Edward Willett

Author's posts

Exercise

I hate exercise. It’s uncomfortable, sweaty, and cuts into quality TV time. Unfortunately, it’s good for you. Exercise is physical exertion for the purpose of improving physical fitness. (If it’s for any other purpose, we call it “hard work.”) Modern fitness programs got their start in Prussia in the 1800s (which should tell you something). …

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Auroras and meteors

If you’re in the habit of looking up at the night sky, there’s a good chance you’ve seen two very interesting sights: northern lights and falling stars. The proper name for the northern lights is “aurora borealis.” Aurora was the Roman goddess of the dawn, their version of the Greek goddess Eos; borealis basically means …

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The Human Genome Project

I’ve written before about the genetic code and how it writes a description of each of us using an alphabet of only four letters: the four bases that are contained in deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C) and thymine (T). Every organism has different proportions of these four bases. Two strands of …

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Stars

  Twinkle, twinkle, little star, How I wonder what you are . . . Stars have always fascinated humans.  At the dawn of history, and probably even before, wise men watched the stars and learned to read them as markers of the turning of the seasons.  They attributed magical powers to the stars (a belief …

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Flight

In this age of 747s and Concordes and supersonic jet fighters, it’s sometimes hard to realize that airplanes have existed for less than a century. Even manned gliders, which came before powered airplanes, have only been around for slightly over a hundred years. In fact, 1991 was the 100th anniversary of the first glider flight …

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Lucifer’s Hammer: the asteroid threat

Haven’t had anything to worry about for a while? Here, let me fix that… Sometime around the end of the ’70s I read a book called Lucifer’s Hammer, by Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven. It was a good book (a bestseller, in fact), but out of all its memorable scenes the one I remember best is …

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Green technology

There is a tendency for people to see “technology” and “environment” as mutually exclusive terms. Technology is sometimes portrayed as the cause of the world’s environmental problems, and the abandonment of technology as the cure. Well, it might be true that the world’s overall environment would be in better shape if we’d all stuck to …

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Rise of the cyberbooks

Don’t look now, but here come the cyberbooks. No, cyberbooks aren’t the villains in an episode of Dr. Who, but it’s true their arrival may well signal a kind of revolution–and the first shot in that revolution has already been fired in (where else?) Japan, in the form of a new high-tech gadget called the Data …

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Bats

In medieval paintings, both angels and demons have wings–but angels have birds’ wings, and demons have bats’ wings. Bats have suffered a serious image problem throughout most of western history. (They fare better in the Orient, where they are often considered a symbol of good luck.) It’s probably got a lot to do with their …

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Locomotion

Walking, crawling, hopping, slithering, creeping, gliding, leaping–the ways animals (and people) get from place to place are endlessly diverse. This ability to move is one of the main differences between most animals and most plants, and has a definite survival value, because when the glaciers start pushing south or food or water fails, species that …

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Snakes

  There are few creatures that evoke such violent reactions from people as snakes. Some people are fascinated by them; at lot more are terrified by them. However you feel about them, I hope you’ll at least agree they’re interesting, because they’re what I want to talk about this week. Here at the Saskatchewan Science …

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Numbers

“1, 2, 3, 4! What are we all counting for? “5, 6, 7, 8! Ain’t our number system great?” All right, so maybe you won’t hear thousands of people chanting it at a street demonstration–it’s still an interesting question. (The question in the first line, that is; the question in the second is rhetorical.) What …

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