KISS my book review!

Kiss My Math - Showing Pre-Algebra Who's Boss book cover

Kiss My Math - Showing Pre-Algebra Who's Boss

I was browsing my local LIBRARY (you know, the place where you can borrow books, movies, musics, etc. for FREE) and I came across Danica McKellar’s book, Kiss My Math – Showing Pre-Algebra Who’s Boss. This book is written to help math-phobic teens understand variable, exponents, negative numbers, graphing and other pre-algebra related math.

I flipped through the book and ended up checking it out, not because I need the math help, but to spend a little more time reading Danica’s personal ADVENTURES in, and her inviting approaching to learning math. Danica became famous as an actress in one of my favorite TV shows as a child, The Wonder Years. Growing up as an actress it made sense that she would start college with the intention of studying film. However, she soon found out that she had more fun studying math and ended up graduating with a degree in the subject and even has a BONA FIDE math theorem named after her.

Danica still acts but her LOVE of math hasn’t faded one bit. And she is sharing her love of math with a new generation of girls through this and other math books she has written. While the main audience for Kiss My Math (KMM) may be girls, the stories and techniques for solving math problems will appeal to boys as well. What sets KMM apart from regular pre-algebra text books are the annotations that provide further insights to the math instructions. They are done in a conversational and sometimes WHIMSICAL fashion that makes you want to understand the problem solving methods, which are beautifully supplemented by the anecdotal stories that go along with the examples.

Peppered in between the math instructions are profiles of an actress, a singer, a laywer, a T.V. director among others, which includes how they USE math in their professions. KMM also includes little sections entitled Danica’s Diary in which she tells her own personal STORIES, not all of which are math related. She talks about struggling with personal issues like self-esteem, boys, school and her thoughts on how to DEAL with them. The book also has a couple of personality quizzes written with the help of a professional psychologist on stress and picking supportive FRIENDS and ideas on what to do if you score “low.”

If you are struggling with pre-algebra or know of someone who is, consider getting them Kiss My Math as a present or check out a local library to see if they have a copy. The book is a pleasure to read through and at times you may forget you are learning math.

Resources

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TEACHERS, give your math class a makeover!

Here is how.

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Search for aliens celebrates 50th anniversary.

Allen Telescope Array

Allen Telescope Array

The Search for Extraterrestrial (meaning outside Earth) Intelligence (SETI) has been going on for 50 years and as you can probably guess, we have not found any aliens yet. Otherwise, we would have stopped looking. :)

It STARTED with an astronomer named Frank Drake. He thought, quite reasonably, that since we were using radio waves to communicate here on Earth, beings on OTHER planets around other stars might be doing the same thing. The thing about radio wave transmitters, especially the kinds used by broadcasting stations, is that they transmit radio waves in all directions, including into out space. And if there were anybody out there with a receiver, they could easily pick up those transmissions.

If we can do it, why couldn’t another, sufficiently ADVANCED civilization on another planet do the same? And so, SETI astronomers have been using radio telescopes to look for signals from other civilizations.

Where are they?

There are many reasons why we have not yet detected any aliens. They may not have developed the technology to use radio transmissions, or they may have developed other means of communication like lasers. There is a branch of SETI that looks for laser signals from aliens but this is a very difficult search. As you are probably aware a laser is a concentrated light beam. In order to detect it, the laser has to be pointed right at us.

Is it possible that we have not detected anything because there is nothing to detect? Yes, it is possible but highly improbable. As one character from one of my favorite movies of all time put it, “I’ll tell you one thing about the universe, though. The universe is a pretty BIG place. It’s bigger than anything anyone has ever dreamed of before. So if it’s just us… seems like an awful waste of space. Right?”

Will we ever find life outside our solar system?

I believe we will FIND life on planets outside our solar system before the next 50 years of SETI are up. It may not be intelligent life that SETI looks for but it will be life, most likely plant life. As I have posted before, we are looking for other Earth-like planets. Once we find a few, we can start studying them with better telescopes to find the composition, or makeup, of their atmosphere. If we detect oxygen in the planets’ atmosphere, we will know that there are at least plant-based life on those planets. And where there are plants, there are critters to munch on them. :)

You can help look for ET.

Due to advances in radio telescope technology, SETI astronomers are flooded with data they have not yet analyzed because they do not have the computing resources to do so. So, just like Galaxy Zoo, scientists are recruiting the help of people just like to you to help them sort through the data and see if we have received signals from outside Earth. The project, called SETI@Home allows anyone with a computer and an internet connection to download data from telescopes like the Allen Telescope Array pictured above and analyze it to see if CONTACT has been made. SETI is not just for professionals anymore; YOU could be the one who discovers ET!

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Be a scientist at Galaxy Zoo.

The cool thing about new technologies is that they can be used to study our universe with better SENSITIVITY than ever before. The downside to this is that with better instruments comes more data than all the professional scientists can currently analyze without outside help. Thank goodness for the internet, which makes it possible for virtually anyone, any age (well, old enough to read and use a computer) to help those scientists with the FLOOD of data they have to deal with.

Galaxy Zoo

Help scientists classify galaxies.


One such source of data is the ROBOTIC telescope of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, which has been taking images of galaxies (among other objects) since 2008. It has photographed about a MILLION galaxies so far with more to come. There are 4 main types of galaxies, each of which has certain unique characteristics. Because galaxies are so far away, the images taken by Sloan survey are not as crisp as photographs we might take of flowers and mountains. While there exists computer programs that can differentiate between different objects in a picture, the image quality of Sloan galaxies is not good enough for a computer to help in this area.

This is where you come in. Galaxy Zoo invites internet users to help scientists classify galaxies. Over 150,000 people are already participants and some have DISCOVERED never before seen objects like the Voorwerp, which was discovered by a school teacher who volunteered some of her free time to classifying galaxies.

Voorwerp

A new object discovered by a Galaxy Zoo volunteer.


Getting started is pretty easy. You sign-up, there is a brief tutorial on how to use Galaxy Zoo and identify different types of objects and then you are off making YOUR OWN classifications and, perhaps, new discoveries. There is usually not a right or wrong answer, just what you think an image represents. A few other people are shown the same image to garner some sort of agreement on the classification.

Well, what are you waiting for? Head over to Galaxy Zoo and get started. You might see YOUR name listed on a scientific paper along with professional scientists. That would be really COOL!

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Can I STILL be an astronaut?

This is the QUESTION you may be asking yourself after you heard the news. The next generation of spacecrafts being built to take astronauts into space, to the moon and BEYOND, otherwise known as the Constellation Program has been canceled.

Traveling into space.

Traveling into space. Credit: NASA


When I first heard the possibility of this happening, I was disappointed and saddened. As a young boy, I had dreamed of becoming an astronaut one day. I am sure that is still the case with many young boys and GIRLS who are in school today but hope to go into SPACE someday. What does this bit of news mean to them and YOU, if you are a young girl or boy?

What the news media is not reporting as widely is the fact that NASA has been issued a new directive by President Obama to work more closely with the private sector, companies like Virgin Galactic, SpaceX and others to take astronauts into space. This means there will be MORE spots for astronauts on spaceships than exist today.

If you DREAM of someday going into space, do not give up that dream. Your chances of becoming an astronaut just went up. Of course, you will still need a good education to secure your place on a spaceship.

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How SCIENCE and FANTASY work together.

Imagination is more important than knowledge,” said Einstein.

What did he mean by that, exactly? Is knowledge not important? Not at all! He just said that IMAGINATION is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is, by definition, stuff we know already. Imagination is what we use to IMPROVE existing knowledge and find out NEW things.

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein


How does one go about gaining imagination? That is where fantasy and science fiction come in. Just as one would OBSERVE great athletes to pick up their tricks and methods of playing a game well, it helps to read books and watch movies that are imaginative to INCREASE your own imagination.

Besides, science fiction and fantasy are a great INSPIRATION for new knowledge and technology. Fairytale mirrors that allow one person to talk to another who is far away is like the video phones that exist today. People traveled into space in books long before they went there for real.

Side story.

I used to participate in a forum where “experts” (people who were familiar the subject) would answer physics questions posed by visitors. One expert’s profile stated that he had read all of the science book authored by a particular scientist and none of his science fiction work. While his answers to questions were correct; in my opinion, they were hard for a person to understand without already being familiar with the subject.

I believe a healthy imagination also helps you to communicate with others more effectively because it allows express your thoughts in various ways that different people would be able to understand. Read books, and make sure some of them are fantasy and science fiction to improve your imagination. If you have a favorite science fiction or fantasy book, please share with the rest of us by posting their titles and authors in the comments section.

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Quantum of TWIST.

Kodu programming interface.

Kodu programming interface.


A new week, a new TWIST.

Do you Kodu?

I have talked about the joys of graphical programming before. This week there is a NEW entry in easy and fun to use graphical programming language designed to get kids into programming. Microsoft has release the technical preview download for KODU, which “a visual programming language made specifically for creating GAMES. It is designed to be accessible for children and enjoyable for anyone.” While this has been available for the Xbox 360 for sometime, now anyone with a decent PC can jump in and start making games EASILY. Kodu’s website has all that you will need to get started and the program comes with samples of what can be accomplished with it. The cool thing is you can edit those samples and add your own flavor to them. If you make a game that you wanna show-off, feel free to post a link to it in the comments.

Quantum computer makes quantum leap.

In science, quantum is the SMALLEST piece of an object. Therefore, it is weird to me when people say that they have made a “quantum leap” to indicate a giant progress.

Anyhoo, things at the quantum level do not behave like everyday objects. Strange things can and do happen. One STRANGE thing is an object can be in two states at the same. It would be like you being asleep and awake at the same time. Scientists have been for a long time trying to use this strange behavior to build POWERFUL computers. The basic idea is what with a quantum computer it would be possible to try out all the solutions to a problem at once and extract the correct answer instantaneously. You can easily imagine how hard that is. For example, consider a simple math problem, which only has one answer. Well, there are an INFINITY of numbers to pick from, how do you create something that can hold an infinity of anything?

But, just because something may seem hard does not mean we should not try. After all, that is what makes science fun!

It was reported this week, that scientists have built a quantum computer to model the hydrogen atom. Hydrogen is the simplest of the elements consisting only of one proton and one electron so it was a great way to demonstrate the computer since it can be easily checked against other methods. The question is, once they can build a quantum computer that can solve ANY mathematical problem, will we still have do to homework? :)

Resources

How quantum computers work.
A tale of two qubits: how quantum computers work – A more technical look at how quantum computers work.

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A new TWIST.

TWIST

Twist, twist.

I have decided to try to write one post a week summarizing some of the science and technology news of the week (well, it could be older news that I am just discovering :)) that I think are EXCITING. I will not go into details of each of the topics but try to give a brief non-technical description and should you choose to investigate it further, I will provide appropriate links. I am calling is TWIST. Any guesses what it stands for? :)

Anyway, here is the first TWIST.

Planet hunter’s first catch.

Kepler, the planet hunting satellite has FOUND 5 planets in the first 6 weeks it has been searching for them. Kepler looks for planets that might lie in between Kepler and another star by measuring the dip in the amount of light coming from that star as the planet goes around it. These planets are not Earth-like (these will take longer to detect), which is what Kepler is primarily looking for but it is a good thing anyway since it shows that Kepler is WORKING as expected. News article.

3D or not 3D?

CES, or the Consumer Electronics Show, takes place very first week of January where technology companies bring out their LATEST and GREATEST gadgets along with cool technologies that will be available in stores soon. This year was no different. One of the coolest emerging technologies is 3D televisions. Yes, I know that 3D has been around for a while but it hasn’t quite taken off. This year it will be different. The technology has improved a lot and some TVs don’t even require you to wear those annoying glasses. While a 3D TV may not exist in every home, this is the year when every TV store will start carrying TVs that allow you to watch movies and play games in TRUE 3D. How 3-D TV Works.

You CAN touch this!

This is also the year of the TOUCH computer. No longer will you have to drag your mouse around and enter text using a keyboard. Touch enabled computers allow you to USE your finger(s) to open, close programs, draw pictures and do anything that you used to do with a mouse. You can also write directly on a touch computer as if you were writing on a piece of paper. What’s great is that your input is AUTOMATICALLY converted to text as if it were typed in. This technology has existed for a while but computer screens that could accept touch input were very expensive. Not any more. Some of these computers will just be a screen with no keyboard or mouse, although you could attach them if you wanted to. But why? Here is a good example of what a touch PC would be capable of: Microsoft Courier. Too bad this product was not actually announced so we don’t if it will ever be available for sale.

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Soon there will be OTHER Earths!

Well, Earth-like planets to be precise. What does that mean, you ask? You see, Earth is a very SPECIAL planet. Special in the sense that it is the only planet that we (currently) know of that can support life.

How does Earth support life?

For starters, Earth is right DISTANCE from our Sun, in what some call the Goldilocks Zone (also known as the habitable zone). It is the region where water can exist in a liquid form on the surface of a planet. Too much closer and the heat from the sun would boil away all the water. Too far, and there isn’t enough heat causing any water on the planet to freeze.

Earth is also a TERRESTRIAL planet, meaning that part of the surface is solid, i.e. made up of rocks and dirt. The Earth is also large enough to have a GRAVITY that can have an atmosphere, you know, the air we breathe. Without enough mass, the gravity would be too low to prevent the air from escaping out into space. You can read more about this in my book. ;)

Believe it or not, those are the pretty much all the things that are needed for a planet to support life. What about OXYGEN, you ask? Oxygen that we breathe is created by plants, which are a form of life. You would think, with these meager requirements, there are probably HUNDREDS, if not thousands, of planets that can support life.

The thing is, detecting other Earth-like planets is not an easy thing to do. Stars are really far away, and planet that may exist around those stars tend to be very TINY compared to the star they orbit. Our own Sun contains more that 99% of all the mass in our solar system. And our, habitable Earth is quite small compared to giants like Jupiter and Saturn.

Kepler Satellite

Kepler Satellite

Kepler, the planet hunter.

As you can imagine, looking for other Earth-like planets is not an easy task. However, a space mission launched in March of 2009 aims to do just that. Kepler, named after the astronomer, Johannes Kepler carries very POWERFUL cameras to catch a planet transiting its parent star. A transit is when the planet that we are looking is in between us and its parent star as the planet goes around the star. When the planet is between us and its star, the brightness of that star as seen by us is lower than when the planet is behind star. The animation below explains it better than I can write it.

Look at the sky on a clear night. What is the largest star you see? Imagine looking for a planet in front of that star. A tiny Earth-like planet around a star that already looks only like a dot from where we are. That is what Kepler is trying to do. At a lecture given by a Kepler mission scientist that I attended, she said that they expected to find about a 100 Earth-like planets in the tiny patch of the sky it will look at. Whether those planets will have ALIENS will be another matter.

Resources

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YOUR words in space.

The Internet has opened up a whole new world to public participation in science projects both big and small. These were usually restricted to the in-crowd but are now available to anyone with a computer. The level of participation can be very active, as in the case of GalaxyZoo.org (more on this later), or very passive like in Folding@home and SETI@home.

Akatsui space craft.

Illustration of the Akatsui spacecraft around the planet Venus. Credit: Akihiro Ikeshita


Sometimes, they are a one time deal that can still be very exciting to participate in. Akatsuki (Japanese for dawn) is one such opportunity. Akatsui is a Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) space mission to study the planet Venus. The Akatsui Message Campaign is a public outreach effort for the mission, which allows people to submit a very short message that will be printed onto an aluminum plate what will be attached to the Akatsui spacecraft.

The deadline for submissions is January 10, 2010. Sorry for the late notice but I just found out about it. I should add, although the slogan for this outreach program reads, “We will deliver your message to the bright star Venus,” Venus is actually a planet. But, you already knew that. Thanks to my friend Robert Sparks for the info.

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