The Scout Report
October 17, 2014 -- Volume 20, Number 40
A Publication of Internet Scout
Computer Sciences Department, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Measurement Science for Complex Information Systems
Human Development Reports
Online Statistics Education
Bringing Star Power to Earth
The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry
American Institute of Physics
Green Revolution: Curse or Blessing?
American Historical Association
The Arts at MIT
Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions
Fun English Games for Kids - Free Teaching Resources Online
500 Pound Kangaroos Didn’t Hop, Skip, or Jump
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We live in the midst of astonishingly complex systems. From ecologies to earthquakes, from transportation networks to computational clouds, our days are defined by the networks in which we are intertwined. Yet, as sudden weather disasters and unexpected economic upheavals prove, we’re still pretty bad at predicting complex systems. This is the very problem that the Measurement Science for Complex Information Systems lab at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) aims to understand. The website opens with a great introduction and summary of the project, including what the “new idea” and the “technical objectives” are. Along with descriptions of the applied mathematical and hard science measures used by NIST, there are numerous links to Related Publications and Related Presentations. [CNH]
This fascinating interactive map from the United Nations Development Program provides Human Development Reports on over 200 countries around the world. Fancy a factoid? While the United States scores number five in its ability to promote human development, with a mean income of $50,000 a year and a murder rate of less than 5 out of every 100,000 people, the prison population stands at a whopping 716 per 100,000. Compare that to Canada’s homicide rate of 1.54 and incarceration rate of 118. Other interesting tidbits gleaned from this site reveal the mean years of schooling in Kazakhstan (10.37 years) and the life expectancy in Madagascar (64 years-old). There is a lot of great educational material here, including the HDialogue section that features timely articles on issues related to human development, such as “Trans-border Vulnerabilities” and “The case for investing in early childhood.” [CNH]
In a time of instant information, many scientists wonder why the publishing process still functions at such a glacial pace, with the time between submission and publication of articles sometimes taking half a year or more. bioRxiv (pronounced “bio-archive”), a preprint server for biology published by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, seeks to remedy this situation by posting preprints of studies. While these papers will not be peer-reviewed, and it will therefore be up to the reader to judge their validity, proponents of the new system argue that it could be a support to the slower peer-reviewed process as it will at least allow scientists to examine one another’s results quickly. The site is easily searchable by subject area, date, author, keyword, and title. Equally easy and straightforward is the submission process for those interested in adding to the archive. [CNH]
Looking for great children’s books? Look no further. Elizabeth Kennedy, About.com’s Children’s Books Expert, has sifted through the wide world of children’s literature to bring you an ever-changing series of recommendations, reviews, links, activities, and blog posts. For instance, at the time of this writing, the site features an article on DIY Halloween Costumes Based on Children’s Books, replete with links to reviews of the books themselves. The Children’s Book Categories section of the site provides easy sorting (including Books by Age/Grade, Picture Books, Fairy Tales and Folktales, among others) and the Readers Recommend section is a great place to find thematic lists, such as “15 Reading Lists for Reluctant Readers.” Parents, grandparents, teachers, and caretakers can sign up to receive the free newsletter. [CNH]
This highly thought of open access journal promises a speed and ease of publishing unheard of in most traditional life science journals. Initial decisions on a manuscript are usually made within days. Post-review decisions are made within weeks. Most articles only go through a single round of revisions. For the reader, this means that the results you’re reading are hot off the lab bench. Best of all, unlike most scientific journals, which can cost upwards of $20 for a single article, the 842 (and counting) articles on this site are completely free. The eLIFE podcast is also available for easy download, online listening, or subscription. [CNH]
Statistics textbooks can easily cost over $150. But what if you could get the same information for free? This somewhat unattractive but incredibly informative site provides everything a big, fat, hard-covered stats book does but it in an easily navigable web format. (And did we mention it’s free?) This helpful online book was designed and developed by David Lane at Rice University, with a host of helpful co-authors and funding from the National Science Foundation. All chapters include multiple video presentations on such topics as quantitative variables, histograms, and one-factor ANOVA. This is a great find for anyone who wants to better understand the multitude of fields, from politics to plate tectonics, that depend on statistical modeling. [CNH]
The kind of heat that the scientists at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) in Livermore, California generate most days is pretty unusual - unless you happen to be sitting in the deep core of an active star. Using the world’s largest laser, the researchers are able to exceed temperatures of 100 million degrees and create pressures that exceed 100 billion times the Earth’s atmosphere. Visit the site to learn about NIF’s various projects, from nuclear stockpile stewardship to building a fusion based fuel source. The About section is especially informative, with a comprehensive FAQ. Next, check out Science for half a dozen links to the center’s various endeavors, including Energy for the Future and How to Make a Star. [CNH]
Wondering whether GMOs could actually impact your health? Looking for coverage of the debate between creationists and evolutionists? Check out this site from The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), whose mission is to “promote scientific inquiry, critical investigation, and the use of reason in examining controversial and extraordinary claims.” Start with the Latest Articles & News, which are drawn from the committee’s own magazine and feature such topics as Scientific Methodology and its Religious Parallels and The Lure of Mysterious Paintings. The list of Resources is especially bountiful, with links to skeptical thinkers around the web. [CNH]
explore, funded by the Annenberg Foundation, is one of those rare, heart lifting websites that could make you grateful all over again for the wonders of the internet. From Live Cams of the Cayman Reef to lots of pictures of puppies and kittens, explore seeks to present the details of life, small and large, with an artist’s eye toward beauty. Scout by Channels (e.g. 11 minute films, Darfur & Rwanda, Dog Bless You, and many others), Live Cams (such as African Watering Hole and Beluga Boat Cam-underwater), as well as Films and Photos. Also of interest, the excellent Blog is regularly updated. [CNH]
The Center for the History of Physics at the American Institute of Physics (AIP) brings oodles of good resources to the web. The organization hosts conferences, creates online exhibits, publishes articles and books, and conducts surveys, oral histories, and interviews. First check out History Program News where you will find announcements about new projects, such as The History of African Americans in the Physical Sciences which is developing materials to help teachers with their lesson plans. The In the Spotlight area features dozens of links to topics as diverse as Nobel Words in Physics, 1901-1965 and Photos of the Month. Readers can also link to interviews with physicists and historians of science at Oral History Interviewing, or check out History of Science Web Exhibits and Blogs by Our Historians. [CNH]
It took almost 1,000 years for wheat yields to increase from 0.5 to 2 metric tons per hectare. In contrast, from 1940 to 1980 the yield for wheat increased from 2 metric tons to over 6 metric tons per hectare. These are big numbers, and they had a big effect on developing countries where large parts of the population were able to surplus food for the first time. Still, critics have argued that most of the benefits went to large, land-owning farmers and that the rural poor saw little benefit from the advances. This paper examines questions about the Green Revolution, as these agricultural advances have come to be called, and how they did and didn’t benefit the world’s poor. [CNH]
As the oldest and largest professional organization dedicated to “the study and promotion of history and historical thinking,” the American Historical Association (AHA) has a lot on its plate. The Association was founded in 1884 when a group of academics recognized that a new discipline was taking shape. They subsequently split from the American Social Science Association, despite objections from their social scientist peers. Today, the AHA has over 15,000 members. The website is stocked with historical goodies. Click About AHA & Membership, and then AHA History and Archives, where you can read a Brief History of the AHA, AHA Annual Reports going back to 1997, and Presidential Addresses going back to the 1880’s. The AHA Today Blog, easily accessible from the homepage, is updated daily. Also, don’t miss the American Historical Review and Perspectives on History, listed under Publications and Directories. [CNH]
With an undergraduate acceptance rate just shy of eight percent, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is one of the most competitive universities in the world. Admitted students, in fact, have a real knack for achieving perfect scores on the math sections of the SAT. So when MIT comes to mind, most people don’t tend to think about experimental theater or origami. Enter this website: Arts at MIT. Here visitors can learn all about the well-funded dialogue between art and science at the university. The homepage features many great headings including Events+Visit, Artists, and Opportunities. From there, click Welcome and then Overview to read about art at MIT, as well as the particulars of what the Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST) has to offer. Highlighted features can be filtered by Students, Faculty, Alumni, or Public. [CNH]
The Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions (CSAS) team at Columbia University has a specific, targeted goal: a near universal carbon fee on fossil fuels. The group’s mission statement, under About Us, is a great place to start. Then explore Dr. James Hansen’s TED talk, an eighteen minute argument for the political responsibilities of climate scientists as well as regular citizens. The section titled Our Work will take readers to five headings - Climate Research, Climate Data, Public Awareness and Policy Solutions, 350.org, Citizen’s Climate Lobby, and Our Children’s Trust - each of which links to timely and educational projects. Finally, the In the News section features videos and articles showcasing the work of Dr. Hansen and his fellow climate activists. [CNH]
Fun English Games, along with its sister sites Science Kids and Kids Math Games Online, is a source of free resources for use by teachers and students. Although the main audience is elementary school students, the games, activities, worksheets, quizzes, and videos provided on the site could easily be used by English learners of all ages. For example, in one short video students learn to talk about food: they learn how to express their likes and dislikes, how large a portion to ask for, and the differences between whole wheat and white bread. The Fun Stuff area has a list of English idioms (like "It’s a piece of cake" and "Under the weather”), tongue twisters, and English language jokes. There are also fill-in-the blank quizzes and plenty of activities, such as classroom scrabble or "What will you bring on vacation?" While there are banner ads on the site, they are relatively easy to ignore and do not block content. [DS]
According to the McKinsley Global Institute, the average worker spends about a quarter of her time at the office managing email. Mailbox wants to make all that easier. They’ve redesigned the inbox to make your mobile device a swifter, more efficient template for emailing. The app uses quick swipe and a chat-like view of entire conversations to make this possible. Available for iOS 7.0+ and Android 4.0.3+. [CNH]
BigOven is a big deal. It was chosen as a “Best App for Foodies” by Time Magazine and a “Best App for Eating” by the New York Times. It’s free, it’s easy to use, and it lets you keep track of up to 350,000 recipes on your handheld device. You can search the app by keyword, course, ingredient, or just browse popular recipes. This app is compatible with a variety of devices running iOS 7.0+ and Android 2.3+. [CNH]
Stop the hop: for huge ancient kangaroos, hopping was dicey
Extinct giant kangaroos did not hop… they walked
Meet the Lumbering, Quarter-Ton, Extinct Kangaroo
Monster Kangaroo Was a Walker, Not a Hopper
Procoptodon goliah - Australian Museum
Locomotion in Extinct Giant Kangaroos: Were Sthenurines Hop-Less Monsters?
Modern kangaroos move at astonishing speeds. An average male can tear across the Australian Outback at 44 miles per hour at a dash, nearly twice the speed of an Olympic runner in the 100 meter sprint. They move comfortably at long distances (13 to 16 miles per hour), and can sustain a gait of 25 miles per hour for well over a mile. But it wasn’t always so. According to a new study released in PLOS ONE this week, the ancient kangaroo sub-family sthenurine, which weighed upwards of 500 pounds and stood over six feet tall, most likely didn’t hop much at all. According to Brown University paleontologist and lead author Christine Janis, biomechanics and statistical analysis of fossil bones show that these “hop-less monsters” probably walked in an upright and bipedal stance, a lot like people. Coming into their own about 13 million years ago, sthenurine kangaroos seem to have thrived in their ancient Australian environs before being wiped out 30,000 years ago, perhaps by climate or environmental change, or by overhunting from the humans that moved into the area around that time. [CNH]
Follow the first link to the Reuters coverage of this groundbreaking discovery in paleontology. The second, third, and fourth links - from the Telegraph, Time Magazine, and Discovery News, respectively - fill out the story, with quotes from lead author Christine Janis, an artist’s representation of the ancient, rabbit-faced marsupial, and reactions from other paleontologists in the field. Click on the fifth link to navigate to the Australian Museum’s coverage of the Procoptodon goliah, considered “the most extreme of the sthenurines. Lastly, peruse the paper itself, available in full from the online open source science journal, PLOS ONE.
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