Search This Blog

Friday, June 25, 2010

Doom!: NASA Photo Shows Alignment of Planets

Downloaded from NASA. Might be fun to name planets, then to ask for three things wrong with this photo.

Hint: Light.

Possibly the sun is there, and a new supernova has lit up the sky. Still: Shadows? Artistic license.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Charles Sheffield's "That Strain Again"

  1. Microcosmic Tales, ed. Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg & Joseph D. Olander, Taplinger 1980
  2. Science Fiction and Fantasy Story-A-Month 1989 Calendar, ed. Isaac Asimov & Martin H. Greenberg, Pomegranate 1988
  3. Georgia on My Mind and Other Places, Tor 1995
  4. 100 Amazing Little Alien Stories, ed. Robert Weinberg, Stefan R. Dziemianowicz & Martin H. Greenberg, Barnes & Noble 1996
  5. Online
  • You may want to use this for either (or both, but it may be too far above or below students' ability level depending on the use)
  1. Reading Science Articles (more critically--10-12)
  2. Earth/Space science (seasons, earth's axial tilt--6-9)
Pre-Reading Terminology (or Post):
  • Here are some terms that may be useful to prime students to think about the issues presented in the story if you're using this to help students read more critically:
  1. Causality (cause and effect--which causes which?)
  2. Coincidence (note root word: coincide; have them note the term's use in science)
  3. Correlation (importantly, correlation does not imply causation--simplified: co-relation = (as in co-opertion = operating together) things relate to one another.
  • These articles will be largely over the heads of most students. However, if you have advanced science students, tell them to read at least the introductory paragraphs. They need to get comfortable with not necessarily understanding everything they read and with picking up what they can.
  • If pressed for time, explain the terms yourself.
  • Aliens visit planet Earth but flee when they believe they've infected it with some disease that kills off the primary life forms. They are surprised when visitors from Earth arrive on their home planet.
Questions & Experiments:
  1. Why were Vega IV people surprised or relieved to see Earthlings?
  2. Take a flash light and point it straight down at your desk. Now compare that to when you tip the flashlight at an angle. Do some parts get more light than others? Explain.
  3. What effect do you think more light might have on an area? Devise an experiment with paper, the sun, and a magnifying glass that demonstrates your hypothesis. Have a classmate conduct the same experiment with a flashlight rather than the sun. If the results are the same or different, hypothesize why that might be.
  4. Apply: What kinds of things use sunlight? What might happen if those things did not get enough sunlight? Think about what happens during a year. When do these creatures get lots of sunlight and when do they get very little? Search "Earth's axial tilt." Summarize your findings.
  5. What makes Vega IV different? Make a model of Earth's axial tilt, by thrusting a pen through a styrofoam ball, and one of Vega IV. Shine your flashlight on Earth and on Vega IV. Explain to a classmate and have them explain it back.
  6. Using what you've learned so far, could all of Vega IV be a "paradise" or "Garden of Eden"? Explain what would probably happen at the equator versus the poles.
  7. If you've read the book or seen the movie War of the Worlds, compare and contrast what happened there with what happens here.
  8. Can these "Ethical People" of Vega IV be called "Wise People?" Why or why not?
  9. The narrator may be implying that the people of Vega IV were nicer and more ethical, if a little dull, because of their environment's consistency. Do you agree? Support your answer. Ask yourself to what degree does environment impact behavior. Can you find scientific evidence online supporting your hypothesis?
  10. If you can think of other questions, please let us know.
Critical Thinking/Science Article Questions:
  1. Explain which term applies to what happened (support your answer): 1) correlation, cause and effect (causality), coincidence.
  2. When there are too many variables to isolate, science does correlations--that is, it tries to find if there's a relationship between two events. Devise experiments that the Vega IV people might have conducted to see if actions or presence caused the events occurring around them. Why is their presence in one time and location not a very good experiment? Would conducting such an experiment be ethical? Explain your answer. Although it might require quite a long time, come up with an experiment that would lower the possibility of violating any ethical problems.
  3. If you can think of other questions, please let us know.
About the author:

Reading science articles

Reading current science articles can help change the pace, keep students abreast of what's happening in the world, and make their learning feel relevant. Teachers do it differently, but this how I do it with minimum fuss:

--> Read article
  1. I don't say how long the article has to be, but
  2. Scientists have to learn something new about science
  3. Science News
  4. Jr High Science News (or for differentiating students): (Both of these are from Science News, I believe, but are different: Science News For Kids 1, Science News For Kids 2)
-->Summarize article orally in your own words
  1. Students can write stuff down, but they can't read it--bores everyone.
  2. This question helps focus wandering students: "What did the scientists learn?"
  3. [Bloom's: Comprehension]
-->Ask a question:
  1. This is the critical thinking aspect, bringing the Bloom's Taxonomy level quite high (analyze, apply, evaluate).
  2. The first time you do this, the questions won't be very insightful, but they improve over time. It's exciting to watch their questioning grow.
  3. This question helps focus their questions: "What question do you have about what the scientists learned?"
  4. Some students still flummoxed can be helped with this: "What are five question words that start with the letter 'W'?" Who? What? When? Where? Why? (and How?)
  5. Another method to consider when questioning is simply to ask what you want to learn more about. This helps make the learning personal [Bloom's: Apply].
  6. You may need to rephrase their questions in a way that their classmates can understand.
  7. Feel free to answer their questions, but it's not necessary. If you can remember, try to compliment their efforts.
  8. Higher level learning [Bloom's: Analyze, Evaluate] comes best when they start using the scientific method to ask questions.
  9. To improve critical discussions, go back to your inquiry method, your controls and variables. From what you've read, did the scientists control all possible variables?
  10. When a science article uses statistics, caution them to be wary, especially if the statistics involve opinions. Opinion polls tend to corral the opiners into certain channels. Also, interpretation of statistics is highly problematic. Often, they are used to say more than they actually say.
  11. Good statistics require A) randomization and B) a good sample size.
  12. Charles Sheffield's "That Strain Again" (see blog post for teaching) helps us think of other, higher-level questions that can be asked of science articles. All students will get the gist, but a few may miss nuances, which is okay.

OK Go video for demonstrating energy transfer

Many of the sciences discuss energy transfer and energy loss.
  • Biology: Sun --> plants --> herbivores --> carnivores, etc.
  • Physical Science: solar --> chemical --> mechanical, etc.
  • Physics: potential, friction, etc.
  • Chemistry: (less so here, but) energy can be harnessed from one reaction to start another
OK Go put out a video last spring that I used and the students seemed to enjoy: This Too Shall Pass (Rube Goldberg Version).

Questions to ask:
  1. How is this relevant to what we're learning?
  2. Explain how energy moves from one to another.
  3. The energy seems endless, doesn't it? Where did all this energy come from? Could it happen again if you went back to the beginning and hit that domino with your truck?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"They're Made out of Meat" by Terry Bisson

  1. Omni Apr 1991
  2. Nebula Awards 27, ed. James Morrow, Harcourt Brace 1993
  3. Bears Discover Fire, Tor 1993
  4. Virtually Now, ed. Jeanne Schinto, Persea Books 1996
  5. Online (there may be many copies online, but this is straight from the author's website)
  6. Audio
  7. Video (save the video for after to see how one's interpretation can differ from another)
  • Dialogue makes this story look easy to read, but it's trickier than it appears: 1) We don't know who is talking nor 2) what the who is talking about. This may be purposeful, even thematic: not knowing what a thing is.
  • Two aliens discuss life on planet Earth--or a planet just like Earth (so it may as well be since Earthlings are the ones reading it).
  1. Before reading, skim over the text. Who's talking? What kinds of situations might dialogue be heard but the listener doesn't know the speaker(s)? Brainstorm with a classmate. (It looks like a play, but plays generally label speakers--if for no other reason than to aid actors.)
  2. To whom is the first sentence--"They're made out of meat"--referring? Can we know immediately? What might we suspect with a pronoun like "they?" Possibly beings (considering this is SF, we cannot assume those are human). How about the word meat? What does that conjure up in your imagination?
  3. What are the characters' attitudes toward these beings when they repeat the statement?
  4. What does this dialogue suggest about the other character's attitude when it is addressed to it/him: "There's no doubt about it."? (Hint: there's a word in this sentence that suggests the other's feeling.)
  5. After this line, some students should be able to guess (and that's all it is right now) who or what the beings are talking about: " We picked up several from different parts of the planet, took them aboard our recon vessels, and probed them all the way through. They're completely meat."
  6. Students may or may not get the joke about the probe. Different generation. You may not want to go there anyway.
  7. (If no one has correctly identified the meat, do not advance to this question until they have.) Knowing to whom the beings are referring, what makes this first line--"They're made out of meat"--a science fiction sentence? If we know to whom they're referring, what do we know about the speakers?
  8. What do we know about the speakers when they say:

    "That's impossible. What about the radio signals? The messages to the stars?"

    "They use the radio waves to talk, but the signals don't come from them. The signals come from machines."

    What kinds of things radiate radio waves? Is that what immediately comes to your mind when you think of sentience or life? How does the author challenge our assumptions by having the assumptions of aliens challenged?
  9. What do we know about the being who says, "So who made the machines? That's who we want to contact."?
  10. The incredulous being mocks the reality of humans: " You're asking me to believe in sentient meat." What word makes the reality of sentient humans ridiculous? Why? Apply this to your own life: Have you heard people do this before? What was the outcome?
  11. "Maybe they're like the orfolei. You know, a carbon-based intelligence that goes through a meat stage." Name some creatures that go through different life cycles.
  12. What does this statement suggest about the aliens themselves: "We studied them for several of their life spans, which didn't take long."
  13. "They're meat all the way through." Is this statement true of how we think of meat? How do we think of meat? What must that mean about what they think of when they think of meat?
  14. What word about the aliens comes to mind when you read, "It seems harsh, but there is a limit. Do we really want to make contact with meat?" When in history have humans done this to humans?
  15. To what famous Einstein equation are they referring to? "[T]hey can only travel through C space. Which limits them to the speed of light and makes the possibility of their ever making contact pretty slim." What happens to objects as they approach the speed of light (faster than light)? What does this statement suggest that separates their knowledge from ours?
  16. Come up with a question about the aliens or their attitude not yet raised and pose it to your classmate.
  17. If you can think of other questions, please let us know.
Videos: Use the videos to ask what the actors and/or directors left out of their interpretation that you had come up with. Also, how did they interpret the story that you didn't think of? Does it keep within your understanding of the story? Was any interpretation particularly insightful or bad?
  1. Youtube videos
  1. Biology: Life: What is life? What are life stages? What species go through life stages? Do humans?
  2. Biology: Animal Behavior: What makes a species sentient?
  3. Chemistry: Chemical Behavior: What makes carbon ideal for living creatures? Knowing what you know about carbon's flexibility as an atom, explain why it is more ideal for combining with other chemicals in more ways than other atoms? Because elements in the same column have similar properties, some scientists believe that silicon-based beings is possible. Create a list of pros and cons. Replace carbon in famous chemicals with silicon. Can it work the same? What conditions might make it possible to have a silicon-based being (consult Also, use what you know about electronegativity to talk about chemical properties.
  4. Physics (some physical science): Radio waves, speed of light & ramifications
  5. Science: Assumptions: Sometimes science assumes it knows more than it does. Scientists need to be prepared for possibilities it hasn't yet imagined--or even those it quickly discards.
About the author:

Saturday, June 19, 2010

"And So On, And So On" by James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice Sheldon)

  1. Phantasmicon Jun 1971
  2. Star Songs of an Old Primate, Ballantine 1978
  3. Microcosmic Tales, ed. Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg & Joseph D. Olander, Taplinger 1980
  4. Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, Arkham House 1990
  5. 100 Amazing Little Alien Stories, ed. Robert Weinberg, Stefan R. Dziemianowicz & Martin H. Greenberg, Barnes & Noble 1996
  • This is a story students may have to read twice due to the difficulty of the number of different speakers of unidentified alien races.
  • Passengers on a spaceship talk and convince one another of the end of the frontiers and knowledge, saying there's nothing left for the next generation to discover. The story ends with a member of the next generation staring excitedly out into space.
Key Passages:
  1. "Rovy! They asked you not to play with the screen while we're Jumping. We've told you and told you there isn't anything there. It's just pretty lights, dear. Now come back and we'll all play--"
  2. [S]omething happened.... a very slight something, just enough to make the drowsy passengers glance up.
  3. "I feel sorry for the youngers today." ...blew out his ear sacs comfortably. "We had all the fun."
  4. "The primitive phase is finished. The true frontier is within now. Inner space.... I refer to reality, to that simpler and deeper reality that lies beyond the reach of the trivial methodologies of science."
  5. "Ooh, science is horrible. I cry every time I think of the poor Armers."
  6. "Life has never before met the ultimate challenge.... In the history of every race, society, planet, or system or federation or swarm,whenever they had expanded to their spatial limits they commenced to decline."
  7. "For the first time all life is closed in a finite space. Who can rescue galaxy? The Clouds are barren and the realms beyond we know cannot be crossed even by matter, let alone life. For the first time we have truly reached the end....The young sense this. They seek to invent pseudo-frontiers, subjective escapes. Perhaps your inner space can beguile some for a while. But the despair will grow.... We have come to the end of infinity, the end of hope."
  1. What kind of name is "Rovy?" What word does it make you think of? How might this word aid our understanding?
  2. Many scientific discoveries were due to mistakes--penicillin, radioactivity (look up how these were discovered). Scientists have suggested that play distinguishes species of higher intelligence from the lower--as play helps the player discover or uncover or stumble upon new tools. If you were a child, what would the word, "Jumping" make you think of? How does Rovy's action compare to scientific inquiry and the discoveries mentioned above? How is the adult reaction to Rovy counter-productive?
  3. How does the young clanwife's remark sum up the story's theme?
  4. What does it mean that the passengers are drowsy?
  5. How does the captain's statement, "The momentary discontinuity we just experienced is quite normal in the mode of paraspace," validate this interpretation? Look up all words (including para- and space). For the thematic use of "normal," see title.
  6. How do the passengers feel about science?
  7. It may prove useful to students to know that scientists in the nineteenth century--before relativity and Einstein--felt they were nearly finished discovering all there was to know about science. All that was left was the cataloging. Knowing that, how does key passage #7 read to you now?
  8. How does the final image/action of the child counteract Pathman's statements? How does it fit into the title?
  9. What is "no-space" literally and figuratively in terms of the story?
  10. If you can think of other questions, please let us know.
  1. History of science
  2. Scientific Inquiry
About the author:
  • Wiki
  • James Tiptree was the pseudonym of Alice Sheldon

"A Solar Labyrinth" by Gene Wolfe

  1. F&SF Apr 1983
  2. Storeys from the Old Hotel, Kerosina 1988
  • If you're going to read Gene Wolfe, this may be a place to start as it may reveal his M.O., his modus operandi (indeed, Robert Borski links this title to the author's most famous series: Solar Labyrinth: Exploring Gene Wolfe's "Book of the New Sun"--link includes additional commentary). Although the story is brief, it's probably not for the less enterprising, less adventurous. You may choose to walk through a close reading in order to model similar readings.
  • Students can often feel that close readings are random or arbitrary. You might try terribly mis-reading the story and see how students react: Any and all interpretations cannot fit a text. If you have religious students, have them compare what you're doing in class to what might be done by a preacher, priest, rabbi, etc.
  1. Explain the mystery of the first sentence: "Mazes may be more ancient than Mankind." How can that be? How does that support what the author constructs in this story?
  2. What's a "clew"? Pronounce it. What two things might the author be referring to at once? What's a denouement? Pay close attention to the word's origin: to un-knot or untie. How might that be closely related to what Theseus had to do? How does that relate to what you have to do with this story? He calls Theseus a "fictional detective." How does that term play two ways? Think about what we're doing now. How does this confirm our interpretation so far?
  3. Have students look up "Fayre [Fair] Rosamund." One critical resource makes the point that this is not true. In a fiction about fiction, is it necessary that it maintain fidelity with reality? What's a definition of "yarn" that aids our interpretation while also downplaying the importance of reality?
  4. With our interpretation in mind, how might the second paragraph play? What does the author feel is lost in current mazes (Hint: "the great days of...")? Why does the narrator seem troubled by "armchair adventurers solv[ing these] with a pencil"? Hint: Compare what's lost to how they are presently done. Have students point out the pun. What makes it a good pun as opposed to a slight one?
  5. Who is Daedalus? How might what he constructed for Minos mirror our interpretation? Why might the maze be located in the Adirondacks? Like the Catskills, the Adirondacks may be considered deeply iconic American geography.
  6. Why use the name, Smith? Give at least two reasons (see picture and first line of wiki entry).
  7. The maze is constructed of "charming if improbable objects." If we are talking fiction, what is usually considered "charming if improbable?" Speculative fiction. Obelisks, mysterious objects that denote timelessness and that memorialize, are common, possibly emblematic imagery in speculative fiction. The conjunction and misplacement of all of these objects, in fact, also denote speculative fiction. Moreover, what are the walls constructed of? The shadow is an even more common image in SF. The maze becomes something more of a mystery when it is "insoluble" at noon when the shadows are most short and, presumably, easier to solve. If the maze is constructed out of shadows, what happens to those shadows as the day progresses?
  8. One interpreter states, "When adults get stuck in the maze, it means that they cannot understand the message of the story," which must be referring to the following: "a maze from which the explorer can walk free whenever he chooses. And yet it is said that most of them--most adults, at least--do not." Explain how this follows the text. Explain how the text may be stating the opposite.
  9. What does the following suggest about interpretation: Mr. Smith, the maze builder, "invites his guest to discover paths of his own.... New corridors appear; old ones close.... Mr. Smith's path joins that of his guest (Mr. Smith knows his own maze well)... the guest leading the way.... As Mr. Smith talks, shadows shift."? How much will Mr. Smith help his guests?
  10. Interpret: "Most adult guests do not escape until they are rescued by a passing cloud. Some, indeed, refuse such rescue."
  11. What is the sinister aspect of the story that Wolfe mentions? How would you feel if you were a young child and an adult said that "the frowning figure of the Minotaur, a monster,... haunts the shadows."?
  12. Why must the children be young but not too young?
  13. Why would glasses help? What do glasses do?
  14. Who is Ariadne? Of what use is showing her picture?
  15. What's a gnomon? Check out the word's origin: Interpreter, discerner. Who survives the maze? What are they doing?
  16. If you have additional questions, please let us know.
  • Author's from Storeys from the Old Hotel: "'A Solar Labyrinth' is another favorite. Labyrinths fascinate just about everybody, and for a while I was almost equally interested in what used to be called dialing [Borski refers solely to television in order to maintain his theme's continuity, but one may also refer to the telephone, an object used to reach others at a distance]. I tried to keep the sinister element well in the background, and it seems I kept it so far back that few readers notice it at all; but I like it that way."
  • Sean Whalen (similar to this interpretation if a bit exacting)
  • Same site, different interpreter
  • A unit speculative fiction or close reading.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

"The Dead Man's Child" by Jay Lake

Appearing in Cosmos, "The Dead Man's Child" is Jay Lake's latest--an inspirational tale.

Summary: Marguerite wants to know about the high lines. Whatever it is, her father has passed away doing it. She desires to work them before even knowing what they entail. She risks getting herself in trouble at school by daring to ask about it.

Key Passage:
"I advise simplicity in life. Choice kills."

"And choice can make you great," says Marguerite stubbornly.

"Of course." Mr Grieve sounds surprised. "Without risk, there is no reward."

"So tell me of the high lines."

Comment: Interestingly, Jonah Lehrer states a case for something similar to advocating simplicity in How We Decide--too much information paralyzes us, essentially preventing us from making good decisions. (This comment is merely a note of interest.)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

"Collector's Fever" by Roger Zelazny

  • Galaxy June 1964
  • The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth, Doubleday 1971
  • 100 Great Science Fiction Short Short Stories, ed. Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg & Joseph D. Olander, Garden City, NY: Doubleday 1978
  • 100 Amazing Little Alien Stories, ed. Robert Weinberg, Stefan R. Dziemianowicz & Martin H. Greenberg, Barnes & Noble 1996
  • Threshold: Volume 1, NESFA Press, 2009
  • online reproduction of text
  • Science has much strange vocabulary when you first encounter it. So does science fiction. What readers of science fiction do is temporarily suspend the immediate need to know, suspecting they can learn what the term is from context. See if you can do that with this story. Write down the new term. Each time it appears, jot down any new layers of meaning you might get from the context. Don't worry if you can't come up with much.
Summary: A human, who never earns a name, has come to the newly christened planet of Dunghill in order to collect specimens for his rich uncle. This human plans revenge, using what he knows about the scientific nature of the unusual rock species found on Dunghill.

  1. Stone asks a lot of questions. Why? When you finish reading the story, compare your experience of reading the story to Stone's experience of hearing the human's story. How are they similar? When and where do you think this happens on planet Earth every day?
  2. "Human" never gets a name. What does that do to him as a person? Does he deserve this? Using the text, point to where you get this feeling.
  3. How does human feel about his uncle? Using the text, point to where you get this feeling.
  4. Why does human call the planet, "Dunghill"? What does Stone think the human refers to?
  5. Human quotes, "one-eyed man in a kingdom of the blind," in order to convince Stone of its future importance in a place he doesn't want to be. What text does this allude to? Country of the Blind by H. G. Wells (Wiki): "In the Country of the Blind the One-Eyed Man is King." Knowing how well that works for Wells' protagonist, should Stone feel comforted by such an allusion? Explain.
  6. Half way through the story, the term "deeble" is introduced. Write down the new term. Each time it appears, jot down any new layers of meaning you might get from the context. Don't worry if you can't come up with much. The reason you will want to catalog this experience--at least once--is that it mirrors how you and infants acquired language.
  7. What happened to Stone in the ending? to human? Is it a happy ending? Justify your answer.
  8. What are two ways to refer to this statement by another sentient rock: "An excellent deeble.... It always pays to be a cautious collector."? (Hint: two creatures are collecting in this story.) Considering the first statement, which is the more likely interpretation? Might the author want us to consider both?
  9. What is fission? Does it release or absorb energy? How does society, especially France, use this energy today? [Tie-in to social studies] What makes alternative energy so attractive to world leaders today? Where has fission been used destructively in history?
  10. Stone says, "I've added so carefully to my atom collection, building up the finest molecular structure in the neighborhood [in order to deeble]." What sorts of atoms must Stone be collecting? Hydrogen? Helium? Lead? Uranium? something else? Explain your answers.
  11. "[T]he space... sedan, customized by its owner, who had removed much of the shielding." What's the point of shielding an atomic pile? Is this human very bright to remove the shielding? What is the atomic pile probably releasing?
  12. If you can think of other possible questions , please let me/us know.

On Teaching:
  • One way to use this story would be after an introduction to nuclear reactions. However, it may be useful at the beginning of a course for students to feel more comfortable with the upcoming unfamiliar terminology coming up.
  • For teaching physical science students the difference between fission and fusion, we break down the words: FISSion looks a lot like fizz, where bubbles leave your soda. So FISSion = FIZZ apart. FUSion comes from FUSe, where you fuse things together. An over-simplification, but the mneumonic solidifies their understanding well enough for that level. Also fUSion occurs on the SUn. Does the sun release energy? Do you think fusion releases energy? Fission occurs in nuclear bombs and in reactors. Do nuclear bombs and reactors release energy? Do you think fission releases energy?
  • Language
  • Psychology: Language Acquisition
  • Understanding Science Terminology
  • Physics
  • Chemistry
  • Physical Science

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Paul Ekman & Facial Emotions

As soon I heard this Fresh Aire program on Dr. Paul Ekman (wiki, website, blog)--a researcher who decoded universal emotional reactions and teaches others to do the same--I had to buy the book, Emotions Revealed. Unfortunately, like many books that didn't immediately grab me, it collected dust.

Reading Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, I revisited Ekman's website and this time bought the basic facial recognition program. It takes about an hour to complete. (Background on Micro Expressions, 8 basic facial expressions which Ekman's software trains you to spot, TV program Lie to Me based on Ekman's research, Ekman research used with parenting, Ekman research used with law enforcement, On the Media.)

While it is thrilling to "read people's minds" as Gladwell puts it or to know whether someone is lying as the above websites put it less judiciously, I'm not sure that glimpsing these split-second emotions tell the whole story. Here's a personal example from my early post-high-school days:

My father made a comment to me, which aggravated me for a fraction of a second. I dismissed the emotion as quickly as it came because my father hadn't meant anything by it. So I forgot the emotion and responded in a normal, rational tone. However, my father replied in anger. I was puzzled: Why was he angry? As it so happened, the door was open at an angle that reflected my facial expression back at me. It still contained that earlier aggravation. It took me a moment to recall that flash of emotion that I had felt and dismissed. I felt no aggravation. If I had flashed aggravation and later denied it, would I be lying?

Could it be that the emotions we feel are our pre-packaged reactions, not true emotions (unless some people operate purely on pre-packaged emotions) taught to us by experience with our environment? These would help us cope with life using split-second reactions--reflexes or knee-jerk responses--much as one would remove his hand from a stove were it hot.

Perhaps Dr. Ekman responds to this in that dusty book of mine.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Video Illusion & the Necessity for Verifying Results

Sometimes students believe they know something to be true based on their senses. Here's a fun illusion that may help reinforce the idea that science has to be verified experimentally:

"Impossible Motion" video by Kokichi Sugihara of the Meiji Institute for Advanced Study of Mathematical Sciences in Kawasaki, Japan.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Andre Norton's "All Cats Are Gray"

  1. Fantastic Universe, Aug/Sep 1953
  2. The Many Worlds of Science Fiction, ed. Ben Bova, Dutton 1971
  3. Zoo 2000, ed. Jane Yolen, Seabury 1973
  4. The Many Worlds of Andre Norton, Chilton 1974
  5. Science Fiction A to Z, ed. Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg & Charles G. Waugh, Houghton Mifflin 1982
  6. Top Science Fiction, ed. Josh Pachter, Dent 1984
  7. 101 Science Fiction Stories, ed. Martin H. Greenberg, Charles G. Waugh & Jenny-Lynn Waugh, Avenel 1986
  8. Wizards’ Worlds, Tor 1989
  9. New Eves, ed. Janrae Frank, Jean Stine & Forrest J Ackerman, Longmeadow Press 1994
  10. 100 Amazing Little Alien Stories, ed. Robert Weinberg, Stefan R. Dziemianowicz & Martin H. Greenberg, Barnes & Noble 1996
  11. Project Gutenberg: text online (other author works)
  12. Librivox: audio online.
Pre-Reading: I would recommend introducing various types of electromagnetic radiation, around which concept this image should be central. The easiest way I've found of teaching this is to start with energy: Which wavelength looks calm and low energy? Radio. Which looks angry and energetic? Gamma. Now we have bookends. Visible light is in the middle. What acronym--or abbreviation--reminds of the colors found in visible light? Sometimes art students know this, but they'll usually all recognize ROY G BIV when you put it on the board. Walk them them the naming. Ask them what's below red? (Hint 1: it has the word "red" in it. Hint 2: You use it to see things at night.) IR -- Infra-red. Ask "What's above violet?" (Hint 1: it has the word "violet" in it. Hint 2: It'll give you a burn and possibly skin cancer if you don't put on sunscreen.) UV -- Ultraviolet. "Micro" means small so you know that's below IR. Usually, students can guess that X-ray--it can penetrate skin and cause deeper cancer--would go above UV. It may help to emphasize the importance of changing wavelengths determining what a wave's electromagnetic type is, but the wavelengths do change across a spectrum. This might be best demonstrated with a volunteer gradually waving a rope using more and more energy to do so.

Summary: Steena, Bat, and Cliff investigate the mysteriously derelict spaceship, Empress of Mars. What at first seemed a handicap becomes a necessary attribute in difficult circumstances.
  1. What is the narrator's initial impression of Steena? It is mixed. Point out at least three positives and three negatives from the descriptions. Count the total of each. Toward which does the narrator appear to lean more?
  2. What is an "attachment?" What does this suggest about Cliff Moran's financial state? What will happen to Cliff if the courts succeed in attaching his ship?
  3. Without looking it up, guess what a manstone is. It does not appear to have a dictionary definition. It may be science fictional term used to evoke a future word. What does the word combination (man and stone) evoke for you? Added this to this context--something from Ganymede, a moon of Jupiter: What does you imagination conjure? Possibly, you thought of a creature ("come stumping in") reminiscent of a man and a stone. What does the term "stumping" indicate about how the creature moves?
  4. Now that you have the creature from #3 in mind, what does that imply about Steena approaching Cliff?
  5. Biology: If you had heard of cat (or cat-like creature) named Bat, what attributes or abilities might you surmise it has? How does a bat behave differently from humans?
  6. If the Empress of Mars were a sailing ship instead of a spaceship how would this rumor about it sound to you? What further descriptions confirm this feeling?
  7. What does this phrase "Steena and Bat went prowling" suggest about the natures of these two characters? Different or similar? What does it make you think of?
  8. How is the following passage like and unlike the fairytale of Bluebeard? "Closed doors were a challenge to both of them and Steena opened each as she passed, taking a quick look at what lay within. The fifth door opened on a room which no woman could leave without further investigation."
  9. Knowing something of electromagnetic radiation, explain how the following might be: "What sped before them both was invisible to her but Bat was never baffled by it.... To human eyes they were alone in the cabin. But Bat still followed a moving something with his gaze."
  10. Why doesn't Cliff Moran see the creature? Why might Steena only see the creature when Cliff is in the background?
  11. Steena is handicapped by being colorblind, yet what does the story suggest about handicapped?
  12. Physical Science: Steena states, "[Bat]'s been compensated for he can see above and below our range of color vibrations and—apparently—so can I!" What parts of the electromagnetic spectrum lie just outside the visible, to which Steena may be referring? How are both used in practical terms of everyday life? How do humans use infrared? What kinds of objects radiate in the infrared? How do humans use ultraviolet? What kinds of objects radiate ultraviolet? Which part of spectrum do you think is more probable that Steena used to see the creature?
  13. Take a second look at the title, at one of the descriptions in question one, at question seven, and at the fact that both the cat and Steena see the invisible creature. How do you read the title differently?
  14. How might the title by playing off the idiom, "All cats look the same in the dark"?
  15. What happens to Steena in the dénouement?
  16. If you can think of other possible questions , please let me/us know.

Critical commentary:
  • From Fantastic Universe Science Fiction: "An odd story, made up of oddly assorted elements that include a man, a woman, a black cat, a treasure—and an invisible being that had to be seen to be believed. Under normal conditions a whole person has a decided advantage over a handicapped one. But out in deep space the normal may be reversed—for humans at any rate."
  • Chemistry, Physics, or Physical science: Introduction to Electromagnetic Radiation.
  • Biology: Limited: colorblindness or bat behavior.
  • Inclusion: People with special needs are shown in a positive light.
  • English: This might fit well with a unit on comparative literature, genres, fairy tales, or science fiction.
  • If you can think of other possible uses, please let me/us know.
Side note: Kage Baker wrote an award-winning story called "Empress of Mars."