, or -x, the plural just adds ‘es’ (e.g. bushes, birches, foxes)

And everything else just gets -s added! Just thought it was interesting.

Tour of the mouse brain

This month is the 5-year anniversary of the publication of one of my all time favorite scientific animation videos (I don’t normally keep track of these types of anniversaries, I just happened to notice the date). This 3.5 minute tour of a mouse brain helps the viewer conceptualize the parts of the brain in relation to the whole, including how individual neurons work together and form new connections.

For an annotated tour, below I’ve listed all the terms that appear in the movie, with a short description about their functions or relation to other parts. I highly recommend that you plug in your headphones for this tour! The music and sounds are beautiful and add a lot to the experience. Continue reading Tour of the mouse brain

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Game review: Banished

A small group of travelers is banished from their previous civilization and wander into the forests to start over and establish their own society. As time passes, it’s clear that there are numerous challenges: avoiding starvation, having enough firewood and warm clothes to survive the winter, fighting disease, and replacing the workers’ tools as they wear out. Can this small community thrive and grow, relying only on the resources in their unforgiving environment? This is the premise of the game Banished, developed by Shining Rock Software (Windows PC, $20). Continue reading Game review: Banished

Science teaching has suffered because science has been so frequently presented just as so much ready-made knowledge, so much subject-matter of fact and law, rather than as the effective method of inquiry into any subject-matter.

John Dewey, American philosopher and education reformer, 1910

It’s a little sobering to think that we are still struggling with the same problems in science education more than 100 years later.

Ishihara plate No. 13: You probably see the number "6", but I see nothing. (Image: Public Domain)

Students interview me about my color-blindness

I know a high school teacher who teaches science and had just finished a unit on sight and genetics with her students. She asked me if I’d like to be interviewed by her ELL students in class one day. Before I came to class, she asked her students to think of some questions, and then they each selected one to ask me while I was there (she told them ahead of time that I was an artist, so they were really interested in that). The students were already familiar with Punnett squares so we did those on the whiteboard.

It was a really fun and interesting experience for all of us, so I kept a copy and wrote my answers for others who may be interested. (Student names are changed). Continue reading Students interview me about my color-blindness