Monday, October 01, 2007

Geek Quotient: 8.7

Okay, I've made no secret of it that I am a geek. I have officially rated my interest in this radio show (that's right, I said radio show) as a 8.7 on the Geek Quotient Scale. Similar to the Richter Scale, the GQS is logarithmic; therefore, a GQ of 7 is effectively ten times geekier than a GQ of 6. Don't ask what the GQ of rating according to the GQS is: it's too high to measure.

But what can I say? I'm a sucker for the tidbits and connections to life that
Dr. John Lienhard offers up in this weekly radio series, Engines of our Ingenuity. A professor of mechanical engineering and history at The University of Houston, he brings an interesting and unique view to how technology has influenced our lives. This has Eratosthenes Measurementbeen a long-time interest, dating back to an undergraduate class I took on the history of science - very enlightening. For example, the common notion that when Christopher Columbus sailed in 1492 the majority of the world disbelieved his notion that the earth was round, favoring a "flat earth" theory. Wrong! The first measurements of the circumference of the earth go back to at least 230 B.C. and Eratosthenes. The only argument Columbus had with scientists was that he was intentionally choosing estimates of the earth's circumference that were small enough to make it seem that sailing west from Europe to reach China would be feasible.

Anyway, back to the radio show. How can you not find it interesting that one of the first computing uses was in the
tracking of tickets of the burgeoning airline industry? Or that marbles in something like a gumball machine was the big step up from acres of chalkboards, before computers came on the scene. Or that TWA spent almost a half billion inflation-adjusted dollars in an attempt to build a reservation system named George - as in "go ask George" - before it had to scrap the project and start over?

Ötzi's shoesConsider shoes. A great study was done on the shoes worn by Ötzi, a Stone Age dweller whose preserved frozen body was discovered in the Alps in 1991. The shoes were complex. The leather on the bottom was from a bear, cured in a mixture of bears brains and fat from its liver. Deer leather formed the top. All this was mounted on a mesh of braided linden bark with bindings made of calf leather, straw for insulation, and moss as lining. Recreations of the shoes prove to be warm, even in cold water, with excellent traction and no opportunity for blisters. In fact, Ötzi may have been better shod 5300 years ago, than we are today!

Seriously, if you've any geek in you - even the slightest bit - you should check this out.
Transcripts are available for all 2273 episodes, along with the audio for each. You can try to find Engines on a local PBS station. Or you can listen to podcasts of the latest episodes.

Now, go geek out for an hour and get lost in the history of technology.

(Maybe I should file this under "Posts that amply demonstrate why it is you should make a point of ignoring me"?)

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Douglas said...

How about filing this under, "Posts that amply demonstrate why I am the man."

Not only is the text content awesome, but you included a Red Green show reference/graphic.


PS: I plan on using the Eratosthenes experiment in my math tutoring this Thursday. It will tie in great with some of their recent lessons, and the kids are always looking for real world tie-ins to how math is useful for more than killing trees. I've already briefly covered using imaginary numbers to describe phase shifts, cylindrical and spherical coordinate systems, which they enjoyed, even though it was over their heads for the most part. This is both applicable and right at their level (maybe even a bit easy).

You 'da man.

euphrony said...

As I suspected, MB, you are the only one who seems to share my interest. Further proof in the validity of a GQ of 8.7 on this. When Mrs. E started reading it, her eyes were glazed over before the end of the first paragraph. I think at some point her head started shaking as pressure built and threatened to send her into a geek-coma.

The Secret Life of Kat said...

Cute shoes.

The Secret Life of Kat said...

Seriously, though, I found that to be really interesting.

(My eyes glazed over at first, but I forged on and enjoyed it.)

Douglas said...

I gave a printout of the Eratosthenes writeup to the kids in my math class and told them to come up with a real experiment to test this. They were interested, but a solution didn't come to them right away. I was kind of surprised, because the math itself isn't hard, and it seemed so glaringly obvious to me about how to extend it to two different latitudes. Only one of them seemed to catch the fact that latitude matters. To be honest, I was a bit disappointed at first. I certainly forget what it's like to be in high school. However, I gave them all week to work it out.

Anyway, just wanted to say that a portion of your blog has made its way into math/science experiments for kids in New Mexico.


euphrony said...

Well, I honored to be indirectly tutoring HS math. Thanks.

I know what you mean about forgeting what it was like. I remember a class I took as a grad student, which was offered for graduate and undergraduate credit. One problem we were given as homework, when answered by the undergrads they assumed steady state but every grad student assumed non-steady state. The difference of a couple of years and being willing to look at reality instead of the assumed spherical cow.

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