"Our sense of wonder grows exponentially; the greater the knowledge, the deeper the mystery."

-- E.O. Wilson

Web scienceontap.blogspot.com

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Laughter... The Best Medicine?

Scientific American piece on the subject of humor and health here:


And for a free healthy dose go HERE.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Book Review

HERE a review of "13 Things That Don't Make Sense" by Michael Brooks, a book about anomalous and provocative topics at the edge of science.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Magic and Science

A Scientific American article about what magic has to tell us about science HERE.


Friday, March 27, 2009

How Neurons Work

Neurons explained: A Friday video:

Thursday, March 26, 2009


Miracles from this brief perspective of scientist/writer Chet Raymo:



Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Good Gould

Classic Stephen Jay Gould writing on patterns in evolution, with followup discussion (several participants) here:


Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Essay by Paul and Anne Ehrlich on the Earth's dominant animal (...that be us) here:


Monday, March 23, 2009

Author Blurb -- Charles Seife

Seife shines!

Another project is currently taking up much of my time and leaving little time for reading/reviewing, but one book I did finish recently is an older Charles Seife selection, "Alpha and Omega," on the possible beginning and end of the Universe as theorized by modern day cosmologists. Charles Seife is an author and freelance science writer who's previous books "Zero," and "Decoding the Universe" (which I especially liked, on information theory) received excellent reviews, and his latest work, "Sun In A Bottle," on fusion research, is now in the bookstores.

Seife's homepage is here:

For any layman interested in cosmology "Alpha and Omega" is a great read with the usual mind-blowing content about dark energy, dark matter, M-theory, particle zoos, inflation, gravitational waves, quintessence, the nature of vacuums, supersymmetry, etc. etc. --- Ideas that will confound and amaze most lay readers and leave them wondering how even the professionals are able to forge such bizarre, yet scientific, notions (the discussion of "vacuums" in particular left me mentally reeling). This is Star Trek stuff on steroids. Modern cosmology is so beyond human conception or imagination that it really only reduces to pure mathematics and logic and a faith that the mathematics is correct. I won't attempt a full review of the volume here, but just say I'd rate it an A-, for those interested in this science genre (if cosmology doesn't interest you than pay no heed to this volume).

Here is someone else's online review of the book:



Saturday, March 21, 2009

Birds In Serious Decline

ONE THIRD of all U.S. bird species are currently "endangered, threatened, or in serious decline" according to this
New York Times article on the just-issued "U.S. State of the Birds" report.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Carl Sagan on the Pale Blue Dot... That Is Us

For the Friday video offering, the memorable Carl Sagan:

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

How Does Anaesthesia Work?

Carl Zimmer on anaesthesia and consciousness here.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Music and Language

I usually focus here on "popular" science writing, but today I'll link to a more academic blog post.
In college (back around Civil War times, as it seems to me), psycholinguistics was one of my major interests, and I always believed the intertwining of language, music, and mathematics was a largely untapped (and complex) area of study. 40 years later it remains unchartered ground in many ways, but this study finds certain synchronicities or connections between the patterns of musical notes and the vowels in language. The reading is somewhat technical, and the study somewhat preliminary, but strikes me as an interesting and possibly fruitful approach.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Happy Pi Day!

This is March 14, otherwise known as "Pi Day" (3.14)
Math enthusiasts are celebrating.
So if you're looking for an excuse to celebrate, a few pertinent websites here:



http://tinyurl.com/adjvyx (excellent book)



Friday, March 13, 2009

The Real Hedwig

This Friday a nature video (from National Geographic). The majestic Snowy Owl hunting and feeding its young:

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Mess We're In

Here a NY Times review of Nassim Nicholas' Taleb's somewhat prescient "The Black Swan."

And essay by Taleb for the statistically-inclined here:


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Theory of Everything

Totally over my head... yet still interesting:
Physicist Garrett Lisi on a "new theory of everything":


Monday, March 9, 2009

Hofstadter Musings

HERE, an interesting interview (text) with the always intriguing Douglas Hofstadter, cognitive scientist and author of the Pulitzer-prize winning "Godel, Escher, Bach," as well as several later volumes. I especially find his comments about the so-called "singularity" (the super-intelligence point toward which some argue computer technology is inevitably moving) interesting.
Interview is from the American Scientist Magazine website which has interviews with many other thinkers/writers available.


Sunday, March 8, 2009

Quote... Unquote

"Cosmologists are shaking their heads in disbelief, because experiment after experiment is showing that the universe is entirely different from what astronomers had assumed since the beginning of modern science. Ordinary matter is the exception, and unknown, exotic matter [dark matter] is the norm. Our universe is mostly dark, and most of that dark matter is unknown, ineffable stuff that has never been seen directly. Had there not been so many experiments forcing cosmologists to accept this picture, it would seem utterly ridiculous. Chicago cosmologist Michael Turner asks, incredulously, "Who ordered this?"

-- Charles Seife from "Alpha and Omega"


Friday, March 6, 2009

Amazing Sea Creatures

Another Friday video offering... Five minutes of sheer wonder from David Gallo highlighting amazing creatures residing in the ocean's depths:

....and once again a reminder, if you know of a visual Web link that you think is especially interesting, inspiring, or educational for science-minded folks please send it along to me via email for consideration as a Friday post.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Magical Magenta

Interesting... :


There's Something About Mary

Author blurb --- Mary Roach

Where do all these wonderful women science writers come from (quite a change from the old days)! Former freelancer and non-scientist Mary Roach has now entertained the public with three best-selling simply-titled, witty, humorous, yet fact-based excursions into quirky corners of science ("Stiff," "Spook," and "Bonk"), and hopefully her insatiable curiosity will bring us many more to come. If there's such a thing as 'escapist' scientific writing (fun, but you still learn stuff) I'd use the label here.

Her own interesting webpage here.

and couple of articles on her here and here.

Her books on Amazon here.


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Quote... Unquote, +Video

“The world of biology is full of miracles, but nothing I have seen is as miraculous as the metamorphosis of the monarch caterpillar. Her brain is a speck of neural tissue a few millimeters long, about a million times smaller than a human brain. With this almost microscopic clump of nerve cells she knows how to manage her new legs and wings, to walk and to fly, to find her way by some unknown means of navigation over thousands of miles from Massachusetts to Mexico. How can all this be done? How are her behaviour patterns programmed first into the genes of the caterpillar and then translated into the neural pathways of the butterfly? These are mysteries which our biological colleagues are very far from having understood. The monarch is proof that nature’s imagination is richer than our own.” --- Freeman Dyson in "Infinite In All Directions"

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

"The Century of Neuroscience"

A brief essay today from Chet Raymo on the impact ("you ain't seen nothin' yet") of neuroscience here.

English Major Turned Physics Geek

Some of the most engaging popular science writing on physics on the Web comes from... dr-r-r-rumroll... a former English major (exactly how that happens I've never quite understood, but I ain't complainin')... Jennifer Ouellette. She blogs at two sites worth checking out if physics rocks you:



And her books are listed on Amazon here.

Monday, March 2, 2009

'Scientist's Nightstand'

American Scientist Magazine has an interesting section on their website called "Scientist's Nightstand" in which they interview various scientists/writers about their own books as well as others they've read or recommend. Interesting stuff, if you want to find out what some of your favorite thinkers are themselves reading or recommending. Check it out


'nuther Blog Meme...

Last month I created and sent a "science book lovers meme" along its merry way (and richly enjoyed people's varied responses), so will do an encore 'nature book lovers meme' in the same vein this month....

==> A Nature Book Lovers' Meme :

Increasingly our daily lives are bound by a man-made technological world, yet most believe it important to maintain a connection to the natural world. Cite a half-dozen-or-so books you would recommend every young person read by the end of their school years to help them maintain a sense of connection to, and value in, the natural world.
After posting your list, forward the meme to a half-dozen-or-so bloggers of your choosing.


The variety and range of books that one might name is huge, but I'll throw out these 6 to get things started:

1) "Pilgrim At Tinker Creek" by Annie Dillard
2) "The Norton Book of Nature Writing" edited by Finch and Elder
3) "Speaking For Nature" by Paul Brooks
4) "Kinship With The Animals" edited by Michael Tobias
5) any anthology of Thoreau writings
6) ...and for an old, off-the-wall pick (but I still think a fun read), "The Secret Life of Plants" by Peter Tompkins

And I'm tagging the following blogs:

Nature Remains

Monarch's Nature Blog

Susan Gets Native

Gossamer Tapestry

Rambling Woods

Foothills Fancies

....each of whom better pass along this meme, or 7 years bad blogging luck may befall you ;-)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

...And More Mind Stuff

Jonah Lehrer, author of the current bestseller, "How We Decide," comments here on philosopher Alva Noe's latest treatise on human consciousness, "Out of Our Heads" (fuller review here).
More on Noe (including video) at the Edge site here.


Steven Pinker Stuff

Book blurb: "The Stuff of Thought" by Steven Pinker

Harvard's Steven Pinker may be the Warren Beatty of psycholinguistics, or even of cognitive psychology in general; not just because he looks a tad like the actor, but because he is a rock star in the field of cognition; one of the most creative, thoughtful, provocative, interesting, challenging, and often persuasive thinkers, and explicators of academic thought, in the marketplace of ideas today.
I usually read his books as soon as they appear, but only just now am getting around to reading this 2007 offering. My bad... This may be the best popular work he has done yet (amongst his own stiff competition). Probably a must-read for anyone interested in the workings of mind, and language in particular. "The Stuff of Thought," like all Pinker writings, is filled to the brim with thoughtful stuff.

An LA Times review of the book
And a more critical review here, from New Scientist.

Pinker has several video talks available on the Web including these two:



On a different topic, a couple months back, he wrote this essay for the NY Times on having his own personal genome sequenced.