Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Shock Your Brain and Become a Math Whiz!

In a study conducted at the University of Oxford a team of neurologists were able to improve an individual's math abilities. The process sounds scary, but apparently all it takes is fifteen minutes of electric currents passed through the brain. The process is said to be barely noticeable and the improved brain function can last up to six months.

The process is known as transcranial direct current stimulation (TDCS), the scientists sent the current through the subjects brain area where numbers are processed, the parietal lobe.

The patients were taught symbols to represent specific numbers, and while the TDCS was passing through their brains they were tasked with organizing the numbers. The ones who had the TDCS showed better results than those in a control group. Even when they were re-tested six months later, they still showed improved function. According to the scientists, “the current helps the affected nerves to fire more quickly, making it easier to learn information.” In the study, the team of scientists found that reversing the electrode polarity led to poorer results. The scientists stimulated the brain for approximately twenty minutes a day for six days.Stimulation was applied for about twenty minutes a day for six days.

The scientists plan on continuing the study with patients who exhibit lower-than-average math and number processing skills. It may be some time until the TDCS could become common place but if it became possible to be used in a wide-spread setting, the changes it could make with individuals with math-related learning disabilities - or just those of us who don’t love math could be significant.

We shouldn't all just get ready to go zapping our brains - "I am certainly not advising people to go around giving themselves electric shocks," said Roi Cohen Kadosh, one of the study's co-authors, "But we are extremely excited by the potential of our findings."

This study opens up an interesting question - will we soon be able to allow science to improve our daily lives by not just helping us solve certain problems - but by making our brains stronger and more capable themselves? We also must question the long-term consequences, we know that the results last six months but not necessarily longer.

More Information and Sources:
Popular Science - Improve Your Math Skills With an Electric Jolt to Your Brain

Discovery News - Zapping the Brain Improves Math Skills

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Too much, all at once....(why the future might not be a plentiful and free as we hoped)

When most people think about the future they imagine a world that is nearly perfect. Long life, unlimited goods and resources and helpful robots on every street corner. But is this really a future that is attainable, or is it a pipe dream that isn't even possible? With so many perceived problems right now, it seems like this sort of utopia might never happen. In fact, talking to people about the future is almost a surefire way to bring out their melancholy mood.

According to a recent article on the surprisingly insightful humor site Cracked, one author has an interesting view on how the future might shape out and how, surprisingly enough, he believes that it's “Bullshit” that will keep the world running smoothly for years to come.

The author of the article begins by describing the incidents surrounding Nestle and its campaign for breast milk substitutes, which later led to over use of an inferior substitute which eventually found itself attached to an increase in infant deaths . The purpose of this is to lay out the idea of paying for a good that is essentially free and unlimited, simply because of advertising. Jump forward a few years and you see the same instance of attaching a price tag to bottled water, a virtually free good. And yet there they are, people buying bottled tap water by the case.

Granted, this isn't really scientific at all. Honestly it resembles a conspiracy theorists journal entries. However, add current technological developments to the mix and suddenly the line between funny and scary begins to gray.

For his first example the author showcases his thought on how the digital book will change everything. His argument goes something like this. A library buys a paperback book, within a couple years (supposing it was popular) it's destroyed and a new copy is ordered. But buy an ebook and it never has to be replaced. It can be read forever, over and over and over again. So what are publishers and binders to do? They don't want to loose their income, so they essentially have created a set up where an ebook from a public library can only be lent out so many times before a new ebook has to be ordered. It sounds like complete Bullshit. Why not do it the way that makes sense?

A. Why can't the library just buy as many digital copies as are needed for the customers, and keep them forever, if they don't naturally degrade?

B. Wait a second. It's just a digital file. Why not just buy one copy, and just copy and paste it for every customer who wants to read it?

C. Wait a second. Why do you need the library at all? Why can't a customer just buy a copy from the publisher and "lend" copies to all of his friends?

D. Wait a second. If no printing and binding needs to be done, why do you need the publisher? Just buy it directly from the author.

E. Waaaaait a second. Why buy it? Once the author makes one copy available, why can't everyone just grab it for free?”

So there it is, free books for everyone. Is that really a good thing though? There are a lot of middle men who have just been cut out from between you and the author. In fact, virtually all of them have just been cut out. Which lead the author to his point that business' in order to survive will force scarcity on consumers. Have a digital book from the library? According to them it won't last forever. With digital formats also steadily becoming the preferred form of watching, listening and reading nearly everything, expect to see a lot more restrictions put on all forms of media usage. Within the article, the author even describes the Blu-Ray disc as being the last physical format for media storage.

His next point looks at how more and more products have “arbitrary restrictions” in the form of higher prices. This is anything that you could get for free or at least cheaper. Case and point, aquafina water. It's true, it actually does come from a public water source. You are, in the most literal sense possible, “buying tap water”. Anyhwo, time continues and this sort of action continues to become increasingly invasive, after all everything in the future will still need a price, no matter how unlimited it may be.

Eventually the author makes his way to the topic of pirated music. I download music like it's my job. If I hear a song on 90.1 that I like, ill have the entire album soon enough. It didn't cost me a penny and I can go on saturating my life with indie folk music.


See, that's not the point of his example. What he alludes to is the fact that at some point, just about any job you can think of could potentially be replaced by a cheaper machine. Just like some musicians try to protect their “intellectual property”, it seems like some employees are trying to protect there jobs. IBM hires ten statisticians in 1980. 20 years later there is one left because of advances in computers. Same goes for manual labor. As technology launches us into the future there could very well be a disproportionate amount of once very skilled employees who are finding themselves out of work. Its like out-scouring gone sci-fi.

I'm sure that many people still think the future will be full of abundance and free from corporate Bullshit, but this particular author shows how it might be the exact opposite that could keep us from screwing ourselves over in years to come.


Scotty, could you actually beam me up?

In the 1960’s when Star Trek came out, the majority of the technology that was used in the show was yet to be developed and what many considered to be science fiction. Since the show aired many of the faithful viewers have seen those technologies arise before their very eyes. A classic line from the original Star Trek television series was “beam me up Scotty.” The idea of beaming aboard has been a topic of particular interests to all sorts of groups from N.A.S.A to the military and even to bored physics professors at prestigious schools. Well, those bored professors have reached a mathematical break through that may make “beam me up Scotty” as realistic as “Houston, we have a problem.”

In an article I found on CNN entitled, 'Space-Time Cloak' Could Conceal Events, a professor from Imperial College in London named Martin McCall has worked on the project that developed a mathematical equation that is pretty remarkable. I certainly had to re-read the article to fully understand what he was talking about. The idea is actually quite simple. The idea is that the technology can make an event in time and space invisible. The applied theory for explanation is what still seems like science fiction. For a lack of a better way to explain it, this is McCall’s applied theory:

“[It is] possible to manipulate light rays as they enter a material so that some parts speed up and others slow down. This could create "blind spots" in time, masking an event. While the accelerated light arrives at a space before an event has happened, the rest of the light doesn't reach it until after the event” (Hooper).

“Alberto Favaro, who worked on the project, compared the process to moving a pedestrian across a highway full of traffic by speeding up those cars already at or beyond the crossing point while slowing down the approaching vehicles.“(Hooper).

Although this is a great breakthrough in the technology, it still needs more work. Ulf Leonhardt, a physicist at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, explains that it is achievable but not for decades. The necessary resources they would need to do this on a large enough scale just aren’t accessible yet. This news is quite recent, but for more information visit the CNN link above or the article that CBS News released.

This article absolutely blew my mind when I first saw it. The subject makes connections to making the impossible possible, science fiction, magic, and our future world. The idea of bending time and space for transportation was something that was seen as impossible at one time, surely for me because I am a huge skeptic. It really mixes into science fiction because although he hasn’t been fully developed it has physics behind it that proves its potential existence, but yet it still doesn’t exist today. The magic comes into play when you take into account of what human perception of this space-time manipulation. It makes the object effect appear invisible which makes the magic of ‘invisibility’ that is in movies such as Harry Potter seem to be a little more like science fiction. Granted it is for space-time, it could be hypothesized that it similar science could be discovered allowing something like invisibility cloaks real. Lastly, it connects to our future world because although, we can’t achieve it yet, it certainly will be down the road according the article.

Work Cited

Hooper, Simon. "'Space-time Cloak' Could Conceal Events -" - Breaking News, U.S., World, Weather, Entertainment & Video News. N.p., 16 Nov. 2010. Web. 16 Nov. 2010. .

Moseman, Andrew. "Time-Space Cloak Seen Within Grasp - CBS News." Breaking News Headlines: Business, Entertainment & World News - CBS News. Discover Magazine, 16 Nov. 2010. Web. 16 Nov. 2010. .

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Astronomers Find 'Snooker' Star System

“Astronomers at The University of Warwick and the University of Sheffield have helped discover an unusual star system which looks like, and may even once have behaved like, a game of snooker.”
Astronomers from the University of Warwick and Sheffield played a key role in an international team that used two decades of observations from many telescopes around the world. The astronomers discovered this “snooker like” star system through observations and analysis of data from an astronomical camera known as ULTRACAM, which was designed by British researchers on the team.
The researchers looked at a binary star system called NN Serpentis, which is 1670 light years away from Earth. The NN Serpentis is a binary star system consisting of two stars, a red dwarf and a white dwarf, which orbits each other in an incredibly close, tight orbit. The Earth sits in the same plane as the binary star system, so we can see the larger red dwarf eclipse the white dwarf every 3 hours and 7 minutes.
The astronomers from University Warwick and Sheffield were able to use these incredible recurrent eclipses to spot a pattern of small, but significant abnormalities in the orbit of stars. They were able to help demonstrate that the pattern must be due to the presence and gravitational influence of two massive gas giant planets. The more massive the gas giant is about 6 times the mass of Jupiter and orbits the binary star every 15.5 years, the other orbits every 7.75 years and is about 1.6 times the mass of Jupiter.
Professor Tom Marsh, a UK researcher from the University of Warwick’s Department of Physics, stated: "The two gas giants have different masses but they may actually be roughly the same size as each other, and in fact will also be roughly the same size as the red dwarf star they orbit. If they follow the patterns we see in our own star system of gas giants with a dominant yellow or blue colours, then it's hard to escape the image of this system as being like a giant snooker frame with a red ball, two coloured balls, and dwarf white cue ball."
Professor Vik Dhillon, from the University of Sheffield, also stated: "If these planets were born along with their parent stars they would have had to survive a dramatic event a million years ago: when the original primary star bloated itself into a red giant, causing the secondary star to plunge down into the present very tight orbit, thereby casting off most of the original mass of the primary. Planetary orbits would have seen vast disturbances. Alternatively, the planets may have formed very recently from the cast off material. Either way, in relatively recent times in astronomical terms this system will have seen a vast shock to the orbits of the stars and planets, all initiated by what is now the white dwarf at the heart of the system."
Discoveries of new star systems and patterns will likely lead to a greater understanding of the vast universe that surrounds us. Scientists will continue to explore unknown areas, but will have the knowledge gained from previous discoveries.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Worried about an STD? Just pee on your phone

According to the Guardian, Mobile Phones and computers will soon be able to diagnose sexually transmitted diseases. Doctors have partnered with engineers to develop a small device that will tell someone quickly and privately if they have caught an infection through sexual contact.

It works by urinating or spitting onto a small computer chip that fits directly into your phone or computer. Slide the card into your mobile device, and it will tell you whether you're infected with any STD's and if so, which ones.

About 66% of all sexually transmitted disease occur in people 25 years of age or younger (Safelab). This product has been created with this younger crown in mind. Many people that acquire that "itch they can't scratch", are too embarrassed to go to the doctors. With this product there won't even be a need to go unless your test comes back positive. Sold everywhere condoms are currently sold, one can purchase this device and test themselves at their own convenience in privacy.

With patients gaining greater control of their sexual health, as well as the ability to alert recent sexual partners, self-testing technology could lead to quicker diagnosis, and help limit the spread of STD's. The convenience factor and the privacy factor of this technology is something many people will appreciate. This is the first "mobile phone diagnosis" of its kind, but if this technology ends up working I could see our future world adopting this technique in diagnosing more than just STD's. Mobile Phones are becoming Mobile Doctors.

For more information visit The Week