Monday, August 27, 2012

Neil Armstrong's Legacy

The recent passing of Neil Armstrong at the age of 82 has caused many of us to stop what we are doing and consider man's past and ponder its future.  This is not an obituary for the first man to have ever set foot on the Moon or any surface not called Earth.  This is simply a commentary on the significance of that momentous step in July of 1969.

The lunar landing was, for mankind, the defining moment of the twentieth century.  In a century that contained countless events that we would like to forget, Armstrong's steps onto a distant world will be forever remembered and cherished as a supreme achievement.  If ever one feels cynical about life, or is experiencing a mundane stretch in one's day to day activities, one can simply imagine the realization of the Apollo 11 mission.  It exemplifies man's desire to explore and ability to achieve.

Friday, August 24, 2012

On Free Post-Secondary Education and Lifelong Learning

Much ink has been spilled in recent months - particularly in the province of Quebec - as to whether a post-secondary formal education is a privilege or a right.  After reflecting on this question over the summer, and listening in on several debates on the matter, I have not been swayed from my initial stance: it is a privilege.

A prosperous society should ensure that its citizens have access to a high quality elementary and high school education.  While some students benefit from this environment more than others, all high school graduates leave with a basic body of knowledge.  More importantly, after more than a decade of interacting with roughly fifty different educators, these young men and women, some more than others, have learned how to learn.

Learning is a right in the sense that no one should be prevented from doing so.  But learning is not limited to a school setting.  Educational institutions do not hold a patent on learning.  Someone who is not enrolled in University is still welcome to visit the library, to have discussions with friends and family, and to peruse the internet, which contains an unimaginable wealth of useful information amidst an endless supply of videos of cats eating their own vomit (the user gets to decide what content is more beneficial to them, and judging by hit counts on YouTube, society tends to favour cat puke).

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Curiosity: How NASA Got its Groove Back

If NASA were a prize fighter, few would have been lining up to place bets on it in recent years.  The American space agency suffered a metaphorical TKO in 2011 as its shuttle program came to an end.  From that point onward, in order to send American astronauts to the International Space Station, the US government would need to rent some seats aboard a Russian spacecraft.  This position of dependence that the one time unrivaled space faring nation found itself in seemed to indicate that NASA had lost its mojo.

Well, what a difference a year, and a trip to Mars, can make.  This week, NASA's one ton rover suitably named Curiosity began cruising around Mars following an eight month long voyage through the solar system.  As the first pictures of the red planet reached our blue one, it became clear immediately: NASA was back.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

What Makes Usain Bolt so Fast?

The quintessential Summer Olympic event has yet again come and gone, and as was the case in Beijing in 2008, Usain Bolt of Jamaica has captured the gold medal in the 100 m dash in convincing style.  True, fellow countryman Yohan Blake has the ability to run with Bolt, and a few others in the field can compete with him on their best day, but for half a decade, Usain Bolt has held the coveted title of 'world's fastest man'.  The question I would like to address is "Why?"

Let us begin with a quick kinematic assessment of the 100 m dash, using Bolt's 2009 World Record setting run in Berlin as an example.  Starting from rest, Bolt ran 100 m in 9.58 seconds - a feat that will likely not be matched for a long while.  Bolt's average speed (distance over time) on this occasion was 10.44 m/s.  He reached his top speed at around the 65 m mark of about 12.27 m/s.  That is 44 km/hr, which carries a hefty fine for a car in a school zone.