Tag Archives: science

Neil deGrasse Tyson Graciously Answers Questions From My Children (Indianapolis Monthly)

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Indianapolis Monthly — For a nearly infinite number of reasons, I am profoundly under-equipped to interview astrophysicists like Neil deGrasse Tyson. I do not know the age of the sun, I have zero ideas about how to deflect murderous asteroids rocketing at us from deep space, and I know precisely two facts about Saturn, which are the same two you do. (It has rings and would float in an enormous bathtub.)

For this reason, and to preview Tyson’s December 5 appearance at Old National Centre, I have outsourced the following interview to two much more knowledgeable associates: my 13-year-old and 6-year-old, who joined me in listening to Tyson’s endlessly enjoyable StarTalk podcast on the drive home from Thanksgiving and have, as such, come to regard Tyson as Earth’s Smartest Person. Tyson, quite graciously, is happy to go along with this. “All you need is curiosity, and kids have it in abundance,” he says. “A professional scientist is simply a kid who never grew up.” (My 6-year-old, on the morning drive to kindergarten, asked me, “Is this the day you talk to that guy who’s the biggest expert on everything?”)

Indeed, as a best-selling author, podcast host, director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City, owner of a Twitter account with 10 million followers, host of the revival of the Cosmos television program, and teacher of unceasing charm and enthusiasm, Tyson has achieved the superstar status afforded to scientists like Carl Sagan, the MythBusters and, y’know, Einstein. He’ll bring all that expertise to town in a one-man show titled An Astrophysicist Reads the Newspaper, all about the current scientific climate, as well as asteroid collisions, cosmic travel, dark matter, and purely theoretical objects known as “newspapers.” (The show’s about two and a half hours and for all ages, though some language may be PG-13, because when discussing your potential extermination by enormous flying mountains from space, it’s appropriate to curse a little.)

So now, if you’ll permit, my sons throw a few questions to the biggest expert on everything.

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Coffee found to have added benefits, such as making you die less

Pictured: Right before then became now.

GateHouse — I rarely pay heed to news out of the world of Science, mostly because we’re in a recession, people, and I’m not made of heed.

But it’s also because such news often arrives in the form of sizable and startling-looking words, many of which contain prefixes (ugh), in periodicals that I do not subscribe to, such as the New England Journal of Medicine, Philosophical Transactions Of The Royal Society and Redbook. I also find it overly scientific, and the people who write it tend to be like super-obsessed with things like molecules and dark matter and large hadrons colliding, and I had plenty of biology in the 10th grade, thank you very much. If Science talked more about Facebook and quidditch, maybe we’d have something.

You disgust me.

That said, now and again Science produces some actual news that makes me sit up and call my momma, which apparently is something I have to sit up to do, as it is very hard to dial the phone while reclining. Last week Science announced that coffee not only provides your primary reason to get up in the morning (yeah, I said it, CBS’ “The Early Show”) and is literally the only reason I can complete all basic tasks between the hours of 2:30 and 6 p.m., but it has other, more additional health benefits as well, such as not-dying, which is a pretty good benefit, frankly. I’d like to see other beverages come up with a benefit like that. Looking at you, Mello Yello, what do you got in the way of extending the average life expectancy? What’s that? Jack squat? I thought so. Just sit there and be mello, loser.

Anyway, and it goes on for a while, but the study basically reveals that coffee is good at making you die less. Now, depending upon the kind of either human or Romney you are, this news will elicit one of two reactions:

  1. “AIEEEEEEEEEEEEE!” (joyously, followed by tearful hugging of increasingly uncomfortable strangers at the bus stop)
  2. “I guess that’s good news, but I’m not really a coffee drinker so” and it is here that I would stop listening to your boring mouthwords, because if you are not a coffee drinker I cannot imagine what further conversation we would remotely hope to have, as I would literally be half-listening to every fool syllable dribbling out of your face thinking, “You get out of my house you get out right now.”
 
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You have been the worst solar flare ever. GO BACK TO THE SUN, LOSER

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A NASA probe speeds away from the sun's recent solar flare, which was destroyed by the Empire.

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GateHouse — HEY, SOLAR FLARE.

YEAH, I’M TALKING TO YOU, LOSER. THE FLARE LOOKING THING, IN SPACE, THE ONE THAT’S SOLAR. You suck. You are the worst solar flare ever. You are a pink fluffy unicorn of solar flares. You are a fragile porcelain mouse of solar flares. You are a Hallmark Christmas ornament of solar flares, one of the ones with a basket full of puppies waiting for Santa with cookies or something. One time in 1999 I had to evacuate my hometown for a hurricane that ended up sputtering out over the Atlantic and arrived as the kind of autumn shower best used for frolicking and making sure one’s azaleas are sated. You are the Blooming Azalea Spring Shower of solar flares. Try to look cool in front of your black hole friends now.

Sigh. My apologies for using valuable Internet to yell at a galactic event that I do not remotely begin to understand, but I have good reasons:

  1. I find that most of my problems can be solved by yelling.
  2. It wasn’t even a galactic event, really. This big-shot solar flare that was supposed to burst forth from the sun, scorch its way across 93 million miles of cold black space and rock the Earth like a solar hurricane did what I can best describe as jack squat, given the inconsiderate confines of the average newspaper reader’s sensibilities, and apologies to my grandmother, for whom “jack squat” is probably pushing the limits of what’s acceptable discourse among respectable company. (Sorry, Grandma, I write dumb jokes and “jack squat” is kind of right in my wheelhouse.)
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Rick Perry is correct: Science is pretty much a huge loser

Pictured: Basically what all Scientists look like.

GateHouse — So, just to straighten this out, just to quell the controversy, there’s a new study that says watching TV is a drain on your lifeforce somehow? WELL THANKS FOR KEEPING ME CURRENT, SCIENCE. What’s next on the list? Is it teleporting? I hope it’s teleporting.

To jump back to before the previous paragraph (yes, I have solved COLUMN TIME TRAVEL), a recent study published in Australia revealed that watching too much TV increases your chance of dying early from health problems. It also apparently reveals that science is out of things to study. No no, guys, thanks, since we’ve got all of our other problems so skillfully figured out, I guess it’s OK for you to start going back to the mid 1950s to CHECK YOUR WORK. It’s a good thing our Future Republican President is planning to make sure all your textbooks are flamethrowered.

See, people, this is why Brave Patriots like Rick Perry and the additional 400 GOP presidential candidates are so wisely poking holes in Science things like “evolution” and “global warming” and “Avogadro’s number” and “the atomic weight of cobalt” (the “Periodic Table” will tell you that it’s 58.933, but that’s just a theory that’s out there): Not because Science is filling our children’s precious spongebrains with facts and empirically proven evidence instead of merely our own desperately held belief structures, because it’s MOSTLY REHASHING THINGS WE KNEW ALREADY. Last week saw another round of stories about how eating processed meats made from the feet of animals you would hit with a subway train if you could might not be so good for the ol’ Heart. WELL THANKS A HEAP, SCIENCE. I suppose next you’re going to report some bungling nonsense about how easy access to “guns” increases “the rates of violence in America.” Science is such a loser.

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Up and atom: Will someone please count these molecules for my 7-year-old

Fallout Boy MilhouseGateHouse — Over the past couple of weeks, the boy has become a pretty huge fan of molecules.

Molecules in the air, molecules in the water, molecules in the table. Molecules in space, molecules in him, molecules in his blanket. I spent much of Mother’s Day hopelessly attempting to calculate the number of molecules in the space between (holds fingers about a millimeter apart), and failing in spectacular, fiery, Cubs/Donald Trump fashion. If you know how many molecules are in that general area, I beg you tell me now, because I’m about 30 seconds away from tweeting Neil deGrasse Tyson, and he is SO TIRED of me doing that.

The problem with being interrogated about molecules by your 7-year-old, aside from extrapolating that I can probably go ahead and take these football helmets to the consignment shop, is of course that I haven’t the foggiest what to tell him. (We determined once that air is made up of nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide. “Is carbon dioxide a molecule?” he logically asks, and I’m like DUDE I HAVE NO IDEA, hang on let me tweet Neil deGrasse Tyson.)

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Ozomatli – Cut Chemist Site (Live on ‘Morning Becomes Eclectic’)

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TAKE US WITH YOU, SPACE BACTERIA

At left: CI1 carbonaceous chondrites. At right: Just some rocks.

GateHouse — You guys might have missed this last week, as the news cycles were thick with unimaginable disaster (Japan) and unimaginable stupid (everything else, let’s just pick two random ones how about “Martha Stewart is a grandma” and “Timberlake/Biel split” whoa wait really?), but a scientist says he found life in space. This is an unprocessably big deal, the culmination of millennia of stargazing and decades of technologically wondrous exploration and hundreds of terrible, terrible movies with Will Smith in them, and yet as “confirmed alien life” does nothing for you in the page views department let me also very quickly mention that I can help you find out WHAT REALLY SPLIT UP JUSTIN AND JESSICA. (I don’t want to give it away, but Martha Stewart = totally involved.)

(It also doesn’t help that this guy has been more or less shoved given a metaphoric swirly by his colleagues, but as I’m just here to make dumb jokes, not get in the middle of a nerd-fight, let’s just press on.)

Anyway, a few weeks ago, late at night, on a corner of the Internet very few people frequent because it rarely contains information on the porny antics of a man best known for making cornball sex jokes on America’s second-dumbest means for delivering alleged comedy (you’re reading the first), it was reported that Science located evidence of extraterrestrial life. This, of course, is no great shakes, as we’ve learned that science is to be selectively ignored and distrusted, so it’s understandable that it took a little while for a story confirming the EXISTENCE OF ALIEN LIFE to find its legs, or tentacles, or amorphous bulbous glowing laser-firing appendages, whatever they have up there. (I’m hoping that at least there’s something akin to a tauntaun, but that’s just me, I get cold easily.)

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Spacehog – In The Meantime

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Scientists are cloning mammoths and other huge prehistoric beasts, because that went so well with Gamera

Pictured: Science

GateHouse — There are, on the face of it, tons of reasons why cloning a woolly mammoth is a magnificent idea, if not one so awesome you can’t believe that America’s feeble, short-sleeved inventors haven’t thought of already (let me know how it goes with that “high-speed rail,” nerdlingers, while me and 12 friends are riding my brand-new new mammoth around the infield at the Daytona 500). Just think of a glorious, mammoth-filled future, the convenience, the ease of cargo transport, the chance to finally have a huge meaty rib delivered via roller-skating waitress to the side window of your rock car.

But, as it turns out, there are evidently some loser reasons against mammoth cloning, and not just the usual worries about being gored to death, being trampled to death or being trampled to death while being gored by the early, unsuccessful trial-run mammoth clones from the practice machines. God knows what those abominations could have on them — wings, dorsal fins, mouse faces. I’m not sure if you’ve ever given serious consideration to what happens when an entire subterranean cloning facility full of failed, bucktoothed, emotionally unstable almost-mammoths run amok and inevitably slaughter their creators — which obviously happens every time anyone clones anything around here, jeez — but I’m sure the aftermath would be something you’d want to wear the old shoes to mop up. “MAMMOTH DISASTER IN SCIENCE LAB,” the headlines would scream, and on the plus I guess the headlines would pretty much write themselves, leaving copy editors with more time to spend fleeing into the countryside, crazed with murderous fear.

I’m talking about mammoth cloning – I know, again — because it turns out that having successfully cloned every other animal in that Darwin book from the library, and also having fixed every other problem on Earth, Science has decided to try cloning animals that technically don’t even have firsts anymore, calling into question whether the word “cloning” is even accurate here, but whatever, we’ll leave that to the poindexters from the AP Stylebook.

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The Roots – Clones

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Sarcasm: Not only fun, it will probably save your life

GateHouse — I have good news today for the edgy people out there, the embittered, the dark, the endarkened, the snarky, the snippy, the snooty, the ensnarkened, the tragically comic, the comically tragic and everyone that I am related to or friends with.

A study recently published by a group of neurophysiologists at the University of California San Francisco (in those rare moments they weren’t hacky-sacking in the quad and drinking PBR) argues that using sarcasm — the ability to make people feel silly if not insignificant in an vain attempt to raise your own self-esteem by tiny, ultimately futile degrees — is not only something that’s fun to use when trying to get out of a conversation with people you can’t stand, but it’s actually a vital evolutionary survival skill.

Yeah. So, to recap: Sarcasm is a basic, essential key to life.

Oh, there‘s something I needed to know. Hey, University of California San Francisco, thanks for spending a couple of thousand bathtubs full of taxpayer money figuring that out. I bet your parents are really super-proud of your extremely important graduate work, and your really expensive degrees. They should totally give you guys a raise, or a shiny new cafeteria, or a new Nerd Room, for all your Nerding.
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Science ruins time travel for everyone

GateHouse – Science has already ruined a number of important things for me, such as my high school GPA and pretty much all of religion, but this past week they really took the taco: It was announced that I really, truly, once and for all, can’t travel back in time. Not even with a cheesy 1980s-looking car, not even if you have directions to a nice local wormhole, no matter what Huey Lewis and the News say.

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Space is trying to kill us (as usual)

deathstar3.jpg

GateHouse – I should probably lead here with the bad news: We’re all going to die.

I know it seems like I’m saying that an awful lot these days. The thing is, I have a Google alert on the phrase “We’re All Going To Die,” and the wretched thing goes off several hundred times a day. It went off when they found the pharmaceuticals in the drinking water, it went off when the anthrax was being mailed everywhere, it went off when the White Sox won the World Series, it went off on Election Day 2004, and it still goes off every time someone older than 11 years old says “BFF.”

But at the risk of seeming redundant — and, it should be noted, wrong, since if you’re reading this there’s a better-than-average chance you are not dead — this time we really, really are going to all die. Really. No, really. I mean it. Stop looking at me like that. Start, I don’t know, flailing your arms and rioting in the streets or something.

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