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Gravity, how does it work? November 20, 2014

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Just a quick post for today.  Darn gravity, always making things fall.


Pizza Printers- in space! March 22, 2014

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Pizza Printers- in space!

3d printers aren’t just for plastics anymore- NASA is using them to make pizza now!  That’s not all, too- elsewhere on the internet you can find 3d printed pasta, meats, and candies of almost every variety imaginable.  http://3dprintingindustry.com/food/  is a particularly handy resource if you want to keep up to date on all the news that’s fit to eat.

So we can make foods of all different varieties now.  It looks like we only need to discover technology to convert raw energy into the compounds needed for printing, and we’ll have perfected Replicator technology.  Star Trek, here we come!

A Fight with Euclid August 27, 2013

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A Fight with Euclid

Another quarrel settled,

Another proven fact.

But it seems our old friend Euclid

Should try to learn some tact.

Insta-slushie! August 7, 2013

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Sure is hot, huh?  (Depending on where you live and when you read this, this could be completely inaccurate, but pretend I’m being ironic.)  I’d love to have a slushie, but all I have is this massive supply of lukewarm caffeinated beverages…  But wait!  The King of Random is here to bring us slushies that are still better for you than what they serve at most summer camps!

Math Education: What is the problem, and how do we fix it? July 5, 2013

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I recently returned from the Hillsdale College Summer Science camp.  The classes were phenomenal and I learned a lot, but the most interesting part of the trip for me personally was hearing the diverse range of opinions from the students hailing from all over the country.  While many agreed that Math education in its current form is failing, solutions ranged from “we need to start Algebra sooner, to devote more time to learning concepts and ideas over formulas” to “we need more drilling, starting in first + second grade, to build stronger fundamentals”.  Our TA, a recent grad of Hillsdale, had other ideas.  She believed that the problem was much more fundamental than that- teachers who don’t like math or don’t want to teach it- or both- are creating kids who don’t want to learn math.

Personally, although I do believe the math curriculum does need a good deal of revision (in favor of less repetition and a less rigid progression between topics), I find this take to be a very interesting one.  A good teacher, for me at least, has always been the difference between a boring math class and an excellent one.  Teachers who have a real passion for the subject are important in every field, but perhaps more so in math than anywhere else.  Teacher reeducation could very well be the beginning of a solution to our failing school system.  Of course, we don’t have enough teachers to begin with, and they are generally being paid too little… but that’s another story.

Mole Rats: The Anti-Cancer June 21, 2013

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Mole Rats: The Anti-Cancer

I saw this on facebook, and I had to check it out some more.  This is a really interesting breakthrough- while it’s not exactly a cure for cancer, the idea of a chemical that prevents the cancer in the first place is amazing.  Who would have thought we’d find it in the fat of a mole rat?

I’d really like to hear some more details here, but it sounds as though it can prevent the spread of cancer entirely.  This is pretty amazing stuff, and I look forward to seeing how scientists find a way to use this chemical without just pumping mole rat fat (say that three times fast…) straight into patients.

Minecraft for Dummies! April 13, 2013

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I haven’t even started writing yet and a lot of you probably already have several questions, so I’ll try to make this article a bit smoother by answering those first.

1.  What the heck is a Minecraft?
  Minecraft is an extremely popular ‘sandbox’ or open world game, developed starting in 2010 by a small company in Sweden called Mojang.  The game quickly grew to a massive player base, with new content being released constantly in the form of free updates.  Modifications or just mods can be added to the game in the form of user-created content thanks to the game’s open-source code.  The game itself seems quite rudimentary at first, featuring a grassy, natural looking world made entirely out of giant pixels.  As my father frequently tells me, “we didn’t suffer through Pong so you could play games with bad graphics too”, but worry not- texture packs and HD patchers can greatly improve the graphics quality (assuming your computer is good enough- Minecraft is surprisingly heavy on the ol’ CPU!).  But I’m not going to tell you how to play the game- that’s why you should buy the book.

2. What does this have to do with STEM?
  This is a very good point, but I argue that Minecraft serves a large purpose as an educational tool.  Young kids naturally gravitate to the simplistic look and feel of the game as well as the open-endedness, while many adults participate in more challenging modes of play, creating devices using an in-game logic system, designing customized maps for others to play, modifying the game code for a different experience, or even adding rules and restrictions to create a competitive mode to play with friends.  Minecraft has an appeal to an incredible range of age groups, and that’s what makes it such an amazing educational tool.
The first step (for me at least) in teaching anyone anything is cooperation.  If the kids don’t want to learn, they won’t.  You can’t force learning.  I’ve heard some amazing stories of Minecraft being used to teach elementary school students and kids with learning disabilities (especially autism), by showing them to work together and share resources to survive as a group.  Moreover, some of the finer mechanics of the game can be used to teach Math (What’s the most efficient use of my iron?  How can I get the most emeralds from this villager?) and programming (a good friend of mine learned computer logic at a summer camp using the in-game circuitry), as well as interpersonal skills, teamwork, and business (alright, that might be a stretch, but those villagers are vicious negotiators).

Sadly, many middle schools have started blocking Minecraft from their desktops, laptops, and wifi.  Stories are constantly flying around the news about children cutting class or skipping homework to play Minecraft, and honestly I find the response of removing access to the game absurd.  The only way to change a child’s focus is cooperation, again- if a child plays a game instead of working, removing that game accomplishes nothing besides forcing the child to find a new game, and makes the student even less interested in cooperating with the school.  Remove Minecraft from the wifi, and kids will play on LAN networks.  Remove it from the desktops, kids will play at home.  Remove it from their laptops, you’re now infringing on their privacy and they’ll STILL find some way to play the game.  Seriously, there’s worse things a middle school student could be doing outside of class anyway.  Let’s not go there.

So: Minecraft for Dummies!  Everything you need to know about this game.  And I mean basically everything.  Those 4 paragraphs you just read up there?  Jacob probably covered all of that somewhere in the book with some citations and places to read more.  Minecraft for Dummies will walk you through getting started, teach you everything you could possibly want to know, teach you how to make your own creations, how to mod the game for even MORE content, and then give you a plate of cookies and a hot cocoa and ask you not to be a stranger on your way out.  There’s really not all that much I can say about the Dummies book that the book itself doesn’t say.  I’ve been playing the game for about 3 years now (I received a gift copy just before the game entered Beta, and was playing the free Classic mode long before that) and I still learned things I didn’t know about the game when I read this.  The book is current to version 1.4.5, but Jacob provides links to online articles containing information on updates and other things that didn’t make it into the game (what a bro)!

The book itself is only about $5, and a copy of Minecraft is just about $25.  That’s probably the best $30 you’ll ever spend.  Buy copies for your family!  Buy copies for your friends!  The game is a thousand times better in multiplayer and no I’m not getting paid by Mojang what makes you say that.
In all seriousness, buy the game.  Play it with your siblings, play it with your kids, play it with your friends.  Just don’t play it in Math class, please, unless you’re working with Redstone that day.

Udacity March 1, 2013

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I took a trip to San Jose over the weekend (strictly business, I assure you) and had the privilege to take a tour of the Udacity offices.  Now, if a nice office is a sign of a successful company, these guys clearly have it made, because that was one of the coolest offices I have ever seen.  They have a fully stocked home kitchen, in office, so their employees can participate in RECREATIONAL COOKING!  They have NERF GUN FIGHTS during LUNCH BREAK!  I will upload some pictures later of the AMAZING PLUSH UNICORN!

…Ahem.  As to their actual company, they offer free educational courses that are all pretty amazing, taught by Stanford professors, the founder of Reddit, and some other guys too I’m sure.  Their lessons are all content-focused, not lecture-focused, so they have a policy that “no single lecture is over 5 minutes long”.  Hallelujah, I say, as I watch my two hour SAT prep video.  AND THEY WERE FOUNDED BY A GOOGLE VP SO THE OFFICE IS AMAZING THIS IS MY DREAM JOB

Udacity also offers paid classes, for AP and thus college credit, but these are still much MUCH cheaper than just about any college class you can find.  Their subjects vary all over the STEM fields, focusing primarily on Computer Science and Mathematics with a side of Physics.  I plan on taking one or two of these classes myself, over this summer.  It’s worth a look!  And their office is basically the coolest thing ever, agh I’m super jealous.

Neon Flying Squid February 19, 2013

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Need I say more?  With the official discovery of the giant squid in the fairly recent past, squid appear to be taking the Pacific by storm.  When the invasion begins, you can find me somewhere in the middle of Kansas, avoiding water like the plague.  I’m told that squid can’t take over your mind by wrapping themselves around your head, but I’m pretty sure it’s just a conspiracy spread by the squid-controlled government.   FIGHT THE POWER!

Colors for the Colorblind February 12, 2013

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A breakthrough in a US laboratory has produced these amazing glasses, which, while stylish, serve to reduce the effects of colorblindness on men with red-green colorblindness.  By enhancing the differences between red and green, colorblind people can enjoy art and color more, although the glasses are far from perfect, so they aren’t yet practical to wear all the time.  This is still an amazing use of technology to prevent a long-standing problem (it’s difficult to make art or equipment that anyone can understand easily without the use of certain colors, and colorblindness is really common), and I’m glad to see some progress being made in this field.

I also kind of want sunglasses with purple lenses because they look super cool.