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« Science: April 2006 | Main | Science: June 2006 »

Science

The $100 laptop

Powered by a hand-crank. Pretty cool:

The world's first true $100 laptop has just been unveiled, and it looks to be a spectacular innovation.

Delaware nonprofit One Laptop Per Child, initiated by CAD pioneer Nicholas Negroponte and run by MIT's Media Lab faculty, designed the laptops to be sufficiently inexpensive to be given to every child in the world. They are poised for distribution as digital textbooks in China, India, Brazil, Argentina, Egypt, Nigeria, Thailand and elsewhere.

Each laptop contains a 500MHz processor, 128MB of dynamic RAM, and 500 MB of Flash memory in place of a hard disk, with four USB ports and wireless broadband that allows it to "talk to" its nearest neighbor, in an ad hoc local area "mesh" network.

Costs are significantly cut by using the open source Linux operating system and the same LCD displays found in inexpensive DVD players, which support full color or sunlight-readable high-resolution black and white.

According to Negroponte, the OLPC laptop can do everything a $1000 laptop can at one tenth the cost. The only difference is its permanent data storage capacity is limited to that of a high-end PC from the early 1980s. But what makes these digital textbooks an incredibly powerful global education resource is that they require no outside electricity; they're run by hand cranks.


By fnord12 | May 26, 2006, 1:12 PM | Science | Comments (4)| Link



I Just Don't Know How You Manage Day-to-Day Life

Men lose all ability to think rationally when they start thinking about sex, according to 2 researches from the University of Leuven in Belgium.

A glimpse of an alluring woman is all it takes to ruin a man's decision-making skills and the more testosterone coursing through his veins, the worse the problem gets, researchers claim today.
...
Testosterone levels were gauged by measuring the ratio of the index finger to the ring finger. A low value, suggesting a ring finger longer than the index finger, is a result of high testosterone and is found more commonly in men than women.

First off, nobody's surprised by this. But men think about sex all the time. ALL....THE.....TIME. How do they manage to get dressed in the morning? Drive to work? Remember how to spell their names? If thinking about sex turns them into mental midgets, why aren't they all just sitting on the floor drooling on themselves?

The best part of the article is the last paragraph.

The researchers are conducting tests to search for a similar effect in women, but have so far failed to find a visual stimulus that alters their decision-making behaviour.

Cold bitches.


By min | May 26, 2006, 12:45 PM | Science | Comments (0)| Link



Longer life could have a downside? Not for me!

Wei forwarded this article about how scientific advances are increasing our longevity, and then discusses some of the social problems that could result with all these old people hanging around. The article sort-of misses the point, though. These scientific advances are being made exclusively for my benefit, and only i will be living this super long life, in my self-sufficient earthship surrounded by comic books and video games and my 120 gig iPod. The rest of you can go to hell.

Update: Oh, i didn't mean you.


By fnord12 | May 24, 2006, 12:12 PM | Science | Comments (1)| Link



Weston A. Price/Sally Fallon Update

Some of you may recall my previous post We Help the Webmaster on the Weston A. Price Foundation's claim that 65% of Chinese people's daily calories came from pork. Sally Fallon wrote back to me on May 6th. Here's what i wrote to her:

In this article, you claim that 65% of calories in a Chinese diet came from pork, citing K.C. Chang's "Food in Chinese Culture" as the source. I have read Chang's book and cannot find such a claim. In fact, I read only 76 calories a day were from animal sources, 54% of which are from pork. This only accounts for 41 calories in total from pork. I highly doubt 41 calories constitutes 65% of the average Chinese person's diet. Also, the book repeatedly states the importance of soy as a staple in the Chinese diet and conversely, meat is consumed very little except on holidays or other special occasions. Please tell me where you found your information. Otherwise, I would suggest you recheck your source.

Here's her reply:

I'll have to recheck this. It was not from the book but from an article by Chang. . . will get back to you. Sally

First off, if such an article does exist and she did in fact lift this statistic from said article, she should make sure when she's composing her list of citations, she cites the correct thing. That's pretty shoddy work, if you ask me. You don't write a paper, cite the wrong material, and expect me to believe you have credibility.

Second, it's now been 2 weeks and lo and behold, she has yet to get back to me. Perhaps she's having some trouble finding this article. Mebbe she's having trouble because it doesn't exist.


By min | May 19, 2006, 3:52 PM | My stupid life & Science | Comments (0)| Link



This Is Going to Get Mel Gibson's Panties in a Bunch

Researchers may have determined that human and chimp lines split more recently than previously thought. The study mentions interbreeding between the two lines after an initial split.

A detailed analysis of human and chimp DNA suggests the lines finally diverged less than 5.4 million years ago.

The finding, published in the journal Nature, is about 1-2 million years later than the fossils have indicated.

A US team says its results hint at the possibility that interbreeding occurred between the two lines for thousands, even millions, of years.

Link

Insert requisite Bush-monkey joke.


By min | May 18, 2006, 11:41 AM | Science | Comments (0)| Link



Technology Turning Our Brains To Jello?

This could explain why people seem to be getting stupider with each passing generation.

A recent survey of eight-to 18-year-olds, [neurobiologist Susan Greenfield] says, suggests they are spending 6.5 hours a day using electronic media, and multi-tasking (using different devices in parallel) is rocketing. Could this be having an impact on thinking and learning?

She begins by analysing the process of traditional book-reading, which involves following an author through a series of interconnected steps in a logical fashion. We read other narratives and compare them, and so "build up a conceptual framework that enables us to evaluate further journeys... One might argue that this is the basis of education ... It is the building up of a personalised conceptual framework, where we can relate incoming information to what we know already. We can place an isolated fact in a context that gives it significance." Traditional education, she says, enables us to "turn information into knowledge."

Put like that, it is obvious where her worries lie. The flickering up and flashing away again of multimedia images do not allow those connections, and therefore the context, to build up. Instant yuk or wow factors take over. Memory, once built up in a verbal and reading culture, matters less when everything can be summoned at the touch of a button (or, soon, with voice recognition, by merely speaking). In a short attention-span world, fed with pictures, the habit of contemplation and the patient acquisition of knowledge are in retreat.

Is this, perhaps, the source of the hyperactivity and attention deficit malaise now being treated with industrial quantities of Ritalin, Prozac and other drugs to help sustain attention in the classroom? If so, what will these drugs do in turn to the brain?

I for one have serious memory issues which i've deduced is caused by a general lack of attention. You can't really remember something you didn't really hear, can you? And i think everyone's noticed a general inability for most people to follow a logical argument. Just look at the lead up to the invasion of Iraq and the WMD arguments. Then consider the continued support of the Bush administration and the invasion even after the confirmed revelation that there were in fact no WMD.

Does it also bleed into regular everyday conversation? How many times have you talked to someone and asked them a question and received a lengthy reply that had nothing to do with your question? We just caught a snippet from some Stargate SG-1 episode as we were flipping thru the channels looking for the Spider-man and His Amazing Friends i was promised would be on the tv. MacGuyver asks the guy something like, "How do you know he won't kill people?" and the guy answers, "It's his choice. They're fighting for their people, their freedom. They've got the conviction to do it." Or something like that. Our first reaction was "that's not what he asked." Looking at MacGuyver's face, i think he felt the same way. And yet this is considered a suitable reply. At least to the writers who scripted the episode. And i think you have experienced it yourself in real life.

Has it always been like this? Or is it related to losing our "conceptual framework"? Mebbe people have always been dumb, and we just think the ones we have to deal have to be stupider than the ones who came before? If we admit we always were this stupid, it starts to boggle the mind that the human race wasn't killed off sooner.


By min | May 17, 2006, 9:27 AM | Science | Comments (5)| Link



The Brain Game

Nintendo has come out with a game designed to stimulate the brain with puzzles and arithmetic. It's being marketed to older people, or "grey gamers," as a way to offset dementia and Alzheimers. The game was scheduled for U.S. release on April 17th.

Designed by a prominent neuroscientist, Brain Training for Adults, a package of cerebral workouts aimed at the over-45s by the Japanese game console and software maker Nintendo, is said to improve mental agility and even slow the onset of dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

Players have to complete puzzles as quickly and accurately as possible, including reading literary classics aloud, doing simple arithmetic, drawing, and responding rapidly to deceptively easy teasers using voice-recognition software. The player's "brain age" is then determined. A physically fit, yet cerebrally past-it 30-year-old might be told after his first few attempts that his brain is into its 50s; a retired woman could, over time, end up with a brain age 20 years her junior.

The challenge, to reduce one's brain age, is proving addictive among Japan's baby boomers, many of whom say their only contact with game consoles was limited to bemused glances over the shoulders of grandchildren.

Not everyone's convinced that this sort of brain stimulation will actually do anything for you.

"You might get better at sudoku, but you don't get better at much else," said Guy Claxton, a learning expert at Bristol University.

The kewl part is that some Japanese hospitals actually have the game and the consoles in their waiting rooms and wards. Not only don't they have the PMRC and other crazy orgs trying to sell the "video games breed violence" meme, but they're actually providing access to video games to their sick people. And the older generation is actually interested in playing the games. It's like an alternate reality over there.

If puzzles help at all with slowing down the occurrence of dementia, i wish i could get a Chinese language version of it and get some of my family members interested. It would make the holidays more interesting, too.


By min | May 12, 2006, 8:54 AM | Science & Video Games | Comments (1)| Link



We're Doomed

It would seem that social skills make you smarter.

Suaq Balimbing, in the Kluet swamps, is one of Sumatra's least attractive destinations. It has mud, a profusion of biting insects, oppressive heat, and little else. To humans, it is a place to avoid. But to the island's wild orang-utans, Suaq is a magnet. It is the simian equivalent of Oxbridge, a place to obtain a privileged education so they can stand out among their peers.

At Suaq they learn from other wild orang-utans how to make tools, to play jumping games and even to blow kisses to each other at night. Stay at Suaq and you become a special animal.

And that, say researchers - writing in the latest issue of Scientific American - has critical implications for humans. The existence of a place in the wild where apes undergo intense social learning suggests a route by which humans acquired their intelligence, as we evolved from primitive apemen to Homo sapiens.

'Our analyses of orang-utans suggest that not only does culture - social learning of special skills - promote intelligence, it favours the evolution of greater and greater intelligence in populations over time,' says Carel van Schaik, director of the Anthropological Institute at Zurich University.

In other words, apemen got their big brains by hanging about in groups, learning social skills and tool-making - like orang-utans. And as the generations passed, apemen with bigger brains did better and better in these groups. The end result was Homo sapiens.

Link

It had to be social skills, didn't it? Damn you, God! WHY!!!!!!! WHYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!!!

Although, kids who hang out at the mall in their little social groups actually seem stupider with each passing generation. How do you explain that Mr. Anthropologist Smarty Pants Man?

Unless by smarter, they really mean more successful at passing on their DNA. Foiled again.

Gotta love them apes, though.

The orang-utans of Suaq also say good night to their families by blowing a loud raspberry noise which is often amplified by cupping hands.

By min | May 4, 2006, 9:14 AM | Science | Comments (0)| Link



We Help the Webmaster

Someone we know has been following a diet based on the recommendations of the Weston A. Price Foundation(WAP) and has been sending us links to their articles. I've read a few of the articles, and the way they are written hasn't sat right with me, but I've been trying to keep an open mind about it. They basically advocate a high protein diet, similar to the Atkins diet, but with a focus on organic meats. They also advocate drinking raw milk. And state that a vegetarian diet is an unhealthy one. I've read a few rumours on the web that they're funded by the livestock industry, but nothing substantial. The president of the foundation is Sally Fallon who also has written the lion's share of the articles I've read. These articles seem to be picked up by sattellite groups such Dr. Joseph Mercola (also a member of the WAP board), Healing Crow, and Soy Online Service.

One article I read, in trying to downplay the use of soy in Asian diets, says "A survey conducted in the 1930s found that soy foods accounted for only 1.5 percent of calories in the Chinese diet, compared with 65 percent of calories for pork [emphasis mine]." That really struck me as wrong so I checked out the book they sourced. In the book, Food in Chinese Culture by K. C. Chang, it says the exact opposite, indicating that Chinese people traditionally had a diet of grains (soy being considered one of five staple grains) and vegetables, consuming meat, in general, at low levels. The few times this might not be true would be during holidays and festivals where the food was more extravagant.

According to Chang, the survey conducted actually showed only 76 calories were supplied daily by animal foods. Of these 76 calories, 54% was derived from pork, or 41 calories. 2% of the total calories came from soybeans. This survey was conducted from 1929-1933. I did not find information in the book on the daily average caloric intake recorded during this survey, but the book referenced an earlier survey conducted by the same person (from 1922-1925) The average calories consumed daily according to this earlier survey was 3,461. Assuming the caloric intake by the average Chinese didn't change that much in those few years, total calories supplied by soybeans would be somewhere around 69.

How could the article be so wrong about a book it was sourcing? Part of this article's premise was that industry and media had been severely exxagerating the amount of soy Asians consumed in order to increase the sale of soy in North America. It completely misrepresented what the book said, turning it around to support their argument. It made me believe that the Weston A. Price Foundation is essentially making things up to promote their agenda and citing sources that it believes their audience would never go and look up themselves.

But to be fair, I thought I should write to them about it. Maybe I had missed something. I wrote to WAP saying I had read Chang's book and could not find the claim that they had made regarding Chinese people getting 65% of their calories from pork. I explained that I had actually calculated a total of 41 calories from pork based on the chart in the book and highly doubted 41 calories represented 65% of an average person's total daily intake. I asked them to please tell me where they had gotten their information and to recheck their sources. That was a couple of days ago. I haven't received a reply yet. If I do, I'll give you the update.

I also wrote to Soy Online Service. Just to emphasize the tone of their reply, I've pasted what I wrote:

Re: Article: How Much Soy Do Asians Eat

The information in the article stating that the Chinese eat 65% pork is incorrect. "Food in Chinese Culture" by K.C. Chang actually says the complete opposite of what you are claiming. Please check your sources.

Here's their reply:

Hi Prissie We help the webmaster. He tries to be accurate, but as this is a soy website what does pork, chicken or rice matter if he quotes the the soy consumption correctly? Your question is "How much soy do Asians eat". So, tell us please. And tell us what is an Asian? Valerie.

Yeah. I wasn't sure how to react to this kind of response, either.

I said before that I didn't like how they presented their information. That was based purely on the tone of their writings. But if they had been good about backing up their claims, I wouldn't have minded so much. I might not agree with their ideas on health and nutrition, but as long as they got their facts straight, it largely becomes a matter of opinion. Unless I get a more sensible response from WAP, I can't see how anyone can believe anything on the WAP website or satellites based on this kind of scholarship and this kind of reaction when faced with the fact that they are wrong.

On the other hand, this book on chinese culture is really interesting, so something good came out of it.


By min | May 4, 2006, 9:06 AM | Science | Comments (5)| Link



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