Science Fact

Listen & Learn: Podcasts

We’re all busy, right? We have lives, children (two-legged or / and four-legged), spouses, and chores to do. Some of us have more than one career we juggle, too. So how does one make time for everything?

NO TIME TO READ?

In my busy lifestyle I find it difficult to find time to read. But I have a lot of tasks that I do that keep my hands busy like dishes, yard work, and data collection. During those times I sometimes listen to audio books but more and more lately, I’ve been listening to podcasts.

DISCOVER PODCASTS

According to Wikipedia, “A podcast is an episodic series of audio files which a user can subscribe to so that new episodes are automatically downloaded via web syndication to the user’s local computer, mobile application, or media player. The term podcast was invented by BBC  journalist Ben Hammersly in 2004.

Podcasts are usually free of charge. Some charge a small fee, others use sponsors and ads, still others use Patron to cover the cost of production.

The user can listen to current podcast episodes or archived ones. Podcasts are produced by a wide range of people from professionals working for well-known corporations to a beginner working out of her own home. This means that quality can be all over the place. But don’t avoid a podcast done by a beginner. Sometimes their enthusiasm for their subject more than makes up for the poorer sound quality and production values.

WHERE, OH, WHERE?

Where do you find podcasts? Primarily on Apple iTunes or Stitcher, which was initially designed for android phones. Some podcasters have links to the podcasts on their websites.

A word of caution: I’ve never used Stitcher but have seen reviews that suggest it may not be working well.

WHERE TO START?

There are thousands of podcasts, maybe millions, covering nearly every topic in existence. It’s hard to sort through the titles to find the ones that speak to you. Here are a few that I enjoy.

You Are Not So Smart (YANSS)—hosted by David McRaney this podcast takes a look at flawed perception and reasoning. McRaney interviews experts that are always fascinating. He also taste-tests cookies on air, that are made from recipes sent to him by listeners. The YANSS website with more information and a link to the podcast is here.

Science Friday (SciFri)—hosted and produced by Ira Flatow, SciFri is a podcast that started as a public radio show in 1991.  It “is the source for entertaining and educational stories about science, technology, and other cool stuff.”  One of the topics in a recent episode was about advances in the field of prosthetics for amputees that sound like something out of the Bionic Man. The Science Friday website with a link to the radio show and the podcast is here.

Flash Forward—hosted and produced by Rose Eveleth. This podcast explores the future with a ‘what if’ sensibility. Eveleth begins each podcast with a short audio play that reflects a future where this month’s ‘what if’ is reality. The bulk of the podcast is interviews with experts about the advantages, disadvantages, and probabilities of the ’what if’ becoming reality. The Flash Forward website with a link to the podcast is here.

Entertaining and informative, these three podcasts are my current top picks for the sciences. In the future, I’ll share the writing podcasts that I enjoy.

Do you listen to podcasts? If you don’t, will you try one now?

If you are a podcast listener, which ones do you enjoy?

Audio-Tehnica headphones via Flickr Creative Commons

Does Summer Mean Sleep Deprivation?

Lynette M Burrows, author; Lynette M Burrows science fiction author; Lynette M Burrows action-suspense science fiction author

photo courtesy of lifebeginsat50mm via Flickr

It’s summer time in the U.S.A. and that means fun, right? There’s all kinds of things to do: swimming, sun bathing, gardening, lawn care, picnics, vacations, games, sitting on the porch until the sun goes down, and more. Unfortunately the usual list of things to do continues as well: housework, the wage-earning-job, errands, meals, and all manner of mundane daily duties. So how do we accomplish all of these things? Can we say sleep deprivation?

It’s a cruel season that makes you get ready for bed while it’s light out. ~Bill Watterson

We all know that sleep is important. There’s information all over the web, televisions and magazines telling us that chronic sleep deprivation can lead to decreased alertness, memory loss, and numerous medical issues ranging from obesity to heart disease. (For more information go to WebMD.) So why do we do we shave off sleep time? Perhaps we believe in some of the common myths about sleep.

If you lose two hours of sleep, you can impair your performance equal to a .05 blood-alcohol level. (from 10 facts about.com)

Do you believe that missing just one hour of sleep won’t hurt? Or that your body adjusts quickly to different sleep schedules? What about the one that you can make up for lack of sleep by sleeping more on the weekends? Sorry, none of those are correct. Even just one hour less sleep at night will affect how alert you are, your cardiovascular health, your energy levels, and your ability to fight off infection. For more information on myths about sleep go to helpguide.org and go to sleepfoundation.org for healthy sleep tips.

“I’m not asleep… but that doesn’t mean I’m awake.”-Unknown Author

It’s summer and my wish for you (and me) is to make getting enough sleep a priority so we remain healthy and have a terrific summer. And I don’t want to be too serious so, how about a few fun facts about sleep?

Here’s 10 Fun Facts about sleep.

You know those sheep we count in order to go to sleep? They only need 3.8 hours of sleep a day! Check out how many hours of sleep a giraffe needs per day here.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be a dolphin. Scientists studying sleep believe that dolphins may sleep with one hemisphere of their brain at a time. How cool is that?  Yes, some report that ducks can do the same thing, but I’d much rather be a dolphin. Just think how much I summer I could enjoy if half my brain would sleep while I enjoyed summer fun!

“A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.”-Irish Proverb

Sleep by Sean MacEntee via Flickr

What about you? Do you get the recommended amount of sleep? If not, what has you sleep deprived this summer?

When is a Clone Not a Clone

sonogram image of twin in utero

Twin #2 by Jim Moran, Flickr Creative Commons

Bees do it. Lizards and snakes do it. Turkeys and Komodo Dragons can do it. Have babies without daddies, that is. It’s called Parthenogenesis. Parthenogenesis a form of asexual reproduction in which growth of the embryo occurs without fertilization. Growth of the embryo begins due to a change in temperature, a mechanical action, or a chemical action. The term applies only to animals. (Botanical asexual reproduction is called something else.) And since the offspring are clones of the mother, they are usually female.

This phenomenon was first observed in aphids and recorded by Charles Bonnet in the 18th century.

In 1899, Jacques Loeb reported artificial parthenogenesis in sea urchins. Gregory Pincus used temperature and chemicals to induce embryonic development in rabbit eggs in 1936. Today, some sources say about 70 vertebrates can reproduce this way and, if you include all organisms that number will top 2000 species.

Some species are obligatory parthenogenic, in other words, they cannot reproduce sexually at all. Other species are facultatively parthenogenic, meaning they have the ability to switch between sexual and parthenogenic reproduction.

There have been no known natural parthenogenic offspring in mammals. There are a number of different theories as to why that is, but it was reported in 2004 that one laboratory created parthenogenic mice. It was a lengthy, complicated, and inefficient process.

Not a Clone?

Cloning is different from parthenogenesis. According to The American Heritage Medical Dictionary cloning is “the transplantation of a nucleus from a somatic cell (a body cell, not a gamete) into an ovum, which then develops into an embryo.” Mosby’s Medical Dictionary goes a little farther in its definition, “a procedure for producing multiple copies of genetically identical organisms or of cells or of individual genes. . . .”

The offspring in cloning can be not identical to the parent organism if either somatic cell or the ovum are not from the parent organism.

In parthenogenesis the process of fertilization does not happen. Thus the offspring is identical since no new DNA is required.

Then there are the different types of cloning: recombinant DNA, Reproductive Cloning, and Therapeutic Cloning. Each could be topics of their own, so I won’t get into the details here. If you’re curious, I’ve listed my online resources below.

Do You Know a Clone?

Since there has been no confirmed, recorded human clones born, many of you will answer this question in the negative. Or perhaps you will remember Dolly the Sheep (1996-2003), the first cloned mammal. Yet, I’ll bet you know at least one set of identical twins. Identical twins have identical DNA, they come from a single cell. And it appears that nearly every species on Earth can bear twins.

Twin Parade

Twin Parade @Just for laughs festival, 2008, Montreal flickr creative commons

Will the True Clone Please Stand?

So which process creates a true clone? Is it okay to take the parthenogenic or cloning process just so far as to make stem cells and not allow the cells to develop into an organism? Why do we need this research, you ask?

Stem cell research has already shown us that it has terrific potential to cure deadly diseases such as cancer and diabetes. It’s just a tantalizing glimpse of what may be possible. Think of the many millions of people who may be helped by this process.

And what about invitro fertilization? Most of us accept that this is one way for couples unable to conceive naturally to be able to have children. Is this cloning? What if, only one partner was able to contribute the cells to create the offspring due to genetic or other disease? 

If we could repopulate endangered species through cloning, would that be an acceptable use of the process?

If we outlaw cloning, do we outlaw the cloning and the parthenogenesis that nature affords us? Would you get rid of those cute identical twins everyone likes to oooh and ahh at?

What’s in a Word?

Does the difference in semantics affect the ethics of this situation? For many people the answer is no. And I respect their concerns. There are reasons to be concerned. As with most scientific discoveries there is the potential for both an immense amount of good and terrible wrongs.

Not to make light of anyone’s particular beliefs, there is no easy answer.

As a science fiction author and a nurse, I find this topic is a gold mine of information and emotional reactions. I’m having fun using parthenogenesis as a springboard to explore a little of the controversies involved.

 Do you read fiction that takes on controversial issues? Has a book or article about such a controversial issue ever changed your mind?

Your responses to this topic are important to me. In fact, some of your answers may fuel development in my novel. I only ask that you respect others who may reply with differing opinions. Thank you so much.

 

If you’d like to learn more, here are some of my online resources:

Going to Mars, Word by Word

an image of Mars from space

The Power of Words

Do you remember when you first started to read?

Children know that books hold secrets long before they can read. Their curiosity and fascination drives them to turn pages of a book looking for the key to understanding. They beg to be read to. Finally they are old enough to learn to read. But first they must know their alphabet by sight and sound. There are only 26 letters but there are at least 44 sounds those letters, or combinations of letters, make. Finally, they learn to string the sounds together. Faces scrunch up with effort as they laboriously sound out letters on the page.

“rrrrr – ah–”
“No, that is a u. It’s sound here is ‘uh.’”
“rrrr – uhhhh – ennn. rrr—uhhhh—nnnn.”

Suddenly their face light up and they shout, “Run!” After the first word, the second, third, and fourth come more quickly. They turn the pages eagerly, finding new words and ideas on every page. They read nonfiction and fiction. Some progress to reading science fiction.

The Power of Ideas

The field of speculative fiction, or science fiction and fantasy if you prefer, has been referred to as the fiction of ideas. But science fiction is more than ideas. It’s words strung across a page that evoke images of worlds not-yet-seen, people who are the same-yet-different, people who are vastly different, and words that inspire ideas. Ideas that spur some us to take action, to become an inventor, an explorer, an astronaut, or an astronomer. And some of those inventors, explorers, astronauts and astronomers turn their attention to Mars.

Melding Words and Ideas into Hope

We’ll never know what inspired the first man to look up at the night sky and notice a pinkish-red star. It’s color and cycle of appearing and disappearing from our skies, filled viewers with curiosity.

The first recorded observations of Mars we know of were written by ancient Egyptians. In 400 BC the Babylonians called the planet Mars, “Nergal,” the Star of Death. The Greeks named it Ares after their god of war. Its moons are Phobos (fear) and Deimos (terror). Perhaps it was the color that inspired men to associate the planet with such things.

In the 16th century Copernicus proposed a heliocentric model for the solar system where the planets circled the sun. Kepler revised that, giving Mars an elliptical orbit. The telescope, invented in the early 1600s allowed men to take a closer look at this pinkish-red celestial mystery. Men like Galileo, Cassini, and Hershell peered at the red planet, each adding his observations to those of others. When Giovanni Schiaparelli made a map of Mars and called the lines ‘grooves’ (canali in Italian), the grooves became known as canals and lit the rockets of man’s imagination.

Although not the first book published using Mars, The Two Planets by German Kurd Lasswitz (1888) is thought by some to be the first significant work on Mars. In 1898, a mere ten years later, came H. G. Wells’s War of the Worlds. Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars came out in 1912. The Northwest Smith series of stories, were written by C.L. Moore in the mid-1930s. By 1938 C.S. Lewis contributed Out of the Silent Planet to the growing number of books about Mars.

In 1941 Isaac Asimov wrote Heredity about twins separated at birth, raised on different planets, and having to work together on Mars. Robert A. Heinlein repeatedly used Mars from the late 1940s onward. The Fifties saw stories and novels about Mars published by Arthur Clark, Ray Bradbury, Lester del Ray, and John Wyndham among others. Larry Niven, Roger Zelazny, and Phillip K. Dick joined the field during the Sixties.

Then Mariner 4, a US spacecraft, became the first to arrive at Mars in July 1965. It snapped about 20 pictures on its flyby. According to some, those pictures spelled the death of the mystique and mythology of Mars. Yet nothing could be further from the truth.

Among many others, Jerry Pournelle and Gordon Dickson published stories about Mars in the Seventies. The 1980’s saw works by Stanislaw Lem, Greg Bear, and S.M. Stirling. Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars series was published in the Nineties along with books by Ben Bova, Stephen Baxter, and scores of others. In 2000 Geoffrey A. Landis’ award winning Mars Crossing was published.

In addition to all these printed words are films and television shows about Mars. There is no way this blog can cover all of the Mars fiction written. Literally millions of words have been written about the red planet. And now that Curiosity has landed and Mars is being studied and written about again, one might expect another upsurge in novels set on Mars will be coming. Yet there are some who bemoan the fact that Science Fiction has lost it’s way.

In his August 17th post on Cracked.com, Robert Brockway says there are 4 Things Science Fiction Needs To Bring Back: the optimism, the sense of exploring for the future of mankind, some good old fashioned mind f***ery, and the sense of fun.

So in the spirit of exploration (pun intended) and in celebration of the landing of Curiosity, I am beginning a new series of posts. I’m collecting fiction, old and new, written about Mars. I’ll read the stories and report on them here. I’ll be looking for the sense of wonder, the sense of fun, the optimism for the future of mankind, and the good old fashioned – storytelling (fooled ya, didn’t I?).

I have a copy of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars trilogy collected in one book. Interestingly enough it has an introduction written by Bruce Coville that fits as if he wrote it for this post. In his introduction Bruce says,

“How can I tell you how much I loved these books?
Would it be enough to say that there was a period in my life when the thing I wanted more than anything else in the world was to be John Carter? I used to go to bed at night hoping to wake up on Mars. . . .”

Could you wish your words had any more impact on a young person than that? Words have power. Spoken words. Written words. Your words. My words.

What better use than to write stories, collections of words, meant to power the imagination and optimism, to inspire men to send rockets and rovers millions of miles through space, to power hope for the future?

Won’t you join me in my exploration of the fascinating red planet in fiction? First: Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars, I hope you’re ready.

Next stop – Barsoom!

If you’ve read a Mars book, please leave a comment with the title of the book and what your thoughts are about it. I love it when you share your thoughts with me!

The image above is a public domain image from http://www.public-domain-image.com/full-image/space-public-domain-images-pictures/mars-planet-of-the-solar-system.jpg-royalty-free-stock-photograph.html