Category Archives: General

Lumps of Clay

Do you ever think much about what clay really is?

A while ago, we were at Bald Head Island, NC and spent some time on the beach. I enjoy walking on the beach and looking for interesting shells, etc. Something unusual caught my attention this time. A moist, brown/grey lump, roughly oval, covered with sand.


I kept walking. Then I saw another, and another. Most people ignored them, or thought they were probably some kind of animal feces. I’m just too curious, and besides, I didn’t think it was fecal material (there were no flies). So, I picked one up. It had more weight to it than I thought by just looking at it. I broke it apart and saw uniform texture and what appeared to be clay inside the sandy coating. I started to gather these “clay” blobs… much to some other visitors’ stupefaction.

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Spacecraft 3D App (Augmented Reality)

Doug Ellison, of NASA JPL, gives a demo of the amazing Spacecraft 3D app. This free app allows you to explore 3D augmented reality imagery of the Mars Curiosity rover. The GRAIL spacecraft is also part of the current version of the app. Other spacecraft will be added over the coming months. NOTE: I clipped the video a few seconds BEFORE Doug starts talking about Spacecraft 3D… so first image is of another project. For full video of the MSL landing event see here.

Video streaming by Ustream

Download the app yourself, print out the target page and start exploring!

Maggie explores the Curiosity rover with 3D augmented reality!

For more about Mars Curiosity
On Twitter: Follow @MarsCuriosity and @NASAJPL
On Facebook:
Explore Mars Curiosity online

ScienceOnline Project Postcard

I have a little project for the ScienceOnline community (consider yourself part of that community if you talk about Science somewhere online). Here’s a great map of where Twitter users who are talking about #scio13 live. Thanks Comprendia for generating this for us!

View Larger Map

Each of those markers represents a pretty amazing person and place. SO… what I want you to do is start to flood our new ScienceOnline Post Office box with postcards from where you live and travel. Talk science to me! We’ll be using the postcards at ScienceOnline2013. Help me get the word out! Who will send the first postcard? How many different countries will we get postcards from? What’s the craziest picture on a postcard that we will receive (I’ll bet it’s either from the #DeepSN folks or Ed Yong). There may be prizes 🙂

Send those postcards to:
PO Box 52447
Durham, NC 27717

Baby Robin Update: Days 5 & 6

Day 6: Early morning

The robins continue to develop and grow. It is remarkable to observe the rate at which they change.

Day 5, Morning

Day 5: Eye slits getting bigger, heads darkening.

Day 5: Feed me!

Day 6: Feathers developing

Day 6: Eye slits widening

Day 6: Lunchtime

Day 6: notice the eye slit starting to open! Gotta love the tufts of fluff on the top of the head.

NASA includes Social Media with Traditional Media for Budget Briefing

There we sat. Twitter users. No special badges saying we were “tweeps,” No special seating gallery. No instructions to just “observe” the “real” media.

The New Media Corp

NASA decided that this time, from the get-to of the FY2013 budget briefing at NASA HQ (2/13/2012), everyone in the room was media and was important. From the podium, Bob Jacobs (@bnjacobs), NASA’s deputy associate administrator for Communications and the moderator for the event, explained:

This year we’re trying something a little different, as well as traditional media representatives, for the first time we have invited members of the social media community to be a part of today’s presentation and we’ll be taking questions via Twitter using the hashtag #askNASA.

NASA's Bob Jacobs

Bob Jacobs (@bnjacobs), NASA's deputy associate administrator for Communications tweets a pic of the Media Corp at beginning of the Budget Briefing.

NASA acknowledged that social media is a valid means of media communication and should be included in briefings alongside the AP, Nature, Orlando Sentinel, and the other traditional media outlets represented. We were allowed to ask questions, to talk to Administrator Charles Bolden, Chief Financial Officer Elizabeth Robinson, and the other NASA officials just like anyone else in the room. In short: no second-class citizens in the media corp.

It was a very special time–not just for those of us in the room–but for the army of social media journalists who have waited for recognition and validation of their status as “real” media.

Lindsey Mastis recorded Bob Jacobs’ thoughts on the relationship between NASA and social media. You can read her report of the briefing here.

GRAIL NASATweetup schedule

We finally received the itinerary for the #GRAIL #NASATweetup and it was worth the wait! The lineup for the day before the launch is amazing. Here are the details for September 7. Everyone in the afternoon session is a superstar. Be sure to tune in to NASATV to follow the Ustream video of the sessions! And of course, follow the #NASATweetup and #GRAIL hashtags on Twitter to follow our live reports that day! And then, of course, the launch on the following day (we hope!), September 8th.

GRAIL NASATweetup // September 7, 2011 // Kennedy Space Center, FL

7 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. – Registration at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (@ExploreSpaceKSC )

9 a.m. – Welcome by Trent Perrotto (@NASA ) & Veronica McGregor (@NASAJPL ) in the Debus Center (entry at 8:30 a.m.)

9:05 a.m. – Meet the tweeps

9:50 a.m. to 1 p.m. – Tour of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (@NASAKennedy ) and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, including stops at the Vehicle Assembly Building and Press Site launch countdown clock, Launch Complex 17 and #GRAIL, and Launch Complex 41 from which Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity (@MarsCuriosity ) will launch

1 to 3 p.m. – Break/Lunch on your own at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

3 p.m. – Jim Adams (@NASAJim ), deputy director, Planetary Division, Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, introduces Administrator Charles Bolden

(NASA Television begins

3:20 p.m. –MoonKAM (@GRAIL_MoonKAM ) presentation from the Sally Ride Science (@SallyRideSci ) team

3:40 p.m. – Sami Asmar, GRAIL deputy project scientist, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)

4 p.m. – Maria Zuber, GRAIL principal investigator, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

4:20 p.m. – Break

4:30 p.m. – Eyes on the Solar System (@NASA_Eyes) demo with Doug Ellison (@Doug_Ellison ), JPL Visualization Producer

5 p.m. – Vern Thorp, manager, NASA Programs, ULA (@ULAlaunch )

5:15 p.m. – Stu Spath, chief spacecraft engineer, Lockheed Martin (@LockheedMartin )

5:30 p.m. – Neil deGrasse Tyson (@NeilTyson ), Frederick P. Rose director at the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History (@AMNH )

6 p.m. – Group photo in the rocket garden

I’ve been a bit under the weather the past few days, but I don’t want to get behind on this project. So… onward!

Current Assignment: Thursday, September 24 (where is the month of September disappearing to!!??)
Read: Contracrostipunctus and Chapter IV: Consistency, Completeness, and Geometry
Listen: Contrapunctus 19 from the Art of Fugue (BWV 1050). This performance abruptly ends in the same place that the score ended due to BachÂ’s death. Bach left his name in the music, as the German notes B-A-C-H, a few measures before the end.

Summary of Contrastipunctus
This dialogue is central to the book because it contains a set of paraphrases of Gödel’s self-referential construction and of his Incompleteness Theorem. One of the paraphrases of the Theorem says, “For each record player there is a record which cannot play.” The Dialogue’s title is a cross between the word “acrostic” and the word “contrapunctus,” a Latin word which Bach used to denote the many fugues and canons making up his Art of the Fugue. Some explicit references to the Art of the Fugue are made. The Dialogue itself conceals some acrostic tricks.

Escher Relativity

(Brief) Summary of Chapter IV: Consistency, Completeness, and Geometry
The preceding Dialogue is explicated to the extent it is possible at this stage. This leads back to the question of how and when symbols in a formal system acquire meaning. The history of Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometry is given, as an illustration of the elusive notion of “undefined terms.” This leads to ideas about the consistency of different and possibly “rival” geometries. Through this discussion the notion of undefined terms is clarified, and the relation of undefined terms to perception and thought processes is considered.

Discussion Ideas

  1. (for the Dialogue) GEB pp. 81 – For instance, Lewis Carroll often hid words and names in the first letters (or characters) of the successive lines in poems he wrote. Poems which conceal messages that way are called “acrostics”. Might this quote apply to this dialogue?
  2. Why does DRH keep apologizing about his use of the term “isomorphism”?
  3. What’s the problem with interpreting mathematical objects? In the case of the modified pq-system? In the case of Euclidean geometry? What’s wrong with our interpretation of a “straight line”?

(that’s enough to get you started)

Escher Relativity in Legos
Click on the photo to view how this image was created.

Up Next: For Monday, September 28
Read: Little Harmonic Labyrinth and Chapter V: Recursive Structures and Processes
Listen: The Little Harmonic Labyrinth turns out not to be by Bach at all! It was written instead by his much lesser-known contemporary, Johann David Heinichen. Disappointingly, it doesn’t even have a fake resolution near the end, as the dialogue implies. Also, it’s boring. A completely unrelated piece, however, does have a clear “pushing and popping” structure to it, and a fake resolution: Waltz #2 by Billy Joel. Yes, that Billy Joel, retired from pop and writing classical music. Allow Achilles and the Tortoise one more anachronism and pretend this is what they’re listening to.

And now, for something completely different: GEB virtual course

I’ve been thinking of finding some folks to “take” one of MIT’s OpenCourseware classes together.

After thinking through various possibilities (face-to-face bookclub, social networks, listserv, etc), here’s my proposal:

  1. Use my blog as the meeting place and record of conversation for the MIT course: SP.258 / ESG.SP258 Gödel, Escher, Bach

  2. The Penrose triangle, also known as the tribar, is an impossible object. It appears to be a solid triangle made of three straight beams of square cross-section which meet at right angles. It is featured prominently in the works of artist M.C. Escher, whose earlier depictions of impossible objects partly inspired it. (Image by MIT OCW.)

  3. Here’s the course description:

    How are math, art, music, and language intertwined? How does intelligent behavior arise from its component parts? Can computers think? Can brains compute? Douglas Hofstadter probes very cleverly at these questions and more in his Pulitzer Prize winning book, “Gödel, Escher, Bach”. In this seminar, we will read and discuss the book in depth, taking the time to solve its puzzles, appreciate the Bach pieces that inspired its dialogues, and discover its hidden tricks along the way.

  4. In the bricks-and-mortar version of the course, they met twice a week for an hour. In our virtual version, we’ll discuss two sections in a week starting after Labor Day. We’ll follow this reading/listening schedule which follows the same order of the original MIT course. I’ll create a post for each of the reading and listening assignments (one on Mondays and the second on Thursdays). You can join in the discussion at any time during that week but make sure you have done the reading/listening first! It will be most productive if we move through the material together as much as possible. I reserve the option to close comments after a week, so that we keep moving forward and focus on the discussion for the most current reading/listening. However, if you get behind, you should feel free to jump back in later in the semester.
  5. There will be an optional chat discussion once a week. We’ll figure out the format (iChat, AIM, Google chat, etc) and the day and time once I know who is interested.

Who’s interested?

UPDATE: There is now a page (see tab in the blue bar above) for the “Gödel, Escher, Bach” Course Schedule. This page has the reading and listening schedule and links to MP3 files for the music referenced. The dates listed are for when the discussion on the reading/listening will commence (so be prepared ahead of time). If you cannot keep up with the full schedule, you are welcome to participate in whatever chapters you are able to prepare for.

Another resource: MIT’s Highlights for High School recorded six lectures from a summer course (2007): Gödel, Escher, Bach: A Mental Space Odyssey. A good overview of the main concepts in the book. You need RealPlayer to view the one-hour lectures.