Monday, April 26, 2010

And also in the Caribbean - underwater volcanic vents

Explorers in the Cayman Trough have found the world’s deepest known underwater volcanic vents called smokers which emit very hot mineral solutions and gases and provide an envionment for exotic and strange creatures. The Cayman Trough lies just north of Jamaica and south of Cuba.
See this picture of a smoker from Wikipedia:

For more on this see:

New interest in Pitch Lake (Trinidad)

Researchers have found microbial life in Pitch Lake - a lake of hot 'tar' in Trinidad. This is surprising since it is a hostile environment for typical bacteria being hot and there being no oxygen available in the 'tar'. See this article:
"These alien conditions have made Pitch Lake a place of more than passing interest to astrobiologists. Various scientists have suggested that it is the closest thing on Earth to the kind of hydrocarbon lakes that we can see on Saturn's moon Titan. Naturally, these scientists would very much like to answer the question of what kind of life these places can support."
Here is picture of the lake from a Wikipedia article:

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Progress with Suriname-Guyana Submarine Cable System

There was some concern about vandalism in Surinam affecting this project but this appears not to be the case according to Stabroek News.
According to the original news release from Global Marine Systems this cable when completed this year will "ultimately have the potential to increase current telecom bandwidth to more than 3,000 times what is currently available in these areas". Note that the initial bandwidth is not specified but presumeably will depend on what GTT pays for.

The name of the project is misleading since it is really connecting Trinidad and Guyana as well as Trinidad and Suriname. It appears that the only connection between Guyana and Suriname is via Trinidad. Of course it is the Trinidad connection we are mainly interested in since that provides the increased bandwith to the international internet services. See the nice map at Columbus Networks which connects the Trinidad end.

Affordable streaming video at last? Currently we are paying US$50 for a nominal 128Kb DSL service. No word yet on how the new bandwidth will improve DSL services to consumers.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Better teachers

Now that I have started doing a bit of teaching of Physics again two recent news items struck me as being of particular relevance to our situation here in Guyana.
First an article from the New York Times about making education in schools more effective. It seems that there is general concern about having better teachers rather than better methodologies even though there is no concensus about what makes teachers better:

"“Today, the teacher-education curriculum (in the US) is a confusing patchwork. Academic instruction and clinical instruction are disconnected. Graduates are insufficiently prepared for the classroom.” By emphasizing broad theories of learning rather than the particular work of the teacher, methods classes and the rest of the future teacher’s coursework often become what the historian Diane Ravitch called “the contentless curriculum.” "
"But what makes a good teacher? There have been many quests for the one essential trait, and they have all come up empty-handed. Among the factors that do not predict whether a teacher will succeed: a graduate-school degree, a high score on the SAT, an extroverted personality, politeness, confidence, warmth, enthusiasm and having passed the teacher-certification exam on the first try. When Bill Gates  announced recently that his foundation was investing millions in a project to improve teaching quality in the United States, he added a rueful caveat. “Unfortunately, it seems the field doesn’t have a clear view of what characterizes good teaching,” Gates said. “I’m personally very curious.” "
Reading the article makes me feel that having better teachers is really what we need to focus on. And makes me think about my own teaching...

Secondly the surprising research finding from Psyhology Today that formal Mathematics is best not taught to young children:
"In sum, Benezet showed that kids who received just one year of arithmetic, in sixth grade, performed at least as well on standard calculations and much better on story problems than kids who had received several years of arithmetic training."
Could be very popular...