“Better living through science,” as they say. In this case, through chemistry. Researchers at the University of Florida have come up with a novel way to decrease drying times for loads of laundry. The compound is called dioctyldecyldimethyl ammonium bromide (‘”We call it dodab,” Carter said’ — one can hardly blame them), and it works by decreasing surface tension in the water.
Those of you familiar with surface active agents (surfactants), like soap, will already know that adding such agents to water decreases the surface tension. For example, if you filled up a cup of water to the point where the water is higher than the edge of the cup, and then added the tiniest bit of soap, this water over the brim would spill down the sides of the cup because the surface tension was decreased. Laundry detergent does the same thing, but this “dodab” compound decreases the surface tension even more. The ramifications could be huge.
Clothes dryers accounted for 5.8 percent of U.S. residential electricity in 2001, according to figures from the Energy Information Administration, costing $5.6 billion. “If you could cut that down by 10 percent, that would have a important impact on the big picture,” said Jonathan Cogan, an EIA spokesman.
Carter says they can do even better: “I believe that with further research, we could cut drying times by between 30 and 40 percent.”
30 to 40% is pretty impressive is pretty impressive in terms of money, and time. If drying time could be cut down by that much, my clothes might actually be dry by the time the wash cycle is finished, and if that happened, I might actually fold said laundry the same week that it got washed. If you’re anything like me, you start doing laundry with the best intentions and then never finish it because you got sidetracked by something else, or sitting and staring at the wall just seemed like a better idea… now if only they could make something that would fold my clothes and put them away for me, I’d be all set.
A study out of UMich suggests that there is more than physical appearance and geography separating those raised in Chinese culture vs. those raised in Western culture. Researchers showed a series of pictures to two samples: one group of Chinese students and one group of American students. The findings suggest that the group of students from China viewed things more holistically, whereas the American students gravitated towards the main subject of the image:
Researchers compared the way 26 Chinese and 25 US students viewed photographs of animals or inanimate objects set against complex backgrounds.
Westerners’ eyes tended to focus on the main subject while the eyes of their Eastern counterparts kept flicking to background details, they said.
Its findings appear consistent with previous research which has suggested Eastern people think in a more holistic way than Westerners, instinctively paying greater heed to context.
This suggests that western students are more analytical. Specifically, Americans took in the background in just under half a second, and then focused on the main subject. The Chinese students, however, continued casting glances at the background. Researchers further observed that changing the background had little effect on the western students’ ability to recall the foreground image, which was not the case for the Chinese students.
In their memory, the foreground object and its original background appeared to be bound together.
The researchers, led by Dr Richard Nisbett, wrote: “The Americans’ propensity to fixate sooner and longer on the foregrounded objects suggests that they encoded more visual details of the objects than did the Chinese.
“If so, this could explain the Americans’ more accurate recognition of the objects even against a new background.”
The reasoning for this holistic view of things I can’t really offer any insight into because I am not familiar with eastern, specifically, Chinese culture, so I’m just going to quote the article. (Jacqui, if you feel like offering any insight, that would be nice. :) )
“East Asians live in relatively complex social networks with prescribed role relations. Attention to context is, therefore, important for effective functioning. In contrast, Westerners live in less constraining social worlds that stress independence and allow them to pay less attention to context. The present results provide a useful warning in a world were opportunities to meet people from other cultural backgrounds continue to increase.”
I think this holistic approach can be seen in all aspects of eastern media. For instance, anime tends to switch back and forth between two frames when a character is in motion, while altering the background to give the appearance of movement. American cartoons change the whole scene, but especially the main subject of the scene. Without getting into details, eastern pornogrraphy tends to be more… er… “holistic” as well.
Tonight I finished the book The Lucifer Principle, and a great deal of the book is spent unintentionally debunking the popular myth that humans are radically different from animals. The fact of the matter is that while humans possess the ability to be rational and control their behavior, they often choose not to. Or they may act in a way that they feel is rational, but when looked at objectively is anything but. Anyway, I digress. Throughout the book, parrallels and comparisons are drawn between rats, chimpanzees, gorillas, and other animals. The startling truth is that humans mirror animal behavior more than we’d like to think. So it came as no surprise to me this week when I read that chimpanzees are conformists, just like humans. In fact, I was surprised that research hadn’t already discovered this.
In the case of this study, two dominant female chimpanzees were taught two different methods of getting food out of an apparatus, poking versus lifting. Then these chimps were sent back to their respective clans, where they taught others how to get the food out of the apparatus. But a funny thing happened along the way. Some chimps from the lifting group discovered that poking was more effective than lifting. But instead of continuing to poke, they conformed to the method that the others in their group used.
The conformity bias finding was an unexpected, but equally important, result of this culture study, according to Dr. Horner. A few members of each group independently discovered the alternative method for freeing food from the Pan-pipes, but this knowledge did not endanger the groups’ traditions because most of these chimpanzees reverted back to the norm set by their local expert. “Choosing the group norm over the alternative method shows a level of conformity we usually associate only with our own species,” said Dr. Horner. “By using the group’s technique rather than the alternative method, we see the conformity is based more on a social bond with other group members than the simple reward of freeing the food.”
Perhaps not so strangely, this propensity to conform is due to the power of the meme that ties the particular chimpanzee peer group together. While not as complex as, for example, a religious meme, the mere fact that a chimpanzee could be singled out as deviating from his social norm could endanger his position within the social superorganism by causing him to stick out. Standing out in a social group is an easy way to become a social outcast, and more than anything else, social creatures desire acceptance from their peer groups, even if it might be uncomfortable or unhealthy. (Bulemia is a good example of this from the human world.) Even if this new method allows the chimp to get more food out of the apparatus, he will not endanger his position within the superorganism: he will not risk losing his place in the pecking order. Now if that chimp were at the bottom, he would be more inclined to poke rather than lift, simply because he has no place to go but up in the pecking order. Similarly, if he were to be at the top of the pecking order, he might also be inclined to poke rather than lift, though less so than if he were at the bottom, because he would have something to lose by disrupting the status quo.
I would say humanity is almost a perfect mirror of this: those on the bottom generally want to elevate their station in life through one means or another, and those at the top prefer to stay at the top, and thus become more conservative so as to maintain the status quo. I think we’re not as special and different from the rest of the animal world as we would like to think.
I’ve mentioned virtual reality technology in the past, specifically how it can be used to aid those undergoing skin grafts (last paragraph). Virtual reality is back in the news, this time how it can help those dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from battlefield situations.
VR has been used before to help veterans, but never so soon after a conflict. Some are veterans just returned home, and some are still on active duty. Regardless, the treatments seem to be helping.
At this University of Southern California think tank, Hollywood special-effects pros and game developers come together to develop new immersive simulation technologies for the military. Most are used as training tools, but this time, the goal is to help combatants cope with the personal psychological effects of war in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.
After a few minutes of increasingly intense activity, my heart speeds up, my breathing becomes more shallow, my palms become warmer — and I’m really, really ready to stop the sim.
“This is not a self-help tool, and it’s not something you download yourself off the internet,” said Rizzo, when I’m finally allowed to remove the headgear. “Everything you experienced is a function of us turning knobs and pulling switches. If we noticed your heart rate was too fast, we’d pull back on things.”
This VR simulator is a spin-off of Full Spectrum Warrior, the FPS developed as an Army training tool. The operator can select any theater of combat, and simulate almost any scenario, helping soldiers revisit traumatic situations. Developers are even working to recreate the smells from combat.
“We’re going to integrate a smell machine, to bring people back to places they’ve been before,” said Rizzo. “We’re building a collection. We already have burning rubber, diesel fuel, body odor, garbage and Iraqi spices.”
The therapy has been extremely successful:
Another of Spira’s patients in the VR program was a Marine machine-gunner who experienced nightmares and other disturbances after suffering a severe shoulder wound in combat.
“The first thing out of his mouth was, ‘The pain is pretty intense, but what’s more intense is that I hear the voices of my fallen comrades all the time,’” recalled Spira.
“I asked if he meant that he could recall their voices in his imagination, and he said, ‘No. I hear them now, calling to me, as if they are right here with us in this room.’”
Spira said the disturbances lessened after weeks of immersive sessions.
There is a video available for download so you can see what the patients using the VR goggles see and hear. It’s more realistic than Battlefield 2 (I kept twitching the mouse during playback to look around), and I can only imagine what the experience inside the simulator would be like. I nearly jumped a few times when the machinegun on the HMMVW fired unexpectedly. Coupled with the capability to add smells, the simulation is quite convincing indeed. It’s nice to see video game technology being used in such a productive, healing fashion. It’s unfortunate that positive developments such as these don’t get the press that the negative commentary on video games so often gets.
I need a new category along the lines of “You seriously spent money on this?”
According to a study published in the September issue of International Studies Quarterly, military intervention can slow or stop genocide. I’m just going to quote most of the article because it’s brief.
The study reveals that only overt military interventions that explicitly challenge the perpetrator appear to be effective in reducing the severity of the brutal policies. Military support for targets, or in opposition to the perpetrators, alters the almost complete vulnerability of unarmed civilian targets. And these interventions that directly target the perpetrators were not, on the whole, found to make matters worse for those being attacked. “If actors wish to slow or stop the killing in an ongoing instance of state-sponsored mass murder, they are more likely to be effective if they oppose the perpetrators of the brutal policy,” author Matthew Krain states. He finds that even military intervention against the perpetrator by a single country or international organization has a measurable effect in the “typical” case.
When a single international actor challenges the aggressor, the probability that the killings will escalate drops while the probability that the killings will decrease jumps. Each additional intervention by another international actor raises the chance of saving lives. Krain’s study examines factors affecting all ongoing instances of state-sponsored mass murder from 1955 to 1997 and simulates the effects of interventions on two cases, including the current case of mass murder in Darfur, Sudan. His results also confirm that attempts to intervene as impartial parties seem ineffective. “By finding that increasing the number of interventions against perpetrators of genocide or politicide reduces severity this study confirms that international interventions against perpetrators do save lives,” Krain concludes.
So it goes to show that one must (essentially) have an organized militia force of some sort struggling against an oppressive regime that is committing mass slaughter. Underground movements won’t work. I would venture to say that this is due to having a real target that can be identified and fought by the oppressor not only brings world scrutiny to that particular stage, but also distracts from the killings being conducted because those conducting the killing are needed to fight a real enemy.
Honestly, though, “Study shows some types of military interventions can slow or stop genocide” — I mean it’s like “No kidding, really? I wouldn’t have thought.”
A little while ago, I covered the LROC that NASA will be sending up in 2008. Now there are plans to use Hubble to look at the lunar surface in an effort to find, you guessed it, suitable locations for lunar bases.
Why the redundancy between the two craft, I don’t know. The LROC seems to have UV mapping capabilities similar to Hubble. The LROC will be going up long before any lunar bases will, and it will offer far greater detail than anything that Hubble could do, and that will be the only task dedicated to the LROC. Hubble cannot photograph anything less than 50 meters wide. (Initially it was reported as 60 meters, but this New Scientist article says 50 meters; I’m not sure which one it is.) In any case, Hubble still won’t be able to photograph the Apollo relics, the largest of which is 9 meters.
Reportedly, the UV capabilities of Hubble are second-to-none, and astronomers want to identify a mineral called ilmenite — or iron titanium oxide — which has previously been found in lunar soil samples. This mineral seems to be the Swiss Army knife of rocks:
It contains oxygen, which could be extracted for breathing, as well as hydrogen and helium absorbed from the solar wind. Heating the mineral would release the gases, which could then be used as a power source for the base, says Hapke. Iron in the mineral might eventually be used to produce construction materials, such as steel, for lunar buildings.
By analyzing areas where the concentration of ilmenite is known to be found, astronomers will be able to calibrate their UV light measurements so that they can accurately measure their concentrations on other parts of the lunar surface where astronomers have not walked.
But I still wonder why they want to use Hubble instead of waiting for LROC. If the UV capabilities between the two instruments are that dissimilar, I’d love to know, otherwise this seems like a waste of time and money.
I’ve just spent about a half an hour reading a long article from the Boston Globe magazine entitled “What makes people gay?” It’s a very interesting look at how society and medicine has progressed through the years. It’s far too long to adequately cover here, but the article starts off by looking at identical twins, Patrick and Thomas, one of whom exhibits childhood gender nonconformity (CGN). Statistically, 75% of men that exhibit CGN grow up to be gay or bisexual. This sort of throws a wrench into the theory that homosexuality is a genetic trait. But it doesn’t completely rule out a biological basis for homosexuality. It just muddies the water a bit.
The article continues on through some of the prevailing theories, including suppressed portions of the X chromosome, and ultimately looking at differences between men and women when it comes to sexual arousal. (For men it stems purely from their sexual orientation; for women, it’s quite a bit more complicated.)
Four or five theories later, the ultimate consensus seems to be that homosexuals are born that way, even though it may not be genetic, and that they don’t have a “choice” in when it comes to their sexual orientation. One prevailing motif throughout the entire article is the idea of cause versus effect, which is normally fairly cut and dried, but not when it comes ot sexual orientation research. Is the smaller clump of neurons in the anterior hypothalamus the cause of homosexuality, or is it merely an effect? Regardless, one very old theory has been finally be laid to rest by the scientific community. Most all of Sigmund Freud’s theories have been relegated to medical history rather than actual, working theories, and the same is true of his theories on homosexuality: distant fathers and overprotective mothers result in homosexual men. In fact, distant fathers are probably a result of CGN instead of a cause, which isn’t much of a stretch of the imagination.
I can relate to Neil Swidey when he says “Just when I would become swayed by the evidence supporting one discreet theory, I would stumble onto new evidence casting some doubt on it.” Such is to be expected when one is working in a field which has political and religious groups opposing it. It was, however, nice to see a conservative anti-gay advocate step up to the plate and make some concessions, which is very rare when it comes to science conflicting with religion.
Last month, the Rev. Rob Schenck, a prominent Washington, D.C., evangelical leader, told a large gathering of young evangelicals that he believes homosexuality is not a choice but rather a predisposition, something “deeply rooted” in people. Schenck told me that his conversion came about after he’d spoken extensively with genetic researchers and psychologists. He argues that evangelicals should continue to oppose homosexual behavior, but that “many evangelicals are living in a sort of state of denial about the advance of this conversation.” His message: “If it’s inevitable that this scientific evidence is coming, we have to be prepared with a loving response. If we don’t have one, we won’t have any credibility.”
I wish I could say that concessions to science have been made on other issues, but they have not. Yet. (With the exception of the Catholic church… stay tuned.) In any case, I couldn’t possibly do the article justice here, because it speaks for itself. It’s well worth the time it takes to read.