Category Archives: Science

Tracking the Weather

Not too long ago I was driving through a town and saw they advertised themselves as part of the National Weather Service “StormReady” program. Being a trained spotter for the NWS I’ve heard a lot of jargon and have a better than average idea about what the NWS is responsible for, but I had never heard of this program. Of course when I got home I had to look it up and found that such a program does exist, but apparently is not widely used (as of this date only 1086 communities nationally are certified).

According to the National Weather Service StormReady website:

StormReady is a nationwide community preparedness program that uses a grassroots approach to help communities develop plans to handle all types of severe weather—from tornadoes to tsunamis. The program encourages communities to take a new, proactive approach to improving local hazardous weather operations by providing emergency managers with clear-cut guidelines on how to improve their hazardous weather operations.

As an amateur radio operator and trained spotter I’d like to see more communitites participate in programs such as this as they prepare for inevitable natural disasters.

On another weather related note I discovered a piece of software called Swift WX which claims to have real-time weather radar you can watch from your PC. My suspician is that the software polls the NWS servers for the already free NEXRAD radar data overlays it on maps with other graphics. Note that with current weather radar technology the radar must make several sweeps at varying angles to create a usable composite image which takes several minutes. Furthermore, unlike systems hooked to dedicated radars such as those at many TV stations software such as this must wait for the next data update from the NWS. While this happens frequently, calling it real-time is probably a stretch. I suppose that if you weren’t satisfied using a web-based radar viewing solution a product such as this could be useful, but it doesn’t appear to be anything special.

Patently Absurd

I have recently read an excerpt from an interesting letter by Thomas Jefferson to Isaac McPherson regarding the concept of patents.

That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation.

Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property.

The ideas of Jefferson apply to more than the modern definition of patents. Indeed, it could be argued that Jefferson is against the entirity of so-called “intellectual property”. He does point out that an individual may keep an idea to themself, something we might now refer to as a “trade secret”. In any event, if you’re interested in intellectual property and the problems surrounding it the full excerpt is worth a read and included below.

You might also be interested this piece at the “Right To Create” blog which attempts to explain how our broken patent system is actually costing us economically rather that stimulating invention. This is another interesting read.
Read more »

Rocket Man

If you haven’t heard about Juan Manuel Lozano perhaps you should. Lozano has devoted most of his life to building a personal jetpack at his home 50 miles south of Mexico City. Along the way he has invented and sold a distiller for 90% pure Hydrogen Peroxide (which he uses to fuel his jetpack) and a super efficient “Penta M” catalyst pack which converts the fuel into steam. He has no formal education beyond high school and only standard aerobatic pilot training. Popularized in the 1960s by Wendell Moore of the Bell Aerospace company the devices have been featured in everything from James Bond films to the 1984 Summer Olympics. Lozano has successfully completed a series of tethered test flights with his rocket pack and hopes to perfect and begin selling his design for $350,000 each. Considering that only 12 people have ever flown untethered rocket packs that’s no small feat. It’s also one that has earned Lozano and his company, Technologia Aerospacial Mexicana, a prime article by Larry Smith in the March 2006 Popular Mechanics magazine entitled “Ready for Takeoff?“. It’s a great article and I encourage you to read up on this amazing tinkerer and backyard rocket scientist.

Hands-on Science Activities

The San Francisco Exploratorium has a great website with a number of hands-on science activites you can do at home. These projects and experiments have the potential to become great science fair projects with a little research and polishing. Check out the Exploratorium Hands-on Activites section for learning about everything from food to buliding your own telescope.

Open Physics

Christoph Schiller has written a free physics textbook and made it availible online for non-commercial use. I took a look at it and have a few ideas. First, he should make a printed copy availible via the fantastic Lulu publishing company. Secondly, I think he should make it officially availible under the Creative Commons Non-Commercial Share Alike licence. It’s essentially that anyway and it would provide a better understanding and probably better legal grounds to the same end.

Finally, this book is overly technical and not user friendly for the introductory college physics student or advanced high school student in the United States. I would love to see a more traditional US physics text be made availible under a free license like this. I found it difficult to locate common US physics units in this book (eg. 2D kinematics, 3D kinematics, springs, waves, light (wave, not particle) and lenses, magenets and electricity). It would be great if someone could put together a book that looked this professional but which was shorter and designed for a more introductory college / advanced high school course. If someone wanted to work collaboratively on a project such as this I would be thrilled to be a part of it.

One example of a free license textbook is “All About Circuits” which was originally a PDF document but has been updated and become an online reference. I do wish they would come out with a PDF formatted book again though, it looks much more professional when printed. This electronics textbook was licensed under the Design Science License which seems to be even less restrictive than the Creative Commons NCSA license.

The Submarine Project

**Update** There are a lot of people finding this page using web search tools. Congratulations on your use of research to solve this problem. As a result there are a lot of valuable comments and possible solutions in the comments below. Please take the time to read the comments from others. I’m unable to provide any individual help on this project but I hope you find some useful information here. Please do not use the comments to complain about the project or chat with each other. If you have found something that works for you or another useful website please take the time to carefully write it up and submit it as a comment for others to read. Off-topic comments will be deleted. -Ben 2/26/2006

My 7th grade sister came home for winter vacation with a science project to do. Nothing simple like we used to do in school, she’s supposed to build a working miniature submarine. Naturally, I was asked to help with this project, but at the moment I’m quite busy with a number of other projects, so I’m wondering if anyone in the vast world of the internet has any ideas regarding how one would go about doing this? Remember, and this is important, this is still a 7th grade project and as such should not be overly complicated, we are going for the simplest solution to the problem, not the most technical one! You can find a copy of the project requirements below, any help would be greatly appreciated!

PS 14 The Submarine Project

Your Mission: Design, constuct and demonstrate a
submarine device that will float, sink and float again OR sink,
float and sink again in a tank of water 30 cm deep. This mission also includes
writing a "Captains Log" of your design process.


  1. Design and construct a subnmarine device that will operate in a tank of
    water 30 cm deep.
  2. Captains Log – write a report about your device and include a log
    of your design as you work
  3. Demonstrate your device to the class


  1. Sub must be more than 2 cm long and not larger than an average shoebox.
  2. You will only have about 5 minutes to get your submarine to complete its
  3. You may not touch (or drop things onto) the sub once it is put in the water
    – it must be completely self-operational
  4. Presentations will be done in our class fish tank. All materials must be
    contained inside the fish tank, not clinging to the walls or connected to
    anything outside the tank. (No hoses)
  5. Chemical reactions are not recommended unless it is designed
    to happen inside the submarine and not released into the aquarium. Only gasses
    can be releases into the tank, not the "chemicals".
  6. The density of the water in the tank must remain unchanged after your sub
    has completed its mission. Things that dissolve in water are not allowed.
    Kleenex and paper dissolve in water and can contaminate the tank
  7. Restricted materials: NO Funnels (or funnel-shaped objects), NO golf balls,
    NO tops to Tupperware and NO sponges may be used as the main body of the submarine.

Submarine Report must include the following:
Helpful Hint: Start each section on a fresh page and title the page with
the section

  • Creative Cover Page (Color picture, your name, submarine name, date, science
  • Salty Captain and vessel name (ie.:Science Stein of the S.S. Density)
  • Log of design work – Each time you work on the submarine, keep a log of
    the date and time you worked, discussing what you tried including drawings,
    frustrations and successes. You need to do this each time you work!
  • Final materials list: List all materials needed to construct your final
  • Vessel Operation: Explain how the submarine works in detail. How does it
    change density? (It should change density twice)
  • Design Plans: At least 3 drawings or pictures of your sub: floating sinking
    and then floating again (or vice versa). Be sure the pictures show changes
    in your sub.