Archive for December 7, 2014

Ingenious Gifts for People Who Love Science

Posted in SCIENCE, GEOLOGY,HEALTH, INVIRONMENT, TECHNOLOGY,ANTHROPOLOGY, ARCHAEOLOGY, with tags on December 7, 2014 by 2eyeswatching


Post 4022

Annalee Newitz

Ingenious Gifts for People Who Love Science

Ingenious Gifts for People Who Love Science

For the people on your list who love doing science projects — or just contemplating the wonders of human knowledge — these gifts are sure to delight, educate … and be seriously badass.

Hydrophobic Aerogel

Of course you want to own a little piece of the wonder substance that’s 90% air, waterproof, and is also the lightest material known to humanity. There are many different ways to get your slice of aerogel, but our favorite is a glowing blue lozenge of the stuff (pictured up top).$60 atBuyAerogel.

The Arduino Starter Kit

Ingenious Gifts for People Who Love Science

This is the modern-day answer to home science kits for kids and adults to tinker with. It doesn’t have the crazy-dangerous poisons and bomb-building instructions of the old Gilbert chemistry sets or the radioactive samples of the 1950s Atomic Energy kits, but it also isn’t some sanitized, guaranteed-safe-to-the-point-of-boredom snorefest. It contains a microprocessor (Arduino), a crapton of wires, resistors, switches, and capacitors, a few speciality items (small motor, LED screen), and an instruction book that will walk you from your very first project (“I can make the blinky light blink!”) all the way up to building a light theremin. Once you’re done the book, you’ll have enough practice and pieces to navigate online resources and build anything you can imagine. It’s absolutely amazing for anyone who always wanted to get started with microprocessors, but has no idea how to start. Even better, the pieces are highly applicable to a wide variety of projects, so it’s also a great setup for someone with more skill but doesn’t have an existing tinkering kit, and you aren’t going to outgrow it quickly.$98.36 at Arduino


Ingenious Gifts for People Who Love Science

Lockpick Starter Kit

One of the best ways to learn about the mechanical devices in our everyday lives is to find out how locks are made — by picking them, of course! Not only will this skill come in handy when you lose your keys, but it will give you a new appreciation for the technical art of security. This kit includes tools and a lockpick guide for opening common pin-tumbler locks. $99.99 at Maker Shed.

Little Robot Friends

Ingenious Gifts for People Who Love Science

Who doesn’t want their own tiny electronic buddy? This is an industrial-aesthetic version of furbies, a bare chip with just enough facial features to be cute, but loaded with sensors so it will respond to external stimulus (light, sound, touch, and infrared from other little robots) based on its unique and changeable personality. The personalities are based on a 6-characteristic sliding scale, from chatty to blunt, brave to scardy-robot, and even ticklish to awkward. It’s another gateway-to-tinkering gift: you can either get the pieces to assemble and solder yourself, or purchase one pre-assembled. For the hardcore coder-geek, you can even get a developer dock to write and load your own code onto the little friend. Ready-made robot for 74.95 or DiY robot kit for 49.95 at Little Robot Friends

Build-your-own Leonardo Da Vinci models

Ingenious Gifts for People Who Love Science

Put together gorgeous cut-wood model of one of Da Vinci’s machines from his notebooks. The ornithopter, catapult and air screw each take about two hours to assemble — no sanding or drilling required — and have full range of motion. Delight in the beauty of these designs while you build. From $19.50, at Lee Valley

DiY Kano Computer

The raspberry pi powered Kano computer was created for kids to learn how to make their own computer, and code music, games, software, etc. A great way to demystify computers, and teach beginners of all ages how to program. $149.99 at Kano

MakerBot Replicator Mini

Ingenious Gifts for People Who Love Science

If you want a 3D printer, and have some money to spare, you won’t get better than this compact MakerBot, from the company that popularized the desktop 3D printing revolution. Learn how to turn computer designs into reality with this beautiful machine — perfect for models, toys, and more. $1,375 at MakerBot

Ingenious Gifts for People Who Love Science

Dino Pet

Now you can have your own beautiful colony of bioluminescent plankton, known as dinoflagellates, in a small, dinosaur-shaped tank. Just pour the plankton in (they ship in a nicely-sealed bag of water), add some dino food (also in a nicely sealed bag), and let your plankton thrive. At night, shake the dino gently, and it glows with a zillion teeny blue specks of light. It’s a delightful way to learn a little marine biology.$59.95 at Biopop.

Ingenious Gifts for People Who Love Science

Stargazing Kit

Want to know what you’re seeing when you look up into the starry vault above? Actually, it’s pretty easy — all you need are a few star charts and a nice pair of binoculars. This kit has everything you need to get started. Soon you’ll be identifying constellations, galaxies, clusters, and (of course) Messier objects!$69.95 at The Space Store

Ingenious Gifts for People Who Love Science

RoboRoach Kit

This is the greatest mad science kit ever. You can actually attach a computer chip to a real, live cockroach and control its movements. As the inventors of this device explain:

With our RoboRoach you can briefly wirelessly control the left/right movement of a cockroach by microstimulation of the antenna nerves. The RoboRoach is a great way to learn about neural microstimulation, learning, and electronics!

Please do not use this knowledge for evil. $99.99 at Backyard Brains

Ingenious Gifts for People Who Love Science

Microbiome Sequencing Kit

For the DNA fetishist in your life, here’s the next weird quantified self thing to obsess over. u-Biome will sequence DNA from the organisms in your microbiomes (you can choose which one, or do all five, which include gut, mouth, skin, nose, and genitals). The science behind this is still in its infancy, so you won’t learn all that much about your health — but you will discover what kinds of organisms live inside your body, and who else out there has similar ones. $89 for a gut kit, $399 for five-site kit at u-Biome

Simon C. Page’s “Year of Science” Posters

Ingenious Gifts for People Who Love Science

They’re based on UNESCO’s annual celebrations of specific scientific fields. Page’s posters this year celebrate The International Year of Crystallography. £40.00 at Rare Minimum.

Ingenious Gifts for People Who Love Science

Math and Science Cutting Boards

Of course you want to prepare your foodwhile memorizing hundreds of digits of pi or contemplating the beauty of the Fibonacci sequence. $45 from Elysium Woodworks

Steins of Science

Ingenious Gifts for People Who Love Science

They’re on the pricey side, but oh so cool. These steins are made of dewar flasks, which are usually used in research labs to keep things like liquid nitrogen cold for days on end. Basically, the very best thermos you will EVER find. Good for hot and cold. Created by a scientist at UC Berkeley! Starting at $230 at Funranium Labs.

Many thanks to Robbie Gonzalez and Mika McKinnon for their help with this guide!



When Police Wear Military Uniforms, It Changes Their Psychology

Posted in World Military Corner with tags , on December 7, 2014 by 2eyeswatching

Post 4021

Annalee Newitz

When Police Wear Military Uniforms, It Changes Their Psychology

When Police Wear Military Uniforms, It Changes Their Psychology

Over the past decade, many police forces have taken to wearing paramilitary uniforms on the job. Over at The New Yorker, psychologist Maria Konnikova describes how this change affects citizens and police alike.

Police in Ferguson, MO, via Washington Post

Konnikova begins by exploring studies that show people have a strong psychological response when police change their uniforms, even slightly. This reaction is heightened when police dress in military gear, which people already associate with a higher level of aggression and menace than a police uniform. Interestingly, Konnikova notes, police uniforms were originally created in the mid-19th century to look as unlike military uniforms as possible. The idea was to distinguish the “blue” of the police from the “red” of the military.

But now that distinction is breaking down. And it’s affecting how the police see themselves, too:

There is, too, the other side of this relationship: how what people wear affects how they act. Military gear may harm relations between police forces and citizens not only because they signal violence but because they may, in some sense, cause more violence. The same cues that signal “army” and “conflict” to civilians may affect police officers themselves. When they “dress up” for serious engagements, for example when donningSWAT gear to respond to a riot, they no longer feel like local law enforcement anymore but like part of a broader military machine.

That perception, in turn, may well affect the types of decisions they actually make. Inone early study, a take on the famous Milgram paradigm, in which women were asked to deliver electric shocks to another woman whenever she made a mistake, women who wore Ku Klux Klan uniforms delivered more shocks than those who wore nurses’ uniforms. The implication was that uniforms conferred some of their connotations onto the behavior of their wearers.

Maybe police reform should involve a return to uniforms that are as unlike military ones as possible.

Read the rest at The New Yorker


Woman Sleeps Next to Mummified Mother for Five Years

Posted in News with tags on December 7, 2014 by 2eyeswatching

Post 4020

Cheryl Eddy

Woman Sleeps Next to Mummified Mother for Five Years

Woman Sleeps Next to Mummified Mother for Five Years

A suburban Munich woman was recently found to have been sleeping in the same bed as her elderly mother’s mummified body.

The older woman, as it turns out, died five and a half years ago, which seems like a rather long time to hide a corpse without anyone becoming suspicious. Eventually, building management contacted social services, and the body was discovered. The cause of death was chalked up to natural causes.


When the police found the dead woman she was covered to the neck with a blanket. Because of the blanket, flies couldn’t get at her body, explained Thomas Althaus, deputy head of death investigations with the criminal police. “That certainly helped to prevent putrefaction,” he said.

According to Matthias Graw, head of forensics, mummification happens — among other circumstances — when a body dries out. Bacteria can’t function properly if there are no body fluids. Ideal conditions are dry, warm, moving air. Police confirmed that the daughter had kept her mother’s apartment impeccably clean and had aired it sufficiently. Apparently the mummification didn’t engender smells that would have alerted neighbors.

The 55-year-old daughter has a history of mental illness, and is being treated in a psychiatric hospital while facing possible charges for “violation of burial laws.”

And this story, while tragic, isn’t unique. In July, a woman in Brooklyn was found to have beencohabiting with her long-dead mother’s skeletal remains for over a year. In that case, the daughter wasalleged to be “putting [the body] at the dinner table for a dining companion and cuddling next to it at night as she slept.”

Why Do People Love The Number Seven?

Posted in SCIENCE, GEOLOGY,HEALTH, INVIRONMENT, TECHNOLOGY,ANTHROPOLOGY, ARCHAEOLOGY, with tags on December 7, 2014 by 2eyeswatching

Post 4019

Robbie Gonzalez

Why Do People Love The Number Seven?

Why Do People Love The Number Seven?

Of all the infinitely many numbers in existence, the number seven appears to be humanity’s favorite. Why?

In 2011, London-based writer Alex Bellos – author of popular mathematics books Here’s Looking At Euclid and the recently publishedThe Grapes of Math conducted an online survey in search of the world’s favorite number. The survey polled upwards of 30,000 people, and more than a thousand individual favorite numbers were submitted. Of those submissions, nearly half were for numbers between one and ten. It wasn’t the most scientifically rigorous survey, Bellos admits – but it’s hard to ignore his results, which place seven in a clear position of dominance.

Among the people Bellos surveyed, 7.5% percent of them voted for the number three, which finished in second place. Third place went to the number eight (capturing 6.7% of the vote); fourth place to the number four (5.6%); and fifth place to the number five (5.1%). Places six through 10 (numbers 13, 9, 6, 2, and 11, in order) each seized somewhere between 5 and 2.9% of the total vote. But way out in front, dominating the pack, was the number seven. Of the more than 30,000 people polled, nearly 9.7% of them identified seven as their favorite number. “It wasn’t even close,” Bellos tells io9.

To gain some insight into what people find so attractive about seven, Bellos asked survey participants to not only nominate their favorite numbers, but explain their affinity for them. The explanations people provided were manifold. Here’s a representative sampling (these being for seven, specifically):

  • “Seven is the number of stellar objects in the solar system. Seven is the number of chakras. Seven is Sunday! Seven is the calling code for Russia. Seven just feels magical!”
  • Nice shape, simple line with vertical and horizontal interest … a number that is growing up. It’s a bit awkward; it can’t be equally divided and won’t bend to the rules so easily!”
  • “People, don’t usually tend to pick 7, and I like to be different.” [Ed.: Bellos tells me he used to appear on radio programs to talk about his survey, and that the discussion on these programs would inevitably turn to the popularity of the number seven. He says that, when the survey was still live, he could count on seven being dramatically underrepresented in the next day’s responses. “People want to be unique,” he says.]

These responses, and others like them, make two things abundantly clear. The first is that our feelings about the number seven – or any number for that matter – are intricately entangled with things like culture, language, and visual representations*. And the second is that theanswer to what people find so attractive about the number seven can be pretty difficult to nail down.

At Psychology Today, University of Massachusetts psychologist Susan Krauss Whitborne lists seven possible explanations, ranging from the mystical :

The religious and spiritual associations to the number 7 go back through the millennia, ranging from the 7 deadly sins to seventh heaven.

To the psychological:

…psychologist George Miller observed many years ago that our short-term memory remembers in units of 7 plus or minus 2. You can remember an infinite list of words, tasks, or facts if you organize it into 5 to 9 (but ideally 7) chunks.

According to Bellos, one of the most popular explanations has to do with the number’s prevalence in the natural world. In antiquity, for example, there were seven classical “planets” visible in the night sky, namely Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and, because they were not stationary in the sky (the word “planet” is derived from the Greekplanētēs, meaning “wanderer”), the Sun and Moon. But this, says Bellos, is probably a red herring, a case of post-rationalization. Like many instances of seven’s commonness in the natural world, the visibility of seven moving heavenly bodies, he says, is probably just a coincidence.

You’ll find this coincidence everywhere, if you look for it. There are seven days in a week. Seven colors in the rainbow. Seven continents. Seven seas. But how many of these coincidences are truly accidental? Which of them did we create – (the notion that there are just seven wonders in the world is just silly; and the seven-day week isn’t a natural construct, it’s a human one), and which of them exist independently of our actions and observations, perhaps influencing our subconscious appreciation for the number seven?

You see how this line of inquiry can lead pretty quickly to the kinds of questions one might raise between bong hits. Fortunately, Bellos is here to keep us grounded. You want an explanation for seven’s popularity? He’s got one.

“I think that arithmetic uniqueness is the best explanation for the success for seven,” says Bellos. What’s more, he says, that uniqueness is immune to the warp that time inflicts on the lenses through which we view the world. Language, culture, numerals, writing – all of these, says Bellos, change with time. But what hasn’t changed, he says, is the arithmetical structure of seven.

Seven is the only number, among those we can count on our hands, that cannot be divided or multiplied within the group. One, two, three, four, and five can all be doubled, to give two, four, six, eight, and ten. Six, eight, and ten can all be halved to give three, four, and five; and nine is divisible by three. But seven? Seven is special. “It’s unique,” Bellos explains in the video below. “It’s a loner. The outsider. And humans interpret its arithmetical property in cultural ways. By associating seven with a group of things, you kind of make them special, too.”

Bellos refers me to the results of a study published in a 1967 issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology, titled “The Predominance of Seven and the Apparent Spontaneity ofNumerical Choices.” In the study, Yale psychologists Michael Kubovy and Joseph Psotka asked test subjects to think of a number between one and ten, and found that most people settled on seven. Why? According to Bellos, it has to do with the numbers perceived uniqueness, and what Kubovy and Psotka identify as a desire to “comply with the request for a spontaneous response.”

What Kubovy and Psotka propose is that test subjects are, perhaps subconsciously, running through precisely what the animation at the top of this post illustrates. You’d never say 1 or 10 because, as end points, they’re not arbitrary enough. You don’t say five, because it’s right in the middle; it doesn’t feel random. Two, four, six and eight all feel a bit too ordered, so they’re eliminated. “Your brain, without realizing it, is doing these calculations,” says Bellos, and “the one that feels most arbitrary is the number seven.”

Or, as Kubovy and Psotka put it, seven is “in the unique position of being, as it were, the ‘oddest’ digit.”

If you’re into this sort of thing, I highly recommend checking out Bellos’ new book, The Grapes of Math (Alex Through the Looking-Glass in the UK), in which he discusses his survey in greater detail, the cultural significance of seven, and other issues about our psychological responses to numbers

* Bellos says that if you confined his survey to China, for example, you would probably see the number eight in pole position, but he predicts that you would see virtually no fours. “The number four is unlucky in China, because it sounds like the word for ‘death,’” he says. Conversely, the word for “eight” sounds like the word for “prosper” or “wealth.” Another consideration, regarding visual representations: Do people relate to the abstract concept of the number seven differently from the symbolic, numerical representation of that number – the simple glyph, 7, “with vertical and horizontal interest,” that many of us see and think “ah, yes, seven!”?