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Ask Slashdot: How Should a Liberal Arts Major Get Into STEM?

estitabarnak Start low or re-educate (280 comments)

In my position I hire a lot of students for a lab work. I've come to realize that the best workers aren't necessarily the people with STEM majors; the best workers are generally people who are interested and feel a little over their head. I've had many terrible pre-meds, and always had good luck with my English majors. If you're willing to start low in the food web, get a job as a lab technician somewhere (universities are often a decent bet). If you can, prioritize places that look like they have work or instruments that you'd enjoy working on. You can amass a pretty good amount of technical skill from a decent lab job.

If you have higher ambitions for aerospace technologies... probably means going back to school. But that would have meant going back to school regardless of your undergrad degree.

about a month and a half ago

Harvard Scientists Say It's Time To Start Thinking About Engineering the Climate

estitabarnak Why overengineer? (367 comments)

I'm sure that it's partially because Slashdot is a high-tech oriented site, but it seems like everyone skips to bizarre schemes before considering any of the really simple, really tame geoengineering options available. There doesn't need to be a fleet of aircraft spaying a mysterious chemical to increase Earth's albedo. There doesn't need to be a techniological marvel at the poles freezing CO2 out of the air. As with most things, simple is better.

Look at endeavors like the Marin Carbon Project (links to published peer-review articles within) which diverts waste, composts it, puts it on managed grasslands and improves plant productivity. Some fraction of the plant biomass gets stored below ground for decades or centuries. The dairy farmers don't need to buy/import as much feed which saves them money (and is an additional CO2 offset). Initial numbers look like 1 ton of CO2 per hectare over a 3 year period from one application.

I'm just not certain why we're looking so hard for lots of difficult solutions when there is so much low-hanging fruit. Some pretty simple changes in management practices (I'm looking at you, agriculture) can go a huge way to not only lowering CO2 emissions, but making land be significant net carbon sinks without compromising productivity.

Disclaimer: In the past I worked with one of the lab groups involved with the Marin Carbon Project.

about 2 months ago

MIT Combines Carbon Foam and Graphite Flakes For Efficient Solar Steam Generati

estitabarnak unedited summary (110 comments)

I don't normally bitch about editing on summaries but, good heavens, does anyone even read this shit? The same "85% of solar energy..." line is used twice. The final line begins with "i-e" which means "that is," but it doesn't reference anything relevant to scaling. What's the appropriate tag here? !sensical? !edited? !proofed?

I'm probably just burning through karma here, but I like to think that if it's a "legitimate" rage, that the body had a way of rejecting the negative effects.

about 6 months ago

"Super Bananas" May Save Millions of Lives In Africa

estitabarnak Re:And hippies will protest it (396 comments)

Before CO2 becomes a limiting factor, water and nitrogen come into play. We can fertilize (for a while, anyway), but swings in water availability will make the water part harder.

Even for areas which will become better suited will produce foods will make products that are less nutritious: A recent study published in Nature suggests that in addition to lower levels of iron and zinc, C3 crops produce less protein under increased CO2 conditions. http://www.nature.com/nature/j...

about 7 months ago

US Nuclear Plants Expanding Long-Term Waste Storage Facilities

estitabarnak Read your links (187 comments)

One of the first sentences on the nuclear reprocessing page linked reads "Nuclear reprocessing reduces the volume of high-level waste, but by itself does not reduce radioactivity or heat generation and therefore does not eliminate the need for a geological waste repository." Emphasis mine.

Of course reprocessing would be great, but it doesn't let us side-step the political bungling of the repository issue.

about 8 months ago

Whole Foods: America's Temple of Pseudoscience

estitabarnak Because one causes harm. (794 comments)

Growing up in the bay area in CA, I've seen my fair share of people who buy into these types of things. I've hung my head many times in shame and disbelief. But at the end of the day, all we need to do is look at the net results of these beliefs to justify how much we should care.

Homeopathy, by definition, cannot hurt you. Due to the serial dilutions used, the chances are that there are 0 molecules of the original thing in any given dose. The worst thing it can do is cost people money for no result. Some people may turn down medicine and take homeopathics instead, but once again, that's only to the end-user's detriment.

Disbelief in, say, climate change is a different story. If you think climate change is all a big lie, you are likely acting to the detriment of everyone else on the planet. If you believe that the world is a self-correcting machines and our actions have no consequences, you are likely acting to the detriment of everyone else on the planet.

So, while new-age hippie BS is annoying, it's generally quite harmless. Not so for the creation museum and its ilk.

about a year ago

Interview With Professor Potrykus, Inventor of Golden Rice

estitabarnak Re:And never pushed: not profitable. (400 comments)

Anyone who wants to can label their food "Non-GMO". People can buy what they want.

That's just the problem: Anyone who wants to can label their food "Natural" or "Non-GMO." But it's not really regulated. Naked Juice, which has a label plastered with non-GMO claims finally had it catch up to them with a class action lawsuit about it. But that took people getting together to sue; it's not the government penalizing companies.

The FDA doesn't have a set of rules for the "All Natural" label, so it doesn't mean anything. The "Organic" label, on the other hand, is regulated. Most folks don't seem to recognize the difference.

about a year ago

The Yosemite Inferno In the Context of Forest Policy, Ecology and Climate Change

estitabarnak Re:Even with AGW aside (111 comments)

Connecting carbon sequestration with fire-excluded forest is short sited (well, for most forests in the US, anyway). While I'm sure there are folks all across the spectrum who are short sited, the point is that the liberal institutions that people point to aren't supporters. Equally myopic, however, is your view of forest management, history, and ecology in general.

It's pretty well recognized (including by me above) that a management plan to maximize revenue and productivity is going to include thinning (and fire is the easiest way). Maximizing carbon production or sequestration doesn't mean maximizing vulnerability to fire, though. Not all fuels are created equal.

In terms of history, you're forgetting what was happening in Yosemite (and had been for centuries and centuries): fire-based management. The natives of California (and this is by no means an exception) have a documented history of using fire to maintain a state in ecological succession. For instance, Quercus kelloggii, the California black oak, was valued for its acorns so the forests were managed to maximize their presence and production. So the "natural characteristic" you're referring to isn't really a model for how an unmanaged forest will look. But it's okay, John Muir made the same mistake.

There isn't any permanent "end state" in a forest (okay, who's gonna come in and say "bare ground?"). There are lots of states which are local maxima in terms of stability, but those are all subject to stochastic events. There is no global maximum to which nature inexorably and violently drives. We've put our forests in a less-stable situation which can't be maintained long-term, but fire isn't nature's way of punishing us for putting two different types of trees in the same forest.

I'm glad you agree with me about fire exclusion not working, though.

about a year ago

The Yosemite Inferno In the Context of Forest Policy, Ecology and Climate Change

estitabarnak Even with AGW aside (111 comments)

In this discussion, we can completely ignore global climate change and end up with the same general calculus. If you let fuels accumulate (as they always have and always will) by putting out every fire, you will keep kicking the can down the road until there's a fire so big that you can't put it out. Add in budget problems and the situation is ripe in California.

This isn't a matter of wacky tree-hugging liberals preventing logging from saving our forests either. Use of prescribed burning and selective logging are taught extensively at the UC Berkeley Forestry program. Selective logging is used for various management goals in the Santa Cruz mountains (including revenue maximization). Neither of those places have a history of being particularly conservative.

This isn't a problem that you can micromanage your way out of. You can't take out a few juicy trees and declare your forest safe from fire. Regular, prescribed burns allow for the kind of patchy diversity and general fuels reduction that prevent these big fires from happening.

about a year ago

Australian Mobile Phone Provider Sent 1000s of Fake Debt Collection Letters

estitabarnak Verizon (82 comments)

And you thought Verizon was bad...

about 2 years ago

Tesla Motors Battles the New York Times

estitabarnak Re:Fault Irrelevant: Shows Flaw (700 comments)

Right, the power needs to come from somewhere. But electricity transmission is significantly more efficient than gas transmission, there's the difference. A non-trivial amount of gas is used to drive gas to a station so you can get it. Last time I checked, the EPA estimates that electrical transmission is 10% more efficient than taking gas to a gas station.

Doesn't change the fact that coal is shitty, but you can't really polish a turd.

about 2 years ago

DARPA's Headless Robotic Mule Takes Load Off Warfighters

estitabarnak Politically Correct is Incorrect in Summary (210 comments)

"Darpa figures that it's illogical to make a soldier hand over her rucksack to a robotic beast of burden if she's then got to be preoccupied with 'joysticks and computer screens' to guide it forward." (Emphasis mine.)

I know that people love sounding politically correct by arbitrarily changing "he" to "she," but in this particular case, it's not only silly but probably wrong. We've been hearing a fair amount lately about how female soldiers aren't allowed in designated combat zones, such as in this piece http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=166303415 In other words, "she" is statistically unlikely compared to "he," here.

It's a funny time when we start to trade in /actual/ correctness for political correctness.

more than 2 years ago

Deadly H5N1 Flu Studies To Stay Secret... For Now

estitabarnak 58% figure is bogus (111 comments)

The 58% figure is not the number of people who were exposed to the virus and died. It is not the number of people who have been exposed and successfully infected and died.

The 58% figure is the number of people who were SO sick that it warranted going to the hospital, and then died.

Serological surveys have shown that in the populations where H5N1 has been historically present there are an extensive number of people who have been infected, successfully mounted an immune response, and survived. And even that says nothing about the people who were exposed and did not get sick.

The 50-60% figure has been getting a ton of coverage in the press, and is total bullshit. As a reason to censor scientific research, it is total bullshit.

more than 2 years ago

Proposed Mercury Ban Threatens Vaccines

estitabarnak Mercury rarely used in vaccines (383 comments)

Thimerosal is pretty rare in vaccines. First, it's only used in vials with multiple-doses in it, so that eliminates a fair chunk already. DTaP & Tdap, polio, MMR, Hep A, Hep B, rabies, smallpox... No Thimerosal. The only vaccine that you're likely to come in to contact that MAY have some of the preservative is some seasonal influenza vaccines. Even then, a Thimerosal-free version is often available.

Find a list of vaccines and their Thimerosal content and history here: http://www.fda.gov/BiologicsBloodVaccines/SafetyAvailability/VaccineSafety/UCM096228

I'm assuming the case is similar in the EU. As previously stated by others, the concern shouldn't be over vaccines but just about everything else. There're so many Hg sources and uses that a total ban is bullshit.

more than 3 years ago

Encoding Messages In Bacteria

estitabarnak Old hat, new paranoia. (52 comments)

These techniques are old hat. We've been modifying bacteria to serve as biomarkers for a long time now. They're used in quick and easy assays for chemical contaminants, for instance. Basic idea is just that you have your "certain condition" from the article be one with, say, arsenic. The bacteria create a fluorescent or coloured compound as a result and you have a positive hit for contamination.

So before we get too deep in to evil corporations tracking their products, keep in mind that the tech has been around for a long time and if it was a valuable thing to do, they probably already would. But it seems like there's relatively little point in, say, Monsanto tracking crops by inserting a gene when we have much simpler options like PCR available.

more than 3 years ago

Dating Site Creates Profiles From Public Records

estitabarnak Not quick enough. (257 comments)

They'll aggregate all of the times that I've fallen just short of getting first post. Clearly I am a sloth-like creature with no dating potential.

about 4 years ago

Extinct Mammoth, Coming To a Zoo Near You

estitabarnak Good luck (312 comments)

Modern cloning techniques don't have a fantastic success rate (~10% last time I checked; 30% from TFA). Even then, there doesn't seem to be an excess of surrogate mothers (African elephants, in this case.) Even harvesting the necessary eggs from the African elephants is tricky -- it's an invasive procedure, and operating on something the size of the elephant is no easy task.

Even assuming that all goes well, cloned animals are known to suffer from compromised immune function and generally short lifespans. Many of these problems are an effect of the cloning process and any offspring will not suffer the effects (as we've seen with some sheep). However, given the size of the Mammoth, I can imagine it taking no less than a decade to reach sexual maturity (as with African elephants). Even then, to avoid some of the detrimental effects of the cloning process, you'd also need a Mammoth of the opposite sex...

In short: While it's cool and technically in the realm of possibility, there are still a tremendous number of sizable hurdles in the way.

about 4 years ago

Why Creators Should Never Read Their Forums

estitabarnak On the flipside (221 comments)

I had a great time playing Galactic Civilizations II. The experience was certainly enhanced by interacting with the game's creators on their forums. These folks were pretty good about releasing major updates for a good while after the release date, so suggestions actually made it in to the game. If nothing else it was nice to feel like someone was listening for once.

In short, responsive/interactive game developers can enhance the experience both in and outside of the game; taking every suggestion doesn't matter.

about 4 years ago

Preventing Networked Gizmo Use During Exams?

estitabarnak International Students (870 comments)

It seems that all too many posters are ignoring the fact (or ignorant to the fact) that the non-English speaking students being referred to are almost certainly international students. These students come from other countries, in many of which English is not a primary language, to attend reputable universities and obtain a degree (often in a technical subject). They must have some understanding of the English language to survive, but it is understandable that they would need to look up some words. The goal of the phsyics exam here isn't to test their knowledge of English so much as the mastery of the concepts discussed.

These aren't unintelligent kids who somehow wiggled their way in to a university. These are intelligent people with a lot of potential who may not, at the moment, be masters of the English language.

more than 4 years ago


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