Saturday, February 28, 2015
Louisville Kentucky Art Deco Skyline view south across the Ohio River from Indiana, with Belle of Louisville Steamboat. Made in Adobe Illustrator.
Prints available at: Fine Art America
Monday, February 9, 2015
Saturday, January 31, 2015
Art Deco Skyline of Chicago that I made in Adobe Illustrator. It is adapted from the small image of an old postage stamp that I found online. I love art deco architecture and styling from the 1930s.
Prints available at: Fine Art America
Thursday, April 24, 2014
The Toothpick Tripod Method of Microwaving Butter
Have you ever wondered how to soften butter in the microwave without it melting?
Softening refrigerated butter in a microwave to make it instantly spreadable has been a challenge to humanity for more than half a century. The inherent difficulty of microwaving butter is so well known that it was recently illustrated in a popular webcomic by The Oatmeal. Microwaving butter resting directly on a plate results in partial melting and puddling. Additionally, the time window between spreadably soft butter and mostly liquid butter is very narrow, and is highly variable depending on the microwave oven used, the size of the butter pat, and the material composition of the plate.
I am pleased to announce that this butter softening challenge has finally been solved.
I recently noticed that the initial puddling phenomenon always starts at the bottom of the butter pat where it contacts the plate, but the plate itself does not necessarily get hot and cause the melting. Even starting with a refrigerated plate results in melting from the bottom of the butter pat first. My idea was to elevate the butter pat above the plate, using toothpicks as shown in the above image, to avoid contact with the plate and hopefully achieve even heating without melting. I call this "The Toothpick Tripod Method" of microwave butter softening.
A tripod was chosen because it is the most efficient method to form a stable elevated support, with minimal surface area contact to the butter, and it is suitable for a butter pat of any shape. A bonus byproduct of this method, is that it also solves the problem of variable heating between different microwave ovens. Using the toothpick tripod method, you can simply set the microwave for any sufficiently long length of time, and then carefully watch the microwave until the buttery tripod softens and falls down under its own weight. The result is perfectly spreadable butter with no melted liquid, every time.
Try it for yourself!
Sunday, April 6, 2014
This is a continuation of the Science Cats! theme I started last month. If you enjoy these, feel free to share them with friends and family, and make suggestions or requests in the comments.
Illustration of the classic Rutherford scattering experiment in which alpha particles (helium nuclei) elastically scatter from the nuclei of gold atoms (elastic scattering means the lighter α particles bounce off of the heavy Au atoms like billiard balls without losing their speed). In 1911, Ernest Rutherford used this experiment to prove that most of the mass of an atom is tightly concentrated in a tiny core nucleus in the atom, falsifying the previous "plum pudding model" of the atom in which the electrons are dispersed throughout a smeared-out positive spherical volume like blueberries in a muffin. The Rutherford Model for the atom was later updated in 1913 by the Bohr Model, which begins to hint at the first quantum mechanical picture of the atom. In this incarnation of the Rutherford scattering experiment, Chloe serves as the source of α particles.
Polish astronomer and mathematician Nicolaus Copernicus formulated and published the heliocentric model in the first half of the 16th century, forever changing how humanity viewed its relationship to the Cosmos. The awe and majesty of this newly expanded cosmic perspective was beautifully captured in this 1873 oil painting by artist Jan Matejko (also Polish). In the foreground of the painting, Chloe plays with a rope and a random wooden pulley thing, completely oblivious to beauty and grandeur of the rest of the universe.
"Professor Goddard does not know the relation between action and reaction and the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react. He seems to lack the basic knowledge ladled out daily in high schools." -New York Times editorial from January 13, 1920, which was famously retracted in 1969 after the Apollo moon landing. Robert Goddard was ridiculed by the unimaginative fools in the press throughout his career and as a result kept much of his groundbreaking work private. His liquid-fueled multistage rockets were major milestones in the development of rocketry and the advance of space exploration.
If you liked these, be sure to check out Science Cats Volume 1!
Saturday, March 15, 2014
I am making a series of pictures celebrating the history of science and technology by inserting our cat, Chloe, into photoshopped science-themed images. They mostly represent themes in the new episodes of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. I will periodically add more pictures to this gallery as new episodes of Cosmos air on television, and as I think of new ideas (or get any interesting requests). Enjoy the science cats!
Chloe, Watson, and Crick demonstrated the first correct model for DNA in 1953. Francis Crick points at the double helix model while James Watson and Chloe look on. Rosalind Franklin (not pictured) provided crucial X-ray diffraction evidence, but sadly was not awarded a share of the 1962 Nobel Prize with the pictured scientists.
The September 1948 cover of Electronics Magazine showing the inventors of the first transistor in their workshop at Bell Labs: John Bardeen (background with glasses), Walter Brattain (right with mustache), and William Shockley (seated pretending to work). The three men would later share the 1956 Nobel Prize in Physics. The development of the semiconductor transistor ignited the computer revolution and directly led to the domination of cat pictures on the internet. Shockley later founded Shockley Semiconductor in Mountain View, CA, effectively establishing Silicon Valley.
Marie Curie discovered the radioactive elements radium and polonium in 1898, the latter of which was named after her native homeland of Poland. She shared the 1903 Nobel Prize in physics with her husband, Pierre Curie, the French physicist Henri Becquerel, and their mischievous lab cat Chloe.
*boop* Chloe travels 375 Million years back in time and encounters Tiktaalik, an excellent example of a transitional fossil which has mixed characteristics of both fish and tetrapods. As Chloe learned in the excellent book, Your Inner Fish (written by Tiktaalik discoverer Neil Shubin), the anatomy and physiology of both cats and humans shares much in common with their fishy ancestors.
A pair of distant cat's eye galaxies are magnified and distorted by the gravitational lensing effect of the Large Red Galaxy (LRG 3-757) in the foreground.
Artist's depiction of dichloe carbonate ions in solution. Originally made for Cosmos episode 2: "Some of the Things That Molecules Do."
Chloe the cat in front of the Helix Nebula, which is used in the Cosmos logo.
Originally made as a cheesy ad for Cosmos episode 1: "Standing Up in the Milky Way."
The photograph that inspired this series. Chloe inside my cardboard Space Shuttle Atlantis costume from Halloween 2011 in Madison, Wisconsin.
I hope you enjoyed these images of our cat, Chloe, reveling in the wonders of science and exploring the Cosmos! Let me know in the comments if you have any ideas or requests for future "Science Cats!" images, and I can add them to Science Cats Volume 2. And feel free to copy, link, and share with your friends, family, and coworkers!
Monday, March 10, 2014
Rather than using threat of criminal punishment, or campaigns of global shame and opprobrium, it is much more effective to change the economic incentives that drive the clearing of the rainforest. The first thing to realize is that people don't clear rainforest because they are stupid or evil or ignorant of its beauty (or because they have a blood feud with toucans). People clear rainforest because there are personal economic incentives to do so.
What are the main economic drivers for clearing the rainforest? One primary driver (particularly in Brazil) is to claim new land area for grazing cattle and raising agricultural crops, and the second primary driver is the harvesting of exotic wood species such as mahogany and teak for luxury export.
Much has been written on how to change the economic incentives for claiming forested land for cattle grazing and agriculture, such as convincing people globally to eat less beef, changing the tariffs on imports and exports to dis-incentivize the production of Brazilian beef and other agricultural products grown on former rainforest soil, and using technology to dramatically improve the efficiency of food production elsewhere so that it is impossible profitably produce food on the lower fertility soils of cleared rainforest. These are all important economic ideas, but I want to focus instead on alternatives to harvesting exotic trees for timber.
Supplying the luxury wood market with a cheaper alternative that fills the same essential need is the best way to reduce demand pressure on "the real thing."
Currently, valuable exotic wood grows sparsely and inaccessibly sprinkled throughout remote locations the forest, rather than in dense accessible clusters of the most valuable and prized trees. The most efficient way right now to select the few valuable logs from the rest of the lower-value surrounding greenery is to slash down all of it, and pick up the wheat from the chaff. I suggest that new exotic tree farming practices situated in less remote locations, combined with genetically modified exotic tree-stock that can grow well in regions that are not considered critical rainforest habitat, could meet the demand for the exotic wood market without threatening ecologically diverse protected areas.
Harvesting exotic wood species from untouched old-growth rainforest is extremely economically inefficient, and almost any alternative source would be cheaper. Exotic wood species did not evolve to grow as fast as biologically possible, because natural trees must always "hedge their bets" against temporary resource scarcity and devote nutrients towards defense mechanisms against competing species. There is no clear reason that the woods prized for bar-tops and luxurious conference room tables can only grow only in the poor soils of a rainforest, decorated and bejeweled with exotic parrots and iridescent insects. They could be cultivated and nurtured in a separately managed tree farm with a minimal number of symbiotic animal and insect species required for them to thrive. It seems reasonable to believe that a fast-growing, densely clustered "artificial" exotic tree crop could be engineered to have essentially the same hardness, color, and grain structure as the "natural" exotic wood it mimics.
Compared to our ancient experience with cultivating domesticated grain and vegetable crops, humans are currently just at the dawn of cultivating forest products for the purposes of renewable paper production and construction lumber. The spread of these practices from the abundant and well-known wood species of North America to the obscure and exotic wood species of the rainforests in South America, Africa, and Indonesia seems like a natural extension. Commercial teak plantations, for example, already exist in a few tropical regions and hopefully more exotic wood plantations are soon to follow.
Historic Georgetown, Colorado denuded of trees for use as fuel (top).
And Georgetown today with much of the local forest restored (bottom).
Some readers may be skeptical that such wicked things as big business and the machinations of the global industrial economy can actually prevent the destruction of sensitive ecological habitat, rather than being its primary cause. However, there is historical precedent for this. Many people don't realize, for example, that the forests of North America and Europe are on average thicker and denser today than they were a century ago. This was not primarily because of new regulations and new breakthroughs in arboreal police enforcement. It was because wood is no longer so useful as a fuel, and it has been largely replaced by more efficient and cheaper alternatives. The 20th century addiction to cheap and energy dense fossil fuels, far from accelerating the overall destruction of forests worldwide, has to a large degree saved and restored them.
Interestingly, the people who are most concerned about the loss of the rainforest and loss of biodiversity are often the same people who are most worried and fearful about genetic engineering and intensive farming. I hope we can eventually advance the global conversation and come to some agreement that there are ways in which responsible genetic engineering and widespread industrial tree cultivation could be a potential savior of natural biodiversity in the wild.