Free online education

The invention and widespread use of computers has had a massive impact on how things are done. I grew up with computers and it can be quite amusing to hear about the way my father used to do things and how much more difficult it was back then. For example, when I did a literature review, all I had to do was go online, search for some keywords and download the relevant papers. He spoke about books with lists of article titles that used to be mailed to universities. He had to find the relevant titles, order them and wait for the copies to be delivered before he could see if they really were relevant. When I did referencing I just put everything into a reference manager which then inserted, formatted and arranged the reference list as required. Before computers it all had to be done manually. Continue reading

Gaming is not just mindless entertainment

One of my set work books in English at high school was Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. The class, myself included, weren’t interested, although now I expect I would have a greater appreciation of the novel. So what made me read one of the same author’s short stories; There Will Come Soft Rains? Was it a new appreciation of classic literature that came with maturity? Partly. Mostly it was that I learned that the story was referenced in Fallout 3, a game I enjoyed.

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To do science

What does it mean to do science? I have a few suggestions that I want to put out there but the first we need to decide what science itself is. The first thing most people think about when they think of science is “what scientists do.” They might say that science is what people in white coats do in the laboratory. If you study science, that is certainly what you will learn but we also know that what physicists do in a lab and what biologists do in a lab are quite different. What do they both do that is the same? Science is not about specific subjects; it’s a way of thinking. All scientists try to think logically, to ask questions and following them up with experiments or observations that will give them the evidence needed to answer their questions. Continue reading

New tools for privacy

On-line surveillance, whether by companies, criminals or governments, is a worrying reality of our present time. A recent survey showed that feelings around government surveillance are quite mixed, though I’d say too much in favour. The same survey’s results on privacy (generally not related to government surveillance) seem more heartening but show large disparities between different countries.

In this context of widespread surveillance, I think it is important to have some idea of tools that can help protect oneself while on-line. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has released a new tool, Privacy Badger, which aims to help protect against third parties tracking your browsing across multiple sites. This should help protect against “canvas fingerprinting” which records your information about your computer (and in Slate) and settings which may allow it to be identified on different sites. Continue reading

Quicklinks: Dogs and fish

This first story concerns the intelligence of dogs and the perception of dog owners’ about the intelligence of dogs. As per the io9 article title, people think their dogs are a lot smarter than they actually are. The closer people are to their dogs, the more they overestimate their dog’s intelligence.

This second story is a bit concerning. It started as a great story about a 12-year-old girl’s science fair project which made ecologists stop and think about an invasive fish. Now it’s taken a darker turn and appears that the project was not as original as the media attention made it out to be and the credit should actually be going to a young scientist. It turns out that the girl’s project is based on work that this guy had already done and published and that the girl’s father is friends with the young scientist’s former supervisor. While it’s still great for the girl, it’s not fair that the scientist is now being ignored and losing the credit.

Animals in zoos

White Bengal Tiger at Cougar Mountain Zoo.

In a sense this post serves as a follow up to one of the links in a previous post of mine. I linked to a piece that argued that animal captivity was not inherently wrong and which detailed a number of ways in which captivity might actually be better for the animal. I would agree that there are occasions when captivity is ethical and/or necessary but I got the feeling that I would find much fewer occasions than the author would. I want to now draw people’s attention to an article published last month in Slate which looks at how zoos are bad for animals. Continue reading