Dinosaurs and Video Games

Although they have been gone millions of years, kids and adults alike still love dinosaurs. They are one of the most popular science topics alongside the planets and volcanoes.

Recently for InnovationCanada.ca I got to interview someone who brings dinosaurs back to life…sort of. This isn’t Jurassic Park, but it is the next best thing: dinosaur drawings.

Michael Skrepnick is a dino-artist based in Alberta who has been the guy to imagine for the first time what dozens of dinosaurs look like. He was even the guy to draw the feathered dinosaurs into the popular imagination. You can check out the article here.

I also got a kick out of hearing one of my stories turned into a BBC radio segment on Digital Planet, a regular podcast favorite of mine. The story was for the Foundational Questions Institute online community about Gaurav Khanna’s research using over a dozen PlayStation 3 consoles in series to make a super computer that can do some heavy duty cosmology questioning. You can check out my story on the FQXI website and the Digital Planet’s story too.

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Let the Darwin Show Begin

Darwin’s birthday was yesterday, so to commemorate the big day I wrote a couple articles. I wrote about what modern day environmentalists can learn from Darwin’s life and evolution for Green Living Online. I also did an interview piece for InnovationCanada.ca with the President of the Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution.

Plus, I will add that at the annual meeting for American Association for the Advancement of Science the Annals of Improbable Research will be awarding the 1000 Steve Award tonight. It is an award given out to Steve or Stephanie (which apparently make up 1% of the American general public) scientists that support evolution to combat the anti-evolution campaign “Scientists that Doubt Darwin.” Of course, I believe the original inspiration for the award was the great evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould.

Tonight the award (a stuffed panda – not sure if it comes with or without thumbs) is being given out by Steve Mirsky, science humor writer for Scientific American, to *Drum roll please* you guessed it: Steve Darwin.

Quick Update on Latest Articles

I’ve been working on some longer term projects of late, but I’ve still had some articles published recently.

Take for instance, my article on a new species of dinosaur found in Canada that is related to every kids’ favorite triceratops albeit with a bunch more horns and bumpy bits on its head. This is a truly weird dinosaur, and you can read about it on National Geographic News’s website.

I also recently wrote a story for the Foundational Questions Institute along with some help from Zeeya Merali. Together we profiled some neat genetic research into genetic sequences that nature may not have found, but which might have important implications because they might actually be more effective. It could also help us understand how a change in a genetic sequence can result in dramatic changes that drive evolution.

Finally, here’s a story that should strike a chord with the more musically inclined. I wrote an article for Innovation Canada describing some research at the University of Waterloo into how the piano works. The big surprise was that it’s not as simple as you might think.

A Meteor Press Storm

I love watching the stars, and shooting stars are some of the most interesting to watch.

The Perseids will peak Monday night, although the best bet for seeing a really great shower is to set your alarm and get up around 1:30AM in the morning. That’s because the moon will have set and the point the meteors seem to come from will be higher. For a full rundown on how to observe the Perseid meteor shower check out my guide on National Geographic News.

I’ll be observing the Perseids this year from Hay Lake just outside Algonquin Provincial Park, my usual summer location.

A large group of astronomers, however, will be observing from near Mount Forest, Ontario, at the site of Starfest 2008. Starfest is a star party where amateur astronomers get together to hang out, talk, and look at the sky. It’s the biggest in Canada with regular attendance over a thousand people.

This will be my 10th year at Starfest, and I am looking forward to seeing my usual cast of friends from the Bruce County Astronomical Society. As well, Ivan Semeniuk, U.S. Bureau Chief for New Scientist magazine and a former Discovery Channel Canada astronomy columnist, will be giving the keynote speech which should be great.

Finally, if you’ve ever wondered how scientists predict meteor showers, protect satellites from collisions, or what meteors tell us about the formation of the solar system, you should check out my upcoming article on Innovation Canada. I discuss the University of Western Ontario’s Meteor Physics Group, which is the largest group in North America. As well, they are the go-to guys when NASA wants to know anything about the meteor environment. Pretty cool stuff.

Now, if only there were some way I could guarantee clear skies for every one of my readers. That would be really cool.

And, now the Weather on Mars

So, at last the wait is over, and Innovation Canada’s cool new website is online. You gotta check it out for an example of a news media really trying to use all the tools of the internet to best effect.

And, of course, you’ve gotta check it out to read my article on the weather experiments aboard Mars Phoenix. Developed for the Canadian Arctic, the LIDAR and other instruments are now receiving data from the very cold Martian surface.

If you want to see what the weather is like on Mars, you can check out NASA’s excellent Phoenix website. I’ve been dazzled by how open and transparent NASA is being with this mission. It seems as though as soon as the images and data get back to Earth, they are hitting the web. Perhaps the opportunity is there for some smart people online to make some discoveries before NASA.

Mars Phoenix Hopes to Avoid Fiery Landing

In less than two hours (just before 8pm), NASA’s next Mars space mission will land on the rust colored planet.

The Mars Phoenix mission emerged out of the ashes of the failed 1999 Mars Polar Lander Mission, but scientists are confident that the mistakes that doomed the previous lander will not be repeated.

And, to clarify, there is no cool rover in this mission. Instead, scientists have given up breadth for depth. The lander will stay in one spot but has a digging arm and a bunch of chemistry experiments to see if there is any water or organic molecules on Mars.

The Viking missions did similar experiments in the 1970s, but we’ve learned a few things about Mars since then and hope to get better results by asking smarter questions.

Another key element of the Phoenix mission will be a suite of weather instruments made in Canada. Among them is a LIDAR, basically a laser that shoots up into the clouds to see what kind of light bounces back into its telescope. LIDAR is commonly used in the Arctic and Australia, but the team of Canada scientists that built it say this is the first time LIDAR has been used on another planet.

I profiled the Canadian weather instrument package and LIDAR for an article for Innovation Canada, but website overhauls might prevent it from hitting the web in time for the landing.

Personally, I will be on the edge of my seat until we get the first data back from Mars (there’s a 15 minutes lag time, so expect it around 8:10PM EDT). Mars was what got me inspired in science and science writing back in 1997 with Pathfinder and its little rover Sojourner. In 1999, I was very excited to be seeing Mars again and was sorely disappointed with the loss.

I hope we have learned from 1999, and get it right this time. It would be a great early birthday present (my birthday is May 29th).

The Alpha and the Omega-3

I just got back from grocery shopping, and I was blown away by how many products have Omega-3 claims on their packaging. Bread, butter, eggs, milk, I think I might have even seen some peanut butter.

But, what is Omega-3, how does it work, and does it actually help your body? You can find out in a recent feature article of mine published online at the Canadian Foundation for Innovation’s online magazine Innovation Canada.