Edward Willett

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‘Twas the Nocturnal Time of the Preceding Day…video edition

A "science column" I wrote several years ago, my science-writer's take on the famous poem "'Twas the Night Before Christmas," has had remarkable life. It appeared in the newspaper, of course, but it was originally written for for CBC Saskatchewan’s Afternoon Edition radio program, and first read at one of their Christmas open houses (a different one from the one at which I sang “Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!“), it’s been published or posted a few times since. A couple of years ago it got a lot of attention because it was noted by Ed Yong at Discover Magazine‘s website. I recorded a podcast of it, which you can listen to here. And now...ta da!...the ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 10:14, December 27th, 2014 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »

Not enough readers, not enough time: the end of my regular science column (for real, this time)

All right, this time it’s for real: I’m pulling the plug on my weekly science column (I haven’t written one for about a month anyway). And it’s all MailChimp’s fault. MailChimp is actually a great way to send out nicely formatted HTML newsletters, and I’m very glad to use it for that purpose. However, MailChimp also allows you to track how many of your nicely formatted HTML newsletters are opened by your putative subscribers, and in the case of the science column, it’s not pretty. I currently have 457 subscribers to my science column. When I was sending out the column as just an ordinary email, I could justify spending the time on ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 9:40, February 14th, 2013 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns, Writing and Editing | Comment now »

The science of tall trees

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/uploads//2013/01/Tall-Trees.mp3[/podcast] Sometimes science is focused on really big questions: where did life come from? How did the universe begin? But sometimes, the focus is much smaller. Sometimes, researchers set out to answer a simple question, one that many people have perhaps asked, but no one has ever set out systematically to answer. A question, for example, about trees. Trees are everywhere. You’d think there’d be very little to learn about them at this late date. But there are still questions to be asked and answered. For example...why do the tallest trees all top out at about the same height? And why are the leaves of those trees all pretty much the same size? That was the ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 12:02, January 14th, 2013 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »

Planets, planets everywhere

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/uploads//2013/01/Planets-Everywhere.mp3[/podcast] You don’t have to be very old to remember a time when we didn’t know if there were any planets anywhere else in the universe beyond those in our own solar system. Oh, sure, scientists and science fiction writers had long assumed these extrasolar planets existed, but the stars were so distant it seemed nearly impossible to ever be certain. But all that changed in 1995, when we found the first planet outside our solar system. It was another four years after that before we found proof of other planetary systems: that is, stars orbited by more than one planet. (You can’t really call them “solar systems” if you’re being properly pedantic, ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 13:07, January 7th, 2013 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »

The science of calendars

(A slightly updated version of a New Year's perennial of mine...) It's almost 2013, which means it's time to take down your old Harry Potter calendar and put up your new one (if you’re my 11-year-old daughter). Okay, so maybe you have a Teddy Bears calendar instead, or a Glee calendar. The point is, for us, a calendar is a much an aesthetic and/or advertising medium as it is a way to see what day of the week it is. But in reality, every calendar is the amazing product of thousands of years of history. A calendar is a system of marking off days, weeks, months and years. It allows us ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 11:59, December 31st, 2012 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | 1 Comment »

A Christmas tradition: ‘Twas the Nocturnal Time of the Preceding Day to the Day We Call Christmas

There's a great song called "Christmas Cliches" in which the singer expresses a love of all the Christmas things that come 'round year after year, from plywood reindeer on the roof to Johnny Mathis on the radio. One of the reasons we love Christmas (those of us who do, and you can certainly count me among that number) is that warm sense of tradition, of things that, despite all the changes in the world from year to year, you can count on remaining constant. It's an island of stability in a tossing sea of chaos, to coin an overblown metaphor. So here's a Willett Christmas tradition. Originally written for CBC ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 10:12, December 24th, 2012 under Blog, Science Columns | Comment now »

The science of Rudolph’s red nose

Long-time readers of my column will be aware of how closely I like to keep tabs on aerotarandusdynamics, the shamefully under-studied science of flying reindeer. I am pleased to note that there has been a small but significant development in aerotarandusdynamics research this year, but before I get to that, perhaps I should recap some of what I’ve written before on the topic, just to refresh your memory. “Aerotarandusdynamics” comes from aero, air, tarandus, the latter part of the scientific name for reindeer, Rangifer tarandus, and dynamics, moving.  Hence, aerotarandusdynamics is the study of reindeer moving through the air. How do reindeer fly? That, of course, is the central question of aerotarandusdynamics. For any object ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 14:16, December 18th, 2012 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »

Circadian desynchrony and the blue light special

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/uploads//2012/12/Circadian-Deosynchrony-and-the-Blue-Light-Special.mp3[/podcast] We’re coming up on the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere: at the latitude I live at, in Regina, Saskatchewan, that means that today the sun rose at 8:49 a.m. and will set at 4:54 p.m. We’ll lose a few more minutes yet before the winter solstice. That’s not a lot of daylight: we spend two-thirds of our day in darkness this time of the year, and of course further north it’s even worse, until you get to the Arctic and twenty-four hours of sunlessness. Thank goodness for artificial light! It means we can live pretty much as we want without being a slave to the natural ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 15:09, December 10th, 2012 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »

The case for coffee consumption

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/uploads//2012/12/The-Case-for-Coffee-Consumption_01.mp3[/podcast]I first wrote about coffee in a science column back in the dawn of time, so long ago that it began, “Let’s get one thing straight.  I don’t drink coffee...” Since as I type this I am on my second...or maybe third... good-sized cup (oh, all right, mug) of the stuff, something has clearly changed in the intervening years. And guess what? Apparently that’s all to the good of my health. Oh, I know, anyone of adult years remembers news stories about coffee drinking being bad for you, but as more research is done, quite the contrary has emerged as the scientific consensus: drinking coffee is good for you. To the extent that ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 15:02, December 3rd, 2012 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »

A solution to the world’s food problems?

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/uploads//2012/11/Sundrop-Farms_01_01.mp3[/podcast] If I told you something has been built in the Australian outback in the past couple of years that can be solidly argued is one of the most important technological advances in decades, would you have a clue what I was talking about? You wouldn’t? Well, I wouldn’t have either until this past weekend when I read an article by Jonathan Margolis from The Observer newspaper in England. A little humbling, but you can’t keep up with everything. Anyway, now that I have heard about it, I’m quite excited: because it is there, in a seaside desert outside Port Augusta, three hours from Adelaide, that a company called Sundrop Farms, ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 12:26, November 26th, 2012 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »