Wednesday, March 11, 2009

In which we pursue greater knowledge

"If a hole remains in it, although one is somewhat deaf, one can blow tobacco smoke out of the ear in question, which is a social accomplishment."

- Scientist JBS Haldane, referring to his burst eardrums caused by a series of decompression experiments he did on himself. 

An interesting (and kind of gross) article in New Scientist today. 

Monday, March 09, 2009

I miss David Foster Wallace

This week's New Yorker had a long piece about David Foster Wallace's career and his final work. It's good, I recommend it. 

This is a photo I took of David Foster Wallace reading this story at my school in 2006. At the time, I was in a fiction workshop in which we read his short stories and complained about how the stories were all about how smart David Wallace was. Max, pictured here in the front row, was an avid champion of everything David Foster Wallace. 

David Foster Wallace rarely read in public, but when he did, he didn't charge. Before the reading, in my workshop, we griped about how that was still David Foster Wallace showing how he was smarter and better than the rest of humanity. But at the reading, I was struck by his humility, and how approachable he seemed - so different from his long, difficult, mostly tedious sentences. I remember him laughing at one of his own jokes. And his hair - his hair was so gorgeous. It was long, and it shone. I admired it. 

And that's when I turned in the road of my feelings about David Foster Wallace. 

Thursday, March 05, 2009

No, you may not get up from the table until you eat your X-ray Vision carrots

I was trolling deep within the stacks of my online science press release service today, and found this gem. Let's hear it for good old fashioned trickery:

Names turn preschoolers into vegetable lovers

Do you have a picky preschooler who's avoiding their vegetables? A new Cornell University study shows that giving vegetables catchy new names – like X-Ray Vision Carrots and Tomato Bursts – left preschoolers asking for more.

When 186 four-year olds were given carrots called "X-ray Vision Carrots" ate nearly twice as much as they did on the lunch days when they were simply labeled as "carrots."

.... "Cool names can make for cool foods," says lead author Brian Wansink. "Whether it be 'power peas' or 'dinosaur broccoli trees,' giving a food a fun name makes kids think it will be more fun to eat. And it seems to keep working – even the next day," said Wansink.

Similar results have been found with adults. A restaurant study showed that when the Seafood Filet was changed to "Succulent Italian Seafood Filet," sales increased by 28% and taste rating increased by 12%. "Same food, but different expectations, and a different experience," said Wansink, author of "Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Eat More Than We Think."

How about, Mindless Typing of Typing of Book Titles? Here's another, where the researchers decided to open "The Oldest Trick in the Book Book" for publishing:

Politicians can use fear to manipulate public

Arthur Lupia and Jesse O. Menning examined how select attributes of fear affect a politician’s ability to scare citizens into supporting policies that they would otherwise reject. They argue that politicians’ use of fear will depend on critical aspects of mass psychology.

For example, manipulation is more likely when the public doesn’t understand an issue or is unlikely to be able to overcome the fear created by politicians. By contrast, the easier it is for citizens to observe that the politician has made false statements, the less likely it is that politicians will attempt to use fear at all.

It must have taken them the entire Bush presidency to figure that one out.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

And I quote

As a result of our combined braininess and fecundity, humans have managed to colonize the planet; exploit, marginalize or exterminate all competing forms of life; build a vast military-industrial complex all under the auspices of Bernard Madoff and with one yeti of a carbon footprint, and will somebody please hand me that baby before it’s too late.

- Natalie Angier, In a Helpless Baby, the Roots of Our Social Glue, New York Times science section

I'm working on a similar piece about the role of mothers in human evolution.

Monday, March 02, 2009

In which I suspect the amaryllis is my stalker

It bloomed!

I'm feeling like this gift amaryllis has been genetically bred to a fine sense of instant gratification. Rocket-like growth, gigantic blooms that last, little feeding or watering requirements, it's all too good to be true. Too good to be... evil?

One of the downfalls of living alone is that you always suspect that someone might be stalking you - "What's that sound?" "Did I leave the blinds like that when I left?" "Wasn't that photo facing slightly the other way?" These thoughts plague me when I'm alone. At first I thought it was just my nerves, which as I'm a lady, naturally run on the side of hysterical. But no. I've been told I am an unusually rational woman.

So I'm beginning to think that these thoughts are triggered by this massive plant with its passionate red blooms, which pulls itself up and hops around on its bulb, doing reconnaissance in my apartment for its higher masters (aliens, inevitably), which it accomplishes by changing my stuff in tiny degrees. Then it carefully sweeps up its trail of copper growing medium (or is it something which provides more sinister sustenance?), and plops back into its pot before 5pm, so I suspect nothing when I get home from work. Well, not this time, "amaryllis"! I've caught on. Your eagerly growing "gift boxes" are infiltrating American homes to create a standing army for your alien overlords.

But, I just can't bring myself to throw you out of my home. You look all dramatic and fiercely pretty. Who knows what lies within your dark and sterile stamens? I shiver at the thought. But I will tolerate it, for the sake of home decor.