Saturday, December 31, 2011

Science Saturday: The Radioactive Boy Scout

I'm taking a break from documentaries for this installment of Science Saturday.  Take a look, it's in a book!

The Radioactive Boy Scout started as a simple article for Harper's, but Silverstein decided to flesh it out into an entire book.   In the early 90s, David Hahn (the Boy Scout in question) attempted to build a nuclear reactor in his shed.  He managed to get pretty far, too.  Police stopped him in an unrelated inquiry into some tire thefts, and found a whole box of radioactive material in the trunk of his car.  Eventually this led them to the much larger cache of radioactive material in David's backyard science lab—so radioactive, in fact, that the EPA declared it a superfund site and carted everything off to a nuclear waste containment center.

The good: The Radioactive Boy Scout is an incredibly quick and easy read. Silverstein goes into both the human interest aspect and the science aspect.

The bad: The anti-nuclear editorializing gets kind of old.  Nuclear energy isn't as dangerous or as awful as some people make it out to be.

One interesting fact: After its initial discovery (and before people knew that radiation was bad for you), people used radium for all kinds of novelty things, mostly glow-in-the-dark clock and watch faces.  It was even marketed as a snake oil type cure-all pill for years.

Would recommend?  Sure, from the library or a friend.  It's sort of  a "once and it's done" type of read.  Still interesting, nonetheless.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Music Monday

A pause from the thirty day meme to post my favorite Christmas songs (all of which don't get a lot of play over here in South Korea):

The Kinks, "Father Christmas"

John Lennon, "Happy Xmas, War is Over"

(Not the original music video, since that one's kind of NSFW with gory war images and all.  You can watch in public at ease.)

The Jackson 5, "Santa Claus is Coming to Town"

(The only version of this song I actually enjoy, because it's funky enough that I can ignore the creepy/emotionally abusive lyrics, though there's no small amount of irony in the fact that it comes from one of the most exploited child stars of all time.)

Savatage/Trans-Siberian Orchestra, "Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12-24)"

What are your favorite Christmas/wintertime holiday songs?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Science Saturday: Do We Really Need the Moon?

The answer is yes, of course, but there's a whole myriad of reasons why.   Do We Really Need the Moon? investigates a whole slew of them and comes to a conclusion: life on Earth would not be possible without the Moon.

Unfortunately this is the rare instance on DocumentaryHeaven where people don't seem to have their act together; the first clip in the playlist (about the phenomenon known as a "super moon") is unrelated to the rest of the piece and seems to be spliced in there from another show entirely.

Taking off my science nerd hat and putting on my sociology nerd hat, it's nice to see this BBC documentary narrated by a woman of color, Dr. Maggie Aderin-Pocock, who would be cool and inspiring even if she weren't talking about the moon. (How many women of color in the sciences can you name? Yeah, thought so.) She seems to be Britain's version of Neil deGrasse Tyson, which is to say: a total rockstar for science. A teacher tried to dissuade her from becoming an astronaut, but Aderin-Pocock basically told her to sod off and promptly got her A-levels in math, physics, chemistry, and biology.  While being dyslexic.

When she's not hosting documentaries about space, running her own company, or encouraging boys and girls of every race and class to pursue the sciences, Aderin-Pocock works on rockstar things like missile defense systems, landmine detectors, and telescopes.

The good: Dr. Aderin-Pocock is an engaging and charismatic host, and again the BBC ensures the footage is of high, professional quality.  She also takes interesting little tangents (like the myth[?] about crazies coming out on the full moon) that are just as interesting as the hard science stuff.

The bad: Like The Core, Do We Really Need the Moon? sometimes leans a little too heavy on the melodrama.  Perhaps this is a trademark of the BBC's approach to science in general?

One interesting fact: The moon influences the Earth's orbit and keeps it from wobbling and tilting like crazy.  It's possible that without the Moon, the Earth would rotate on its side, like Uranus!

Would recommend? Yes!  Though, if possible, purchase it from the BBC or torrent the entire thing, as the version on cuts out the first part (and the end of the second clip and the beginning of the third clip overlaps quite a bit as well).

Did you watch it?  What did you think?  Let me know in the comments!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Music Monday

Day 28 - A song that makes you feel guilty

Any song in Russian immediately makes me feel guilty for not applying myself harder to my Russian classes in college.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Science Saturday: The Core

A few years ago, I set a goal for myself to watch one documentary and read one non-fiction book a month. I've slacked off once in a while, but the net result has been that I've seen a lot of neat documentaries I wouldn't have seen otherwise! All of the ones I'm going to mention here are available—for free!—on So you, too, can watch at your leisure!

First up: The Core

Just what is inside our planet? Not to be confused with the shitty Hollywood movie, this is a slick BBC documentary that slices off the crust and takes us as close as we can get to the Earth's molten center.

The good: Always very interesting and engaging. I mean, I think the molten core of the Earth is already super interesting, but I think they did a good job of making it accessible and entertaining for people who don't think so. Plus sometimes there are explosions!

The bad: There's a bit too much in terms of attempting to create "dramatic tension" or whatever: an over-acted sense of urgency in the narrator's voice, melodramatic music, and so forth. It got kind of cheesy.

One interesting fact: At the molten core of the Earth is an inner nickel-iron solid core. Due to the intense heat and pressure at the center of the planet, this nickel-iron solid is most likely in the shape of HUGE crystals multiple kilometers in size!

Would recommend? Yes!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Etsy Finds: chainofbeing

When Etsy rolled out the whole "circles" feature, there was a huge uproar.  I don't get why, as without it I would have never found this AWESOME necklace.  I love it.  I love it so much that I might go and buy it RIGHT THIS SECOND. It's everything I love and try to accomplish in my own jewelry: geekery, subtlety, and style.

But wait! There's more!  She also has variations on the planets and their moons!  I have always had a soft (red) spot for Jupiter.  It's a hangover from my pet hobby of astrology (science nerd that I am, I also am fascinated by ancient esoteric symbol systems), where Jupiter is the planet of good luck, fortune, expansion, and all-around good times.  Some people theorize that Jupiter also does a lot to protect our little spaceship Earth by diverting incoming asteroids via its massive gravitational pull (when, you know, the two planets are even remotely close to each other, anyway).

I cannot get over what a cool idea this is.  Can. Not.  Christmas present to myself?  I think so!