Computers and software

Okay OpenOffice fans, show me what you can do. Earlier this week, I wrote about my challenges with a bug in Microsoft Excel that only appears on Windows computers. Since I use a Mac, I didn't know about the bug when I wrote the assignment and I only found out about it after all but one of my students turned in assignment results with nonsensical pie graphs. So, I asked what other instructors do with software that behaves differently on different computing platforms. I never did hear from ... Read more
Your canopy is disappearing, you're likely to freeze. NASA's Earth Observatory reports that over 1,110 acres of forest were illegally logged, during the past four years, in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in central Mexico. Monarch butterflies travel here from all over the United States and Canada. Images from the Ikonos satellite tell us though, that future migrating butterflies are likely have problems in this reserve. The top image is from 2004, the bottom image shows what things are ... Read more
The other day, I wrote that I wanted to make things easier for my students by using the kinds of software that they were likely to have on their computers and the kinds that they are likely to see in the business and biotech world when they graduate from college. More than one person told me that I should have my students install an entirely different operating system and download OpenOffice to do something that looks a whole lot harder in Open Office than it is in Microsoft Excel ... Read more
The NASA Earth Observing System is an incredible resource for both science and education. One of the amazing things about it is all the different kinds and quantities of data are assembled together into pictures that even grade school kids can immediately comprehend. How do they do it? Each of the EOS satellites delivers a terabyte or more of data per day from many different instruments. How do they take satellite imagery, rainfall statistics, temperature information, and other kinds of data and assemble these data into meaningful pictures ... Read more
One of my chief joys in life, often to dismay of others, is working with data. Some members of my family (who shall remain nameless) would characterize this fixation as bordering on obsessive, others just call me a "geek" and leave it at that.

I don't care.

Give me a data set and I can play happily for hours. The sky gets dark. The dog entreats me over and over to please throw her sopping toy so she can go chase it. The cats walk between my hands and the keyboard and rub their bodies against my face.

But I don't see any of that when there's a computer screen ... Read more

A few weeks ago I attended a education conference at Pacific Science Center entitled, "A Conversation that Can Change the World." It was interesting.  Everyone was pretty enthusiastic at the meeting and there was a lot of positive energy.
A long standing debate in my field is whether or not biologists, who work with computers, need to learn how to program. I usually say "no." Let the programmers program, the biologists interpret the results, and let everyone can benefit from each other's expertise. Well, I've changed my mind in one respect. Most biologists need to work with some kind of database these days and I've discovered that it's really helpful to know something about SQL. Even a tiny bit of SQL, like "SELECT * from table" goes a long, long way. This revelation didn't happen overnight and when I ... Read more

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