Saturday, June 28, 2008

Mentos and diet-coke explained

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Finally, scientists have figured out what it is about Mentos and Diet-Coke that creates such spectacular eruptions!

A 2006 Mythbusters episode had it partly figured out. Now students at Appalachian State University have filled in the details. The full story is over at ABC news, here. Make sure you check out the great clip from a world record set for 1360 simultaneous Coke-Mentos fountains.

Thanks to Rob at the Orbiting Frog for spotting this, here. Rob seems to have a soft spot for science experiments that involve food and drink as you can see here (Can crushing) and here (eating a microwave).

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Breaking news on NEOSSat

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Dynacon of Canada is putting up another micro-satellite!

See the project website here. And today's press release here.

NEOSSat will fly a compact package in a 700 km polar orbit tracking and detecting near Earth objects including other satellites and asteroids. It has the capacity to image hundreds of objects a day on exposures collecting only a few photons per second.

NEOSSat was developed by the same people that brought you MOST, see here (okay - not the Cubs but the real MOST).

BTW. You can include your name and have it sent into space with NEOSSat, here.

(I know it's over used but I always wanted to write breaking news at least once:)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

What's a cub to do over the summer?

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Parents, Cubs, and new Chums.

Even though our Cub pack takes the summer off, there's lots of things a Cub can do over the summer. Even if you just swam up from Beavers, there's a lot of things you can do. And for many of them you're doing just what's required! You just need to keep track of them.

Consider the following badges?
  • Team Player - do play baseball, soccer, or any other team sport?
  • Swimmers - are you taking Aqua Quest 7?
  • Watercraft - do you go to a canoeing camp or boat at a cottage?
  • Fishing - do you fish your Dad or Mom?
  • Gardener - do you have a green thumb?
  • Artist or Readers - what do you do on a rainy day?
  • Collector - do you have an organized collection of anything?
  • Musician - do play a musical instrument? Do you go to music camp?
  • Home Repair - do you help Mom or Dad fix things around the house?
  • Pet Care - do you help take care of the family pet?
  • Language Strip - can you carry on a conversation in a a second language?
There's over 70 badges and awards you can earn. I bet you're doing some of these with your family over the summer. Why not come prepared in the fall to earn a bunch of badges!

To really know what you can do and the exact requirements, you really need a Cub Book. If you don't have one you can get one at a Scout Shop. There's one in North York (here) and Brampton (here).

Have a safe and fun summer everyone!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

DMC-eh? Why Canada's new Copyright law is a mistake

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Parliament is considering an updated copyright law. Unfortunately, it's a mistake that will cost consumers in the long run.

Below you will find:
  • Background
  • What is wrong with this proposed law?
  • Where the law fails consumers
  • What can you do if you disagree
  • Recent articles and feedback on the proposed new Copyright Bill
  • Additional Background - how far the music and film industries will go
  • Other Related

But before I begin, why am I writing this in a blog with a Scouting focus? Well the simple answer is that Scouts should do the right thing. In order for them to do the right thing they need good guidance and they need to understand the issues. One of our Scouts could become a future Prime Minister (at least 6 were Scouts). One or more of our Scouts may have to deal with outdated laws and conflicted interests. And before that, as all of our Scouts grow up they will have to learn to live with our laws; whether fair or unfair, and they may want to voice their own opinions on those laws.

At the heart of the issue is the balance between consumers and the producers/distributors of Intellectual Property or IP. Specifically IP includes things like books, magazines, music, and films. For years there have been battles between those controlling IP, those stealing it, and legitimate consumers who all too frequently get caught in the middle.

Organizations like the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) are in the forefront of these battles which are both legal and technical.

Digital Rights Management (DRM) is one of the most despised innovations technologies in recent years. Flaws in its design and implementation can and have left consumers unable to access things they've purchased. Additionally, DRM is stifling and exacts a penalty on everyone who uses a computer regardless if they have any music or video. DRM has been cited as a major factor as to why people dislike Windows Vista.

I'm fairly certain that most people don't condone the outright theft of music and film for commercial gain. But the public perception of things seem to become a lot more cloudy when the issue becomes non-commercial sharing.

Let me be very clear, amassing a large collection of music, film, and other content without paying for it is wrong. And sharing that collection with the world is also wrong.

Buying music or video, recording it and then reselling the original is cheating the system too. This will be illegal under the new law.

So a key question becomes what is the boundary of reasonable fair use? Where is the balance? And how as consumers can we protect our rights?

Recent history has shown that the organizations controlling IP will aggressively pursue their interests and use every tool available to them. In the extreme, they and their agents have violated the copyright and licenses of others and they have been acused of violating other laws to serve their own interests. If only their voices are heard, consumer rights will very easily be trampled.

What is wrong with this proposed law?

While some of the clarifications are welcome, other provisions in this new Copyright Bill (C61) are not. Not only is it unbalanced, it appears to effectively remove the key idea of intent through anti-circumvention provisions, and will likely bring Canadians the same kind of legal harassment that has been seen in the US. This will go far beyond the issues of downloading and uploading.

Balancing the rights of the producers, distributors, and consumers of content is a tricky job. Commercial piracy is a large problem that needs to be addressed. The problem of downloading and file sharing is trickier to address without harming Canadian consumer rights.

While this proposed update to our copyright laws gives consumers some rights, it takes away a great deal more. We will be able to:
  • Change the format of are old (analog) recordings to newer devices
  • Use PVRs and VCRs to time shift view programs
  • We will NOT be able to do any of this for protected digital format which means we will not be able to move or copy protected CDs, DVDs, or individual songs and films
  • We may be prohibited from backing up music kept on computers (or restoring content after loss).
  • We may not be able to move content from obsolete formats to newer ones.
Where the law fails consumers

The Bill fails consumers who have purchased legal copies of copyrighted material in several ways.
Broadening the scope of the Bill in the following areas would address these failings:
  • Backup Copies
  • Non-infringing Non-commercial Uses
  • Format Shifting
  • Interoperability
What can you do if you disagree

If you wish to take action against this proposed law and get your voice heard, please see:
If you are determined you can sometimes vote with your wallet. Avoid copy protected CD's, refuse to buy copy protected songs (most iTunes songs are protected using Advanced Audio Coding or AAC). Unfortunately there seems to be no legal unprotected video content available.

Recent articles and feedback on the proposed new Copyright Bill
Additional Background - how far the music and film industries will go

Other Related

  • Some information on DMCA from the Electronic Frontier Foundation

  • The cost of DRM

  • "Intellectual property" is a silly euphemism, Cory Doctorow, The Guardian (UK), February 2008
  • Thursday, June 12, 2008

    Gone Home too soon ....

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    I just saw a news article about the tornado touching down Little Sioux Scout Ranch in Iowa. Campers were trying to take cover when the storm hit. One cabin was demolished by a direct hit. Many were injured and four Scouts have gone home before their time.

    Please take a moment and spare a thought for the victims of this tragedy. Some links below:
    Clarke Green wrote a good piece on this at his Scoutmaster Blog. He talks not just about fellowship and loss, but what we must all learn from this.

    Update: I just saw a TV news report on the tragedy that included photos of the devastation. It is hard to believe from these pictures that anyone could have come through that.

    Reports indicate these Scouts were on a leadership training program and had just completed first aid and emergency preparedness instruction. The survivors certainlty put those skills to the test.

    Our thoughts go out to the families, friends, and leaders of Aaron Eilerts, 14 from Eagle Grove, Iowa; Josh Fennen, 13, Sam Thomsen, 13, and Ben Petrzilka, 13, all from Omaha.

    Sunday, June 8, 2008

    Swimup Camp at Wye Marsh (June 21st)

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    Information on the swim-up camp has been sent out. It is also available for download here.

    Please note that fees for Beavers are different from the other sections as listed above. Please contact your leaders.


    This information was also posted on the 433rd blog.

    Friday, June 6, 2008

    Binocular Astronomy

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    One of the best things a budding astronomer can do is not buy a telescope!

    Instead, buy two!! Quite simply, a good set of binoculars is a better way to start off. For more information on why this is true, see "Your first telescope".

    Update: There is a caveat I should mention, handheld binoculars will be unlikely to give you a good view of Saturn's rings. I'll write more about beginner telecsopes before Christmas.

    Choosing Binoculars

    If you are looking for binoculars that you can use to look at the stars, I recommend you read Binoculars for Astronomy over at The Universe Today. Tammy Plotner, a professional astronomer and frequent writer on binocular astronomy, covers size, weight, portability, magnification, size of the objective lens (large end), and exit pupil (small end), tripod adapters, and what types are suited to children versus adults.

    Because they are so versatile, many astronomers have several pairs. For example, I have have a compact 8x21, mid-size 10x50, and a large 11x70. The first pair doesn't really gather enough light but makes up for it in portability. The last pair is near the limit of being hand holdable. Anything larger are considered giants.

    Giant binoculars require tripods (some have seats) and are used by comet hunters amongst others. They come in sizes like 15x80, 25x100, 30x90, 25x125.

    Some astronomers so enjoy using both eyes they get binocular eyepiece mounts for normal telescopes.

    One of the most advanced telescopes in the world, called the large binocular telescope uses two scopes with 8.4 meter diameter mirrors!

    Things to see with binoculars

    Below I've summarized some of Tammy's articles and given viewing dates assuming evening viewing around 9pm.
    • Get Sirius! (March 2008) - describes how to use Sirius to find the open clusters M41, M47, and M50 [January-April]. I wrote on this article before, here.
    • What to Look at With Binoculars - describes how to find the open clusters M44 (The Beehive), and M67 [December-June]; the globular cluster M3 [June-September]; the open cluster Melotte 111 [February-August]; the galaxies M65, M66, NGC 3628 [February-July]; and M105, and M96 [June-July].
    Tammy has a series of articles called "What's Up" at the Universe Today as well she has written a book " The Night Sky Companion 2008-2009". The What's Up articles cover what can be seen with binoculars, scopes, and the naked eye on specific dates and may require staying up late or rising early. Many of these take into account the brightness of the moon, as well as the position of planets and asteroids that will vary from year to year.


    I forgot to include a few objects on my list:
    • M45 (Seven Sisters), the famous open cluster in Taurus [October-April]
    • M42 and M43, in the sword of Orion Nebula [November-April]
    • The Double-Double, a multiple star, in Lyra [May-December]
    • Alberio, a multi-coloured double star in Cygnus [May-December]
    Also, the May/June 2008 issue of "Sky News Canada" has an article titled "Welcome To The Binocular Universe" ... "These double-barrelled optical wonders will enhance your exploration of the night sky." written by Gary Seronik.

    Update: David Hofland of the North-East Alabama Astronomical League sent me a copy of his NEAAL article describing how to make a liquid filled stabilizer for binoculars using PVC, contact cement, and bungees. Granted it looks a bit odd, but it should have some advantages over a camera tripod when looking way up. I've reprinted it here with permission.


    I'd love to hear from anyone with ideas about good targets for hand held binoculars. I'd also like to hear from people with binocular experience south of the equator. Please comment or respond via the guestbook or email form on the sidebar. Thanks.

    Camp cleanup with destructive science!

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    Rob over at The Orbiting Frog likes to post easy and fun science experiments involving food and drink. Previously I commented on his article explaining how we can measure the speed of light with a microwave in Yummy Science Experiment - eating up the speed of light!

    Now he's found a found a fun experiment to aid any camper that needs to carry out their litter, please see Air Pressure and Coke Cans.

    Ok, stamping on them is more efficient. But is it really as much fun?

    And if you doubt the power of this simple trick, a maple syrup producer has a freight car sized tank that was first crushed and then re-inflated by the power of air pressure and steam. (Note: The maple syrup producer was McCutcheon's south of Coldwater not far from our year-end camp at Wye Marsh).

    Thursday, June 5, 2008

    Carnival of Space # 57 is up

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    A new Space Carnival, #57, has been posted at Out of the Cradle. Click here to read it.

    Wednesday, June 4, 2008

    Hut 33 returns ... more Scouting connections

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    Hut 33, the BBC radio comedy, has returned for a second season.

    In the final episode of season one, we find out enough to suspect that Gordon had been a Cub Scout, here. We also know that Archie and Josh were either in Scouts or at least acquainted with the Jungle Book.

    In season two's opener, "The Royal Visit", we find out more about Bletchley's scouting and youth group connections:
    • Gordon was indeed a Cub and earned every badge but one. There's one like him in every pack. (Well almost.)
    • Minka gets involved with a Brownie group and brings her efficiency and unique interpretations to the movements principles. (Be very afraid Brown Owls.)
    The entire Scouting and Guiding sub-story is hilarious. I just can't say more without giving away too much.

    A word of warning to parents: Hut 33 is typical of a number of British radio comedy shows having some risque bits.

    For more on Hut 33 see: the BBC page, this Wikipedia page, this comedy page, and the Hut 33 blog.

    I can't help but wonder if we won't hear more about Scouting later in the series.

    Sunday, June 1, 2008

    What's your favorite asterism?

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    So what's an asterism?

    When we look at the night sky we see stars and groups of stars. Some of these groups are among the 88 official constellations. Like Orion, Hercules, Ursa Major, etc. For a list of the official constellations look here). But some of the best known star groups aren't actually constellations! Some are even better known than the official constellations. These unofficial groups are called asterisms. And some of these are better known than the official constellations.

    Teaching the sky

    Cubs learning the sky for their Astronomer badge will learn some asterisms as a way to identify the 5 constellations they need. Listed below are a few of the most common I teach to our cubs. I've listed them by by season assuming you'll be looking just after twilight.

    All year (circumpolar):
    • Orion's Belt and Orion's Sword (Orion): November-April
    • The Kids (Auriga): September-May
    More asterisms

    There are also binocular and telescopic asterisms. One of the most famous and striking is called the Coat hanger (Brocchi's Cluster). The Coat hanger can be spotted by eye but needs binoculars to see its pattern. It can be found not far from the western edge of the Summer Triangle moving from Vega in Lyra to Altair in Aquila just past Alberio.

    In addition to the Wikipedia article, there are a many sites with lists of asterisms.

    So, what's your favorite asterism?

    I wanted to write an article on asterims for Cubs, Scouts and beginners and had expected to find longer online lists of asterisms than were at Wikipedia and SEDS. I also have very little information on southern hemisphere asterisms.

    Do you know any that aren't on these lists? Do you have a favorite?

    Please let me know via comment or email.