Gleanings from the blogosphere

by Stephanie Chasteen on October 20, 2009

A few neat gleanings from my favorite blogs:

Over at Schooner of Science — Smelling the Moon. A fictional pregnant woman swears she can smell moonbeams.  Do pregnant women really smell things more strongly?

What’s really cool is that the women THINK they smell better now they are pregnant, but there’s not the evidence there to say that this is REALLY the case. Is it just that this test wasn’t sensitive enough to pick up the change in smell which seems so noticeable to the smeller, or do they just feel like things smell different now? Is there a change, and does it effect the nose or the brain? Science, alas, is yet to have an answer.

Smelling moonbeams seems a little far-fetched though. But if you’re curious on what the moon smells like, astronauts say it smells like burnt gunpowder. After a moonwalk the dust sticks to their clothes and they say it smells very strong (they’ve even, accidentally I’m sure, tasted some!) Once the dust gets back to Earth it doesn’t smell anymore. Weird, right?

From Cognitive Daily – Chocolate improves upon a positive mood. A group of volunteers watched either a happy, upsetting, or neutral movie scene.

Then half the volunteers were given a piece of chocolate, and the unlucky second group got a glass of water. 1 minute later, they reported their mood once again. This was repeated for each clip (the clips were shown in a random order for each participant)…. the effect of chocolate depends on the type of movie the viewers watched. If the movie was sad, then eating chocolate led to a significant improvement in mood, significantly better than water. For a happy film, there was no improvement in mood, and the difference between chocolate and water was only marginally significant. For a neutral movie, there was no significant difference in the effect of chocolate and water.

Derek Bruff in Teaching with Classroom Response Systems talks about his use of pre-class reading quizzes using clickers:

All that active learning during class must mean you can’t cover all the same content, right?  Although I find the term “cover” problematic, I understand these questions. …  One response is to move some of the learning that would have taken place during class to out-of-class time.  One way to do this is by having our students read their textbooks before class, which I’ve done in my math courses for several years now. …. However, since studies show that only about 30% of students will read their textbooks before class without some kind of incentive, it’s helpful to have students complete pre-class reading quizzes online.  This semester, I’m having my students do so via our course blog.

Cocktail Party Physics has a great set of tips for scientists to make sure that journalists report accurately on their science (spurred by the New York Times article suggesting that electrons are uncharged).  And Ms. Ouellette took a break from finishing her book to write about calculus anxiety and girls:

A geometry teacher tells the entire class that the girls would probably do the worst in his course because they lacked spatial reasoning ability. A guidance counselor shunts female students into “practical math” classes where they learn how many ham slices each guest would need at a wedding. A physics professor insists on checking his female students’ work before they can leave the lab, yet doesn’t feel the need to check the work of his male students. A computer science professor dismisses any questions from female students as “lazy little girl whining.” And a calculus teacher thinks it’s perfectly appropriate to measure his female students’ bodies and use those measurements as part of his volume calculations in class.

Dot Physics has a delightful rant about podcasting of university lectures:

If all you (as an instructor) are doing is stuff that could be a podcast, then why not have it as a podcast? …The above article mentions that some professors have their lectures on iTunes university, but limit the number of downloads to encourage students to come to class. I don’t get it. If they can get everything they need from the podcast, why come to class?

I think technology is cool. However, just using technology because you can is a bad idea. In this, case, I don’t think the technology is used incorrectly. If you have a class that is just a lecture, the podcast makes a lot of sense. You can pause it and replay it. That should be useful. The problem is (in my opinion) with classes that can be podcasted. Maybe there is a need for some classes that have very low level learning (like memorizing stuff), but I think there should be more classes that engage students at a higher level.

Hear hear!  He even advocates using clickers.  Go Rhett.  And more recently he has a nice post about clickers — how they’re used, and some low tech alternatives.

The Artful Amoeba has some beautiful pictures of fungi (and gorgeous prose to tell us about them).  She also writes about the (now somewhat old news) of the first video of giant squid:

Why is it incredible we only recently recovered images and film?

Scientists have known for over a century that giant squid from the beaks and pieces they dredged out of sperm whale stomachs. Dead specimens had washed up on shores in Newfoundland and New Zealand, from which one lucky specimen even made it to the Rev. Moses Harvey’s bathtub.

Bathtub technology has advanced considerably since 1873.

Because these creatures live in one of the most inacessible habitats on Earth — the cold, black benthic zone — live specimens eluded photography (and, for the most part, capture) for another 125 years.

As worrisome as all I’ve said so far may be to consider were one, say, out on a pleasure swim at 1,500 meters in squid-infested waters, consider this: not only is the colossal squid considerably larger and bulkier than the giant squid (although its arms are generally shorter), it also possesses hooks on its tentacles. Some swivel. Some have multiple prongs.


And lastly, the Science and Entertainment exchange found a neat YouTube video with a review of clips of special effects since 1900. Very neat.

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