Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Eurion Project Launch and Update

Numismatists find it difficult to impossible to catalog, archive, and study modern banknotes using modern computer equipment. The hardware in scanners and printers, and the software for them (both the lower-level drivers and the higher level graphics arts programs), can and do identify money and refuse to copy it.  That would seem to be appropriate to prevent counterfeiting.  But it also thwarts legitimate scholars and hobbyists from advancing the field of study. 

(Originally published here, February 11, 2011. Pulled, republished, and pulled again.  Merged with an Update and reposted October 18, 2014.)

Since 1997, security features integrated into paper money make it increasingly difficult - sometimes impossible - for numismatists and other researchers to archive and reproduce images of these cultural artifacts.  The goal of this project is to create a database of digital solutions to permit the lawful creation and use of digital images of these commercial instruments.

In coordination with the manufacturers of computer equipment, central banks have created anti-counterfeiting measures that thwart numismatists. Our computer hardware and software stop working when they detect modern paper money. The reactions of scanners, printers, and graphics programs are not consistent across manufacturers, makes and models. Some multi-function devices will copy or scan but not print. Others will not scan. Some software recognizes paper money while other programs from the same company do not. Typically, if you can scan a modern banknote and store the image, when you send it to output, the printer stops. The last thing the printer gives you is a message telling you to visit the website http://www.rulesforuse.org/ which was established by the Central Bank Deterrence Group.

This is as far as my scanner would go.
Originally, it was thought that the "EURion constellation" was the problem. If you look at a large denomination bill you will see that the little yellow zeroes in the fields are roughly in the shape of a trapezoid with one in the middle, sort of like the constellation of Orion. On the UK £20 commemorating Sir Edward Elgar, the little circles were the bodies of musical notes on a staff.  In 1997, Austria, France, and Belgium integrated these into their banknotes.  Computer science professor Markus Kuhn identified them on the new euro notes of 2000, hence the name EURion.  Then his colleague Steven J. Murdoch found that this not the same trigger that causes problems for numismatist.

Numismatics is the art and science that studies the forms and users of money.  Most people think of it as "coin collecting" but numismatics encompasses fine art medals, merchant tokens, and all forms of fiduciary paper, including the promissory notes of governments and central banks, as well as the bank drafts of individuals, and corporate stock certificates.  Numismatists write and publish about these artifacts, of course.  That creates the initial need for reliable, repeatable research that meets the standards of good science.  In addition, at our conventions, we create and display museum quality educational exhibits. Graphical enlargements of key features are an important element in those presentations.
Sir Isaac Newton, once commemorated on a Bank of England 1-Pound Note
The book in his lap is opened to the proof at left.
Newton served as President of the Royal Society of which
colonist Benjamin Franklin later was a member.

In a previous era, it was always possible to photograph coins and currencies.  Today, we can scan images of coins and reproduce the electronic images, but with paper money, we are stopped. The root of the problem is that the means of recording and reporting are also the methods of counterfeiting.

 The laws that make it illegal to transport the tools of counterfeiting include various prohibitions against the electronic transmission of the electronic means of electronic reproduction.  The relevant laws in the USA are found under US Code Title 18, Part I, Chapter 17 Coins and Currency; and Chapter 25 Counterfeiting and Forgery. However, both U.. S. Code Title 18  Part I Chapter 25 Paragraph 474(b) and paragraph 504 mandate that the Treasury Department establish guidelines for the legitimate use images. Title  31 Chapter IV Part Part 411 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations permits limited reproduction of color images.

My goal is to create a database of clickable binary patches for hardware and software that will let a numismatist scan, archive, copy, and print modern banknotes for purposes of research, study, reporting, discussion, and education.  So far, no one has approached this systematically, working across banknotes, hardware, and software. I am working with computer security researchers to overcome those barriers.

On December 3, 2010, and January 5, 2011, I introduced the problem to ArbSec, a computer security research club in Ann Arbor, which grew out of DefCon734.  Piqued by the challenge, some are interested, but none is willing to contravene U.S. law.  I also contacted four of the leading dealers and archivists from the International Banknote Society: Audrius Tomonis (http://www.banknotes.com/), Tom Chao (http://www.tomchao.com/), Ron Wise (www.banknoteworld.com/). and Owen Linzmayer (http://www.banknotenews.com/).  Originally a Macintosh guru, Owen discovered what numismatists call "notaphily" when working Europe and enjoying a wide array of fascinating currencies.  Owen was most helpful with this project, forwarding problems for my database.



Austrian Economist Eugen von Boehm von Bawerk
On the back is the Institute of Science

Maria Sklodowska-Curie celebrated by Poland
and Demokritos of Abdera honored by Greec
e
(It is bit harder to pay homage to Benjamin Franklin)
Last year (November 2010) at this time, I launched a project to investigate the problem and seek ways around it. The status then was summarized on this blog here.  The project languished as I moved from Ann Arbor to Austin. 

However, the biggest impediment was the lack of understanding from the numismatic community itself.  Eariler this month, I received an email, a forwarded message, from a discussion board.  In it, the original writer claimed to have found a way around the problems by enlarging or reducing the images.  That, of course, was nonsense... or, at the least, incomplete.

Numismatists who count the reeds on the rim of a coin reported their successes or failures at scanning banknotes without giving the makes and models of their hardware or software or the issue and variety of the object being scanned or printed.  They reported their own personal workstations and projects as if these were universal and constant. They carried out uncontrolled and haphazard tests and claimed that these "proved" their "theories." I found it frustrating. The only thing proved was that science learning in America has all but failed for the great masses of nominally educated people who have no idea what a theory is or what constitutes proof.

Generally, professional numismatists and numismatic researchers are relying on older, pre-millennial hardware and software.  Some still shoot pictures to film.  As post-millennial computer platforms are replaced newer hardware and software stay ahead of the curve, just as new banknote issues engage security that is far beyond the classic "Omron rings" that defeated commercial photocopiers over a decade ago.
Claimant: The problems you are all finding with scanning new banknotes is not with the scanner itself but with the software used to scan. With most of the industry standard scanning software it is possible to scan at 150% or 200% enlargement, or at 50% reduction in actual size, without a problem. This is because most of the legal requirements for the reproduction of banknotes favours reproduction at less than half size or greater than double the size.



Tester: I just tried that (again) and it (still) does not work.  I have a Canon Pixma MG6120. I tried it in hardware mode, from the front panel of the copier/scanner and both menu paths led to the same result: at 183%, the scanner ran the length of  a US $10 Series 2006 bill, fed the paper and ejected a blank sheet with an error message: "Timed out." 
When you scan paper money with post-2000 equipment, the scanner records the action; and depending on the make and model, may also send a message via the Internet to the authorities.  See the current TV commercials to the tune of Melanie's "Brand New Roller Skates" about taking a picture on the road and having it print out at home.  Enter "print at home from anywhere" into a browser and follow the links. 

I am not saying any numismatist will get a knock on the door, but I am saying that if you are arrested for counterfeiting, they can go back and check their disk farms and find your work; and when they seize your computer, your printer/scanner will provide a record as well.  And that is fine as a law enforcement measure.  Unfortunately, it prevents the recording, archiving, study, and reporting about historical artifacts of trade and commerce.



ALSO ON NECESSARY FACTS

Friday, November 25, 2011

Supplies and Demands

From "Inspired Business" 
http://www.inspiredbusiness.eu/
In Economics 101, the Supply curve and the Demand curve are displayed.   The point where they intersect is called “equilibrium” where the most efficient allocation of resources is claimed to occur.  This ignores the fact that every point on either curve represents a choice, an exchange of a lower valued good (or service) for one of higher value. 

On each curve, the quantity demanded (or supplied) changes. But where they intersect is only one such point. The other choices do not disappear. People are still demanding and supplying all along both curves.
The danger – the tragedy – is that claiming that the intersection of these two curves indicates a special equilibrium. This causes those in political control to believe that they should or must force all supplies and demands to be at this point.  Interest rates are raised or lowered; money is created (rarely destroyed); tax laws are written or rewritten. In some societies criminal penalties are enacted and enforced for prices other than the approved one.

At the very least, and as the foundation of the wrongs cited above, economists teach that any other price except the equilibrium is inefficient and thus markets are not perfect. 


The curves should be called "Supplies" and "Demands" and their intersection should called the "modal point."  This is where "most" trades take place.  But nothing else is special about it. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Nerd Nation 3.0 Gaming Goes Mainstream

On my way to volunteer at a family resource center, I checked a bus stop for the routes and saw a tag for GIS (geographic information systems) on the back. I found more and took pictures which I sent to my professor for the graduate class in remote sensing, Dr. William F. Welsh.  I mentioned also that I joined a local D&D group and he sent back a link to a Salon story: "How Dungeons & Dragons Changed My Life" by Ethan Gilsdorf
When I hit 40, I discovered my cache of D&D rule books and dice some two decades after I’d last laid eyes on it. Stirred by nostalgia, I wrote “Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks,” a travel memoir/pop culture investigation that records a year spent “re-geeking” myself and reintegrating D&D and its ilk back into my life. Thanks to the widespread acceptance of gaming and fantasy subcultures — from “Lord of the Rings” to “Harry Potter” to MMOs (online role-playing games) like “World of Warcraft” (aka WoW) — that re-geeking was easier than I expected.
Ethan Gilsdorf wrote a book about it, Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks.  In addition to his Salon posts, he has a very rich blog dedicated to the ins and outs of all things nerdly and geekish.
These are Tolkien-themed videos I shot in New Zealand: looking for hobbits in Hobbiton (Matamata); elves in Rivendell (Kaitoke Regional Park); Weta Workshop (Wellington); and a mash-up of footage from the "If you want him, come and claim him!" scene (Arrowtown).
In his reply to my email, Bill Welsh said that he had been a big D&D gamer.  I was not surprised.  He was also not alone on the campus of Eastern Michigan University.  My professor for the undergrad class "Deviance and Society," Dr. Roger M. Kernsmith also studies the sociology of gaming.  Between the bachelor's and grad school, I wrote a column for the ANA's Numismatist magazine about "xeno-numismatics" the moneys of science fiction and fantasy.  Researching that, I discovered True Dungeons, a live action role-playing game (LARP) at Gen Con in Indianopolis run in a two-story dungeon.  I sent an email to Dr. Kernsmith, who replied, "I just came back from there."

Monday, November 14, 2011

Eyewitness Testimony: Popper, Wittgenstein, and the Innocence Project

News traveled quickly within academic philosophy that on the night of October 25, 1946, in Room H3 (number 3; staircase H) of the Gibbs Building, at Kings College, Cambridge, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Karl Popper had gone at each other with red-hot fireplace pokers.  Of course, that is not what happened.  Yet, the true sequence of events remains uncertain and contested. 

Wittgenstein’s Poker: The Story of a Ten-Minute Argument Between Two Great Philosophers by David Edmonds and John Eidinow (HarperCollins, New York, 2001).

Juries are swayed by eye-witness testimony.  Yet it is highly unreliable – and is known to be subject to simple error as well as police misconduct and prosecutorial fraud.  Over the past 15 years, thanks largely to the Innocence Project, and the advocacy of academic criminologists, some changes in police procedure have been written into law.  However, on the streets, in the lock-ups, in the courtrooms across America, at the local level, tradition rules.  (If you do not know the case of Jennifer Thompson and Ronald Cotton - “What Jennifer Saw” PBS Frontline show here – you need to understand the limits of witness identification.  The Innocence Project page on this case is here.)
·                                 
In the matter of Wittgenstein’s Poker, an audience of perhaps 30 academics - students, dons, professors - fifteen professional philosophers at one of the world’s best universities, all of them at some level specialists in the theory of knowledge, did not agree on the details of a 10-minute drama. 

Beneath this is the foundation of science.  Sir Karl Popper invented the theory of falsification, presenting it in his 1935 work, The Logic of Scientific Discovery.  Simply put, a broad theory based on some evidence can explain much.  Astrology works like that.  You are a Libra; your partner is a Capricorn.  You think you are in love, but the charts say you are incompatible.  An astrologer will delve into your rising signs and conjunctions and aspects, and ultimately can produce almost any result you want.  Popper felt that this was true of Freudian psychology, which he called a pseudo-science.  Science is subject to disproof.  According to Popper a complete theory suggests its own testable limits.  This was revolutionary in 1935 but is accepted without question today. 

But social theories are largely not subject to disproof.  The failures of communism (and before that of fascism) are argued away by true believers, just as astrologers and creationists present ever more explanation to overcome difficulties.  (The easiest claim is that the USSR was not practicing true communism, but only state capitalist revisionism.  Actual communism would be successful.  Any failure must not be real communism.)  Ultimately, this applies to radical feminism, to postmodernism, to the broad spectra of both the left and the right.  The true believer finds no reason to be tolerant of other opinions because they are not interested in being proved wrong in the search for truth. 

That expresses Popper’s political philosophy, expounded in The Open Society and Its Enemies, for which he was knighted.  Written before World War II, but published only afterward, the book calls for tolerance based on ignorance.  We cannot know for certain that we are right.  Our ideas might be falsified.  Thus, we are mindful of the sensibilities of other people, even as we disagree.  In his essay “What Does the West Believe In?” (delivered as a lecture and then added to a compendium, In Search of a Better World: Lectures and Essays from Thirty Years) Popper notes that unlike the Marxists of that time, or too many other creeds and their variants, the West largely has no single doctrine.  The strength of our society, the source and expression of our freedom, is that we do not "believe in" any one thing.  Rather, we accept many things as being true, for as long as they stand up to scrutiny. 

How then did Popper come to promote his idea of falsifiability?  What if it later were falsified?  That would be a paradox, of course, as is his intolerance of intoleration.  It is ironic, then, that he denied the validity of the ideas of Ludwig Wittengenstein.  Wittgenstein claimed that there are few (if any) real problems in philosophy, but only apparent problems from loose language.  Clarify your concepts and problems disappear.  Wittgenstein’s Tracticus Logico-Philosophicus was nicely organized in outline form and relied heavily on the symbolic logic of Russell and Whitehead. 

The easy resolution is that word games aside (falsifying falsification; not tolerating intolerance), it is usually better to reserve judgment and be open to those who would prove you wrong. Ultimately, of course, right and wrong do exist; and the wrong is discarded for failing a single test, while the right stands up to probe after probe.  Unfortunately, the criminal justice system does not work that way. 

The incident is described on pages 16-20 in Chapter 2, “Memories are Made of This.” 

Both Popper and Wittgenstein are at the tops of their careers.  Both are accustomed to holding the attention of those to whom they speak. Popper is the guest speaker, but Wittgenstein will not yield.  They argue. 
“Consider this poker,” Peter Geach hears Wittgenstein demand of Popper, picking up the poker and using it in a philosophical example.  But, as the discussion rages between them, Wittgenstein is not reducing the guest to silence (the impact he is accustomed to), nor the guest silencing him (ditto).  Finally, and only after having challenged assertion after assertion made by Popper, Wittgenstein gives up.  At some stage he must have risen to his feet, because Geach sees him walk back to his chair and sit down.  He is still holding the poker in his hand.  With a look of great exhaustion on his face, he leans back in his chair and stretches his arm toward the fireplace.  The poker drops to the the tiles of the hearth with a little rattle.  At his point, Geach’s attention is caught by the host, Richard Braithwaite.  Alarmed by Wittgenstein’s gesticulating with the poker, he is making his way in a crouching position through the audience.  He picks up the poker and somehow makes away with it.  Shortly afterward Wittgenstein rises to his feet in a huff, quietly leaves the meeting, shutting the door behind him.”

Michael Wolff sees that Wittgenstein has the poker idly in his hand ... Peter Munz watches Wittgenstein suddenly take the poker - red-hot - out of the fire and gesticulate with it in front of Popper’s face.  Then Russell - who so far has not spoken a word - takes the pipe out of his mouth and says firmly, “Wittgenstein, put down that poker at once!” His voice is high-pitched and somewhat scratchy.  Wittgenstein complies, then, after a short wait, gets up and walks out, slamming the door.   From where Peter Gray-Lucas is sitting, Wittgenstein seems to be growing very excited about what he obviously believes is Popper’s behavior and is waving the poker about. ...  Stephen Plaister, too, sees the poker raised. ... To Stephen Toulmin, sitting only six feet from Wittgenstein, nothing at all out of the ordinary is occurring; nothing that in hindsight would merit the term “incident."
According to Edmonds and Eidinow, Hiram McLendon’s account is corroborated by Bertrand Russell: they remember that Wittgenstein became agitated, grabbed the poker and waved it.  John Vinelott supports Popper’s story published in 1974.  Popper recalled that when asked for an example of a moral principle, he replied, “Not threatening visiting lecturers with pokers.”  Defeated, Wittgenstein threw down the poker and stormed out. 

Several points are at issue, not the least of which is the threat with a red-hot poker. Did Wittgenstein leave abruptly, slamming the door, after he asked Popper for an example of a moral rule?  According to most retellings, Wittgenstein left the room before Popper offered the example.  It may remain forever impossible to falsify any explanation of the events. 


ALSO ON NECESSARY FACTS
"Karl Popper and the Black Swan"
The Fallibility of Fingerprinting
Systemic Injustice
The CSI Effect

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Bringing Philosophy to Athens: Aspasia of Miletus

Aspasia of Miletus is easiest to find in the history of classical Athens as the woman with whom Pericles lived after divorcing his wife.  In fact, in those days, what we call “philosophy” was known in Athens as "the Milesian way” and it was Aspasia who brought it.  What we call the “Socratic method” should be the “Aspasian method” because young Socrates learned it at symposia held at her home. 

In the generation after the collapse of the Ionian Revolt refugees emigrated to Athens.  Athens’ role in the defeat of Persia brought honors, of course; but also, the dialects were similar.  They are commonly considered together: Attic-Ionian, different from Doric (at Sparta), Aeolic (at Thebes), and Arcadian-Cypriot.  

Among the twelve Ionian cities were Miletus, Samos, and Clazomenae.  Miletus was the home of Thales, who is credited with the first formal proof in geometry; and who is called the father of philosophy.  Samos was the home of Pythagoras, who had fled to Croton in southern Italy long before the revolt.  Anaxagoras who taught astronomy to Pericles came from Clazomenae. 

Anaxagoras found a meteorite that was seen falling; and he concluded that the sun is a hot rock.  For this, he was charged before the Athenian assembly with impiety for denying the divinity of the sun.  Aspasia was also tried for impiety.  This was also one of the charges against Socrates.  Athens was not friendly to philosophy.  Pericles spoke unsuccessfully in defense of Anaxagoras.  Pericles apparently did better on behalf of Aspasia.  Ancient sources and modern interpretations all vary on the trial, but agree on the influence that Aspasia carried in Athens.

In the 19th century, when education in Greek and Latin was still required, the romance between Pericles and Aspasia was a popular topic for novelists.  More recently, she regained the attention of feminist scholars.  Indeed, it may be cogent to consider Pericles only the largest satellite orbiting her.  Socrates is easily the best known in common culture today, but Protagoras of Abdera was undoubtedly another visitor in her home, as was the young Alcibiades. 

Dr. William Smith’s A Smaller Classical Dictionary, (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1877) carried this entry:
“Apasia (1) the Elder of Miletus, daughter of Axiochus, the most celebrated of the Greek Hetaerae. She came to Athens where she gained the affection of Pericles, not more by her beauty than by her high mental accomplishments. Having parted with his wife, Pericles lived with Aspasia during the rest of his life. His enemies accused Aspasia of impiety and it required all of his personal influence to win her acquittal. The house of Aspasia was the center of the best literary and philosophical society of Athens, and was frequented even by Socrates. On the death of Pericles (c. 429 BC), Aspasia is said to have attached herself to one Lysicles, a dealer in cattle, and to have made him by her instruction, a first rate orator.” 
 It is important, also, to understand what Dr. Smith meant by "heterae."  The word means "companion."  It has sexual connations, as well.  In her own time Aspasia was ridiculed as a brothel madame, a charge that is clearly theatrical hyperbole.  It nonetheless speaks to the status (or rather, the lack of it) held by women in classical Greece.
That paragraph was accompanied by a line drawing of a stele labeled ACΠACIA in late Hellenistic letters. A photograph of this funerary monument appears in Madeleine M. Henry's Prisoner of History: Aspasia of Miletus and Her Biographical Tradition.  Henry cites an article in Acta Classica by Peter Bicknell. Bicknell examines a stele given in Inscriptiones Graecae Vol. II Part 2, inscription number 7394 which he asserts shows the descendents of Apsasia.  According to Henry's accumulated evidence, Aspasia was born in Miletus about 470 BC. She was the younger sister of the woman married by Alcibiades the Elder (grandfather of the troublesome Alcibiades), whose ostracism from Athens expired in 450. The family arrived to find the laws changed unfavorably against metics (foreign Greeks) and their descendents. Aspasia caught the eye of Pericles and the rest is history. 
Now in the Vatican

Madeleine M. Henry's Prisoner of History is an excellent summary and evaluation of the material available on Aspasia of Miletos. This is a work which will stand the test of time and which will be read 100 years from now. I am most impressed by the variety and detail of evidence which Henry has acquired in constructing this book.
Ancient Athens was nothing without her metics. Among the foreign Greeks who came to the city, Anaxagoras and Aspasia were typical of the Ionians who made Athens “the school of Hellas.”  It is no accident that both were associated with Pericles and that both were tried for impiety by his enemies and that neither was a citizen of Athens.  The question then becomes: Why would intelligent people flock to Athens to be treated as second-class beings, barely better than barbarians? When we examine the status of metics, we must consider the collateral status of women.  If Aspasia stands out as a special woman, then even a century later Aristotle stands out as a special foreigner.  No easy wrapper explains all of the facts, though the facts remain.

This point is easy to miss. Rhetoric is public speaking. In the Athenian democracy, any citizen could bring suit and any citizen could be selected to judge a trial. As democrats, the Athenian citizens were all public speakers.  Certainly the successful ones were.  As lampooned in The Clouds, Socrates taught how to use wrong logic to evade, deny, and disprove obvious truths. In our language, sophistry is spurious logic or shallow reasoning. However, what Aspasia taught was not merely projecting your voice, waving your hands, and acting for the back row. Aspasia taught logic. She brought from Miletos the way of thinking that gave us geometry. The conservative Athenians were unprepared and found themselves disadvantaged if not helpless.  They were used to pleading their case by direct statement. Aspasia taught the technique we call "Socratic inquiry." In short, she taught how to ask questions. 

ASPASIA OF MILETOS -- A bibliography
(You will find her in Xenophon's Memorabilia and in his Economics, as well as Plato's “Menexenus,” and  Plutarch's “Life of Perikles.”
  • Pericles and Aspasia by Walter Landor Savage (1776 - 1864). Boston: Roberts Brothers 1894. (London: E. Moxon 1846). Historical fiction.
  • The Heroines of History by Emily ("Mrs. Octavius Freirs Owen") Owen ( - ). London: Routledge, 1854. Biography.
  • Aspasia: a Romance of Art and Love in Ancient Hellas by Robert Hamerling (1830 - 1889). New York: W. S. Gottsberger Peck 1893.Fiction. (Translated from original German.)
  • Woman in ihe Golden Ages by Mrs. Amelia Ruth (Gere) Mason ( - ).New York: The Century Company, 1901. ("history and condition of women.")
  • Old Saws and Modern Instances by William Leonard Courtney (1850 - 1928). New York: Dutton (1918). Historical insight.
  • The Immortal Marriage by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton (1857 - 1948). New York: Boni and Liveright, (1927) Historical fiction.
  • The Glory and the Lightning by Taylor Caldwell (1900-). Garden City, New York: Doubleday. 1974. Historical fiction. 
  • Bicknell, Peter J. (1982). "Axiochus Alkibiadou, Aspasia and Aspasios". L'Antiquité Classique 51 (3): 240–250.
  • “Aspasia of Miletus: how one woman disappeared from the history of rhetoric (discrimination against women in the field of rhetoric.)” by A. Cheree Carlson. Women's Studies in Communication, Spring 1994. 
  • Prisoner of History: Aspasia of Miletos and Her Biographical Tradition by Madeleine Mary Henry (1949 - ). New York: Oxford University Press. 1995.
  • “Aspasia of Miletos: The Woman who Ruled Athens,” by Michael Edward Marotta (mercury), The Well, http://www.well.com/ History, posted Friday, December  8, 1995.
A limited preview of Madeleine Henry’s Prisoner of History is available on Google Books here.   The collection, Inscriptiones Graecae (Wikipedia here), was started in 1825 and continued by the Prussian Academy.  It is now the work of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy for Science (Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften; German only homepage here).

Monday, November 7, 2011

Austin Science and Engineering Festival

Over seventy businesses, colleges, and government agencies provided two full days of hands-on activities and stage demonstrations, to more than 17,000 visitors, November 5 and 6, at the Austin Convention Center.
Focused on young learners, the exposition enjoyed support from nineteen sponsors including Google, Dell, ExxonMobil, Shell, the U.S. Navy, the Austin Chronicle, and the Mexican-American Engineering Society. Two portable star show domes - one from Austin Planetarium, the other from Rice University - competed for attention with roving robots, catapult construction, police laboratories, and solar cars. 

Experiencing electrons
 
Three visitors
Saturday's crowd was boosted by busloads of elementary and middle school pupils from Dallas and Houston area districts, as well as locals. Many kids were primed for the serious side of fun with notebooks at the ready to record their experiences. Their hosts were prepared, as well.  IBM provided trays of oobleck. IBM also had an aerodynamics exercise where the kids built gliders with a straw and two loops of paper. The Society of Women Engineers also had a paper airplane exercise, the key to which was a wind tunnel made from a room fan and half-liter plastic bottles. The Texas Department of Public Safety provided a command car and a SWAT tank and made both freely available to the event visitors. The CIA brought a robot for the kids to operate.  The US Navy handed over the controls to a submersible model.
SEEK: Student Engineers Educating Kids
Of the fifteen stage presentations, "Science in the Movies" (both Saturday and Sunday) was easily the most popular with its explosions, flashes, and realizations of make-believe. They had a tough act to follow. Opening both days was Dr. Kold's liquid nitrogen show.

On Sunday, NASA mission specialist Dr. Richard M. Linnehan engaged the youngest in the audience with a Q&A that traveled light years from low Earth orbit to intergalactic space. The kids held their own and even surprised the astronaut with their knowledge. Rounding out the theater offerings were the Circus of Physics, the UT Solar Car, BEST Robotics, Google Science Fair Winner Shree Bose, and two different sets of talks by UT doctoral candidates in physical science, life science, and engineering.


STEM: Science Technology Engineering & Mathematics
The University of Texas programs in engineering, astronomy, and physics met the public from five different tables. However, Prairie View A&M sat at seven separate locations. ACC took two, one for electronics, the other for physics. Texas State Technical College, Texas Southern University, Texas State University, Southern Methodoist University, and the Geoforce Institute rounded out the higher learning alternatives. Present to help manage the choices was My College Options. Parents also found help with their science homework at table set up by the UT Women in Engineering.  SaplingLearning demonstrated their innovative virtual laboratory experiments and other online homework aids and study tools.
 
This was the second annual Texas Science and Engineering Festival. The concept and the plethora of administrative details were were the work of MAES, the Society of Mexican-American Engineers and Scientists.

On this blog, see also Nerd Nation here and Nerd Nation 2.0 here