Did you know that the ocean is around 180m higher off Australia than it is around Sri Lanka. This is incredible. Why doesn’t the water flow towards Sri Lanka then? It all got to do with gravity, and how it is varies across the globe. This explanation is brilliant, and I guarantee that after 2 minutes and 45 seconds, you will know a lot more about the world*.
In general I’m quite a fan of Minute Physics, it explains some pretty complex ideas simply and easily. Check it out.
*unless of course, you’re a geophysicist and you know all this stuff already, but even so, its a cool video, and probably the best way of explaining to your Gran exactly what it is you do again.
As anyone who closely follows the this blog might have noticed, my blog output has dropped considerably in the past few months. This is, of course, related to the fact that I want to be done my PHD in the next few months. During the past few weeks, I can noticeably feel the levels of stress increasing past thresholds never experienced in the past.
When doing my masters thesis, I cruised to an easy victory, so it seemed. I finished on schedule and my defense went off without a hitch. When the biggest criticism from your external examiner was failing to put scale bars on maps, I think it was a good indication of success. My current supervisor told me recently that he would never have accepted a student who had to work extremely hard for their honours/masters.
A PHD is a different beast. You have much longer to finish relative to a masters degree, though the expectations are far higher. There is no course work to help you along, so you must be self motivated to learn all the skills required to finish on time. Things don’t always work out as planned, and delays inevitably happen. At the end, there are things that conspire to raise stress levels: running out of money, the need to find a job, deadlines for graduation, summer holidays. Will I be able to go on a holiday this summer? That is a question I will not be able to answer right now. Will I find a nice post-doctoral fellowship somewhere? Can I finish my thesis before my money supplies start depleting, and to get my graduation papers by June 2014? These are all things that drive me right now. And of course, there is always that lingering feeling of imposter syndrome.
To compound the problems are computer troubles. Because of limited time, I needed to change scripts that run programs. Of course, nothing ever works perfectly first time, but it can be extremely frustrating to track down mystery bugs. I got it working, but it took nearly three work days. I am going to the AGU Fall Meeting in December, so I need results! It is getting close, but I think it is possible to get the required results by then.
What possible way is there to get out of this period of high anxiety? This is a fairly new experience for me, but I think the best cure is to work hard and get things done! Ultimately, finishing solves all the problems. I think it is a good idea to step out and breathe some fresh air sometimes (and maybe play some ultimate frisbee!)
Over the past few months I’ve been writing a bit less on this blog, as I began writing on my thesis, and preparing to maybe start possibly looking at the possibility of perhaps at least inquiring about potential future employment, or lack of. It seems like its been the right time for the younger generation to get to grips with the blog. Kelly has already given her final PhD talk, which was typically amazing. Brendan has done likewise. And with myself and Evan also writing up and hoping to be out of here soon enough its high time the young whipper-snappers get to grips with some good old fashioned science communication!
But in the last month, I’ve written quite a few more posts, getting back to my old once a week effort. The reason for this: Procrastiblogging. Its a great way of putting off the real important writing for some light-hearted, still interesting bits of science. My writing isn’t going too well at the moment. For the first two or so months it was all going swimmingly, I was writing well, making some pretty graphs. But its all started to come to a halt. Perhaps what I’ve written so far has just been the low-hanging fruit, that I’ve written the easy chapters and am now getting into the harder nitty gritty that I’ve been avoiding. Evan has a post going into the grind of slow writing coming up soon.
So instead of tapping out words onto the page of my thesis, I’ve been blogging instead. It has helped! So for those writing a thesis, a blog-post can actually help relieve the sense of getting nothing done all day. And for those in the lower-years starting to take on the blog: get writing. Someday all that you see here will be yours.
One day, Simba, the sun will set on my time here, and will rise with you as the new king
Procrastibaking also helps – Amaretto and Chocolate cupcakes = yum
Following on from my blog post a couple of weeks ago, I’ve come across some interesting data which reveals the working habits of scientists across the globe. This study (reported on here) by a Chinese research groups studied the rates of paper downloads from a major journal publisher (Springer) at various times during the day throughout the week. The result is an interesting insight into cultural differences between the work-ethics of different nations.
Working habits of the top paper downloading nations
Last weekend I visited a friend who has 6-year old twins. I happened to spend some time watching cartoons with them and I was highly impressed with what I saw. Having no TV myself, and not usually in the company of kids, I’m not quite up to date with the latest shows (let alone cartoons). What took me by surprise was the content in the cartoons – it beats what was showing in my day, by far. I was quite impressed with the amount of educational material that’s out there. There was a lot on building things, helping others out, investigating suspicious activity, but beneath that, were subtle messages – environmental concern, scientific method etc.
By Kate Holland
Wondering what to do with your old birds and bats? The Natron Lake in northern Tanzania can turn your animals to stone with one quick dip!
Figure 1. Stony Swallow, Lake Natron, 2012, taken by Nick Brandt
Lake Natron (Figure 2) is a salt lake with particularly harsh composition derived from its very special neighbouring volcano, Oldoinyo Lengai, that donates lots of natrocarbonatities (carbonate dominated lavas which are enriched in sodium) to rainwater runoff. Combined with its hot temperatures (40oC) and highly alkaline pH (9 – 10.5) you would not think it the most hospitable lake. As threatening as it may sound it still has some predators such as irrigation and logging of the surrounds, highways and soda ash plants that would extract sodium carbonate to produce washing powder.
Figure 2. Lake Natron photograph from paulconormckenzie Flickr
There are a number of animals that enjoy this as a habitat – unsurprisingly there are bacteria, algae, extremophile (extreme loving) fish alkaline tilapia, and North Africa’s unfortunately named Lesser Flamingo. The pink colour (and the flamingos) comes from the red photosynthetic pigments in the numerous blue green algae in the lake (and flamingos diet). A number of plants and fish can survive in the salt marshes and wetlands around the edges of the lake. Not quite the water body of death it was first made out to be…
Nick Brandt produced some very beautiful and very sensationalized photographs that had many a website convinced you could head on down to Lake Natron, put an animal in and immediately take a statue out. Brandt describes that “it appears that the extreme reflective nature of the lakes surface confuses them [birds], and like birds crashing into plate glass windows they crash into the lake’. What he could have added to this statement to avoid confusion is that since there aren’t many carnivorous creatures in the lake, over time the carcasses remain extremely well preserved. As the lake level drops, they become coated with evaporites and appear like statues!! Still extremely cool and makes for some nice art deco just over a slightly longer timescale. Images appear in Brant’s book Across the Ravaged Land and can also be very easily googled.
It happens at least once every month. Sometimes, rarely, it happens twice a month. It’s when lunatics roam the streets and when drivers get distracted by what they see up there in the sky. It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No, it’s a FULL MOON.
Yesterday, inspired by the beautiful sight of the Moon outside my window and soon after reading Thomas’s post about impact craters on the different hemispheres of the Moon, I wanted to find out if there were others around the world who were also thinking about the Moon. It turned out there were lots of people tweeting about the Moon (hashtag analysis suggested atleast hundreds of tweets per hour). Historical statistics suggested the around this time of each month, the webosphere goes wild about the Moon and so I began digger deeper. I plotted data from Google Trends and noticed how periodic peaks in searches for the keywords “Big Moon” coincided with the days around a full moon. Over the last few years, since social media took over the world, annual Supermoon events sparked the most interest with about 4 times as many Google searches than a typical day in the year.
So, what’s the fascination with the size of the Moon?