Category Archives: Science

How Many Times has the World Ended?

I have a pretty cool graphic to share with you from OnlinePsychologyDegree.net. I know that URL might make you a bit skeptical, but it’s worth seeing. It’s pretty cool.

As you know I scoff at all the end-times predictions out there, mostly because they are always based on very silly ideas. This graphic makes it abundantly clear I’m right to feel that way. Fool me once and all that. I do have to say I’d be interested to hear just how many times in Western history the end of the world has been widely predicted and believed.

Please Include Attribution to OnlinePsychologyDegree.net With This GraphicEnd of the World Infographic

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Stay Away from Floodwater: Why I’m upset about Sandy

I am terribly far behind on my challenge, but instead of specifically writing a challenge post, I wanted to write about something that has been bothering me for a while.

It concerns the events surrounding Hurricane Sandy.

I live in the United States, considered by many to be one of the most technologically advanced countries in the nation. There is only one reason that any person living in this country should have died in that storm – that reason is stupidity.

But that is not the only reason people died in and after Sandy. That makes me angry. Very, very angry.

In the last ten years of my life – the years I have been aware of what is going on around me – we have watched any number of disasters cause far too many deaths. Most of these disasters struck with little to no warning. Tsunamis, for example, are usually unpredictable. Seismologists and geologists (and whoever else) studying earthquakes are working to find more reliable ways to predict those disasters, but progress isn’t as fast as we all wish it could be. Weather prediction, on the other hand, is quite advanced. We may not be able to say with exactitude where a hurricane will make landfall days before it happens, but we can approximate the time of landfall and the general area. We can predict days ahead of time that a hurricane will develop, and we can say with almost complete certainty that it will hit one area or another.

We can estimate storm surge and its effects. We can say with near certainty what areas will experience flooding days ahead of time.¬†There was plenty of time to communicate and heed the evacuation warnings for Sandy. Plenty of time for officials to make certain everyone would heed their warning except perhaps a few exceptionally stupid people, but it seems to me that officials didn’t work hard enough. I’m not blaming the deaths on officials, but rather on the anti-science bias of the American public and the clearly inadequate SOPs that led to people staying in places that should have been completely evacuated and to inept responses after the storm.

Getting on the television and telling people to leave their homes and stuff behind was and is not enough, particularly in areas unused to disastrous storms. If you tell an American living in tornado alley that there is a tornado touching down and they need to find shelter, they will find shelter. If you tell someone living in the flood plains of a major river like the Mississippi or Minnesota to leave his or her home because that river is on the verge of flooding, they will nearly always leave their home*. When a damn breached in Iowa in 2010 and residents of the area nearby had only minutes to evacuate, no injuries were reported. Minutes. Why do these people listen to warnings and heed evacuation notices? Because they have seen on a somewhat regular basis the effects  flooding or high winds can have. Talk to a Californian about earthquakes Рmany will tell you that if they had advance warning of an earthquake, they would absolutely heed it.

I grew up near the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers. I grew up being told over and over again how dangerous floodwater is. To stay away from flood waters, even if it looks shallow, even if it looks like just an inch. Don’t ever try driving through even what looks like a small amount of water. I grew up watching clips of the very few people that don’t heed these warnings and discovering that I actually like being safe and alive. People who live in or near flood-prone areas better know what can happen when you ignore evacuation orders. We don’t worry about the possibility that officials are basically crying wolf.

I think in a lot of cases, the people of New York City and New Jersey that got caught in floodwater lacked that type of knowledge. I take for granted that everyone around me knows to stay away from flooding and to heed evacuation or emergency orders. When people here hear of a single person or family that tried to ride out a flood or just flatly refused to leave their home, we have a hard time feeling sympathy for them. We all understand how attached people get to homes and things, but in the end your home and your things aren’t going to come through the storm any better off just because you stay, and in staying you are a lot more likely to lose the most valuable thing of all – your life.

In places where floods and high-winds or other major hard-to-predict disasters are not a common occurrence, though, maybe people just don’t realize what they risk by ignoring warnings. That makes for a situation in which community leaders and officials need to get out the word about evacuations by doing more than just going on television. Whether that means going door to door or what, I don’t know. All I know is that it is shameful that in the year 2012 in the United States of America a hurricane predicted days ahead of time was able to take so many lives in one of the most developed areas of one of the most developed countries in the world.

*remember my stupidity exemption?

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CONvergence: An overview – I swear some meatier posts are coming your way!

I know how jealous you all are that I went to CONvergence this past weekend,* and I want to share more about the con with you.

I’ll start off with a run down of my activities. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t use any mind-altering substances (unless you count caffeine, and I use that sparingly) so the late evening events at CONvergence were not particularly interesting to me. My primary interest were the many, many panels. The panels were made up of between 4 and 7 people; usually each panelist shared something and once every panelist had a chance to speak they took audience questions.

I skipped Thursday evening because it was my grandpa’s birthday. I don’t think I missed much, but I was definitely disappointed that I had to miss the early programming on Friday because of work. But, you know, money.

Friday evening after work I lazily made my way over to the hotel, which is 15 minutes on non-freeway roads from my house. I just want to say that I love when I’m familiar with an area and don’t feel stuck on main roads/freeways. A smartphone is not a substitute for this.

After eventually finding registration, which was obscurely located, I discovered my badge aid “Felicia” instead of “Amanda.” No big deal – I bought a discount ticket a few weeks ago and the registration was transferred. Obviously the badge had already been made. The look on the volunteer’s face (who was getting my badge for me) was priceless. He actually said, “I’m not crazy…” It was fun.

Here’s something I don’t recommend: going to a convention alone. I felt mildly awkward. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all grown up and I can handle being on my own (probably better than a lot of people, actually). It simply would have been nice to have someone to people-watch with and make snarky comments to. Yay snark!

I caught the tail end of Ask a Scientist (as billed in the program guide: Brianne Bilyeau, Lori Fischer, Matt Kuchta, Matt Lowry, Miriam Krause, Robert Smith?) where I saw a delightful Doctor Who costume. Unfortunately Mr. Fake Doctor spoke and the illusion broke. His fake British accent was just too fake. It sucked, actually. Even so, he was definitely a David Tenant doppleganger.

After an oddly timed break ostensibly for dinner during which I watched part of Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett), I went to Wonder Women of the Whedonverse (some of my favorite panelists of the weekend – Mark Goldberg, Miriam Krause, Tim Liebe, Will Shetterly, Windy Bowlsby) because I love Joss Whedon.

I was slightly surprised at how well I fit in with some of the other attendees. The guest of honor was even Tamora Pierce – I was almost obsessed with her books at one point. Still, I didn’t reveal my secret – that I’ve never seen Star Wars and I’ve only watched part of one of the Lord of the Rings movies. Still, I loved Xena: Warrior Princess as a kid, read some books that fit into the whole sci-fi/fantasy thing, and I love Doctor Who and Joss Whedon though both of those are relatively new interests.

I seem to be babbling. I swear I’m about to wrap this up…

After Whedon, I decided to take notes on the panels for my lovely readers’ sake! That’s right, I was thinking of you. Feel special. I attended The Physiology of Drugs and Alcohol (Bruce Miller, Natalie Reed, PZ Myers, Maggie Koerth Baker, Anne Sauer) on Friday night**. I had planned to attend Evolution and the Female Orgasm, but got stuck in a conversation with the Freethought Blogger who writes Camels With Hammers. Thank goodness his name (Dan Fincke) is on his blog, or I’d be caught having no idea what his name is. People mumble a lot.

After a long conversation, I came to the realization that it was that time of night when everyone who is drinking has become affected by the alcohol. I left to return the next day.

On Saturday I attended (slightly late…) Alien Evolution (PZ Myers, Bug Girl, Emily Finke, Greg Laden, Lori Fischer) at 9:30am followed by Mutants! (PZ Myers, Bug Girl, Greg Laden, Lori Fischer) at 11am (regretted that decision – should’ve attended The Physics of Super Fashion). I skipped a session to go home and eat, then returned for Women in Science and Technology (Amanda Little, Maggie Koerth Baker, Emily Finke, Brianne Bilyeau, Maria Walters, I may be missing someone) followed by The Science of Evolution (Greg Laden, PZ Myers, Bug Girl, Matt Kuchta). The next session was disappointing – I had to decide between three choices: Minnesota Women Filmmakers, Matt Smith continued (Doctor Who), and Ancient Alien Debate. I went to the first of these, but left after 15 minutes. Then I went to Matt Smith, and I was so bored and annoyed after 15 minutes that I went home again. Despite having no interest in the remaining programming on Saturday night, I went back to socialize (gasp!). In a strange turn of events, I actually felt like a conversation queen. It was almost as if people (okay, they were all guys) were lined up to talk to me. I even got asked what my favorite geekdom was. XD

Sunday I woke up to go to Invisible Superheroes (Rebecca Watson, PZ Myers, Heina Dadabhoy, Laura Okagaki) followed by the Future of Libraries.

After that I went kayaking because I couldn’t resist the awesome weather after that awful heat wave last week.

Quick take-aways: fuzzy dinosaurs are awesome and real, PZ Myers loves to talk, Rebecca Watson is just as awesome in person as you imagine her to be from what she writes.

*Yes, that’s sarcastic, although some of you may actually be a little envious.

** We already know I’m a bit of an odd duck when it comes to my weekend activities. Shouldn’t surprise you that I enjoy learning about the physiology of addiction and alcohol use more than I enjoy watching drunk people act, well, drunk.

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Donate Blood! No seriously. Do it.

I’ve decided to write a post in honor of the fact that I donated blood today.

The first thing I’d like to say is, if you can, go donate blood! According to the Red Cross supplies are down across the US (Google Red Cross blood supply low or read here).

According to the Red Cross, the current shortage leaves about half the readily available blood supply on hand compared with this time last year.

Donating blood can save up to three lives (according to anywhere you go donate blood… I hope it’s true, but at the very least I know it can save one life).

The second thing I would like to say is, isn’t it time we remove restrictions on homosexual men donating? Not being a homosexual male, I have no idea if they actually refuse to allow you to donate if you admit to having had sex with another male. If they do refuse your donation, that’s ridiculous. I thought we got over the whole calling AIDS “gay men’s disease.” Maybe I’ve been lied to in school, but I was also under the impression that gay men are no more likely at the present time to become HIV positive than other groups. Feel free to correct me if I’m actually wrong, but include a link.

I realize the questions are about gauging risk. They ask you if you’ve ever had malaria or come into contact with someone who has had the smallpox vaccine (how the heck should I know? Do they all wear signs on their necks?). I just don’t understand how this question helps, and I do see how it hurts.

Does it bug other people that whether or not a male has had sex with another male is a qualifier for blood donation? Any gay or bisexual men out there willing to tell me whether or not you’ve donated? Have you told the truth when asked that question and been allowed to donate? Have you lied?*

*As a general rule I think lying is bad, but, if you were unqualified to donate blood solely for the reason that you’ve had sex with someone you’re actually attracted to, I think lying might be all right.

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