Hacking Happiness

Hacking HappinessYou drive to Starbucks with your cell phone in your pocket, go online, read your favorite newspaper, share an interesting book review on Facebook and then go and order the bestseller from Amazon. It’s only 9:00am, but you’ve already left a data trail—a big one—on your whereabouts, your taste, your friends, and your financial habits.

In his new book, Hacking Happiness: Why Your Personal Data Counts and How Tracking It Can Change the World, John C. Havens talks about how megacorporations hoard these details and use them for their own monetary gain. But, Havens argues it doesn’t have to be like that. Using emerging technologies, we can reclaim control over our information and use it, not to boost company sales, but to improve our own happiness.

Hosts: Ted Burnham and Jane Palmer
Producers: Jane Palmer and Beth Bartel
Engineer: Ted Burnham
Executive Producer: Joel Parker

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Baseball Vision // Emerald Ash Borer

Today, April 29th, we offer two features:
baseball - sports-glasses (1)Baseball Vision (starts at 5:42): The major league baseball season is now in full “swing.” Fans may  take it for granted that these professional athletes are in top physical condition.  What’s less known is how important it is for baseball players to have perfect eyesight.  Batters in particular have some of the best vision in the world.  To find out how scientists know this, and study it, and even make it better, How on Earth’s Shelley Schlender last month headed down to spring training in Arizona.  There, she caught up with two of the nation’s top experts on the science of vision, and sports.

emerald ash borer, courtesy Encyclopedia of Life

emerald ash borer, courtesy Encyclopedia of Life

Emerald Ash Borer (starts at 11:21): It’s been called the most destructive looming pest blight to hit Colorado in ages. The perpetrator in question is the emerald ash borer, a small shimmery green beetle. It is believed to have hitchhiked to the U.S. and Canada on cargo ships, or airplanes, from its native Asia, in 2002. Since then it has wiped out  millions of ash trees in many states. Last September, the ash borer was first found in Colorado. Ash trees have had no time to develop resistance against the exotic invader.  And meanwhile, the ash borer has no predators here to keep it in check. Dr. Whitney Cranshaw, an entomologist at Colorado State University, talks with host Susan Moran about what we should know about the emerald ash borer.

Hosts: Susan Moran, Joel Parker
Producer: Susan Moran
Engineer: Joel Parker
Executive Producer: Joel Parker

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NASA Visit // IPCC Report

wg2coverEarth Day gives us plenty of reason to reflect on the state of the planet and the impact we humans have had on it. This week’s show featured Dr. Linda Mearns, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, who is among hundreds of scientists who produced the latest report on global climate change. She’s a lead author of a chapter on regional climate change in the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. She also co-authored previous IPCC assessments – in 1995, 2001, and 2007. Dr. Mearns talks with How On Earth host Susan Moran about the science and implications of the IPCC report, including what it means for Colorado and the broader U.S. West.

Unfortunately, due to a technical glitch at the station, the recording of that live interview was lost. But we still have audio from our second feature.

NASA chief Charles Bolden meets with CU students on Friday, April 18, 2014. Photo: University of Colorado

NASA chief Charles Bolden meets with CU students on April 18, 2014. Photo: University of Colorado

Charles Bolden, the top administrator at NASA, was here in Boulder last week, touring the classrooms and facilities that earn the University of Colorado more space agency dollars than any other public university in the nation. We’ll hear what he has to say about CU’s role in the space program — past, present and future.

We’ve also recreated the Earth Day tribute that opened the show. These days it’s more like Earth Week, and it’s not too late to catch some of the planet-happy celebrations going on in the Boulder area this weekend. Listen for details.

Co-hosts: Ted Burnham, Susan Moran
Producer and Engineer: Ted Burnham

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Space Dust

442120main_moon-fullsize

Dr. Mihaly Horanyi and his colleagues at the University of Colorado are on the brink of watching an instrument they developed crash into the moon. It’s okay—it’s designed to. In the meantime, the instrument, LDEX, is measuring impacts from dust particles a fraction of the width of a human hair on NASA’s LADEE mission. It’s measured more than 11,000 of these tiny impacts since falling into orbit in October.

Dr. Mihaly Horanyi and an LDEX prototype. (Photo/Beth Bartel)

Dr. Mihaly Horanyi and an LDEX prototype. (Photo/Beth Bartel)

How On Earth’s Beth Bartel is on her own mission to figure out just what is so interesting about space dust. Think: space colonization, geologic mapping, and searching for signs of extraterrestrial life.

Hosts: Beth Bartel, Joel Parker
Producer: Beth Bartel
Engineer: Joel Parker
Additional Contributions: Jane Palmer
Executive Producer: Joel Parker

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Conquering the Energy Crisis

book_cover_amazon-198x3001360_517118571690819_2111630523_nWelcome to this special edition of How on Earth.  This week, the 66th annual Conference of World Affairs is happening on the campus of CU-Boulder, and today’s show is one of the events.  The speaker and guest in our studio today is Maggie Koerth-Baker.  She writes a monthly column, “Eureka,” for The New York Times Magazine and is also the science editor at BoingBoing.net.  She enjoys exploring the intersection between science and culture, and you can “Find your daily dose of Maggie science” through her website at maggiekb.com, and her pages on Facebook and Twitter.   She has co-authored a book titled: “Be Amazing: Glow in the Dark, Control the Weather, Perform Your Own Surgery, Get Out of Jury Duty, Identify a Witch, Colonize a Nation, Impress a Girl, Make a Zombie, Start Your Own Religion.”  Her recent book, and with a shorter title, is called: “Before the Lights Go Out: Conquering the Energy Crisis Before It Conquers Us.”  And that is the topic that brings her here today.

Host, Engineer, Producer: Joel Parker

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Quantum Computers

P1020271Quantum Computers [starts at 7:05] Dr. David Wineland has worked at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colorado, for 38 years. In 2012, he shared the Nobel Prize in Physics with France’s Dr. Serge Haroche for “ground-breaking experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems”.  Dr. Wineland and his colleagues use electromagnetic fields to trap individual ions for long periods of time, and lasers to place the ions in quantum superposition states. Superposition is like being both here and there at the same time.

Superposition, if taken literally (as many physicists believe it should, although some disagree), results in some very strange behaviors, like in a thought experiment designed by Erwin Schrodinger. Schrodinger’s thought experiment describes how a cat in a box can both dead and alive at the same time.  Dr. Wineland talks with How On Earth’s Jim Pullen about the connection between his work and Schrodinger’s famous cat. He says quantum computers are in the news.

In a two part series in early 2013, Jim Pullen also interviewed Dr. Wineland on the occasion of the award of his Nobel Prize (on the physics and the human side of winning the Nobel Prize). 

Host, Engineer, Producer: Joel Parker
Additional contributions: Jim Pullen, Jane Palmer, Beth Bartel, Kendra Krueger

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1964 Alaska Earthquake // Neuroscience of Dying

F3.mid1964 Alaska Earthquake (start time 04:37) This week 50 years ago, in 1964, the Beatles were huge, Alaska had only been a state for a mere five years, and the theory of plate tectonics was in toddlerhood. This Thursday, March 27, also marks the 50th anniversary of the magnitude 9.2 Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964.

This earthquake changed our thinking about how the world works by showing us the hard way that tsunamis can arrive before the ground even stops shaking, that we can look in sedimentary records to recognize past great earthquakes offshore in places like the Pacific Northwest, and that these huge earthquakes rip the Earth open along a plane rather than in bits and pieces. What you’ll hear on today’s show is just the tip of the seismic iceberg: How the earthquake confirmed subduction, which is where one tectonic plate plunges under another. Beth Bartel speaks with Dr. Mike West, the Alaska State Seismologist and Director of the Alaska Earthquake Center, about his recent paper, “Why the 1964 Great Alaska Earthquake Matters 50 Years Later,” published in Seismological Research Letters.

near-death-brain-676472-Neuroscience of Dying (start time 12:38) If there’s one thing more certain than taxes—pardon the reminder—it’s death. It may be certain, but it’s still one of life’s biggest mysteries. On today’s show, we explore what neuroscience can tell us about chemical and hormonal releases that can occur as we near the threshold of death.

For instance, many people have written about so-called near-death experiences. It’s when your heart stops. You walk effortlessly toward a tunnel. You see a blast of white light. You might call it Heaven. Visions like these that people report they’ve had have some biochemical underpinnings.

To help us understand the limited but fascinating body of scientific research regarding the neurobiology and chemistry of dying, Susan Moran talks with Dr. Ilene Naomi Rusk. Rusk is a psychologist who specializes in neuropsychopharmacology and co-directs The Brain and Behavior Clinic in Boulder.

Hosts: Beth Bartel and Susan Moran
Producer: Beth Bartel
Engineer: Shelley Schlender
Executive Producer: Jim Pullen
Additional contributions: Jane Palmer and Ted Burnham

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Plants in Space // Relativity

Former undergraduate researcher Elizabeth Lombardi talks with Professor Barbara Demmig-Adams in the greenhouse on the roof of the Ramaley building at the University of Colorado Boulder. (Photo by Casey A. Cass/University of Colorado)

Plants in Space (start time 04:36) What would you miss if you were to spend an extended time in space—driving a car? Going to the movies? Hiking? Playing with your dog? Gravity, maybe? Or maybe something as simple as eating good, nutritious vegetables. How On Earth’s Beth Bartel speaks with University of Colorado undergraduate researcher Lizzy Lombardi about harvesting healthier veggies for our astronauts. Or, as we like to think about it, plants in space.

What Is Relativity? An Intuitive Introduction to Einstein’s Ideas, and Why They Matter by Jeffrey Bennett Relativity (start time 13:30) Albert Einstein published his special theory of relativity in 1905 and his general theory in 1915. Special relativity revealed bizarre and powerful ideas, including the famous equation E=mc2, but the basic theory hinges on a single realization: all observers, no matter how fast they are moving, always measure the same speed of light in space. A decade later, general relativity, the result of Einstein’s “happiest thought” that “the gravitation field has only a relative existence” unseated Newton’s law of gravitation. General relativity has passed every observation trial—so far. Relativity is important in everyday experience, for example enabling the incredible accuracy of the Global Positioning System, but the theory, especially the general form, can be a tough mathematical challenge. Boulder astrophysicist Dr. Jeffrey Bennett’s just-published book, What Is Relativity? An Intuitive Introduction to Einstein’s Ideas, and Why They Matter, gently straightens the curved spacetime. Join Jeff and host Jim Pullen live in the studio to learn why ‘black holes don’t suck’!

 

Hosts: Beth Bartel and Jim Pullen
Producer: Beth Bartel
Engineer: Jim Pullen
Executive Producer: Jim Pullen
Additional contributions: Jane Palmer

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Beringia // Dolphins & Climate Change // The Ogallala Road

Beringia_land_bridge-noaagovBeringia (start time 0:55). We present an excerpt of  Shelly Schlender’s  interview with University of Colorado scientist John Hoffecker, lead author of a recent paper in Science magazine about the Beringia land bridge and the people who lived there 25,000 years ago.  The full interview can be found here.

 

Dolphins & Climate Change (start time 4:40). Dr. Denise Herzing, the founder of the Wild Dolphin Project, has been building relationships with Atlantic Spotted Dolphins for 28 years. meet-dolphins2 Her quest to learn whether dolphins have language, and to learn that language, is notable for its longevity. But her relationship with them is remarkably respectful, too. We last spoke to Dr. Herzing in the spring of 2012, about her book Dolphin Diaries: My 25 Years With Spotted Dolphins in the Bahamas. We’re very glad that she’s with us again, to help us learn about how large marine mammals may be responding in unusual ways to changes in the oceans.

the-ogallala-road-coverThe Ogallala Road (start time 15:15).  We often hear about how the Colorado River is running dry. The Western  states that rely on its flowing water are struggling to reckon with how its depleting reservoirs will satiate growing  populations. You’ve probably seen images of the white “bathrub rings” at Lake Powell and Lake Mead that expose the water line rings of years ago.  But there’s an equally dramatic and dangerous drop in an invisible source of water. That’s the Ogallala Aquifer – an underground basin of groundwater that spans eight states on the High Plains, including Colorado. Nearly one third of irrigated cropland in the country stretches over the aquifer. And the Ogallala yields about a third  of the ground water that’s used for irrigation in the U.S.  The story of the Ogallala’s depletion is a very personal one for author Julene Bair. She lives in Longmont, but years ago she learned that the family farm in Kansas that she inherited had been a big part of the problem. Julene has written about her journey, including her desire to make the farm part of the solution. Julene joins us on the show to talk about her new book  The Ogallala Road: A Memoir of Love and Reckoning.

Hosts: Jim Pullen, Susan Moran
Producer: Joel Parker
Engineer: Joel Parker
Executive Producer: Jim Pullen
Additional contributions:  Shelley Schlender

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Tracing Methane’s Source in Drinking Water // Safe Place for Captive Wolves

lee-stanish__120by180Methane in Drinking Water (start time 05:36) Flaming water faucets were infamously exposed in the documentaries Gasland and Gasland 2. The water isn’t catching fire–methane in the water is. People are deeply concerned that methane, dredged from kilometers down, is leaking into our drinking water supplies through poorly constructed and maintained oil and gas wells, but methane can be produced by living organisms much closer to the surface too. How can we tell where the methane in the water is coming from? One way is to look at stable isotopes of carbon, but the tests are expensive and require a lot of expertise. But our guest Dr. Lee Stanish explains to host Jim Pullen that she is working on much cheaper ways to trace the source of the methane. Lee is a Research Associate in the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She’s trying to raise money for her research through crowd-sourcing–learn more here.

Apollo-KWHaven for Captive Wolves (start time 14:25) Right now in the United States, about a quarter of a million wolves live in captivity and fewer than 10,000 wolves in the wild. Most of the captive wolves born each year do not survive to see their first birthday.  They’re either destroyed or they die of neglect.  Colorado’s Mission Wolf refuge has rescued three dozen of these born-in-a-cage wolves to give them a better life, and to use some of them as ambassadors who educate people around the U-S about the amazing intelligence of wolves, and their plight. How On Earth’s Shelley Schlender and Boulder Naturalist and KGNU volunteer, Steve Jones, bring us the story.

Hosts: Beth Bartel and Jim Pullen
Producer/Engineer/Executive Producer: Jim Pullen
Additional contributions: Shelley Schlender and Joel Parker

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