Archive for the Science Category

What do OPEC and APEC have in common?

Posted in Meanderings, Politics, Science on September 13, 2007 by weirleader

aside from their relationship to global warming (one as a producer and the other as a watchdog), they also happen to be confusing for poor President Bush.

But, more importantly, I wanted to point out how useless APEC appears to be.  I can’t claim to have done any proper research on this, but I came across this interesting blog on the subject and found it to be quite convincing.

Pay special attention to that map – it makes one almost ashamed to be American.

Sometimes, It’s Easy Being Green

Posted in Science, Technology on June 11, 2007 by weirleader

A good friend is starting a business supporting the establishment and use of renewable energy. I’m somewhat tempted to try to explain the company in detail, but perhaps it’s best to let them do that in their own words – after all, they went to all the trouble to create a website for their company (ChooseRenewables.com).

Perhaps I could just summarize. From their site, you can:

  • investigate the suitability of harnessing renewable energy in your area
  • investigate the cost of installing a renewable energy system
  • install said system, if you wish to
  • purchase supplies to make your home more energy-efficient
  • purchase energy credits (for those who don’t have the opportunity, but have the desire)

If you, by chance, know anyone who might be interested – or maybe even somebody who’s in the business, be sure to share this site with them!

And for those of you who don’t know to whom they should send this, consider buying a diesel vehicle and investing in some BioWillie. 😉

Quirkology and lying

Posted in Psychology, Science on May 15, 2007 by weirleader

So I’m randomly visiting The Situationist again – I needed to relax and do some reading for enjoyment – and I stumbled across some info on the site quirkology.com.  You should check it out.  In fact, it appears to be quite popular on YouTube.  If you get a chance to view the color changing card trick, please do.  I found it pretty interesting… though I’m not sure what insight it is supposed to grant us.

The second thing I looked into got me more curious, though it gives no feedback (at least, as of yet).  It’s a lie-detection video experiment and I’m very curious as to why I made the decision I did.  Does it have to do with my own personal taste?  Or did I really see something in his delivery that gave me a clue?  This is especially interesting since I’m still in the middle of Social Intelligence, which discusses at length how we read faces to make decisions on someone’s inner thoughts and/or intentions.   I’d be curious if you guys give it a try and share your feedback.

There’s lots more to see, but I wanted to get my thoughts down while they were fresh.

Memetic Viruses

Posted in Meanderings, Psychology, Science on May 9, 2007 by weirleader

Currently reading (i.e., listening) to Social Intelligence by Daniel Goleman and just came across some really interesting concepts on the ride home today.

Firstly, he talks about how emotions can be contagious and the mechanism by which we can “infect” those around us.  It’s fascinating how the brain picks up on and even duplicates incredibly subtle, subconscious cues.  (It suddenly strikes me that the way a yawn is catchy probably has something to do with this)  And I was reminded of a fun book I read quite a while back by Neal Stephenson, entitled Snow Crash.  It’s so hard to sum up what makes the book so fun in just a few words, but the part that I’m reminded of is that a large part of the premise has to do with contagious memes, analagous to a computer virus, that run rampant.  There’s, of course, much more to it – and it’s hilariously creative.  I really enjoy Stephenson… in fact, if you haven’t read it yet, I’d strongly recommend Cryptonomicon, by him as well… (I liked it better than Snow Crash)

Secondly, Goleman is mentioning how when we are in tune with someone, mentally, we subconsciously mimic their actions and when a pair of individuals are having a moment of rapport it can be apparent to those watching.  And yet, when you consciously attempt to recall the same behavior and try to mimic someone’s behavior without that rapport, it feels forced and actually increases tension.  That, of course, is pretty obvious to most folks… who every likes to see someone copying them?  Even kids get irritated with it (though they frequently take it to the extreme).  But back to my point – I was reminded of a scene in Groundhog Day where Bill Murray falls for Andy MacDowell and they have a wonderful evening together, only to have it all go away the next day.  And then…. he spends the next several (or, I don’t know, hundreds???) of days trying to recreate that moment of rapport, only failing – because you can’t create it consciously, it only manifests when you really are in-tune with that other person.  You can’t force it.

Love that movie!  Could watch it again and again! (yep, I know)  😉

All this rapport and shared behavior also apparently influences spouses to a high degree – no surprise there.  But what was interesting was the connection between triggering muscle movements and the firing of neurons in the brain and the parallelism of thought patterns.  So this is an underlying cause of that statement you both make at the same time, or when one person thinks of the camera and the other stops mid-stride and turns around to go get it.  I absolutely love those moments – especially when they are completely random and off-topic to whatever we’ve been discussing.  🙂

Anyhow, very cool book.  I highly recommend it already, even though I’ve barely started it.  (Incidentally, I decided to read it after finishing Blink by Gladwell)

Well, back to work… adios for now!

Splitting Beer Atoms (or Why Math Is Important)

Posted in Humor, Music, Movies & Entertainment, Science, Technology on April 27, 2007 by weirleader

Young Einstein, starring Yahoo Serious

For those of you who don’t follow movie trivia, my title is actually a reference to Young Einstein – a silly look at how Einstein might have made use of atomic theories to carbonate beer. Not exactly a classic, but funny. (Starring the oh-so-famous Yahoo Serious).

But seriously (shameless pun intended), it turns out that mathematics can finally predict “how the frothy head on a beer changes over time.” I always knew we’d prove to the world (and my skeptical students) that math really does have important uses! Sure, it also has relevance in controlling the heat-treatment of metals – but let’s not forget where the real value lies.

The Situation

Posted in Philosophy, Science on April 25, 2007 by weirleader

this is both a bump to what I see as a pretty fascinating blog and a reminder to myself to check into it more. I hope I’m not doing a disservice to the site if I describe The Situationist as a blog about how aspects of our environment (our situation) drive our behavior – but it’s aimed at areas in which our assumptions might be wrong or areas we perhaps have never considered, things which have been glossed over in an overly-simplified manner in the past.

I can scarcely claimed to have read it in-depth, but I figured I’d share it with the two of you 😉 and read it as I get a chance.

Scientific Hypocrisy

Posted in Health, Science, Technology on December 5, 2006 by weirleader

So I’m listening to Morning Edition today (12/5/06) and they run a story about a group of people trying desperately to get a bill through congress to increase funding specifically for the study of Autism. Sounds like a noble effort, and I can somewhat imagine what it must be like to have children with the disease (we have a friend with children that have symptoms to varying degrees) and to see no progress made in its treatment.

Still, I was moved by a very well-spoken argument which suggested that science is very full of serendipity* and it can actually be helpful to have wide-ranging interests, as often problems can be solved, diseases cured, drugs invented by those initially looking for ‘something else’. The premise is that to get tunnel vision and insist on solely focusing on Autism could really be counter-productive to finding treatment or even a cure. Makes sense to me… I can understand it to be potentially frustrating to those emotionally tied to a search for a cure, but it is well-documented that many scientific breakthroughs have occurred by chance and an observant eye.

But that’s not even the point of this article. What really struck me was moments later when the program shifted to Pfizer and Lipitor and how the recent setback of a drug in development could prove damaging to the industry. Lipitor’s patent is due to expire in the near future and it currently provides (if I understood the program correctly) over 50% of the company’s profits – so they understandably want to find something to fill its shoes before that expiration.

But what are they doing about it? Are they doing R&D all across the board looking for the ‘next big thing’? Nope – they are putting all of their efforts into improving and redefining cholesterol drugs like Lipitor. Funny – I’m pretty sure not moments earlier I heard how focusing on just one thing could be scientifically unprofitable. If drug companies are only worried about profits and the bottom line and have such tunnel vision that they only work on a new variant of the tried-and-true, they deserve the trouble coming their way. Who knows – the next big breakthrough in treating heart conditions might come from whoever is researching Autism…

* for a good read on fortuitous scientific breakthroughs, try Serendipity, by Royston M. Roberts