Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Weekend Assignment #355: "I'm a Great Fan of Science, You Know"

First let me tackle this week's Weekend Assignment, and then we'll move on to some news.

In this year's State of the Union address, the President spoke of the need for better education, particularly in math and science, and the desirability of celebrating winners of science fairs - in other words, science geeks. How good were you in science in school?

Extra Credit: Whether or not you were actually good at it in school, how much of a science geek are you now?

The quote in the subject line is from the character Slartibartfast, from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books, radio shows, records, tv series, bad movie and officially licensed towel. He got an award from designing the fjords of Norway, so when he was given Africa to design for a replacement Earth, he intended to do it all in fjords again, "because I'd rather be happy than right, any day."

Myself, I'm not even quite sure why Africa can't have a fjord, except that I suspect that glaciers are involved in their making. I'm not very good at science, you see. I struggled in Earth Science in junior high school, got 100 on my Biology final in tenth grade, dropped out of Chemistry after getting a D the first semester, and never took Physics at all, which I regret. I took astronomy and some sort of climatology in college and struggled with those, too.

Nevertheless, I am a great fan of science. I understand that calling something a scientific "theory" does not mean it is something to be sneered at as "only a theory." I know what the scientific method is, and why empirical testing is good and valuable. I sometimes watch science shows, and even occasionally listen to Science Friday on NPR - not that I understand all of it. I have at least a vague idea of the difference between Newtonian and Einsteinian physics. Just don't ask me to explain it.

I think people should learn science, to the very limit of their ability to understand it. I think we probably need more really good science teachers, and more respect for science in general. I regret not taking that twelfth grade physics class, or some sort of physics for English majors course in college.

A number of years ago, an episode of Scientific American Frontiers was all about the human brain, the problem of Alzheimer's, and ways to keep the brain functioning as we age. The most important point I took away from the program, which I'm heard confirmed several times since then, is that if you learn something new and different later in life, it forms new synapses and helps to keep the brain from growing lesions and losing functionality. It can't just be more of the same, though. It needs to be a whole new field of leaning, not just more about accounting, if one is an accountant, or the next crossword puzzle if one likes crossword puzzles. It needs to be more along the lines of an engineer becoming a poet, or a writer taking up painting.

So maybe sometime in the next decade, I'll set my mind to learning physics. Or something.


I had a job interview yesterday. It was quite a distance from the house, almost 50 minutes of driving, over the county line. From where I got off the freeway, I could see Picacho Peak, which I generally think of as a quarter to a third of the way to Phoenix!  But it was a pretty and stress-free drive, mostly by freeway, and then up a lonely two lane highway with mountains in the distance all around me. When I got there, the cool factor of the type of business got me all excited and enthusiastic.

And guess what: I got the job! I won't tell you what it is, because it falls in my usual category of jobs for which it's probably best to not blab on the internet everything I know or every opinion I may have, good, bad or indifferent. It's an accounting job, of course, temp to hire, for a company that does something I find rather exciting. Given that, the pay rate and the nice people I met yesterday, it's going to be well worth the long drive each day. Hooray!

The other bit of news is that winter weather is hitting Tucson hard tonight. We won't be getting snow like the rest of the country, probably, but it's windy, and the forecast is for 15 to 20 degrees tonight. The all-time low for February in Tucson is 17 degrees, and that was back in 1899! So you see this is extraordinary. It's also really windy!

I think I'll go put my gloves on now, to wear indoors!

Image credit: "Goldilocks planet" illustration by Lynette Cook, National Science Foundation.


Call me Paul said...

Congratulations on the job, Karen. I hope it goes well.

Sarah Kishler said...

Congratulations on the new job! Very much hooray!

Florinda said...

Great news - congrats on the job, and hope all goes well with it!