6/30/2009 3:24:58 PM
Generations of technical innovation, epiphanies, scientific discoveries, work, and toil were needed to create a $10.00 toaster. Humanity needed to learn to master electricity, smelt metals, mould plastics, and create a modernized supply chain. Advanced as they may be, few modern humans could build a toaster on their own. Artist Thomas Thwaites, however, gave it a shot. In his Toaster Project, Thwaites tried to smelt the iron, refine oil into plastics, and build a toaster in an effort to explore the connection people have to every-day technology. Thwaites wrote:
The point at which it stopped being possible for us to make the things that surround us is long past...This faintly ridiculous quest to make a toaster from the 'ground up' serves as a vehicle through which questions about economics, helplessness and life as a consumer can be investigated.
Where Thwaites sees the helplessness of the consumer, Reason magazine’s Radley Balko sees the genius of capitalism and the division of labor. “Pan back until you've framed the entire world economy,” Balko writes, “and it's hard not to marvel at the wonder and miracle of capitalism's invisible hand.”
The Toaster Project,
6/30/2009 2:07:11 PM
Believers in survival of the fittest may struggle to explain the existence of skinny weaklings in human society. Evolutionarily, the muscle-bound beefcakes should have banished the wimps from the face of the earth long ago. New research, however, shows that pipsqueaks may have some evolutionary benefits that jocks don’t have.
Scrawny people may have quicker reaction times than the more physically fit, according to research published on Science Daily. The researchers theorize that the more finely tuned reactions “may have evolved to help the weak get out of the way of approaching danger.”
The most hulking people also have a harder time battling disease. The New Scientist reports that “the downside of all that brawn is a poor immune system and an increased appetite.” The increased appetite may not seem like a bad thing today, but evolutionarily, having to constantly eat may was considered a disadvantage.
All’s not lost for the muscle-bound among us, however. More physically fit men are generally more attractive to women, tended to lose their virginity at a younger age, and had more life-time sexual partners. Researchers think that the relative costs and benefits of physical fitness may explain why both geeks and jocks still survive.
For John Hodgman’s take on the culture war between nerds and jocks, watch the video below:
Image by Crimfants, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/30/2009 9:54:51 AM
Thirteen-year-old Scott Campbell recently gave up his iPod for a week, opting instead to use his dad’s clunky old Sony Walkman. He writes about his week with the Walkman for the BBC News Magazine, offering quite a few spot-on (and often very funny) observations from the perspective of a digital-music native.
On the plus side, he notes, the Walkman’s enormous play button "engages with a satisfying clunk, unlike the finger tip tap for the iPod." For the most part, however, he finds the Walkman inconvenient (who wouldn’t?), though he is surprisingly gentle, and generally very technical, in his discussions of its shortcomings.
Another notable feature that the iPod has and the Walkman doesn't is "shuffle," where the player selects random tracks to play. Its a function that, on the face of it, the Walkman lacks. But I managed to create an impromptu shuffle feature simply by holding down "rewind" and releasing it randomly—effective, if a little laboured.
I told my dad about my clever idea. His words of warning brought home the difference between the portable music players of today, which don't have moving parts, and the mechanical playback of old. In his words, “Walkmans eat tapes.” So my clumsy clicking could have ended up ruining my favourite tape, leaving me music-less for the rest of the day.
Source: BBC News Magazine
Image by nextartist, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/26/2009 9:20:55 AM
It seems unfair: Why can some of the greatest creative minds produce masterpieces while under the influence, while others simply end up with drivel? Apparently it’s genetic. The British magazine Prospect reports on a 2004 study that found “around 15 percent of Caucasians have a genetic variant, known as the G-variant, that makes ethanol behave more like an opioid drug, such as morphine, with a stronger than normal effect on mood and behavior.” This allows some “to remain healthy and brilliant despite consumption that would kill others.” But if you happen so be so fortunate, don’t get too carried away—as with any alcohol consumption, there is a fine line between optimum creativity and exceeding your limits.
Image by preater, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/24/2009 4:18:16 PM
For most of us, Gary Busey brings to mind big teeth and smaller roles in movies like “Black Sheep” and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” But for Amelia Fedo, the actor’s name floods her mouth with tastes of cranberry and string cheese.
According to maisonneuve, “Fedo has lexical-gustatory synaesthesia, a rare condition that causes units of speech to trigger involuntary sensations of taste.” This explains why she has such a potent reaction to Mr. Busey and other proper nouns—bringing new meaning to the old idiom about leaving a bad taste in one’s mouth. But Fedo’s experience is just one type of the neurological condition:
Neuroscientists have identified more than one hundred synaesthetic variations, and the sensory combinations appear infinite. In the most common, called grapheme-color synaesthesia, numbers and letters are transformed into brilliant colors (Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman claimed to encounter equations as “light-tan j’s, slightly violet-bluish n’s, and dark brown x’s”). With sound-color synaesthesia (or chromesthesia), certain sounds—a doorbell, a barking dog, a guitar chord—elicit powerful visual episodes. Other synaesthetes see their orgasms. Some can hear fabrics, taste shapes, and smell their pain.
Despite what must surely be an inconvenience, Fedo takes great care to use specific descriptions for what she is hearing…err, tasting. Here's a sampling of her flavored names:
Roy: unseasoned kidney beans straight from the can
Derek: raw fennel cut into flat slices, with hints of cucumber
Vivian: vinyl records, coarse nylon or denim, with a faint hint of perfume
Danielle: the rind around the edge of a bologna slice
And she’ll taste your name too, if you like.
6/24/2009 9:26:35 AM
New Scientist has assembled a list of "nine games computers are ruining for humanity"—and by "ruining," they mean besting (or rapidly gaining on) Homo sapiens. They explain how and why computers are readily beating us at games like checkers, chess, tic-tac-toe, and rock paper scissors, and how computer scientists are working to build a better poker program.
Good news for bridge players and Jeopardy! aficionados: We're still well ahead of the machines on those fronts. For now.
Source: New Scientist
Image by frozenchipmunk, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/23/2009 11:40:06 AM
Using people’s brain waves as the notes, scientists have created music. The researchers from China took brain wave readings from EEGs as the original source and used complex math to create pitch and rhythm for the waves. If their methods were improved, according to the Neruotopia 2.0 blog, the music could be used to detect Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, or other irregularities in the brain.
Here are a few of the tracks that the researchers have created so far:
Brain with eyes open
Brain in REM sleep
Brain in slow-wave sleep
Right now, Neruotopia 2.0 points out, the notes sound more like a cat on a keyboard than real music:
, Neruotopia 2.0
Image by Csaba Segesvári, licensed under Creative Commons.
Music by Dan Wu, Chao-Yi Li, De-Zhong Yao, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/23/2009 9:44:37 AM
While many archaeologists dig for clues to antiquity, a California state archaeologist has collected and catalogued the remains of a much more recent but equally curious civilization: a 1960s hippie commune. E. Breck Parkman is in charge of a collection from the wreckage of the Olompali commune in northern California that includes “melted sneakers, scorched fabric, broken plates, a tube of 40-year-old face cream [and] red Monopoly hotels,” Archaeology magazine reports in its July-August issue. Which doesn’t sound as exciting as, say, purple velvet bell bottoms, lava lamps, and skull bongs, but hey, they’re still sorting through it all.
Known to most as the Ranch because it was located on a 680-acre horse ranch, Olompali was at the epicenter of 1960s hippiedom, with folks like Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg, Ken Kesey, and the Grateful Dead hanging out and 60 young hippies rooming at the property’s 22-room mansion. (The Dead even were pictured at the Ranch in an iconic photograph on the back of their 1969 album Aoxomoxoa, accompanied by a 6-year-old flower child named Courtney Love.) The party started in 1967 and was over by the end of ’69 as members fell into infighting and the mansion burned down. (Bummer, man.)
Now part of a state historic park, the old haunts have been picked over by Parkman, who has long bucked resistance to his scholarly approach toward sorting through “hippie trash,” as some have called it. As far back as 1981, he drew laughter at a public hearing for suggesting that the hippie era was one of the important periods in the park’s history. Now, in order to save precious state budget money, he has enlisted several museum curators and two former commune residents to help him winnow down the collection.
Despite the hedonistic nature of their subject, Parkman and his helpers have done their archaeologists’ work diligently and soberly, packing up the remnants of the whole long, strange trip into neatly labeled office boxes. Among the keepers: about 30 pieces of butchered cow and pig bones that might be from the mansion’s final communal feast.
Asks Parkman: “Where else do you have the last supper of a hippie commune?”
Source: Archaeology (full article not available online), California State Parks
Image courtesy of California State Parks.
6/22/2009 11:16:34 AM
The distance to Mars is unimaginable to most people. But think about this: a trip to the Red Planet will take an exhausting, mind-numbing six months. And that’s only one way. Between the time spent on Mars and allowing for suitable conditions for the trip back, a mission to Mars will last about two and a half years.
The June issue of IEEE Spectrum features an impressive report on travel to Mars.
“Could China Get to Mars First?” suggests that China’s quickly developing space hardware will allow China to beat the U.S. back to the moon and perhaps even to Mars.
“What to Wear on Mars” gives readers a preview of the sci-fi-esque space suit that may debut on Mars. The clingy, stretchy material of the BioSuit allows for 8 hours of wandering around the Red Planet. Unlike the puffy suits used today, rips are easily repaired and limbs can move more freely. An added bonus: BioSuits costs a tenth of the $20 million price tag of the current suits.
“Space Is Big Business” notes that last year the United States spent four-fifths of the $83 billion 13 countries collectively invested on space. Corporations world-wide spent two dollars for every government dollar. Half of that corporate money went to direct-to-home TV, which depends on satellites in space.
Source: IEEE Spectrum
6/18/2009 11:29:02 AM
Bohnam's auction house in New York City will be taking bids on hundreds of tiny treasures from the glory days of NASA's space program. If it weren't for this damn recession, I'd have me one of those lunar rock box thingys. Here's a sampling from the catalog (pdf):
LUNAR ROCK BOX COVER
Lunar rocks were placed in an aluminum storage box that was vacuum sealed on the lunar surface. The crew then placed the box inside the container covers of this type for the journey back to Earth, to prevent lunar dust from spreading inside the Lunar and Command Modules.
$2,000 - 3,000
ASTRONAUT CHARLES DUKE’S SPACE SUIT CUFF CHECKLIST
The cuff checklist used by Lunar Module Pilot Charles Duke, Jr. was exposed directly to the lunar environment for over 12 hours during those exploration periods. Apollo mission planners were well aware of the importance of making every minute productive while astronauts explored the lunar surface. In order to make certain the lunar explorers did not overlook planned tasks, spiralbound cuff checklists were created to provide a detailed script of each task or activity. The crew of Apollo 16 found a special drawing on the next leaf. It features a drooling space-suited astronaut melting away in the arms of a buxom nude woman. The astronaut says: “Happy Birthday Whatever Your Name Is.” This gag illustration continued the tradition started on Apollo 12 with the cuff checklists that had small images of Playboy pinups and Snoopy cartoons.
$200,000 - 300,000
MAN’S FIRST CELESTIAL MEASUREMENTS MADE WHILE ON THE MOON
The navigational chart used by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to determine their exact position on the lunar surface just after their historic lunar landing. From Buzz Aldrin: On the back of the star chart, there is a square velcro patch. It has an overall tint of gray with darker grayish material embedded within. Those gray areas are most likely lunar dust that came off our space suits or from various equipment such as the sample return container.”
$70,000 - 90,000
(Thanks, Hrag Vartanian.)
6/17/2009 3:30:30 PM
Here’s a lesson: Going to school (and especially graduating) does a body good. In the recent issue of Governing, Penelope Lemov reports that “the higher your degree, the healthier you are.” Statistics show that as people climb the academic ladder their reported level of health increases significantly. This assessment comes from research findings analyzed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which looked at education and health statistics in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. There are staggering health differences among those who do or don't graduate from high school and those who have dropped out or finished college—which is great news for those with college diplomas, but quite troubling for those without. Lemov writes:
The most discouraging part of the report is its implication for children. Undereducated parents tend to be poor and to rear their children in households with limited access to grocery stores that carry fresh fruits and vegetables; to live in less safe housing; to have insufficient access to safe places to exercise—all of which affect a family’s health. “For the first time in our history, we are raising a generation of children that may live shorter, sicker lives than their parents,” says Dennis Rivera, a commissioner of RWJF’s Commission to Build a Healthier America.
Sources: Governing, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Image by Herkie, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/17/2009 10:30:58 AM
Reports coming out of Iran from Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and various blogs are giving foreigners an unprecedented view into the ongoing political crisis in the country. The Atlantic’s Andrew Sullivan, blogging from “a pier in Cape Cod,” has emerged as one of the major arbiters of information on the Iranian protests. Twitter and Facebook users are turning their profiles green in support of the protesters. The same technologies are giving idealists around the world the chance to engage in the crisis, both symbolically and actively. But just because people can engage, doesn’t mean they always should.
The raw, unedited nature of much of the information coming out of Iran could give every the impression that they know what’s really going on inside the country. The abject failure of cable news networks to cover the events reinforces that idea. Editor and Publisher recently admitted, “Web reports from Iranians, including Twitter feeds, have outflanked much of print and certainly cable TV.” With foreign reporters getting kicked out of the country, the reliance on social media for news will likely continue to grow.
As influential as social networking tools are in publicizing Iran’s conflict, much of that information has been unreliable. It was widely reported that opposition leader Mousavi was placed under house arrest, which was just one of many rumors that circulated and later turned out to be untrue. The best reporting, according to Kevin Drum writing for Mother Jones, may be coming from the BBC and the New York Times, and other mainstream, traditional outlets.
News from Iran has also made people “desperate to do something to show solidarity,” according to tech guru Clay Shirky in an interview with TED. Shirky said, “Reading personal messages from individuals on the ground prompts a whole other sense of involvement.” This has led people to help out the protesters, according to Shirky, by offering secure web proxies to help them mask their online identities. That sense of involvement, however, has the potential to lead people astray.
Some foreigners have been moved to launch web-based attacks against the Iranian state-run media, overwhelm the state’s servers with a constant stream of requests. Tech-President advocated this “bit of cyber aggression aimed at the Iranian government” as a way to channel the considerable energies of observers outside Iran. The process is so easy that I accidentally helped launch one of these attacks by clicking on an errant link while researching this blog post.
The motivation behind the web-attacks is understandable, but they may end up doing more harm than good. Evgeny Morozov, writing for Foreign Policy, points out that these attacks from other countries actually strengthen the Iranian government’s argument that “foreign intervention” is the driving force behind the protests. And if the attacks get bad enough, there’s a chance that the government could simply pull the plug on the highly centralized internet throughout the country, cutting off the Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube videos that feed the foreign knowledge of the protests.
Sources: The Atlantic, Editor and Publisher, Mother Jones, TED, Tech-President, Foreign Policy
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6/17/2009 8:54:30 AM
Up to 30 percent of pharmaceutical drugs distributed in the developing world are counterfeit, according to the World Health Organization. To combat this medically dangerous uncertainty, a technology company in Ghana called mPedigree has created a service that allows users to send text messages and find out if their drug is genuine, reports Verge.
Here’s how Worldchanging breaks it down: “mPedigree provides pharmaceutical manufacturers with specially coded labels, which are affixed to individually packaged medicines. At the drugstore counter, the purchaser scratches off a label to reveal a unique code, which he or she texts to a four-digit number. An automated service looks up the code in a database. On the spot, the consumer gets a reply message indicating whether the drug is genuine or fake.”
Smart stuff. For more technological solutions to managing global medicines, check out my colleague Danielle Mastretti’s recent blog about an awesome database that the Indian government created to help battle biopirates. That’s right, biopirates.
Sources: Verge (article not available online), Worldchanging
Image by Lee Nachtigal, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/15/2009 3:49:14 PM
When we get old, our eyesight and hearing start to diminish, muscles quit working, and our bodies generally deteriorate. Why can’t humans be more like redwood trees that live for hundreds of years, seemingly immune to the adverse effects of aging? If we stuck around longer, we could presumably impart wisdom on younger generations, thereby benefiting the whole species. But it's not going to happen.
One theory on why humans age, proposed by University of Arizona, is that it protects against epidemics. The greater the population density, the more vulnerable that population is to a disease wiping out much of the species. The blog Ouroboros explains the theory this way:
If I (an organism) am more susceptible than average to a given disease, and that susceptibility has a genetic component, then my closest relatives (who share most of my genes) are likelier than the general population to be susceptible as well. Therefore, my continued existence poses a risk for my progeny, because I represent one more potential host for a pathogen that might infect them – potentially killing us all and ending the line altogether.
The general human tendency, however, is to fight aging at all costs. Talking with RadioLab, geneticist George Church said that advancing technology could make the state of “totally dead” obsolete. Church believes that technology could, hypothetically, reverse engineer people to the point where they could put anyone back together at any time. Then, presumably, people could live forever.
Not pursuing technology that would allow humans to live forever would be “immoral,” according to Cambridge researcher Aubrey de Grey, speaking at TED. According to de Grey, aging is a disease that should be cured for the sake of future generations.
The problem with trying to live forever is not that it would be “crushingly boring” or that “dictators would rule forever” or the other straw man arguments that de Grey throws out. Instead, the problem is the hubris inherent in the quest. People age for a reason, whether or not we understand that reason just yet.
6/15/2009 1:33:54 PM
Dethroning a queen can be as easy as silencing a single gene, at least in a colony of lab termites, that is.
In a recent German study, worker termites started battling for the throne and acting as if their queen were dead when researchers disabled her Neofem2 gene. Scientists believe this discovery could hold the answer to how honeybee, ant and other “ultrasocial creature” queens keep their kingdoms in check.
Source: Science News
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6/15/2009 10:51:24 AM
Add dermatitis to the list of diseases now connected to cell phone use. Recent studies reported by the Human Ecologist suggest a link between nickel used in the metallic areas of cell phones and a rise in unexplained facial and ear rashes. In October 2008, the British Association of Dermatologists (B.A.D.) first noted this condition, called “mobile phone dermatitis”, and advised doctors to ask patients with skin rashes about their cell phone use. B.A.D. also warned that rashes could occur on user’s fingers as a result of text messaging.
A study of 22 popular cell phones, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, found that roughly half contained nickel in areas such as menu buttons, decorative logos, and metallic frames around LCD screens. They recommended that consumers choose phones without metallic accents or materials.
Source: The Human Ecologist (article not available online)
6/15/2009 10:49:50 AM
Most jewelry designers create pieces intended for mass production, Chronogram observes. Not so with Nervous System. Cofounders Jesse Louis-Rosenberg and Jessica Rosenkrantz built their company around open-source software that lets people design one-of-a-kind jewelry pieces based on gorgeous, biological patterns.
Louis-Rosenberg and Rosenkrantz, who come from science and architecture backgrounds, also have pre-designed pieces available: their delicate dendrite earrings were inspired by the aggregate growth of coral; their cut-felt radial necklace (part of the radiolaria series) nods to the bubbly repetition of plant cells and honeycomb.
But perhaps best of all? Most people can afford to engage with Nervous System’s art. “Our work is just as beautiful in stainless steel as it would be in silver, so why should we exclude a large segment of the population just to make a little more money?” the duo told Chronogram. “Besides, it is difficult to blur the line between consumer and producer when most consumers cannot afford the pieces.”
Image from Nervous System, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/12/2009 3:48:25 PM
Cooking food is the defining activity that makes us human, according to Harvard biological anthropologist and primatologist Richard Wrangham. In an interview with Seed, Wrangham says that cooking food makes it easier to digest calories, which may have led to our evolutionary dominance over other species. It has also created a system of ownership, where food is saved and owned, rather than eaten straight off the vine like monkeys.
This ownership society also led to our societal system of marriage, according to Wrangham, where dominant males do “manly” things, like hunt, pillage, and talk politics, while relying on females to cook the dinner. Marriage, Wrangham says, is essentially a “protection racket in which the woman is required to feed a man because of the threat of having her food taken by other men.”
No word from Wrangham on why cooking is such a male-dominated profession.
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6/12/2009 1:06:54 PM
The Indian government recently finished a massive database that puts thousands of years’ worth of traditional Indian remedies, medicines, and practices in the public domain—and, hopefully, out of reach of Western biotech companies attempting to patent this knowledge. The Ecologist reports that this huge repository of information, dubbed the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library, was completed by 200 researchers who spent 8 years transcribing and translating ancient texts on Ayurveda, Unani, and siddha. They’re also working to include yoga poses, which have come under patent-attack by many Western yoga instructors as the practice has grown more popular.
“India has effectively made its store of wisdom public property,” the Ecologist notes, “which can now be accessed and used by anyone, but patented by no one.”
Sources: The Ecologist, Traditional Knowledge Digital Library
Image by zoyachubby, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/11/2009 4:29:56 PM
Back in 2006, we raised a collective eyebrow when we read in now-defunct Plenty that a San Diego company had plans to breed cats with a modified Fel d 1 gene that would render them hypoallergenic. These cats were slated to cost allergy-beset consumers nearly $4,000, and while the company was taking orders, kittens were still a year out, so cat lovers had some waiting to do.
The Scientist now reports that one of the first of these cats to be delivered hasn’t turned out to be all that hypoallergenic. Murray, a gray tabby, caused an early allergic reaction in one of his owners (which eventually tapered off), but guests still can’t tolerate the feline. Allerca, the company that sells the genetically modified cats and dogs, stands behind its claims, and says it warns customers that Fel d 1 is not the only allergen cats produce. Still, here’s the hitch: To get a refund, you have to return your pet. (Murray’s owners have decided they’d rather live with him, allergens and all.)
Sources: The Scientist, Plenty (as archived on Mother Nature Network)
Image by a tai, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/10/2009 2:07:59 PM
Statistics Day is right around the corner! No, seriously. Over at American Prospect, Paul Waldman ponders this Japanese holiday (with its slogan: “Statistical Surveys Owe You and You Owe Statistical Data”) and dreams of a day when Americans might revere responsibly parsed data so much that we have our own national celebration that “speaks of a culture that values precision and holds numbers in high esteem”:
We ought to be in a golden age of data. We have more data than we have ever had before, more computing capacity to analyze it, and an information delivery system—the Internet—we couldn't have dreamed of 20 years ago. With a few clicks, you can have at your fingertips the mountains of U.S. Census data. You can access the 36 years worth of data gathered by the General Social Survey or the 60 years of data collected by the National Election Studies. You can get oodles of numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics or the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development or the CIA's World Factbook. I could go on—almost forever...Why is it that misleading or manipulative uses of numbers are no less likely to carry the day for their dishonesty?
...The lesson isn't that one shouldn't listen to people who know a lot about numbers. It's that one has to know which questions can be answered by data and which can't. Too often, too many of us can't tell the difference.
Let’s make Paul Waldman proud and make this the best Statistics Day ever. I’ll bring the hats.
Now go crunch some numbers!
Source: American Prospect
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6/10/2009 9:42:16 AM
Do you have depression? Achy face? Do you see the world in black and white? You may be stuck inside a prescription drug commercial. Current TV’s Sarah Haskins takes viewers on a cynical tour of the drug ads in the latest episode of Target Women. Warning: Side effects may include laughter and projectile vomiting.
6/5/2009 4:25:40 PM
Hospitals are always looking for ways to save money. Here's one that might surprise you: hospitals that reach out to help homeless people before they pass through emergency room doors can save hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. That's according to two studies, one in Chicago and the other in Seattle.
The Chicago study, according to Miller-McCune, focused on 600 chronically ill homeless people, with 200 of them receiving case management and housing:
The group included people living on the street from 30 days to 30 years, in many ways mirroring the 3.5 million Americans (and growing) who face homelessness at some point during the year.
Researchers also selected those with chronic health conditions other than mental health or substance abuse, although participants with these and other conditions were not excluded.
"We wanted, in part, to show whether or not this model works, but we also wanted the literature to broaden and not portray the homeless as severely mentally ill or alcohol dependent or drug abusers because that's just a small portion of the homeless," Dr. Laura Sadowski said.
After 18 months, the group of 200 patients with housing — the intervention group — each made at least one trip to the hospital, but overall they reduced their hospitalizations on average by 2.7 days per person per year, which translates into hundreds of thousands of dollars, far more than the costs of providing the services.
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6/3/2009 3:57:23 PM
When we last wrote about Morskoi Boi, the popular submarine-battle game that was, incredibly, produced by the Soviet Union alongside actual nuclear submarines, it was merely a relic tucked away in Russia's Museum of Soviet Arcade Games. Now it's a fully functioning and utterly primitive Flash game. Gamers, your Cold War is ready.
Image by Varvara Lozenko.
6/3/2009 2:31:48 PM
On the vaunted social networking site Twitter, users—both male and female—are more likely to follow men than women, according to a study from Harvard Business Publishing. On average, men have 15 percent more followers than women, even though they follow roughly the same number of people.
According to the study:
We found that an average man is almost twice more likely to follow another man than a woman. Similarly, an average woman is 25% more likely to follow a man than a woman. Finally, an average man is 40% more likely to be followed by another man than by a woman.
Twitter’s gender divide stands in stark contrast to most social networking sites, according to the study, where “most of the activity is focused around women.” The lack of photos and detailed biographies are offered as possible reasons for the discrepancy.
(Thanks, Marginal Revolution.)
Source: Harvard Business Publishing
6/3/2009 1:26:47 PM
While recent studies show that pregnancy and childbirth positively alter the brain chemistry of mothers, could parenting have a similar impact on men?
The 2005 book The Mommy Brain documented research by Craig Kinsley and Kelly Lambert on female rats who were either pregnant or recent mothers, showing that motherhood sharpened their senses and increased their motivation and resilience. Susan Kuchinskas reports for Miller-McCune that this same team is now concentrating on fathers. Their research on mice, along with similar studies on monkeys and humans, suggests that fatherhood chemically alters men to make them better fathers.
“Loving a woman and fathering her children changes a man’s body and brain in ways that make him more canny and resourceful,” Kuchinskas writes, “while improving his ability to handle stress. At the same time, living with the woman he loves alters a man’s hormones and neurochemistry to make him a better mate.”
Examples in nature include: the California deer mouse, who stays around the home after mating to groom and look after his kids; the male marmoset, whose hormones cause him to gain weight along with his mate during pregnancy; and, the “highly monogamous” titi monkey, who mates for life and allows his offspring to cling to his body.
In humans, studies have found that married men have lower levels of the hormone testosterone, while new fathers exhibit higher levels of prolactin. Both of these conditions positively influence a father’s parenting skills by increasing his sympathy and motivation to help his offspring.
Interestingly, a study by the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center suggests that lower testosterone could actually be triggered by a newborn baby’s smell. Scientists at the center separated marmoset fathers from their families and then exposed them to scent from their babies’ genitals. Within 20 minutes, their testosterone levels dropped.
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6/3/2009 1:23:56 PM
The United States may have invented the internet, but today it lags abysmally far behind countries like South Korea and Japan. As President-Elect, Barack Obama said, “It is unacceptable that the United States ranks 15th in the world in broadband adoption.”
The problem is “a total lack of competition,” Nicolas Thompson writes for the Washington Monthly. Telecom companies have successfully neutered legislative attempts to force competition, giving near-monopolies on home internet service to phone and cable companies. Some hope that the new stimulus package could help, but the money devoted to bringing new broadband to the United States will likely be dwarfed by the $3.4 billion South Korea is putting into Green IT. GigaOM reports that by 2012, South Koreans may enjoy internet speeds that are 200 times faster than the typical DSL line in the United States.
There are a few possible solutions. Thompson suggests that the US government should create a public entity like the post office to provide internet to Americans. “Private companies would compete,” Thompson writes, “just as UPS and FedEx compete with the postal service.” The competition could force telecom companies to clean up their acts and give globally competitive service to customers.
“America built the world’s first computers, and then along came Microsoft. America pioneered the Internet, and along came Google,” Thompson writes. Without drastic changes to the United States broadband infrastructure, “It’s hard, however, to imagine that the technologies of the future will be hatched here.”
Image by Jay Cuthrell, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/2/2009 3:32:00 PM
DAPRA-funded Berkeley researchers have tricked out a beetle with tiny electrodes that allow them to control its flight, reports California. Next step: Outfitting the insect with onboard sensors that relay information back to mission control. Hello, coleopteran espionage!
This certainly isn’t the first time animals have been “pressed into military service,” the University of Berkeley alumni magazine reports. The cyborg beetle is merely the latest in a line of distinguished (also often disastrous and no doubt PETA-enraging) military critters. California did us the courtesy of a recap. Here are a couple of my tragicomic favorites:
The common gerbil. “With their unique ability to smell increased adrenaline in sweat, gerbils had been slated to detect spies and terrorists since WWII. The Israeli internal security force put gerbils to work at the Tel Aviv airport, but cancelled the project when the furry creatures implicated innocent passengers who were just anxious about flying.”
The domestic cat. “The CIA inserted a transmitter and battery pack in a cat and put a microphone in its ear and an antenna on its tail, to eavesdrop on the Soviets during the Cold War. On its first test run, the cat was run over by a taxi before reaching the intended target.”
Image by wildxplorer, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/2/2009 11:23:45 AM
There may be nothing new under the sun, but there’s something new on the sun: sunspots. Last fall, astronomers who ignored their mothers’ advice not to look at the blazing orb observed the spots—which are actually powerful magnetically induced storms—on its surface after a nine-month absence, Canadian Geographic reports (article not available online). The sun hadn’t been spotless that long for 50 years.
The newly increased activity means we’re entering a new 11-year solar cycle in which sunspots will become more and more common. What’s it mean? Maybe warmer weather.
“A spotless sun is slightly cooler than a spotty sun, because the roiling solar plasma around the sunspots generates more energy,” the magazine writes. “Researchers are attempting to establish a correlation between solar activity and the earth’s weather. From 1645 to 1715, the solar cycle stopped, and sunspots virtually disappeared. This interval coincided with the Little Ice Age, a period of severe winters in the Northern Hemisphere that hasn’t been experienced since.”
The spotty sun will almost certainly mean more spectacular northern lights, or aurora borealis, which increase along with solar activity. A light-chasing Alaska photographer who calls himself the Aurora Hunter writes, “We are in the trough, ‘Deep Solar Minimum,’ and will soon be heading upward into what is referred to as Solar Cycle 24.” In layman’s terms, he compares sunspots to “a giant revolving firehose emitting energy into space.”
But don’t rush outdoors at night just yet: The cycle isn’t expected to peak until 2011-2013.
To stay up to date on solar activity and aurora forecasts, visit the website of the Geophysical Institute in Fairbanks, Alaska, or Calspace’s Space Weather page.
Sources: Canadian Geographic, Aurora Hunter, Geophysical Institute, Space Weather
Image by Don J. McCrady at StarryVistas.net, courtesy of the photographer
6/1/2009 12:19:38 PM
When Marian Sandmaier heard the sounds of strange young women’s voices in her front hallway, she dove for the floor, crept upstairs, and hid in her bedroom. What would cause this perfectly functional, successful, and outwardly confident adult to run from her daughter’s friends in a spasm of anxiety?
In this month’s Psychotherapy Networker, Sandmaier explores the lifelong power of one’s temperament. For many years, modern clinicians rejected the idea that one’s temperament was inborn. However, a long-term study by Harvard researcher Jerome Kagan, along with the work of various behavioral molecular geneticists, suggests that our natural inclinations may be hard-wired into our DNA.
Kagan’s study of over 400 children from infancy into young adulthood revealed that roughly half of those who were prone to anxiety, or "high-reactors," shed their early shyness and transformed into extroverted talkers around the age of 15. However, when studied more closely, Kagan found that these seemingly transformed individuals still maintained the same neurological reactions to stress that they exhibited as toddlers. They simply got better at overcompensating for it.
For someone like Sandmaier, who has managed to overcome innate introversion to build a successful career and healthy relationships with others, this means that although she has managed to cultivate a functional “persona” that enables her to navigate the myriad pathways of public life, her “anima”, or private reality, has remained unchanged.
Source: Psychotherapy Networker
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