It's been a while since I've done one of these...
My bookmarks folder wasn't backed up when my laptop was stolen in March, so I lost a bunch of links, but I remembered some of the really cool stuff from before:
♦ It turns out that if you expose a synthetic diamond to radioactivity, it generates an electrical current. Diamond is also pretty good at shielding certain kinds of radioactive rays. So scientists at the University of Bristol are proposing to convert radioactive waste into diamond batteries, as shown in this video. The batteries generate a very small amount of power, but would last for thousands of years, and would be safe to use e.g. inside of humans as pacemakers. So apparently that sci-fi trope about using diamonds to generate power will be right after all!
I've thought for a long time that the curriculum about Facts vs. Opinions harms critical thinking far more than it hurts it. Is something a "fact" (rather than an "opinion") because it is objectively true? Or decisively proven? Because it is uncontroversial to a certain community, or can be used in an essay (aimed at a particular audience) as ammunition to support a conclusion? Because it has to do with tangible, physical reality, rather than being a normative judgement like morality or aesthetics?
(For example, the Resurrection of Jesus is a fact in the sense that it is claimed to be about objective physical reality, it is a fact in the sense that it actually occurred, but it is certainly not an opinion shared by everybody and when talking to people outside of the Church, it is indeed the sort of opinion which requires backing up with other, less controversial, facts. Admittedly, as St. N.T. Wright says [pdf lecture], this is kind of a category-bending "fact", but there are plenty of other examples I could have used as well.)
"Well, you can't expect elementary school students to understand subtle distinctions like the ones you've just distinguished!" But these are completely different meanings of the word, related only by metaphorical similarity! That's like saying that you shouldn't expect children to understand the fine distinction between breaking a glass and breaking the law.
And now for some bookmarks on the new laptop:
♦ Math with Bad Drawings, a blog by a math teacher sharing math [facts?/opinions?]
♦ Did you know that the world's richest dog inherited his wealth from another dog?
♦ Meet St. John Mitchell, the clergyman who in addition to many other scientific accomplishments wrote the first paper about black holes, entitled by the impressively long title:
"On the Means of Discovering the Distance, Magnitude, &c. of the Fixed Stars, in Consequence of the Diminution of the Velocity of Their Light, in Case Such a Diminution Should be Found to Take Place in any of Them, and Such Other Data Should be Procured from Observations, as Would be Farther Necessary for That Purpose. By the Rev. John Michell, B. D. F. R. S. In a Letter to Henry Cavendish, Esq. F. R. S. and A. S."
♦ A blog post about some recent developments in black hole information theory, which happens to mention my work with some guys at Harvard about how to make a traversable wormhole!
♦ The fake history of Giordano Bruno, martyr for "Science!"?
♦ A sermon by a Coptic priest with a more legitimate claim than Cosmos to speak for martyrs.
♦ Speaking of dealing with grief over death, here is a tearjerking interview with a woman about coping with life after her son committed suicide. I listened to it on Good Friday this year. (Note: this is a Catholic radio show, so Protestant viewers may need to screen out all the remarks about how being Catholic is so very Catholic and have we mentioned that we're Catholic?)
Blog post on the same site: A Meditation On The Shocking Idea That Maybe Were Actually Not Just Lazy Whiners.
♦ Deconstructing the Documentary Hypothesis. (Again, Roman Catholic site with various other polemics I don't endorse, but we're pretty much on the same team when it comes to the Old Testament having a basis in historical reality.)
♦ As for the New Testament, here's your periodic reminder that there are really easy ways to distinguish the historically authentic texts about Jesus from the rest.
♦ Why are women underrepresented in philosophy and should we care? A statistical analysis of the academic ladder as it relates to gender politics.
My own private sources tell me that there is blatant, severe (and often illegal) discrimination in favor of women in academic philosophy, to the point where sometimes a woman with mediocre talents and a single publication in a mid-ranked journal, can win out in a competition with a brilliant male researcher with over a dozen publications in top journals.
♦ My Bionic Quest for Boléro, a story about what it takes to get a deaf person able to appreciate classical music again. I highly recommend you listen to the musical piece in question while reading the article.
♦ Here is what a low-trust society looks like: Poor Russian Families Berate a Store Owner for Handing Out Free Bread. It's also an image or an icon of how human beings treat God. So now you know what it looks like from the other side.