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Posts Tagged ‘science’

Such a knockout!

Electricians don’t just work with wire.  In fact, as I was surprised to learn on my first site, electricians spend more time working with the pipe that’s going to carry the wire than with the wire itself!  Where the pipes join together, we install junction boxes – usually steel – in which we cut, drill, or punch holes for the pipe.  The pieces that get left when we cut the holes look like this:


You can see flat ones, which come pre-punched at the factory, then are tacked back into the box before shipping.  That way, they’re easy to remove if we want, but if we don’t want a hole there they stay put and provide a secure barrier to protect the wire.  There are also a couple crescent-shaped ones in there, which are punched eccentrically (rather than concentrically) so you can choose what size hole you want.

Notice the difference between those and the wavy ones.  There’s a size difference, of course, but I love the shape of the wavy ones!  They get that shape because they’re punched out locally with a tool that cuts the hole in two or three places, rather than all around the diameter, at the same time.  So much interest!  So fascinating!  They’re like little pieces of art, all by themselves!

Well, to me they are.  To the rest of the crew they’re so many pieces of detritus, to be swept out with the rest of the garbage.  But the first time I saw one, I saw beauty.  So I took it home and filed it and turned it into this:

First Neck 01


Oh, yeah.  THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT, BABY!!!  A knockout necklace that’s made of a knockout! And hopefully will get bought and then worn by a knockout.  ;-D  You can buy it here, BTW.  Just sayin’.

Now I have a million ideas on how I can use these.  With leather, on chain, drill holes in a whole series of them and make a jingly anklet…  So.  Many.  Ideas.

But they all start with finishing the damn things.  *le sigh*  Which means a lot of work.



Have to grind off the sharp edges, file or sand away the scrapes and dings, then get them to whatever level of finish I want.



Aside: I am absolutely giddy with excitement that I finally got to use my polishing compounds!  Squee!

With them and my handy-dandy rotary tool, gift of my darling HSO (who reads this blog but I’d say that even if he didn’t), I got a near-mirror finish on one of them:



The photo doesn’t do it justice, but it is SHI-NY!  Still has some imperfections, but I did rush it a bit.  And I’m relearning stuff I only learned halfway, twenty years ago.  Plus, I’m figuring out how to get different finishes, and I’m not even sure what I want or what my options are.  So I’m giving myself some wiggle room.

At any rate, this is how I spent a couple hours this evening.  Very enjoyable hours, too, though my hands hurt after a while from all the vibration.  Next step is to try out my rotary tumbler with some steel shot, so I can see what kind of results that gives me, then I’ll try them in different orders and see what happens then.  SCIENCE!

It’s NaNo time again

October is nearly over, and you know what that means…  It’s almost National Novel Writing Month!

This year I’m writing about the first permanent colonists going to Mars.  There will be a deadly accident (potentially involving the Traveling Shovel of Death), lots of interpersonal conflicts, and plenty of nerdy science.

So my posts throughout November will be short and possibly incoherent.  Bear with me, I’ll be creating elsewhere.

If I actually feel confident in what I come up with, I might put an excerpt or three here for your perusal.

At any rate, have a safe Halloween!  I’ll be at the E Brem Shari’s at 11pm to kick off the 30 days of insanity.

Another reason I love science

So last post I wrote about how great it is when you’re wrong.  Specifically, how great it is when you realize you’re wrong, and you figure out how to fix it so you’re right again.

After I wrote that, I got to thinking about why else I love science, which is the scientific community.  That’s right, all those nerds with pocket protectors and coke-bottle glasses with tape on them.  They’re my buds!

If you recall, it all starts with a question in your mind, which you answer with a hypothesis.  You then use that hypothesis to predict what will happen next, and if you’re right then it lends credence to your hypothesis.

This is where experimentation comes in.  So what does it take to create a good scientific experiment?  First, it has to be observable.  In other words, is has to be available to the senses of anybody who is interested.  For example, if I say that I can communicate telepathically with aliens and perform dozens of experiments in which I write down the contents of the telepathic conversations I have, my research will not be taken seriously.  (Note that this actually doesn’t prove I didn’t talk to aliens, it just means that I have no evidence.  Which is why the burden of proof is on the positive side of things.  You don’t have to prove I didn’t talk to them, you can just say, “That’s nice,” and get the hell out of Dodge.)

Second, it has to be repeatable.  I have to be able to perform the same experiment over and over again, and get the same results each time I perform it.  This ensures that the answer you got was not the result of an aberration.  In other words, repetition shows that you got a real result, not a fluke.

Third, it has to be controllable – you have to be able to change things about the experiment to figure out what’s really going on.  For example, you can hypothesize that the protective outer coating of a seed also makes it harder for the seed to sprout.  So you might plant a bunch of seeds that you’ve nicked to see if they sprout faster than intact ones.  In this experiment, you can plant some seeds that you nicked on the bottom, some that you nicked on the top, some that you nicked on the side or end, and some (a ‘control group’) that you didn’t nick at all.  This way, you get to observe how the different actions change the outcome, and you therefore learn even more.

(Keep in mind that this does not in any way discount the value of observational studies, where the hypothesis cannot be actively tested but can only be supported or disproved by observation.  In fact, there are many branches of science where observation is the only way to experiment.  Theories found by observation are no less true or trustworthy than those found by intentional and active experiments.  Even though some people like to think they are.  Ahem, climate change deniers…)

So what’s so incredibly cool about scientific experimentation?  Well, since the knowledge you get is gained from repeatable and observable and controllable actions, it’s accessible to everyone.  EVERYONE.

Yep, universal knowledge is real!  If I say XYZ is true, and this is how I found out about it, the skeptic in another city or state or on the other side of the world can perform the same experiment and see if I’m off my rocker.  And if it doesn’t work, than s/he can say, “This doesn’t work, I tried it.”  Then I can come back and ask if s/he controlled for ABC factor, or used UV protective glass, and why those would have affected the results.  So then my friendly little skeptic can try it again taking those factors into consideration, and suddenly ts/he says, “Holy crap, it does work!”

See?  It’s not that I was wrong, it’s that the methodology used was wrong.  But since all the details of my experiment can be compared to all the details of his/her experiment, we can compare notes and figure out why we got different results.  And then we find – THE TRUTH.

Hot damn, that’s fun!

Remember, if other ppl can’t verify your work, then you might as well not even do it.  Because science is at heart a peer-reviewed undertaking.  Medical and scientific journals?  That’s my pocket-protecting heroes’ way of saying, “Prove me wrong.”  If nobody can, then it really is right!  If somebody does…  Well I guess that’s the point we go back and figure out what went wrong, huh?

And as I wrote in my last post, that’s a good thing in and of itself.

Why I love science

Philosophy is divided into three categories: metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics.  I will briefly (and very imprecisely) define these as what is real, how we learn about it, and whether it’s good or bad.

Epistemology is basically the means by which you find and explore truth; the means you employ to find out about the world around you.  Personally I am an empiricist, which means different things to different people (Of course philosophy isn’t confusing, what makes you say that?) but to me it indicates an emphasis on observable reality as a means to find truth.  In other words, we learn what is in the world by observing it and interacting with it  So I’m more likely to believe what you tell me now if you’ve told me things in the past that turned out to be true.

I also put a lot of stock in science as a way to understand the world.  After all, one of the basic components of the scientific method is observation.  In fact, that’s how it all starts.  You observe a phenomenon and describe what you observe.  Then, you formulate a hypothesis to explain it – an idea that you *think* is the cause.  Third, you predict what else will happen if your hypothesis is correct, and last you perform experiments to test your hypothesis.  (Some people mistakenly equate a hypothesis with a theory; in fact, a theory is a hypothesis that has been tested many times and passed said tests.  Theories are much more certain than simple guesses.)

This method of learning about reality can be applied in an incredible variety of ways.  You can use it in your garden to figure out what flowers grow best; in your dating life to find out what potential romantic interests want; at work to get a promotion; and on your children to see what gets them to heed their curfew.

Of course, it isn’t always the best method of deciding on your next action.  You will probably want to consult a garden book, your wingman, an article about climbing the corporate ladder, a parenting class, or even just Dear Abby, first.  After all, why not try to learn from others’ mistakes and successes first?  At least then you might learn fewer things the hard way…

But sooner or later you say, “I wonder what would happen if,” and you can’t find the answer anywhere.  So you decide to figure it out for yourself.  You decide to try telling jokes as a way to break the ice with the ladies.  Girls enjoy a good laugh, right?  Make ’em chuckle and maybe they’ll accept a second date.

So you memorize a few jokes and head down to your favorite watering hole.  Sure enough, it works!  You leave that night with a pretty girl’s phone number and a date for next Friday.  Success!  The date goes great Friday – for a little while.  Halfway through the salad, the laughter becomes forced and she’s looking around the room instead of at you.  What went wrong?

This is one of my favorite parts of science.  That’s right!  My favorite thing about science is that it leaves room for you to be wrong.  Because you’re supposed to be wrong sometimes!

And that’s where the real learning comes in.  You excuse yourself from the table for a moment, go to the restroom and reflect a little.  Does she not like the jokes?  Did I offend her?  There’s no politics, no religion, no cursing.  (Okay, the one about the duck was a little blue, but that’s the one she laughed hardest at!)  Maybe she’s getting tired of the joking, maybe she wants to talk about something real.  Hmm, she has mentioned the decor of the restaurant three times.  And I think she’s some kind of art major.  Oh, I’ve been telling jokes all night, and monopolizing the conversation!  No wonder she looks bored!

So then the light goes on, and you revise your idea of telling jokes.  When you get back to the table, you ask her if she saw the sculpture by the entrance.  Her eyes light up and suddenly she’s interested again.  Success!

What have you done?  You have ERRED!!  Your knowledge that jokes are good and get you attention was incomplete, and you had to admit to yourself that your knowledge was not sufficient to explain the situation.  But good for you, you were able to adjust a proven belief (girls like funny guys) in the light of new evidence (just telling jokes is not enough to keep her interest) and change your understanding of reality to conform to what you observe.

Thus we see the beauty of science – when done correctly it is self-correcting.  Any time the evidence contradicts our understanding of the world, we must re-examine our understanding to take the evidence into account.  Our beliefs must conform to the world, not the other way around.

And that is one of the greatest strengths of science.  As long as you look at the world clearly, you will be able to find truth.  It may be difficult, it may be time-consuming, it may be frustrating.  But as it has been said, the truth is out there.