Thursday, September 18, 2008

Mythbusters in Edmonton

Alright, I've got great news! This fall, Mythbusters is coming to Edmonton and Science/Engineering students at the UofA get first pick! (Back off ladies, Jamie Hyneman is MINE!)
So if you want to go...too bad, I'll tell you how it went :P & if I got to meet Jamie in person. BTW, I don't know who exactly is coming, so it could be Tory or Karri.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

I'm back!!!


I have gone on my trip and have survived my first two weeks of school this year! Yaay!!!

Anyways I went on that field trip to Dinosaur Provincial Park and had fun (well, what fun I could have without drinking I suppose)... and got a sunburn. LOL! I guess people who know me wouldn't be surprised. Anyways, here are a few pics to keep you entertained.

The "Broomweed" we were studying

The wonderful view.... everywhere you looked there was a great pic opportunity!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

AHHHHHH.... School has started!

Well, this year is going to be interesting. Only been to two classes and already I'm getting swamped. As well (Last minute as usual), I found out that next weekend (12-14th) I will be on a field trip to southern Alberta....

Yes. They expect me to get a babysitter in little more than a week for a 2 night vacation... ahem, I mean field trip. There was no notice in the calendar or anything. Oh well. At least it sounds like an interesting class.

My classes so far sound great. In one, we have a guest lecturer every week, and in the other I get to use Google Earth! This might be the best semester yet, I guess we'll all find out soon....

On that note, my daughter has started school again for another year. She likes her teacher and all the kids in class, so at least one of us is happy right now :)


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Sports & School

This weekend my daughter is competing in a Highland Dance Competition before school starts next week. I read this timely article, and have been wondering about how I deal with her school & sports.

Because I follow hockey, I see more and more that North America values its sports players higher than intelligence. The multi-billions that sports players get for a one year contract is insane, but even with recent attempts to cut back (think NHL salary caps), salaries are still increasing. From the article it looks like this attitude starts in school, from both the parents and the school officials themselves.

When was the last time that you saw a high level scientist making more than a million a year? I think the only way to use your brains for money is in business, but a few people would argue that maybe it’s your soul that is worth the money, not your mind. However, in the study they compare musicians with all-star athletes, with community-league athletes.

The first comparison is missing school for sports games. 75% is a lot of times. And this isn’t for everyday class work, but for exams!!! Not only that, but schools are tacitly agreeing with the viewpoint that sports are more important than education by letting them make up later, offering special tutoring, and other special treatments, that the other students may not get (or nearly as much).

Now my daughter, Sweet Pea, does not get preferential treatment for exams from me. In fact, last year this was a tipping point for myself. She was getting lower grades (one C) and I told her if she does not shape up, that ALL of her sports are gone until she can manage her school. She is also (unfortunately for me!) good at sports and enjoys sports so this was quite a threat for her, and she barely squeaked by. However, I’m afraid that this will create a dislike for school, whereas I want the exact opposite to happen. She can have it both, but she cannot see that.

Why don’t schools teach that both can happen? I try to be active, but frankly I deserve to be last picked for sports… I just don’t enjoy them. I prefer individual sports, so I’m not really a good role model for her. Why do we rank athletes & compete in tournaments, but not for academics. Who is the best writer in the school? Which math team can answer the most difficult questions? Cannot schools make academics into a sport to make it fun? Would that solve the problem?

I understand with obesity being the next health crisis to try and get the kids active, but really, is it worth having a society of dumb jocks instead of pudgy nerds? Is there no middle ground or why can’t we have both?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Just a Little Love People...

Alright, whoever said that Canadians are the most mannered/nice people have burning pants right now, because whenever they get behind the wheel they are morons.
Just yesterday I was driving down some alleys (don't ask, its not like I patrol them), and had to move over EVERY time another car came down. EVERY TIME!!!11!!11!!!

The driver, whether female/male, young/old, etc/etc, would stare at me. Finally, I would move over. Is this some kind of Canadian chicken??! (moving verrrrry slowlllllly).

Anyways, the polite & mannered thing to do would for both of us to move to the sides (there is enough room), and each give a little wave. But no, I move to the side, and the other people either ignore me or give me a one fingered salute. Just a little wave. That's all I'm asking. My standards are super low. And yet, people cannot manage this. Where are their moms? Did they teach them no manners?

And this is in alleys! Everytime I get on the roads, I put my life & my daughters in jeopardy. People drive like friggin blind people! And this is in every major city I have ever drove in. Actually, this rant goes for States' cities too. When the population gets over 100,000 people think that they are immune or something.

Well...... I guess all I can hope for is that natural selection works........

Monday, August 18, 2008

Water Conference

Well... nothing like a well deserved break ....
Anyways, this last Saturday there was a Water Conference held in Alberta at Fort Chip. There were the usual players there, but the promising piece of information was that the Aboriginal Bands that were there were discussing the potential of suing the Federal and Albertan Government because of their inaction after the Mackenzie Basin Transboundary Water Agreement that was signed in 1997. A CBC news report stated that mutated fish are being found in the rivers in this area. Remind you of the Simpsons? Instead of three eyes, there were two mouths.

Scary as this is (ewwww, that's why I don't eat fish), many people are using the river water daily. Many Indian Reserves are found along rivers in this region, so why isn't the government listening? Because it all comes down to the mighty dollar, there are fewer people living in Northern Alberta, and because many of these people, the government just does not care about.

What to do?? I'll be thinking about this for a while to come.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Herbal Supplements are Bad News

In today’s and yesterday's paper, another news story about a fatality due to an herbal supplement. While not directly causing the death, this drug hidden in the "herbal medicine" caused the driver to fall asleep while driving. Meanwhile, because these supplements are not regulated to the degree they should be, there was an additional drug in there that was addictive and harmful and is not approved for sale in Canada. The irony is that this additional drug was probably added to actually make the herbal remedy work.

I love plants (obviously) and they are useful medically, but even I am suspicious of the claims made by some of these companies selling herbal remedies. Most of the clinical trials done by researchers were poorly designed, so the claims cannot be attributed to the plants. Conversely, the medicines that are appropriately made from plants have been researched, studied and have been standardized so that everytime you take that ASA (aspirin) pill, you are guaranteed to receive a certain amount of the active ingredient. The active ingredient/compound from the plant has been extracted so that instead of chowing down on a whole tree’s worth of willow bark, one or two pills can do the job.

As of yet (in Canada), there are less regulations regarding herbal remedies than normal, everyday food we consume. All ingredients on normal foodstuffs must be list in order of quantity. We have no such laws regarding herbal medicines. The actual “active herb” may not even be found in the pills, or a minute quantity is found, and the rest is filling. These amounts can vary from batch to batch, so results cannot be verified.

So until more research (by reputable scientists) can be done, please DO NOT buy herbal supplements. Even if they are famous brand names, they are not regulated enough and do not list every ingredient. This is not just a waste of your money, it can ruin your health or kill you like the man from the news story.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Critically Thinking

I recently read these two new papers in PLOS Biology here and here on migrations, and how the phenomenon of migrations can place species more at risk from anthropogenic forces. The species that migrate are more at risk for decreasing numbers and endangerment. They outline how people’s settlements and activities (forestry, mining, highways, etc) affect these populations, and underline how important it is that scientists open communication channels with communities and the governments in order to protect the animals.

However, to make informed decisions about these species’ populations, the people involved do not necessarily have the background in science needed to understand the subtleties. Which is OK, nobody can understand everything about everything, and this is why it is important to know WHO to trust, or at least know their real agenda’s. I do the same when it comes to investing my money, politics (to a certain degree), and world events.

So I have often wondered, can we inform future citizens while they are in school? Start in elementary; teach them how to make informed choices, what sources to trust, which to ignore, and ultimately how to think critically.

A not-so-recent example is the vaccination hoopla. Anti-vaccinationists have sexy campaigns that target the general population with limited knowledge of what vaccinations are and how they work. However, how many of these anti-vaccinationists are actual reliable scientists* that have studied vaccines? Do not just look at what they actually say, but understand their motivations. Are they looking for someone to blame? Are they looking for a conspiracy? Do they want your money? Do they want their 15 minutes of fame? Also realize that some information is correct, but taken out of context. Such as the claim that vaccinations don’t work all the time anyways, so why get them? Well, some vaccinations do not 100% for everyone, but this is not a problem usually because of herd immunity, which is kind of a communal vaccination. The more people that do not have the vaccinations, the more susceptible those individuals are.

So this post is not about vaccines or species in trouble, but being aware of where you get your information and becoming informed to make better decisions. The internet is wonderful, but only if you know what information to trust. And sometimes, it can come from a completely reputable place, but the science itself is sometimes wrong. And this is good. If it were never wrong, then scientists are not doing their job. So also look critically at scientific papers, at scientists, at EVERYTHING you read & hear! People that are reputable and trustworthy will help you understand, not just keep repeating the same things over and over. Use your own common sense.

So let’s start teaching our children how to learn and what to trust. Lets start teaching adults, politicians, anyone who will listen how to do the same. And next time someone says that they would rather you drive your huge SUV all over instead of walking/biking/busing, think of all the scientists that are warning you of global climate change instead of the politicians warning you of the economy. Economies can always rebound, but can the Earth? Do you want to find out? And think … would you rather get your financial information from a trained analyst or from an 8 year old on a playground?

End of Rant

* Reliable Scientists are those that actually study the subject; so NO I don’t mean those other CAM people (Complementary and Alternative Medicine Practitioners) that mostly are people trying to suck as much money out of you as they can.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

University Course Registration Done!

After procrastinating for a very long time (I was supposed to in the middle of May), I finally have registered in my courses for the Fall and Winter semesters.

And this year I have rockin' classes! I have evolutionary biology, a mass of botany classes, geology and my mainstay, french class.

Hopefully this year will give me lots of fodder for my blog, as well as a main venting area, when, halfway through the semester, I complain about my classes, teachers, classmates, & then I wonder why I ever quit my job in the first place to go into massive debt just to rule the entire world.....ahem, I mean get smarter :P

So anyways, I'll just get back to my summer reading program (ie. scienceblogs) and enjoy the freedom while it lasts, until 8am tomorrow morning when I have to be at work...


Monday, July 28, 2008

Language Laws??

For a while now, Alberta has had one official language. Now with this traffic ticket fiasco, will this open up these laws for amendment or change? Yes, I know, I know... the Alberta Government is now appealing the court ruling, so where will this leave Albertans?

First of all, I'm Albertan, was born Albertan ... and I happen to be a very liberal Albertan (didn't think that was possible didya?!) I also believe everyone in the country of Canada should be able to fluently speak BOTH french and english. Not because of our history, but because it improves our ability to travel & identify with other cultures, opens our opportunities, and provides all Canadians a basis of unity.

However, this guy failed to make a safe left turn, and if the ticket was in portugese, swahili, or russian it should still be upheld! I'm all for the language laws to be reformed, but this guy actually committed a traffic infraction & should be punished accordingly. Let's not lose sight of what this is actually about.

Welcome to my first post!

I hope to accomplish two different things with this blog. The first is the ability to show across a wide audience that botany (and science) can be fun, interesting, and easy. Trust me ... if I can do it, most people can.

The second is for my own benefit. As I read scientific papers & learn many things through school and the internet, my blog will be a way to disseminate and critically think about that information. If I benefit one person along the way, I have accomplished my goal.

That being said, this blog will not all be about science or plants. I have a wide array of interests that I hope to bring across as well. If you have any neat websites to show me, or science topics you would like to discuss, drop me some mail & I will get back to it ASAP.

Happy Reading!