Friday, August 30, 2013

It's so simple, why didn't I think of that before?

It's been crazy busy in the Dirt Lab this summer. We're wrapping up a big grant for the DNR (final report is due in a week), I submitted a manuscript (I really hope I can talk about this soon), and the school year is about to start. On top of this, I have an abstract for GSA that will show off some of the work we've been doing with the stream table. To that end, I have been putting the table through it's paces. One thing I've been struggling with is finding a way to supply sediment upstream. I've mentioned previous attempts before. These were fairly elaborate, mechanical systems that either used an auger or a conveyor belt to supply sediment.

As I was mulling the problems over in my head (mechanical systems are complex, have parts that can break, etc), I noticed one of the plastic buckets lying in the box of supplies. It occurred to me that if I cut a few holes in it and dump the water into the bucket, it will push some of the sediment out too. One problem with the other AutoSed designs is they required dry sediment. This combines problems related to the mess of loose, dry sediment getting all over the place (into gears, etc) with problems of drying the sediment for re-use. You can just scoop the sediment from the drain catch and plop it right back into the AutoSed bukkit.

Imagine my surprise when not only did it supply sediment, but it didn't let all the sediment out at once and all it flushed all of the sediment from inside the bucket - it didn't leave big blobs stuck to the sides. The amount of sediment supplied was proportional to the discharge from the pump, so fewer issues when you quickly drop base level and the pump starts pushing out more water as the hydraulic head increases. Filling the one quart bucket requires less attention than dumping individual scoops by hand. Cheap, no moving parts, requires minor modifications, and is easy to use. Perfect. Exactly the kind of thing I'm looking for with my Emriver hacks.

Notice the lovely concave up profile

After dropping base level - notice the terraces.

Here's video showing the "AutoSed 3.0" at work:

AutoSed 3.0
from Matt Kuchta on Vimeo.

And then there are the time lapse videos. They look lovely. Under longwave UV, it looks surreal. There are a few fluorescent bits in the color-coded sediment, so you can track particle movement. I added some fluorescent yellow dye to the water so it shows up. Allogenic controls on stream response never looked better.

Experimental Fluvial Geomorphology
from Matt Kuchta on Vimeo.
A little experimenting with the Em2 stream table. Now with a simpler and more effective automated sediment delivery system.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

I wrote something for a Superhero Poetry Anthology

Every once and a while, a crazy opportunity for a little fun comes along. Well, given my friend circle, those opportunities crop up a little more often. In this case, I wrote a poem about Wolverine (the super-hero) and it was included in a big anthology of other super-hero poems.

There are a whole bunch of great authors in there (and at least one Physicist). It's a free download on Smashwords. Get your copy today! Don't forget to check in with Michael and Shira on what they were thinking when this whole thing got started.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Beautifully Ugly Facts (Why Shark Week Still Sucks)

Christie Wilcox fires off another round as part of a science blog salvo aimed right at the heart of the crap the Discovery Channel has been flogging as part of their "Shark Week."

Christie goes after another myth: the idea that somehow, sharks don't get cancer. This is demonstrably false, as Christie points out.

But that hasn't stopped the shark cartilage industry from manufacturing pills that, by some special "sympathetic magic" will keep you from getting sick.

Thomas Huxley is quoted as saying:
The great tragedy of Science - the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.

But I would argue ugly facts are one of the most beautiful victories of Science. No matter how lovely your idea, a mere fact can render it useless.

It's a shame the Discovery Channel (and much of basic cable, it seems) is eschewing facts for exciting-but-false hypotheses. And cheers to bloggers like Christie Wilcox for sharing with us some beautifully ugly facts.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Something positive borne of the MegaloFail

Is all of the people who are clearly pissed off at Discovery for passing their fiction off as real:

People are hungry for REAL SCIENCE. It's a pity that so few networks believe it's a viable plan. Discovery's facebook page has to be seen and appreciated.


It seems to be the way of cable shows these days. The "Learning" Channel has abandoned it's eponymous programming for shows with the words "Honey" and "Boo-Boo." The Discovery Channel has seemed like a hold-out, opting for some vestige of verisimilitude with its shows. That sliver of "science" programming has been shrinking, however, and it may have finally gotten so small as to be of no consequence.

Enter their faux "documentary" about the EXTINCT shark, C. megalodon. Christie Wilcox gives a great write-up on why it was bad, and Wil Wheaton explains why - for many of us - this was such a disappointment.

There are places to find good science content - many of them are on the web in blog, or vod/podcast form.

It would be nice if there was a TV channel where the content is somewhat more important than some particular target demographic - wait, there may be. In honor of the "MegaFail" by Discovery, I've been motivated to make a donation to PBS*

*True, it's not going to solve all the problems, and given the number of "old crooners sing their pop hits from 1962" shows they have during pledge breaks, I may not be in their target demographic, either. But, if getting reasonably accurate science programming means putting a little more in PBS's tip jar, so be it.

And, because it bears repeating (in a Garret Morris voice), "Carcharocles megalodon is still dead."