Edward Willett

Author's posts

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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The mystery of the missing mass

The Mystery of the Missing Mass is not, as you might first suppose, the title of an Agatha Christie novel about a church service that failed to occur on schedule. It is, rather, one of the hottest (or coldest, depending on which theory you subscribe to– never mind, I’ll explain later) issues in the study …

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Disease

In the 14th century, bubonic plague–The Black Death–swept Europe, killing 25 million people, one quarter of the population. In the 18th century alone, smallpox killed 60 million people worldwide. Measles kills 900,000 people annually, mostly in developing countries. Respiratory infections such as influenza kill up to two million people annually. Intestinal infections such as cholera …

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Measurement

A few weeks ago I wrote about the bicentennial of the metric system. This week I want to return to the topic of measurement because I had such an overwhelming response to that column. Our ability to measure sets us apart from, say, llamas and horned toads, because measurement is the process of counting how …

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Luminescence

Glow, little glow-worm, shimmer, shimmer . . . Have you ever wondered why glow-worms shimmer? Probably not, especially if, like me, you wouldn’t know a glow-worm from a tapeworm and wouldn’t care to meet either one. But maybe you’ve seen fireflies dancing in the dark, or, on a more practical note, been thankful for the …

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