Monday, January 31, 2011

Video shows Scale of Planets

Brad Goodspeed wondered what the sky would look like if the planets in our solarsystem were as close to Earth as the moon is and revolved around us. [Watch fullscreen for best effects].

Scale from Brad Goodspeed on Vimeo.
Scale Video Shows Planets in Sky | Geekosystem

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Ebooks outsell Paperbacks

Yes, it's finally happened. Ebooks sales have overtaken paperback sales on Amazon said that it was selling more Kindle books than paperback books: For every 100 paperback books, Amazon sold 115 Kindle ebooks (not counting free Kindle ebooks).

Does this mean to end of brick-and-mortar bookstores? Read more here: Amazon: Kindle books outselling paperbacks | Crave - CNET

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Qwiki offers narrated information slideshows

Qwiki is a new information site that offers automatically generated and narrated slideshows on over 3 million topics. Qwiki pulls information and pictures from Wikipedia.

Qwiki was founded by Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin and YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim.

Just enter a search term and watch the slideshow. Try it out here Qwiki.

Jane Espenson: Science Fiction Writer and Nerd

Jane Espenson (46) is writer and/or co-executive producer of some of the biggest cult science-fiction shows of the past decade, including Star Trek The next generation, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Battlestar Galactica, Caprica and Gilmore Girls.

Jane studied computer science and linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley. Go Bears!

Read more about Jane Espenson here: Jane Espenson: Writer, sci-fi thriller, one nerdy lady -

Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day on January 31

January 31st is the "official" Bubble Wrap appreciation day. Happy 54th Birthday Bubble Wrap!
Who invented Bubble Wrap? The story begins in 1957 in a garage in Hawthorne, NJ with two engineers, Marc Chavannes and Al Fielding. Marc and Al were trying to make a plastic wallpaper with a paper backing. Surprisingly, this product didn’t take off. However, they realized that their invention could be used as a cushioning packaging material. See more info about the Bubble Wrap® Appreciation Day.

Fun video about the history of bubble wrap:

Play virtual bubble wrap popping:

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Science Tattoo Collection

For hard-core science geeks: Click here to see a collection of evolution-themed tattoos: Visualizing Evolution

Additionally, you can visit the Science Tattoo Emporium that has a large collection of tattoos featuring scientific visualizations from different disciplines (chemistry, physics, biology, computer science, earth science, math, engineering).

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The History of Social Media

Social media aim to fulfill different human needs:

The History of Social Media [INFOGRAPHIC]

Meet The Terrifying Goliath Tigerfish

Goliath Tigerfish
The Goliath tigerfish is a predator with large razor-sharp teeth which is found in Africa. The picture above shows British Angler Jeremy Wade who caught a large Goliath tigerfish in the Congo River.

The Presurfer: The Terrifying Goliath Tigerfish

Swiss Company Acabion predicts travel at 12,000 mph by year 2100

Swiss company Acabion aims to revolutionize traveling by introducing a new class of vehicle - called the "streamliner". 

Acabion's visions of future travel do certainly sound ambitious: 

  • 2015: Streamliners 8 times more efficient than electric vehicles are introduced.
  • 2050: To take full advantage their incredible speed, streamliners are given special elevated tracks. On these tracks, streamliners operate in auto-pilot mode.
  • 2100: A series of vacuum tubes criss-crosses the planet for super-fast streamliner (at speeds around 20,000 km/h (about 12,000 mph) driving over great distances. Coupled with the elevated tracks, this creates a “traffic internet.”

I am just wondering how much it would cost to build all those tubes...

Acabion Streamliner Car Travels Through Tubes | Geekosystem

Infinite Power for your Laptop

Wouldn't that be great! :)
Infinity Power [Pic]

Monday, January 24, 2011

Organic Architecture named Blobitecture

Blobitecture (or, blobism, blobismus or blob architecture) is a term for an architectural school in which organic shapes are the aim, bulging, cellular, amoeba-like buildings its expression. Although the term did not appear in print until 2002, blob architecture had been used as an expression in architectural circles since the middle of the previous decade. Notably it was the New York Times which first brought it to greater attention, as part of William Safire’s On Language column. The term blobitecture was coined by architect Greg Lynn in 1995 to give definition to his experiments in digital design.

See a great collection of blobitecture buildings here: Kuriositas: Blobitecture – The Rise of Organic Architecture

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Reactor prototype uses solar energy to produce hydrocarbon fuel

A research team, including Caltech professor Sossina M. Haile and Swiss Institute of Energy Technology professor Aldo Steinfeld, developed a reactor which mimics plant life, turning the Sun's energy to make hydrocarbon fuel.

The reactor uses the solar energy and the metal ceria (a rare-earth metal) to break down water or carbon dioxide into hydrogen and oxygen.

The prototype of the reactor is still in its infant stages and extremely inefficient, harnessing only 0.7% to 0.8% of the solar energy it absorbs. The researchers are confident they can reach levels of around 20% which would make the device commercially viable.

SciTech - Latest Headlines - New Reactor Harnesses Sun's Energy Like Plants

Female pterosaur found with preserved egg

An international team of paleontologists found a pterosaur in China beautifully preserved with an egg (Read more here: BBC News - Fossil female pterosaur found with preserved egg).

The egg indicates this ancient flying reptile was a female, and that realisation has allowed researchers to sex these creatures for the first time. Researchers now have to revise their previous concept that only males sported a head-crest. The researchers speculate she may have fallen from the sky during a storm or perhaps a volcanic eruption, sunk to the bottom of a lake and then been preserved in the sediments.
Pterosaurs, also sometimes referred to as pterodactyls, dominated the skies in the Mesozoic Era, 220-65 million years ago. Unlike the dinosaurs who lived at the same time, they were not dinosaurs themselves - a common misconception.
Pterosaurs weighed up to 500 pounds (227 kilograms). They probably took powerful leaping launches in less than a second from flat ground, with no aid from wind or ledges (Read more here). While airborne, pterosaurs took flight using all fours, not just their front extremities like birds.

Map of the most common family names in the US

Geographers at University College London used phone directories to find the predominant surnames in each state. They created a map of the US showing which family name is most prominent in each area. America is a nation of Smiths, Johnsons, and Sullivans—but also of Garcias and Nguyens.

Click here to enlarge the map.

Read full article here: NGM Blog Central - What's in a Surname? - National Geographic Magazine -

Friday, January 21, 2011

Proto-Knowledge celebrates 10000th view

Thank you all for visiting the Proto-Knowledge blog!

Some common misconceptions about evolution

A common misconception about evolution: "If humans are descendants of Chimpanzees, how come there are still Chimpanzees? See answer in this blog post.

Blogger Ron Workman posted this following interesting collection of common misconceptions about the theory of evolution (See original post here). Thanks, Ron.

1. You talk openly about how diseases are becoming stronger. You found a way to argue that disease has become more resistant to penicillin yet you also claim there isn’t solid proof of evolution. Bravo! That alone takes talent.

2. You eat corn. This may be hard for many of you to believe but corn is completely man-made. It DOES NOT occur in nature and never has. Without humans, corn would cease to exist in only a few years. Even the smartest of you might not even be aware that corn isn’t a “Natural” food. Please look this up.

3. You own a dog or at least acknowledge that dogs exist. I know you might not be aware of this, but dogs were also created by man. They do not occur in nature. Wolves, foxes, jackals, coyotes do but they aren’t the same thing as a household pet. I know you like to imagine little herds of teacup poodles roaming the lands in packs but it just never happened.

4. You think that people believe that man came from monkeys. To keep it simple: No. It didn’t happen and funny enough, at no point in the history of mankind has anyone claimed this other than people trying to debunk human evolution. The Scopes “Monkey Trial” is probably a big reason this idea took off. We came from apes. How do we know? Because Human Beings are apes. An ape is not an animal itself but a classification of Hominoid. If you are an adult and don’t know and understand this you should be ashamed.

5. You think that walking upright proves something. It doesn’t. It is learned. If you could leave a baby on an island and come back 20 years later, it almost certainly wouldn’t be standing. The process of balancing on 2 legs not only needs to be learned but also (concerning the method in which we do it) takes some brain power and evolution to even allow its possibility. Our physiological sense of Equilibrioception went in a different direction compared to other apes.

6. You have a skewed idea of time. Imagine a friend missed your birthday by one day. How about one week or a month? What if they had your age wrong? These things can happen right? What about if they missed it by 100 years? 1000 years? 100,000 years? What if they missed by one million years? You have to agree that it is virtually impossible for someone to make this error. Over 60 million years happened in between the end of the Dinosaurs and the beginning of what would become modern Humans. So, it isn’t as simple as saying that humans and dinosaurs didn’t live together. Even the consideration of it as a possibility should show just how horribly uneducated and wrong someone can be. It is also very hard to grasp gradual change over time. Aside from average height (more because of improved diet) and foot size (diet & possibly better footwear), you cannot notice anything different between Humans today and thousands of years ago.

7. You use air quotes when saying that evolution is only a “Theory” and not proven. This can also fall in with thinking evolution is a “belief” as well. Do you believe in gravity? That is a theory. Do you talk about climate change? That is also a theory (barely). What about thinking that germs are what cause disease? Theory. A theory has been tested and virtually proven. I say virtually because it can be expanded. If an idea was proposed and not tested, it would be a hypothesis which is an unproven theory. Calling Creationism a hypothesis is almost a stretch. It does not even have the ability to be tested. It is a belief.

8. You don’t understand that Darwin wrote The Origin of Species and not the Origin of Life or Man. Darwin stayed away from speculating at all at how man came to be or about how life began. If you picked up the book and read it the possibility that you might begin to understand it increases. From knowledge like this, you could attempt to form valid ideas and opinions.

9. You missed the memo that every person on Earth is not identical. I know you may think that I am oversimplifying this but hear me out. Imagine every single person on Earth was raised the same, experienced the same exposure to nature, ate the same food etc. They would not look the same as they grew older. They would still maintain variations in skin color, eye and hair color, epicanthic folds (eyes) as well as many other racially defining characteristics. A no-brainer right? If there is no evolution, how do we explain individuality? How could there be any difference from person to person at the genetic level? How could those simple things converge or diverge at all without evolution?

To be honest, it makes me a little sad that even one person could have a viewpoint which counters anything on this list. I like the idea of at worst, those people researching these things in an attempt to prove me wrong. Research is the path to understanding.

[Update] I made it through this post and didn’t even have to mention things like the Appendix in human beings. Mad skills.

Also see this list of five major misconceptions about evolution.

The excellent website provides accessible information about evolution and common misconceptions.

Symphony of Science - The Big Beginning

“The Big Beginning” is the eighth installment in the Symphony of Science music video series. This episode covers the origins of our universe, including the Big Bang theory, expansion and cooling of the universe, formation of galaxies, the interplay between matter and anti-matter, and cosmic radiation. The music video features Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan, Tara Shears, and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Scientific ways to boost your brain power

How can we improve our brain power? Newsweek presents a number of scientific findings of what works and what does not.

No evidence has been found for Vitamins B6, B12, and E; beta carotene; folic acid; and antioxidants. Evidence for omega-3s or having a large social network is weak. Adderall, Ritalin, Nicotine, and Caffeine can, in some people under some conditions, enhance the recall of memorized words as well as working memory, but they do not improve verbal fluency, reasoning, or abstract thought.

Neuroscience research found that neuroplasticity increases when we pay attention to a task - which we do more likely when learning something new, while tasks we are already good at become automatic.

Having a positive attitude, confidence, and motivation, for example by being told that you belong to a group that does very well on this task, can improve intellectual performance.

Three scientific methods to improve general intellectual performance are:

  • Regular aerobic exercise.
  • Meditation.
  • Videogames (at least some of them).

Read full Newsweek article here: Can You Build a Better Brain? - Newsweek

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

UC Berkeley ranked 2nd best university in the world

The Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) ranks the University of California at Berkeley in 2nd place! Go Bears!

See full ranking here: ARWU 2010

Study finds limited impact of college education on learning

A study of more than 2,300 undergraduates across 24 different US colleges found that 36 percent of students showed no significant improvement after four years in the key measures of critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing by the end of their sophomore years (based on the standardized Collegiate Learning Assessment). Subsequent research found that many students one year out of college are not faring well: One-third moved back home, and 10 percent were unemployed.

The findings are published in a new book, "Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses," by sociologists Richard Arum of New York University and Josipa Roksa of the University of Virginia.

Critics of the Collegiate Learning Assessment argue that it doesn't capture learning in specialized majors or that it isn't a reliable measure of college performance because so many factors are beyond their control.

Google Launches Global Online Science Fair

Google has partnered with NASA, CERN, National Geographic, Scientific American, and the LEGO Group to create the Google Science Fair—a STEM competition. 

The Google Science Fair is a global competition that any student aged 13 to 18 is eligible to enter. Students can enter as individuals or teams of up to three. There is no entry fee and registration and submission will happen online. The Science Fair will culminate in a celebratory event at Google headquarters in California in July 2011, where finalists will compete for internships, scholarships, and prizes in front of a panel of celebrity scientist judges including Nobel Laureates and household names. 

The competition deadline is April 4, 2011.

Robot baby to increase birth rates in Japan

Japan's birthrates are notoriously low. A new government-commissioned study found that young Japanese men are losing their interest in sex: Read full story here.

Japanese researchers hope a robot that looks and acts like a baby will boost Japan's sagging birth rate.

I find this interesting as robot babies are used in some US schools for the exact opposite: To teach students the burden of having a baby (and discourage teenage pregnancies). Read article about robot babies in US schools here.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Movie sequels better than the original

Are sequels ever better than their original movies? The chart graphs the scores from Rotten Tomatoes with the originals’ scores on the X-axis, and the sequels’ scores on the Y. Movies that appear on the center line are sequels that scored the exact same rating as the original. Films above the center line are sequels that have surpassed the original, while the movies below the center line are the ones that didn’t live up to the first installment. Also, the bubble size is based on the domestic box office gross.

Click on the diagram to see the full size version.

The Sequel Map | /Film

A Short History of Video Games

A short history of videogames:

History of Gaming from Florian Smolka on Vimeo.

This video was produced by a group of game-design students from Munich, Germany.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Japanese Scientist plans to clone Mammoth

Akira Iritani, a professor at Kyoto University in Japan, is looking to resurrect the woolly mammoth using a new cloning technique. Previous attempts to clone mammoth in the 1990s failed because nuclei in cells found in the muscle tissue and skin of woolly mammoth's located in the Siberian permafrost were severely damaged by the cold.

In 2008, Dr. Teruhiko Wakayama from the Riken Centre for Developmental Biology developed a cloning technique that allowed him to use the cells of a mouse that was frozen for 16 years to clone a new mouse. This technique has paved the way for new clone-related opportunities, and has inspired Iritani to resurrect the woolly mammoth.

Iritani plans to travel to Siberia to find samples of mammoth tissue in the permafrost. Once Iritani obtains the nuclei, he will insert it into an African elephant's egg cells. The African elephant will be the surrogate mother of the new mammoth.

"The success rate in the cloning of cattle was poor until recently, but now stands at about 30 percent," said Iritani. "I think we have a reasonable chance of success and a healthy mammoth could be born in four or five years."

Read more here: DailyTech - Woolly Mammoth Could Walk the Earth Again in 4 Years

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Computer games to increase boy's learning motivation

Instructional designer Ali Carr-Chellman spells out three reasons boys are tuning out of school in droves, and lays out her bold plan to re-engage them: bringing their culture into the classroom, with new rules that let boys be boys, and video games that teach as well as entertain.

See original post here: Gaming to re-engage boys in learning [Video]

Laptops instead teachers in Idaho

Idaho School Superintendent Tom Luna
Idaho schools Superintendent Tom Luna plans to increase the class sizes to free money to buy more learning technology, such as laptops and clickers. Starting in 2012, the state would spend $4.7 million to outfit new ninth-graders with laptops. Luna plans a blended learning system that combines in-school and online learning.

Larger classes to pay for technology: Learn more about Idaho schools Superintendent Tom Luna's reform plan | Idaho Legislature | Idaho Statesman

Several US states plan to eliminate teacher tenure

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie
New Jersey's Governor Chris Christie plans a broad education reform. The list includes familiar ideas for reforms -- including closing low performing schools, adding more charter schools and introducing merit pay for teachers. The most controversial aspect of the reform is Christie's plan to the complete abolition of teacher tenure. (Read more about New Jersey's education reform plans here)

A recent poll by the Associated Press-Stanford University found that 78 percent think it should be easier for school administrators to fire poorly performing teachers. Yet overall, the public wants to reward teachers – 57 percent say they are paid too little, with just 7 percent believing they are overpaid and most of the rest saying they're paid about right. (Read more about the poll here)

Similar plans to eliminate teacher tenure are underway in Idaho. Idaho school superintendent Tom Luna described his plan to eliminate tenure for new teachers and make them work on two-year contracts similar to principals' contracts. He says it is important to reward good teachers and identify poor teachers, and the current system makes that difficult.

Read about other controversial school reform ideas in California and Florida here.

Pentagon searches for genetic super-soldier

group of scientists is urging the Department of Defense to begin collecting and mapping the full genome of all military personnel -- a move that could well give the Pentagon the ability to select for certain genetic predispositions. 

Phenotypes the Pentagon is looking for include: "Short- and long-term medical readiness, physical and mental performance, and response to drugs, vaccines, and various environmental exposures, all of which will have different features in a military context. More specifically, one might wish to know about phenotypic responses to battlefield stress, including post-traumatic stress disorder, the ability to tolerate conditions of sleep deprivation, dehydration, or prolonged exposure to heat, cold, or high altitude, or the susceptibility to traumatic bone fracture, prolonged bleeding, or slow wound healing."

Read full article here: Genetic Soldiers? Advisory Group Urges Pentagon To Map Genes Of All Personnel

So the Pentagon is working on finding real life Captain America soldiers:

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Astronomers change Zodiac Sign Dates

Astronomers from the Minnesota Planetarium Society found that because of the moon's gravitational pull on Earth, the alignment of the stars was pushed by about a month.

Your astrological sign is determined by the position of the sun on the day you were born, so that means everything you thought you knew about your horoscope is wrong.

Ancient Babylonians had 13 constellations, but wanted only 12, so threw out Ophuchicus, the snake holder. Libra didn't even enter the picture until the era of Julius Caesar.

Read more about the new Zodiac Signs here: New Zodiac Sign Dates: Earth Rotation Changes Horoscope Signs - TIME NewsFeed. Find your new Zodiac sign in the list at the bottom of the page (for all who still care).

Bill Nye pointed out shifts in Zodiac signs years ago:

According to the Minnesota Planetarium Society, here are the updated signs of the Zodiac:
Capricorn: Jan. 20-Feb. 16. 
 Feb. 16-March 11. 
 March 11-April 18. 
 April 18-May 13. 
 May 13-June 21. 
 June 21-July 20. 
 July 20-Aug. 10. 
 Aug. 10-Sept. 16.
Virgo: Sept. 16-Oct. 30. 
 Oct. 30-Nov. 23.
Scorpio: Nov. 23-29. 
 Nov. 29-Dec. 17.  (This one is new — read all about the Ophiuchus way of life here)
Sagittarius: Dec. 17-Jan. 20.

Happy 10th Birthday Wikipedia

Can you imagine a world without Wikipedia? How did people find information before Wikipedia? (Books maybe?). It is difficult to believe that Wikipedia is only ten years old!

Today Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, turns 10 years old. Co-founder Jimmy Wales made the first ever Wikipedia edit on January 15, 2001, when he typed 'Hello, World!' on the front page.

Since its creation in 2001, Wikipedia has grown rapidly into one of the largest reference websites, attracting nearly 78 million unique visitors a month as of January 2010. There are more than 91,000 active contributors working on more than 17,000,000 articles in more than 270 languages. As of today, there are 3,529,170 articles in English.

The Presurfer: Wikipedia 10 Years Old

IBM supercomputer Watson beats humans in Jeopardy

In May 1997, IBM's Deep Blue Supercomputer played a fascinating match with the reigning World Chess Champion, Garry Kasparov. Overall, Deep Blue won 2 games, 3 draws, and one loss. (See IBM Deep Blue page here)

Chess is a very logical game with a large, but limited number of possible moves. The real challenge for computers is still naturally spoken language, with all it's subtle contextual meanings, puns, irony, and word plays. Now a team at IBM has taken on the challenge of natural language processing with the Watson project (See IBM Watson page here)

Watson is a supercomputer the size of ten refrigerators that is able to analyze natural spoken language and generate an answer in natural language. An IBM team of scientists spent four years building the Watson computer system that can rival a human in answering questions posed in natural language. The team decided to have Watson compete against human players in the popular TV show "Jeopardy" which is a good testing ground for it's language analysis capabilities. In a first machine vs man test round, Watson beat the two all-time best Jeopardy players Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. More rounds will take place next month. Read more here: IBM supercomputer wins first Jeopardy dust up - Computerworld

Despite the impressive progress of IBM's Watson, it will still take awhile until we can naturally talk to computers, as envisioned by Apple back in 1987:

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Weather vs Climate

New School in Brooklyn has over 60 children per class

Instead of one teacher supervising roughly 25 children, imagine four teachers and 60 children in one single classroom. This is the new approach taken by the New American Academy in Brooklyn. The idea is based on the model found in elite boarding schools, like Phillips Exeter Academy, where students in small classes work collaboratively and hold discussions around tables.

But the New American Academy is one of the toughest learning environments in the US, in a high poverty neighborhood in which 20 percent of the children have been found to have emotional, physical or learning disabilities. Read more here: New American Academy in Brooklyn Is an Experiment in Class Size -

Revising Advanced Placement Biology

30 years ago, the Advanced Placement biology textbook was daunting enough, at 36 chapters and 870 pages. But the current textbook has 56 chapters and 1,400 pages, along with a profusion of animated videos and Web-based aids that supplement the text. This volume of material which all needs to be covered for the AP test, forces teachers to rush through the material.

Next month, the College board, the nonprofit organization that owns the A.P. exams, is going to change A as well as the SAT, will release a wholesale revamping of A.P. biology. Read whole article here: Rethinking Advanced Placement -

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Holodeck made in Russia

Two Russian brothers developed a holodeck-like virtual reality (called Virtusphere) that allows players to physically walk around the virtual environment. Virtusphere is basically a giant hamster ball combined with a 3D virtual reality headset.

The VR headset is equipped with gyroscopes that measure the position of the gamer’s head and swivel the view of the game accordingly. Gamers enter the ball and, thanks to the wheels on which it is mounted, are able to walk indefinitely within the virtual world just as they could in the real one. See video below:

Technology of the Future Now

Do we live in the future? Some current technology certainly does look futuristic: From X-ray body scanners at the airport to virtual realities, personal jetpacks, flying cars, sonic weapons, and universal translators. See list here: 9 Developments That Prove We Really Are Living In The Future

On the Catholic Church and Science

Pope Benedikt XVI
According to a news release by the Vatican Information Service on October 23, 1996, Pope John Paul II was reported as saying that evolution is "more than just a theory." This seems to mean that the Catholic church now considers evolution a scientific fact. (See Pope accepts Evolution).

Before that, Pius XII, in his famous 1950 encyclical "Humani Ceneris" made a point of allowing Catholics to study and accept evolution as a scientific theory of origins, again with the limitation that God created the soul, and that all men are descendants of Adam, along with the doctrine of original sin as inherited from Adam.

Now the current pope, Benedikt XVI, accepts the Big Bang theory as an explanation how the universe was created - as long as Catholics see the Big Bang as God's work. Benedikt XVI said that "God's mind was behind complex scientific theories such as the Big Bang, and Christians should reject the idea that the universe came into being by accident". (Read more here: NewsDaily: God was behind Big Bang, universe no accident: Pope)

Given how the Catholic church treated scientists like Galileo in the past, I guess this is step in the right direction.

Glass tougher than steel

Can glass be stronger and tougher than steel? Researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)'s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab)and the California Institute of Technology developed a new type of damage-tolerant metallic glass, demonstrating a strength and toughness beyond that of any known material. Read full article here: New glass stronger and tougher than steel

Doesn't this sound a lot like transparent aluminum that Scotty revealed in Star Trek IV? 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

How Music Makes Us Happy

People love music for much the same reason they're drawn to sex, drugs, gambling and delicious food, according to new research. When you listen to tunes that move you, the study found, your brain releases dopamine, a chemical involved in both motivation and addiction. Dopamine-induced pleasure may help explain why music has been such a big part of human societies throughout history. Read full article here: How Music Makes You Happy : Discovery News

We Are What We Share

This youtube video is based on the book "We Think" by Charles Leadbeater. It explores how sharing over the internet changed our potential for innovation. We are what we share.

Universal Translator soon available

Universal Translators are common in science fiction. Star Trek has the universal translatorThe Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy has the paradoxical Babel Fish. In Farscape, John Chrichton is implanted with translator microbes. In The Last Starfighter, Alex Rogan is given a chip that was attached to the collar of his shirt. And the companions of Doctor Who have an instant translation service by a telepathic field generated by the TARDIS.

Thanks to Google, universal translation will become available on Earth soon. Google's prototype language translator, Conversation Mode, uses Android phones to record spoken words and then play them back in a different language.
Conversation Mode combines the technology of Google Voice and Google Translate (which only works for text) to translate over fifty languages via a speech interface on a smartphone. Read more here: Google Waves Goodbye to Language Barriers : Discovery News
The video shows a demonstration of Conversation mode.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Why are there still Chimpanzees?

A common misconception about evolution: "If humans are descendants of Chimpanzees, how come there are still Chimpanzees?" Biologist Richard Dawkins wil give you the answer.

Asian vs Western parenting styles and academic success

By Beat A Schwendimann

The latest PISA study found that Chinese students outperform students in all other tested countries in reading, math, and science (Read blog entry on PISA 2010 here). Other top performing countries are South Korea and Singapore. The only non-Asian country at the top is Finnland.

The question arises how Asian education differs from Western education (See blog entry on education in China vs USA here).

A major factor in the academic top performance of Asian students could be their parents. Yale professor Amy Chua discusses differences between Asian and Western parenting styles in her book "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother", based on her personal experiences. Chua uses the constructs "Asian" and "Western" parents loosely to describe certain parenting styles that are not necessarily only found in certain geographical areas. The constructs allow making distinctions in parents' views of parenting. ("Asian Parents" as a stereotype has become a meme.)

For example, "Western" parents start with the premisse that their children's self-esteem is fragile and therefore constantly try to reassure their children about how good they are notwithstanding a mediocre performance on a test. "Western" parents try not to put too much pressure for academic performance on their children and insist that learning should be fun. They are afraid that setting high expectations might lead to failure and lower their children's self-esteem. 

"Asian" parents start with the premisse that their children's self-esteem will build up with improving performance. "Asian" parents believe that nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work hard, and as children on their own often do not want to work, they override their preferences. "Asian" parents see the academic success of their children as the result of successful parenting, and failure in school is therefore not the child's (or the school's) fault but the parent's. "Asian" parents can order their kids to get top grades. "Western" parents can only ask their kids to try their best. 
(The paragraph above is based on an excerpt from Amy Chua's book:  Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior -

Asian students spend less time than Western students on athletics, music, dating, and other activities not geared toward success on exams in core subjects: See documentary: Two million minutes.

A dark side to the pressure of Asian parenting is discussed in this CNN article on suicide rates among Asian-American women.

Read the response to Amy Chua's claims by Christine Carter: Chinese Mother Controversy: Why Amy Chua is wrong (Huffington Post)

Another aspect that influences Asian parenting styles are Confucian beliefs, say researchers including University of California, Riverside, psychologist Ruth Chao and Brown University psychologist Jin Li. Confucius taught that human beings should strive their whole lifetime to improve or perfect themselves. Confucian “self-perfection” means achieving the virtues of diligence, perseverance and concentration. Confucian ideas influence most East Asian cultures, particularly Korea, Japan, Vietnam in addition to Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Chao also found that Western parents tend to support their children's learning by attending PTA meetings, volunteer in the classroom, and watch their children's extracurricular activities. Asian parents tend tend to spend more time creating a learning environment at home by providing their children with a place to study, books, and computers, giving them extra homework, and taking them to learning related activities like Saturday language school and music lessons. 
For further discussion on Asian parenting, see the article by Kathy Seal: Asian-American Parenting and Academic Success.

See this youtube video by the UK comedy show "Goodness Gracious Me" about "Typical Asian Parents":

Chua's distinction between "Asian" and "Western" parenting styles connects to the work of Carol Dweck, a psychology researcher (More info on Carol Dweck's theories here).

Dweck found that people can hold two different theories of intelligence and ability: Fixed and growth mindsets.
  • The fixed intelligence group views intelligence/ability as an overall fixed or stable trait that is unevenly distributed among individuals (You either are talented/intelligent, or not). Since intelligence/ability is seen as fixed, low performance is seen as "proof" for a lack of intelligence/ability. Students adopt patterns of helplessness and try to avoid opportunities for failure. Students try to preserve their self-esteem after failure by not trying anymore, which allows them to the belief that they could do well, if they tried. On the other hand, Dweck found that students with a long history of success may be the most vulnerable for developing learned helplessness because they may buy into the entity view of intelligence more readily than those with less frequent success (Dweck, 1999).
  • The growth mindset group views intelligence/ability as a maleable repertoire of skills that can be increased through effort. Students holding this belief don't try to look smart, but to be smart (mastery-oriented). Intelligence/ability is not seen as one entity but as task specific (You are good in some areas but less good in others), combined with the belief that you can improve through focused effort. Failure is not seen as proof of lack of intelligence/ability, but is a sign to work harder and practice more.
Parents can have a great influence over their children's academic success, for example by setting expectations and being role-models for different views of intelligence/ability. A research question for further investigation is if and how a person's view of intelligence/ability can be changed.

[Update] Reader J.R. Atwood posted: Dweck has found that simply explaining the mechanics of the human brain is enough to push people from the fixed mindset category into the growth mindset category. When people learn about the plasticity of their brain, for example, they also intuit the idea that intelligence is developmental. See, for example, Blackwell, Trzrsniewski, and Dweck (2007):;