Feb
01
2016

Long before computers, the Weather Channel and the internet, humans needed weather forecasts. Farmers and sailors particularly needed to know if storms were approaching. Over time, various folklore forecasts, often in the form of short rhymes, were devised and passed down through the generations. Although memorable, the folklore forecasts are of uneven quality—some good, others bad.

Groundhog Day is an example of predicting the weather based on folklore. If the groundhog comes out of its hole and sees its shadow, we are in store for forty more days of winter. Of course, after February 2, there are only 47 days left of astronomical winter – which ends on or about March 21!

The roots of Groundhog Day go back to the 6th century. February 2 is forty days after Christmas and is known as Candlemas. On this day, candles that are used for the rest of the year are blessed. This is also about the mid-point in winter, in meteorological not astronomical terms. The forecast rhyme goes:

"If Candlemas Day is bright and clear
There’ll be two winters in that year;
But if Candlemas Day is mild or brings rain,
Winter is gone and will not come again."

If the day is bright and clear, the groundhog “sees” his shadow and we have more winter. Of course, the weather conditions on February 2 at single locations like Punxsutawney, PA or Sun Prairie, WI tells us nothing about the weather for the rest of the winter season. As for accuracy - the “predictions” made by the various rodents involved in this annual event are correct about 40% of the time – vastly inferior to what is delivered by modern science. Right or wrong, they are fun community celebrations.


Minneapolis from space: Here's the view today of Minneapolis from the International Space Station.Courtesy Kjell Lindgren
It's not uncommon to see the International Space Station fly over the Twin Cities. You just need the proper time and coordinates. But what does Minneapolis look like from way up there? Astronaut Kjell Lindgren tweeted this view of his former stomping grounds. Here's the link to his tweet.

It would be great fun to go shopping for sunglesses with a chameleon.

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Watch this cool bit of science:

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Apr
01
2015

No more negativity: Take a good look, this is the last you'll ever see of negative numbers.
No more negativity: Take a good look, this is the last you'll ever see of negative numbers.Courtesy SMM
In a sudden change of direction, international math scholars have announced today a whole new concept for numerals with a value below zero.

“We literally are taking the negativity out of math,” explained Gordon von Himpter, president of the International Alliance for Math Education. “It’s not secret that many people don’t like math. Through our evaluation and focus group testing, we’ve found out that negative numbers are big contributors to this negative image of math.”

So beginning today, numerals with a value less than zero will be lose their little minus sign and be referred to in a new way. Click here to see the full results of the study.

“When you count backwards, it will sound like this now,” said von Himpter, “Un one, un two, un three and so forth. The prefix ‘un’ will take the place of the old minus sign.”

The same applies to the actual numerals. New denotation for those numbers will look like this: u1, u2, u3, etc.

“We’re not phasing this in. We think a quick, clean change is the best way to try to rebuild math’s reputation,” continued von Himpter. “And we’re expecting that people will be quick to embrace this exciting change.”

The move has already been embraced in the world of meteorology.

“The most common complaints we get are in the dead of winter when the temperatures go so far below zero,” said National Weather Service spokeswoman Leslie Noting. “Now, when we say the temperature is un10 degrees, we’re pretty sure people won’t feel it’s so cold.”

Click here to get your free outdoor thermometer with the new “un” notation.

The only field that seems to be resisting this mathematical change is the world of banking.

“When our customers’ accounts go below zero, we want them to feel it is truly a negative experience,” said Henry T. Potter IV, CEO of the United Group of Banking Top Honchos. “And banks are such traditional outfits. We just don’t change.”

And Potters reminded anyone reading this report who has not clicked on the links to remember the date that this blog post is being made: April 1, 2015.

“Yes, we bankers can pull April Fools Day pranks, too,” he said.

From Earth to Mars: Would you be willing to take a one-way trip to Mars from Earth? Learn from the people under consideration for this mission on why they want to make the trip.
From Earth to Mars: Would you be willing to take a one-way trip to Mars from Earth? Learn from the people under consideration for this mission on why they want to make the trip.Courtesy RHorning
Would you be willing to take a one-way trip to Mars? More than 200,000 people said "yes" to a venture by Mars One, a private space exploration team that says it wants to take a team to Mars and keep them living there the rest of their natural lives. The target mission date is 2024. The winnowing process to get to the final 24 candidates is right now whittling down the remaining 600 applicants to a finalist field of 24. The Washington Post, today, interviews a number of US candidates who are being considered for the mission.

Moon walk: That's one small step for a man, one long step in sneaking office supplies.
Moon walk: That's one small step for a man, one long step in sneaking office supplies.Courtesy NASA
Forty-five years after he left the surface of the moon, we're finally learning what special souvenirs Neil Armstrong brought back from his trail-blazing journey. This might be the most extreme case of sneaking home office supplies. You'll soon be able to see some of these items on display at the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. Follow the link above to learn more about how these items were discovered and how their authenticity was verified.

Haven't gotten enough information about the current football controversy? Here's a quick video that delves into the physics at play in under-inflated footballs.

I missed hearing about this over the summer when the film played in theaters, but finally had the chance last night to watch "Dinosaur 13," a documentary film about the legal battles in the aftermath of the discovery of Sue the T. Rex in South Dakota in 1990. Actual paleontology plays just a small role in the film, but the ethics and legalities of dinosaur hunting are very interesting. It's available now on DVD and I highly recommend it. You can preview the trailer below and here is the link to the movie's official website for streaming options:

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