The Dragon’s Loyalty Award

how_to_train_your_dragon_toothlessI’ve been nominated for these blogger award thingy’s before and admittedly, while I’ve graciously accepted them, I haven’t taken the time to follow through on all the things you have to do… you know… tell friends, thank your nominator, climb Mount Everest, drink a gallon of chocolate milk, etc.

Is it because I have bad manners? No. I save those for the bedroom. Mostly it’s because I am terribly short of time and would rather spend what time I do have on writing more blogs and drinking beer. However, this occasion is different because I think we can have a little fun with this one.

Dr. Evil finger in mouth

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the WordPress blogosphere and these blogger awards, here’s how it works:

You get nominated by some random stranger (usually a fellow blogger) for a totally made-up award that comes with ABSOLUTELY no monetary compensation: in this case, the Dragon’s Loyalty Award. In fact, it comes with no compensation whatsoever. Not even a badge or a ribbon.

What’s the point of such an exercise? These awards are the blogging equivalent of a Mexican wave of credit and recognition. One person nominates you because you’re awesome and you repay them by thanking them and nominating 15 of your own favourite blogs. You pay it forward just like Haley Joel Osment who is weirdly fat and hairy these days.

Haley Joel Osment as a grown-upAll of this is finished off by answering some questions or presenting some facts about yourself, as if anyone cares. To be honest, it was this part of it all that really sealed the deal. I’ve been writing this blog for over 18 months now and I liked that the Dragon’s Loyalty Award presented me the opportunity to tell you, my wonderful readers, a little more about the human being behind Why? Because Science.

So, without further ado, let’s get kraken!!

Kraken attacking boatI’d Like to Thank…

An Opinionated World for this nomination.  

And the Nominees Are…

RIGHT! It’s that time of the evening! Who do I regard as deserved of this play-play award?

  1. Seemed Like Good Science: http://seemedlikegoodscience.com – because Christopher Reeve is one of the best humans I have met and he writes like a veritable god. Also, he shares his name with the original Superman.
  1. Jimmy Eat World: http://jimmyeatsworld.com – for those who want to live vicariously through someone else’s spectacular travel adventures. Jimmy is also a SERIOUSLY talented photographer.
  1. 27b/6: http://www.27bslash6.com/missy.html – because the author makes me Laugh Out Loud in an unladylike manner.
  1. Cristian Mihai: http://cristianmihai.net/2014/02/07/help-make-it-happen/ – because we could all learn something from a writer with close to 60,000 followers.
  1. Precarious Climate: http://precariousclimate.com/2014/02/02/great-barren-reef-dredging-coal-exports/ – for the latest and greatest on climate change and global environmental outrage (not for those with high blood pressure).

11 Things You Might Not Have Known About the Author of Why? Because Science

Thea Beckman and Miss Carr
Science writer by day, Britney Shameless by night,
My good Aussie mate on the left; and that’s me on the right.
  1. I’m a girl. You’d be shocked by how many people assume I’m a dude.
  2. I love clouds, stars, birds and weather. It’s a miracle I don’t walk into more lampposts and road signs.
  3. I hate it when people leave the tap running when brushing their teeth or washing their face.
  4. I love cats. I would own 10 if they didn’t do things like poop and require feeding.
  5. I am a tumbleweed. I absolutely love travelling.
  6. I think Mila Kunis is arguably one of the fittest of human specimens on the planet. Her and my current girlfriend. Here’s hoping this won’t require editing in the next few months.
  7. I believe there’s nothing a good glass of red wine can’t solve. Now, imagine what you can do with a bottle!
  8. I find people with poor oral hygiene gross.
  9. I am a total sucker for love songs. Squishy, cheesy, toe-crinkly love songs.
  10. Guilty pleasure: bubble wrap and dubstep music. And white cheddar popcorn.
  11. I am in love with science writing. THAT you already knew.

Your Questions Answered…

  1. What’s your favorite game of all time? Not your second or third favorite but your favorite game ever.

7 minutes in heaven.

Oh you meant COMPUTER game? Of course you did. You’re a total nerd.

Quake. Because I like turning zombies into chunky kibbles.

  1. Where was your favorite place to go as a child?

The dank, fragrant pine forests on the slopes of the mountain I grew up on. We called the forest “Terabithia” after the novel by Katherine Paterson.

  1. Who do you look up to the most in life?

My brother. He’s really tall.

Thomas Beckman
… and handsome 😉
  1. What’s your dream? Doctor, Lawyer, Serial Killer, Etc…

You caught me on a good day! Last night’s dream was particularly entertaining. It involved a shower and an aesthetically pleasing human being. In terms of life goals, I want to be a science writer and I want to be happy, both of which I have achieved. I’m now working on the becoming stinking rich part…

  1. Have you ever farted in the middle of a crowd of people and blamed it on someone else? Be honest people…

I’m a girl. Girls don’t fart.

Shocked man

  1. Name 5 things you want to do before you die. 
  1. See the aurora lights
  2. Publish a book that is well received
  3. See the Grand Canyon
  4. Mila Kunis
  5. Be happy in love (check!)
  1. Who’s your favorite Author?

Bryce Courtenay, Sarah Waters, Wilbur Smith, John Irving, Terry Pratchett, Steven King, Haruki Murakami, James Herbert, Neil Gaiman, your mother.

  1. What’s your favorite comic book series?

I may be a nerd, but I draw the line at comic books.

  1. If you could have any super power what would it be? Would you use your powers for good, or evil?

telekinesis-mind

I’d choose telekinesis because:

(1)  You could keep your talent subtle enough to avoid too much attention. If you’ve ever watched X-men you’ll know that humans with special powers get branded “mutants” and are shunned by society.

(2)  It’s two-for-the-price-of-one: If I wanted to fly, I could simply move myself through the air.

(3)  I’d never have to get up for the remote control again.

I suspect that I’d use my powers for fairly benign means… I might try to impress the odd person and make a disgusting amount of money out of it. But two out of the seven deadly sins isn’t bad.

  1. Imagine yourself in Fallout 3, what would you do?

Whoever wrote these questions is a nerd.

  1. How tall are you? 

5 ft. 10 and I make every inch count!

Thea Beckman

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Science Experiment

Today, I came across this particularly intriguing picture during my online meanderings…

What are your origins?

My first instinct would be to discredit such a seemingly whimsical correlation between toe arrangement and genetic heritage. That was until I looked at my own toes (because sometimes you need reminding) and saw that they matched # 3. My roots are Greek? And here I was thinking that having a longer second toe makes you an excellent lover, or gay, or a Nazi. Two out of three isn’t bad…

While I am unaware of any immediate Greek lineage, my grandfather did hail from Czechoslovakia (back in the day when it was still called Czechoslovakia). I also have a nose that would be the envy of any Roman emperor and my features are distinctly East European (thank you, dad). Between all the “Europe” going on in there, it might be possible that my heritage is Greek. It’s a long shot, I know.

So, in an effort to test whether this correlation – as provided by KuvatON.com – is indeed accurate in any way or form, I encourage you all to look at your toes and see, having somewhat of a decent understanding of your lineage, whether it works for you. I then want you to comment and say “yes it correlates perfectly”, “no, it’s a steaming pile of bullshit”, or “maybe – it’s possible” as my answer was. If you don’t know what your lineage is at all, then don’t be a troll and try to partake.

This is just for fun, although an interesting/funny comment could land itself on my “Creme de la Comments” page. With enough of your feedback, we should be able to lend credence to or totally BUST this hypothesis. And you can have the satisfaction of knowing that you partook in a real science experiment (sort of).

Results are up! Take a look HERE

Funny President Abraham Lincoln

The Enquiring Mind: A Species on the Brink of Extinction

I feel quite precious about my BSc degree. I studied three long hard years to earn that rolled up piece of paper with its gold badge and blue stripe. And I did it all by wading through knee-buckling and mind-bending numbers of equations, published journals, scientific textbooks, physics lab sessions and titration kits. Every day, I was convinced by my subject matter that I was too stupid to study science and would, whilst walking between lectures, enviously glance over at the drama, film and media students playing guitar on the lawns outside the Arts Building on UCT’s Upper Campus. Look at them sipping R6 coffee, letting the fierce Cape Town sun burn off their whiskey hangovers; all of them looking super skinny and wearing clothing that was considered hip in the 60’s.

Typical habitat of the UCT hipster. Social structure: gregarious. Diet: yes. Activities: avoiding trends, political inactivism, bowl haircuts and wearing non-prescription eye-glasses (when it’s hot, without lenses)

Scientists Say: “Sciencey, Sciencey, Science, Science…”

Most of what the layperson knows about science has been hand delivered to them by the media. By the very people that wore non-prescription eye-glasses at university and smoked pipes (the Sherlock Holmes variety), while plucking thoughtfully at the braces redundantly holding their excessively tight-fitting skinny jeans up. I am mercifully stereotyping here, I know that. So let’s get serious… the headlines you read are almost always written by people who studied sociology, psychology, literature, journalism, film and media. Not the people that spent three, four, six or more years becoming trained in the ways of rigorous scientific study and reporting. This isn’t necessarily a BAD thing…

ANYONE can understand science. Science shouldn’t BE this intangible and untouchable fortress of knowledge that only the highly educated elite are allowed to enter. Science is the study of all the observable, measurable and physical things around us. It explains why the sky is blue, how diamonds are made, where babies come from and what the aurora borealis is. All it really takes to become a practitioner of science is an enquiring mind and a strict adherence to the scientific method, which is essentially the set of rules governing how you go about proving something… anything, really.

Now the two points I have made above may seem to stand in stark contrast with each other. Surely, if we should all actively try to understand and engage with science, the media should be more than encouraged to report on it. But this is actually where the problem arises. It’s in the delivery of messages that are geared to impress, shock, attention-grab and intimidate. Large black-and-white statistics that no one REALLY understands, but sound impressive anyway, thrust their way visually at us from news and magazine stands. A thumb-sucked example would be:

72% of ALL South Africans Have Herpes!

I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember answering any national surveys about my HPV-status, which immediately makes that statistic redundant. If you haven’t tested every single South African, then you can’t say that 72% of ALL South Africans have The Herp. You may go as far as saying that surveys of 1,000 university students reveal that the vast majority are clearly showing no discrimination in who they play tonsil hockey with.

You have to be so careful when publishing the results of controlled scientific trials, studies and research. More importantly, YOU – the reader – have to be so careful when reading what the media has to say about these studies. In an effort to craft headlines that sell, the media takes the results of years of careful measurement and data analysis and interprets them in a way that will sell their product. There are two fundamental problems with this:

1. The true findings of the scientific study and their greater application to our knowledge base is almost always lost in translation

2. It creates a massive divide between the layperson and the entire discipline of science.

Reporters throw around big, impressive and authoritative words and phrases, such as “results of a scientific study”, “scientists say”, “scientists prove”, “according to scientific evidence”, etc. And the result is that our enquiring minds have been left on the very brink of extinction.

Class Dismissed: Your Take-Home Message

It’s such a pity that people feel so disconnected from science and from an understanding of the world around us. What is even more of a pity is that we just accept the statistical fodder thrust at us. “Whoa! I’d better start eating more avocados! According to the health section in the You Magazine, it reduces varicose veins by 69%!

Side note: I’m totally thumb-sucking here, but in the past, You Magazine has used the health section to provide some wild-sounding statistics relating to food and nutrition. They seem to have cleaned up their act as far as science reporting is concerned.

By the way, I ONLY buy You Magazine for the crossword puzzles!

…and maybe to collect pictures of Justin Bieber. What?

Do yourself a favour. The next time someone says: “According to scientists” or “Scientists say” ask them: “Oh? In which peer-reviewed journal was that published? And what methodology was followed when they tested the efficacy of avocado in reducing the appearance of varicose veins?”

Be a little more critical of the ‘sciencey’ information people, companies and brand names use to convince you to subscribe to their beliefs, products or services. Find out the facts for yourself. Ask why? How? Revive your enquiring mind! Bring it screaming back from the edge of the gaping chasm of blind acceptance. Not only will it make you sound incredibly intelligent, but you will actually BE more intelligent.

Although that may not go down well with your hipster friends.

Newton’s Laws of Motion and the Pedestrians of Woodstock Main Road

Science education in this country is appalling. Clearly, from the lay person’s complete contempt for the fundamental work of Sir Isaac Newton, mechanical physicist extraordinaire. But before I drop any bigger and more incomprehensible words like ‘incomprehensible,’ let’s shut our eyes and take a visual journey down Woodstock Main Road.

You may want to open them again. You know, to read on…

Woodstock Main Road: A Visual Journey Through an Historic Suburb

Woodstock Main Road is a hubbub of activity. Furniture stores (of the used variety), clothing stores (of the hand-me-down variety), shoe shops (of the sweat-shop produced variety) and antique shops (of the I-got-screwed-in-my-grandmother’s-will variety) line both sides of this well-travelled route through one of Cape Town’s most historic suburbs. Woodstock is a fantastic place to live, if, of course, the lock on your gate on your 3-metre high industrial steel electrified fence is working. It has a real vibrancy about it, with its red brick-faced buildings, colourful graffiti, the pervasive smell of KFC, open air fruit and vegetable stands, incessant hooting and blood curdling cries of Caaype Teeeeeaaaawwwn!! If Cape Town was a flesh-and-blood organ, Woodstock Main Road would be a pulsating artery complete with white and black blood cells.

As with any congested roadway in Cape Town, your average code B licensed vehicle driver has quite a challenge on his or her hands. Taxis regularly risk people’s lives getting them to and from work every day, while bus drivers exploit the incredible size of their vehicles and low wage rage to literally intimidate other cars off the road. But it’s not the irresponsible bus drivers that make me want to pull a 12-guage shot gun out from under my car seat. It’s not the taxi drivers that make me wish I could explode their engines with bolts of pure energy from my eyes (okay, maybe a little…)

No. It’s the pedestrians of Woodstock Main Road and their sheer lack of respect for Newton’s Three Laws of Motion that really make me homicidal. Try it. I dare you. Try and drive the length of Woodstock Main Road without having at least three cardiac arrests. People… just… walk. They don’t care. They just walk across the road without looking. There have been at least 27 occasions that I have wanted to slam my foot down (oops officer, sorry, wrong pedal!) and mow down a pedestrian who, in a demonstration of complete faith reminiscent of Indiana Jones walking across that invisible bridge in The Last Crusade, just crosses the road without looking. And they don’t walk… they stroll. They epitomize the meaning of the word ‘perambulate’:

“Let’s take a leisurely perambulation across this busy road, Geraldine.”

“Why yes Ashwell, I think I could do with a leisurely perambulation across this busy road after that rather rich lunch of vis en slap tjips!”

South Africa: A Country Crying Out for Physics Education

As I said, there have been at least 27 occasions on which I’ve wanted to make chunky kibbles out of the special breed of idiot that perambulates across Woodstock Main Road. But then, on the 28th occasion, or 29th (who’s counting?), I came to a blinding realisation… a revelation of neutron star gravity.

Science education in this country sucks. Clearly.

These people know NOTHING of Newton’s Three Laws of Motion. Of course! Why didn’t I see this before? If they had any idea what a 1,000 kg body travelling at 60km/hr was capable of doing to an essentially stationary 80 kg body, they would probably look both ways before illegally strolling across the road. They would actually probably look left and then right AND THEN LEFT AGAIN, if they knew what kind of party those opposing forces would throw right there in the middle of the road. There would be doef-doef music. And red streamers.

So, in order to remedy this situation and to allow minibus taxis to regain the title of “Most Hateful Moving Object on the Road,” I have decided to explain to Cape Town exactly what Newton’s Three Laws of Motion are in a way that you all will most definitely understand.

Newton’s Three Laws of Motion Demystified

The Surprisingly Sexy Sir Isaac Newton

Sir Isaac Newton was a physicist who pioneered the field of mechanical physics. He took the whole idea of motion, of movement, and put words and equations to it. And he did this by coming up with three iron-clad rules: three immutable laws that would forevermore govern motion, not just on this planet, but (insofar as we can tell) in the entire Universe. Wherever you are in the world, or indeed the galaxy, you can be sure that these rules will apply to you. If you don’t believe me, run in front of a bus in Italy. Repeat on Jupiter.

Sucks every time.

Newton’s First Law:

[In fancy speak: Every object continues in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a straight line, unless compelled to change that state by external forces acted upon it.]

In South African English: If I’m travelling down Woodstock Main road at a constant speed, I will continue to do so unless a taxi T-bones me (see Fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Series of Scientific Diagrams Demonstrating Newton’s First Law of Motion

Newton’s Second Law:

[In fancy speak: The acceleration of a body (a) is directly proportional to the net force (F) acting on it and inversely proportional to the mass (m) of the body. I.e. F = m.a]

In South African English: The force (F) my car would exert upon you, the pedestrian, can be calculated by multiplying the mass of my car by my acceleration. Conversely, the acceleration of your body through the air when I hit you with my car can be calculated by dividing the force my car exerts on you by your mass (see image 2).

In plainer South African English: My car would bliksem you to pieces, broo!

Fig. 2: Series of Scientific Diagrams Demonstrating Newton’s Second Law of Motion

Newton’s Third Law

[In fancy speak: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.]

In South African English: If I hit you with my car, you will exert a force on my car just as my car would exert a force on you. But, according to Newton’s Second Law of Motion, my car would win (refer to image 2).

Class Dismissed: Your Take-Home Message

These are the three immutable laws of physical motion. Remember them well the next time you think a belligerent stare will be sufficient to slow down my car. Remember that the next time you make me burn rubber or swerve into oncoming traffic to avoid manslaughter charges.

Please people, let’s give the minibus taxi back its rightful title as “Most Hateful Moving Object on the Road” and look both ways next time you leisurely perambulate across a busy road.