Sunday, January 17, 2010

IIRotD: FreeRice

Another timesuck of a game that can have beneficial effects. FreeRice allows you to brush up on your vocabulary skills while donating rice to help end hunger. For every answer you get right 10 grains of rice are donated with the money produced by ads on the site. It doesn't seem like a lot, but it adds up and if you are just playing games anyway...

Anyway, the vocabulary section is rather good and they also have the option to switch to another catagory to help you learn about art, math, grammer, chemistry, and foreign language. So you learn, and someone else eats.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

IIRotD: Project Gutenberg

Project Gutenburg is an online repository of ebooks whose copyright has expired and therefore are avaliable for free. For those of you who have a ebook device or like to read them on your computer or phone/planner then this is a good way to save some money and read some classics. This is the U.S. site so if you live in another country you may want to look to see if there is a PG site avaliable to you.
Some of their selecions include:
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland- Lewis Carrol
  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn- Mark Twain
  • Ulysses- James Joyce
  • The Marvelous Land of Oz- L.Frank Baum
  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes- Sir Arther Conan Doyle
  • The War of the Worlds- H.G. Wells
  • Candide- Voltaire
  • Emma- Jane Austen

Friday, January 15, 2010

IIRotD: foldit

How much time do you spend wasting away your life playing point and click puzzle games on your computer? Do you ever get frustrated that you didn't do something constructive? Then foldit is for you.

This game allows you to help with important scientific research by folding interactive proteins. By collection the methods used by humans to fold proteins, it's possible that current protein folding programs can be made more efficently. Check out their FAQ and their About sections for more info. And if you are interested then download the game to your computer and start folding. Also, don't worry if you are a bit confused at first since the game starts you out with a tutorial and allows you to master one thing at a time before you start folding the more complex proteins.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

IIRotD: QualiaSoup-Youtube

The first of what will probably be many youtube channels to be added. There are some really great educational and entertaining videos on youtube that while maybe are not as good as reading a book...are at least more accessible to most people. Plus the time contraints on the videos mean that a lot more information gets packed into them unlike television specials which due to filling time allotments often end up having a lot of fluff!

Youtube user QualiaSoup has probably one of the most consistantly excellent channels of all my subscribtions, and seems to me to be one of the best for videos that deal with critical thinking. Updates don't happen often, but are usually regular, and unlike most channels the majority of these videos actually deal with the subject rather than the user, youtube drama, or pointless "debates". So check out his videos are marvel at their cleaness, their consisness, and the wonderful artwork. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Uses of Yeast I: What is Yeast

I thought I would start a series for an organism that is commonly used but relatively unknown to most people, and what better to highlight than yeast? I'll be following up this brief intro post with some of it's common uses.

What is yeast?

Yeasts are micro-organisms that are classified in the fungi kingdom. They are unicellular (have only one cell, while we have many), and reproduce asexually by budding (a new yeast cell grows out from the old one, and is smaller than the original). The most common of the yeasts (and by far the most studied) is Saccharomyces cerevisiae. In later posts this will be the yeast I am focusing on (unless I specify otherwise) for it's applications in research, food production, and industry. That's right, it's a busy little organism (and incredibly cute). So stay tuned for The Uses of Yeast!

IIRotD: Darwin Tunes

Darwin Tunes

Darwin tunes is an experiment designed to test the evolution of music. Small 15 sec loops are played and rated by volunteers, and those that do well reproduce. So what do we get when reproduction and selection? EVOLUTION!

The official experiment is over now, but you can still rate and listen as well as listen to archived medleys to see how the music has changed over time. Also, you are free to download and use these clips non-commercially. Some of the loops would be rather stunning used as background music for educational youtube vids and the like.

DarwinTunes medley at 500 generations by uncoolbob

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

IIRotD: Cosmos on Hulu

IIRotD: Interesting Internet Resource of the Day

The internet is a vast repository of knowledge. Unfortunately, it's so vast that sometime it's hard to find what it is you want to look at. I'll be posting some of my favorite sites, blogs, videos, ect. here just to share the wealth.

Carl Sagan's Cosmos on Hulu

Since I started out with a Sagan quote I thought I would go ahead and put this as the first IIRotD. Cosmos is a beautiful series and a stunning soundtrack from the 80's and quite possibly one of the most watched public television programs of all time. It covers...well to put it in the words of Douglas Adams "the life, the universe, and everything".

Like most science shows it has gotten kind of outdated, but many of the episodes have updates that were filmed 10 years later, and some of these even contain outdated information, but if you just wanted straight facts then you should just read a textbook. This series puts information in an easy to understand format, and more importantly discusses how science can influence everyday life. It also is one of the best shows I've seen that has been able to put into perspective the extremes of size, space, and time. It's definitely worth a watch even thirty years later.

If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.
- Carl Sagan, Cosmos

Meme, Genes, and BOOK KITTEH!

Not dead, just lazy. In an attempt to sort out things into nice and neat categories...well let's just say I failed. So in an attempt to get this started (and to prevent me from getting burned out again) I'm going to just go through things a few at a time in no particular order...and probably post some random stuff later as well. After all this isn't a class, and practical learning can be interesting.

What is a meme?

First off it rhymes with "gene", seriously!
While many people, at least those computer-savy enough to be reading this, know of internet memes such as lolcats and Chuck Norris facts very few seem to be aware of the word's origins.

The term "meme" was coined by biologist and author Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene .

"We need a name for the new replicator, a noun that conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation. 'Mimeme' comes from a suitable Greek root, but I want a monosyllable that sounds a bit like 'gene'. I hope my classicist friends will forgive me if I abbreviate mimeme to meme. If it is any consolation, it could alternatively be thought of as being related to 'memory', or to the French word meme. It should be pronounced to rhyme with 'cream'."
-Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene

Memes are a unit like watts or grams that is used to represent ideas that can be transferred between people. Like genes, memes can replicate through transmission through hosts and spread. Unlike genes however, memes are not constrained to spreading through biological means. A gene (for the most part) can only be transferred if it's host bears young. Memes however can be passed from person to person and can therefore spread through an entire population in no time at all. Memes that aren't very good at getting spread ultimately disappear and go extinct, but I'll go more in depth about selection in a later post.

Like genes, memes can change over time, but again memes can changer quicker and easier than genes. Anyone can easily add something or change a meme, but it's ability to stay around again depends how how well it's able to spread. For instant someone modified the lolcats meme to include ceiling cat and it has spread due to being repeated on the internet and being popular with it's hosts of internet users.

If I decide I want to make a book cat ("Book Kitteh!: Iz always nommin ur bookz!") the success of that as a meme depends on how well I am able to transmit it (how popular this blog becomes) as well as how likely people are to transmit it when they get it (an inherent part of the meme; kind of like a gage of how funny, how cute, ect).

So there you have it. Memes are ideas that act like genes; they are under selection pressures and can evolve. Of course there is some controversy over meme evolution. The difficulty in defining and measuring meme units and how they change can be a problem when wanting to have a meme theory suitable for use in explaining our cultural evolution. Also, while lolcats may not be interpreted in a way other than "lols" many of our ideas can be, and replications of memes like "don't count your chickens before they hatch" can have a variety of different meanings to different people. For example someone can take it literally, some one can take a meaning about not putting faith in something they don't have. Despite this memes remain an interesting way of thinking about the world, and since the word is in such use you might as well understand a little more about it.

Genes do indirectly control the manufacture of bodies, and the influence is strictly one way: acquired characteristics are not inherited. No matter how much knowledge and wisdom you acquire during your life, not one jot will be passed on to your children by genetic means. Each new generation starts from scratch.
-Richard Dawkins