Tag Archive for: science

Squirrels and Trees

After a busy day downtown, I met my wife and my youngest son at the Eaton Centre. We had dinner at a restaurant that overlooked a small courtyard. And an industrious squirrel caught my eye.

The squirrel, high atop a tree, was cutting branches with is teeth and moving the branches to a nest. Squirrels nest in trees? Indeed they do.

I had to learn a few more things about squirrels. I did a little research on the web and here is what I found out.

There are approximately 270 species of squirrels worldwide. Squirrels are found on all continents except Australia. They are a member of the rodent (gnawing animal) family. There are three main types of squirrels: tree squirrels, flying squirrels, and ground squirrels . The most common tree squirrels of North America are the gray squirrel, the fox squirrel, and the red squirrel.

The one we saw last night was a gray squirrel. Although a black squirrel was also sharing the tree nest.

Tree squirrels, not surprisingly, live in trees. Trees provide three basic needs for tree squirrels: water, food, shelter. Squirrels rarely drink water. They get most of their water from their food and dew. A squirrel”™s diet includes: seeds, nuts, fruit, buds, shoots, bark, sap, insects, eggs, berries, and fungi (mushrooms).

Squirrel”™s are very active mammals that use a tremendous amount of energy in their daily life. The average squirrel eats about two pounds of food a week. This is a little over 100 pounds of food a year. Squirrels spend most of their life in the pursuit of food. Their long incisors must endure an enormous amount of wear as squirrels use them to crack nuts, bite off pine cones, crack seeds, and gnaw bark. These incisors grow continuously throughout the squirrel”™s life at the rate of 6 inches per year.

Trees squirrels live inside a hollow part of the tree or a leaf nest. Each squirrel claims a territory and marks it with his/her scent. For protection squirrels usually build several smaller nests in addition to the main nest. They also build an escape hole in each nest. Squirrels usually live alone in their nest. Exceptions are: wintertime when body heat is needed to keep warm, and when the female is raising her babies.

Tree squirrels are not aggressive animals and will flee rather than fight when threatened. Natural enemies of tree squirrels include: birds of prey, martens, weasels, snakes, foxes and dogs.


The National Post had a front page story on the opening of a new museum. The museum presents creation as a viable scientific basis for the origination of species.

The organization behind this museum is called Answers in Genesis. I have a friend who works for the organization.

The National Post made an interesting observation that in Canada, the debate between creation and evolution was not very active. Our society has become so secularized that we either do not care about the debate or we do not think it important. Apparently, this is not the case in the United States.

By coincidence, the National Post also carried a story about Einstein’s belief in God. In his own words:

The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand those laws.

Little Boy

My son asked me about the atomic bomb that fell on Hiroshima. He saw a small bomb in an exhibit here in Nashville and he thought that the bomb was the Little Boy.

Little Boy was the code name for the 4-ton bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima.

The bomb was about 3 meters long and .7 meters in diameter. Wikipedia has an interesting entry on the bomb here. Another perspective on the damage caused by the bomb can be found here.

This site provides some very interesting context about the decision to use the bomb and I found this interview with Leo Szilard of particular interest.

Little Boy

Are You Tonedeaf?

A friend pointed me to this website. The test takes about 6 minutes and it does use sound to test your pitch perception.

I scored 80%.

From the website:

While working at the music and neuroimaging lab at Beth Israel/Harvard Medical School in Boston, I developed a quick online way to screen for the tonedeafness. It actually turned out to be a pretty good test to check for overall pitch perception ability. The test is purposefully made very hard, so excellent musicians rarely score above 80% correct. Give it a try!

A Bunch of Tubes

Ted Stevens is the Chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. The Committee has a broad jurisdiction which covers many issues including telecommunications. Ted Stevens has been a member of the Senate for 37 years and he is Alaska’s senior Senator. Perhaps too senior.

The issue of Net Neutrality is under heavy debate.

Net Neutrality means that everyone can access content or run applications and devices of their choice on the Internet. The network’s only job is to move data ”” not choose which data to privilege with higher quality service. There are companies that are actively seeking to control the wires and discriminate against content based on source or ownership under some questionable assumptions about tiered services. You can find out more at Save the Internet.

Ted Stevens is being ridiculed for his speech on voting against the net neutrality provision in a review of the United States federal telecommunications laws. His speech, part of which is reported here, describes the Internet as a series of tubes:

They want to deliver vast amounts of information over the internet. And again, the internet is not something you just dump something on.

It’s not a truck.

It’s a series of tubes.

And if you don’t understand those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and its going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material.

The senator also complained that his staff sent him an Internet, whatever that means, and that the Internet took five days to reach him because of what has been happening to all of those tubes running amuck on the web.

I suppose this response to his delayed Internet is as good as any.

Thank heavens there are informed politicians, like Ted Stevens, helping to decide important technical issues.

On Time

The first practical cesium atomic frequency standard was built at the National Physical Laboratory in England in 1955. The frequency of the cesium reference was established or measured relative to astronomical time.

The cesium atom’s natural frequency was formally recognized as the new international unit of time in 1967. A second was defined as exactly 9,192,631,770 oscillations or cycles of the cesium atom’s resonant frequency, replacing the old second that was defined in terms of the Earth’s motions. The interval of a second quickly became the physical quantity most accurately measured by scientists.

As of January, 2002, the National Institute of Standards and Technology primary cesium standard was capable of keeping time to about 30 billionths of a second per year. Called NIST-F1, it is the 8th of a series of cesium clocks built by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

I have to report on this for one basic reason. My wife keeps her clocks set at radically different times. For example, the clock in our bedroom is set 20 minutes ahead. In our kitchen one of the clocks is set 3 hours ahead. Therefore, it really doesn’t matter how accurate a second can be. As Mark Twain describes the issue with inaccurate timepieces:

My watch slowed down to that degree that it ticked like a tolling bell. I began to be left by trains, I failed all appointments, I got to missing my dinner; my watch strung out three days’ grace to four and let me go to protest; I gradually drifted back into yesterday, then the day before, then into last week, and by and by the comprehension came upon me that all solitary and alone I was lingering along in the week before last, and the world was out of sight.

I have no idea what time it really is. I must be late for something.

Belief in Science

I have been working through two books during my stay in Houston: Norman Cantor’s In the Wake of the Plague and Gerald Schroeder’s The Science of God.

In Cantor’s book, he talks about the scientific basis for ascertaining the cause of the Black Death in the fourteenth century:

“Inevitably medieval physicians attributed the onset of the disease to God’s punishment for sin and to bad astrological conjunctions involving the feared planet of Saturn. The king of France appointed a commission of University of Paris professors to account for the Black Death. The professors soberly blamed the medieval catastrophe on the astrological place of Saturn in the house of Jupiter.”

Okay. So science was pretty primitive in the fourteenth century and the best minds of the time were remarkably clueless.

From Schroeder’s book:

“From the time of Aristotle, 2,300 years ago, scientific theory held the universe to be eternal… through the early 1960s in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary, two thirds of leading U.S. scientists surveyed believed it.”

For the past thirty years, we have lived with strong evidence for the big bang. We take the fact of a beginning as obvious. However, science opposed this view of a universe with a beginning for thousands of years.

And the main issue for a universe with a beginning? Weinberg summed it up in his book The First Three Minutes:

“Some cosmologists are philosophically attracted to the oscillating model, especially because, like the steady-state model, it nicely avoids the problem of Genesis.”

The problem of Genesis is the problem of a beginning and the possibility of a Beginner.

I wonder how much of what we are taught as scientific fact today represents a form of faith in evolution, in global warming, in origin of life. And, hundreds of years from now, will the best minds of today come across as befuddled as the best minds of the fourteenth century?

The Universe and Other Things

Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.

Albert Einstein
Physicist (1879 – 1955)

Car Accident