Posts

Showing posts from December, 2013

Meet Sanct Herr 'cholas

Image
"Yes, Virginia," the letter starts, "there is a Santa Claus."

And this is an icon of Saint Nicholas, known in this country as Santa Claus.

In Europe, he's still Father Christmas or Saint Nicholas - it's only in the U.S. that he's known as Santa Claus.  More on this in a moment.

Nicholas was the son of two Bishops of the Catholic Church, born in the 4th Century, who was eventually Sainted by the Church after a lifetime of remarkable charity.

It is from Nicholas's act of dropping gold coins into the stockings of three young girls through the hole in the roof of their shanty through which smoke of the cooking fire escaped, which is where we get "up on the rooftop".  The girls had each washed their one pair of socks and had "hung them by the chimney with care" to dry.   Nicholas knew that the girls father could not afford doweries for them, and the father - too proud to accept charity -- was putting off the inevitable -- selling t…

Literary Creativity Down; Artistic Creativity Up Since 1990

Image
"Any society -- depends on the creativity of its citizens to flourish."
Research in recent years has suggested that young Americans might be less creative now than in decades past, even while their intelligence -- as measured by IQ tests -- continues to rise.

But new research from the University of Washington Information School and Harvard University, closely studying 20 years of student creative writing and visual artworks, hints that the dynamics of creativity may not break down as simply as that.

Nuances of Creative Writing Could be Declining
Instead, it may be that some aspects of creativity -- such as those employed in visual arts -- are gently rising over the years, while other aspects, such as the nuances of creative writing, could be declining according to lead author, Emily Weinstein, a doctoral student in the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Katie Davis, UW assistant professor, and fellow researchers studied 354 examples of visual art and 50 examples of creative wr…

Lonely This Christmas? Hire an 18th Century Hermit.

Image
The hermit of Arlesheim.

For those who are wondering what to buy the person who has everything this Christmas, a University of Leicester academic has suggested one of history's most bizarre garden accessories: an 'ornamental' hermit.

Things about this post I find interesting.
That 18th Century nouveau riche in Britain hired someone to live the contemplative life in poverty for them.That this is where we get garden gnomes. (Really?)That medieval lords would show off their personal hermit to visitors.  (How do you keep up with the Joneses on this one?  A German import?  Japanese? Not a Jugoslavian, they smoke and fall apart way too soon.)You're supposed to leave sherry wine for Santa?  No wonder I keep getting lumps of coal.  Damn.  All those years completely wasted on cocoa.The hermit could even help manage your winter blues as, according to Professor Gordon Campbell of the University's School of English, the wealthy 18th century landowners who indulged in the practice…

Cat Domestication Traced to Chinese Farmers 5,300 Years Ago

Image
There are cat people, and there are dog people, and on my Facebook page there are a multitude of cat photos and jokes, many more than dog photos or jokes.  Of course, any cat owner knows who rules in the household.  Being owned by a cat, Sam, I know that my job is to keep him fed and keep his box clean.  Other than that, if he deigns to sit on my lap and show approval by purring, that's his choice.  Definitely, not mine.

So where do cats come from?  Common thought is Egypt, though that is yet to be confirmed by either archeology or DNA analysis.  Now comes research about cats who appear to have started the domestication of humans in the village of Quanhucun in China some 5,300 years ago.

"At least three different lines of scientific inquiry allow us to tell a story about cat domestication that is reminiscent of the old 'house that Jack built' nursery rhyme," said study co-author Fiona Marshall, PhD, a professor of archaeology in Arts & Sciences at Washington Un…

Do Patients in a Vegetative State Recognize Loved Ones?

Image
Some vegetative patients may not only possess emotional awareness of the environment but also experience emotional awareness driven by stimuli such as photographs.Following press announcements on science research is an interesting pre-occupation.  One, I've noticed that some fascinating research on people in various situations in life come out of Israel.  Second, is that news runs in cycles, with periods of not much going on to days like the 16th that is chock-a-block with stories, which we'll run over the next few days and weeks.  

This story impacts those authors and screenwriters that use the device of a character in a coma - and the question of how much awareness would that character have.  Here's the story ~

Patients in a vegetative state are awake, breathe on their own, and seem to go in and out of sleep. But they do not respond to what is happening around them and exhibit no signs of conscious awareness. With communication impossible, friends and family are left wonde…

Authors Use More Fear, Less Emotion Over Last 50 Years

Image
The emotional content of published English has been steadily decreasing over the past century, with the exception of words associated with fear, an emotion which has resurged over the past decades.The use of words with emotional content in books has steadily decreased throughout the last century, according to new research from the Universities of Bristol, Sheffield, and Durham. The exception?  The authors found a divergence between American and British English, with the former being more 'emotional' than the latter.

The researchers looked at how frequently 'mood' words were used through time in a database of more than five million digitized books provided by Google. The list of words was divided into six categories (anger, disgust, fear, joy, sadness, surprise) previously used by one of the researchers, Dr Vasileios Lampos, to detect contemporary mood changes in public opinion as expressed in tweets collected in the UK over more than two years.

Dr Alberto Acerbi, a Newto…

Simple Math Formula Describes Human Conflict

Image
The manner in which a baby's cries escalate against its parent is comparable to the way riots in Poland escalated in the lead-up to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Would you believe that a broad range of human struggles can be understood by using a mathematical formula? From child-parent struggles to cyber-attacks and civil unrest, they can all be explained with a simple mathematical expression called a "power-law."

In a sort of unified theory of human conflict, scientists have found a way to mathematically describe the severity and timing of human confrontations that affect us personally and as a society.

For example, the manner in which a baby's cries escalate against its parent is comparable to the way riots in Poland escalated in the lead-up to the collapse of the Soviet Union. It comes down to the fact that the perpetrator in both cases (e.g. baby, rioters) adapts quickly enough to escalate its attacks against the larger, but more sluggish entity (e.g. parent…

Crime fiction: Questioning Longstanding Forensic Identification

Image
"There is not enough variation in skull shapes to make a positive ID."
Forensic experts have long used the shape of a person's skull to make positive identifications of human remains. But those findings may now be called into question, since a new study from North Carolina State University shows that there is not enough variation in skull shapes to make a positive ID.

"In a lot of cases, murder victims or the victims of disasters are from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and don't have extensive dental records we can use to make a match," says Dr. Ann Ross, a forensic expert and professor of anthropology at NC State who is senior author of a paper on the new study. "But those people may have been in car accidents or other incidents that led them to have their skulls X-rayed in emergency rooms or elsewhere. And those skull X-rays have often been used to make IDs. I've done it myself.

"But now we've tried to validate this technique, and our rese…

How to Build a Wormhole in the SpaceTime Continuum. Really.

Image
Plus, some brilliant folks may have figured out how gravity works. Einstein couldn't.  Niels Bohr couldn't.  It was beyond Mr. Spock.  But these guys?  Yep, just another day at the lab.  Now, here's how to create a wormhole upon demand ~

Any Ph.D. physicist or teen-aged Trekkie can tell you that quantum entanglement is one of the more bizarre theories to come out of the study of quantum mechanics -- so strange, in fact, that Albert Einstein famously referred to it as "spooky action at a distance."

Left:  A diagram of a wormhole, a hypothetical "shortcut" through the universe, where its two ends are each in separate points in spacetime. 

Essentially, entanglement involves two particles, each occupying multiple states at once -- a condition referred to as superposition. For example, both particles may simultaneously spin clockwise and counterclockwise. But neither has a definite state until one is measured, causing the other particle to instantly assume a co…

The Growing Epidemic of "Valley Girl Speak"

Image
Oh! My! God!

Research shows that Valley Girl Speak' is beginning to be picked up by males of the sub-species SoCalifornicus Humanicus.

Well, if this isn't the end of humankind, it could mean something else.  I don't know what, but fer sure, it can't be good.

Here's the story.  The American English speech variant known as "uptalk", or "Valley Girl speak" -- marked by a rise in pitch at the ends of sentences -- is typically associated with young southern Californian females. New research shows uptalk is expanding to other demographic groups, including males.

The new study is also the first to identify distinct melodic vocal patterns distinguishing an uptalk question from a statement -- a fuzzy area for non-uptalkers that leads to stereotypic parody of uptalkers as insecure, shallow or non-intellectual.

"We believe that uptalk is becoming more prevalent and systematic in its use for the younger generations in Southern California," says r…

Defending Against Electromagnetic Attacks

Image
We are all familiar with the power of electromagnetic attacks from the movies: in Ocean's Eleven, George Clooney's gang disables Las Vegas' power grid, and Keanu Reeves' henchmen hold off the enemy robot fighters from their spaceship in the Matrix Trilogy. The heroes in these films succeed by sending out a very strong electromagnetic pulse. This changes the voltage in the vicinity so that regulators, switches, and circuit boards in electronic equipment go crazy. You cannot smell, taste, or feel this radiation. Those affected by it do not know why computers or machines breakdown or from which direction the attack comes.

"What works on the silver screen is also conceivable in reality," confirms Michael J√∂ster from the Fraunhofer Institute for Technological Trend Analysis INT in Euskirchen, just south of Cologne, Germany. The researchers there are concentrating on the question of how these attacks can be detected. They have developed a measurement instrument for …

Killing for Money: Does Crime Pay?

Image
Perhaps surprisingly, contract killers are not as highly paid as you would have thought.

Publishing in the Taylor & Francis journal Review of Social Economy, author Samuel Cameron attempts to dispel the myths behind the economy of crime, paying specific attention to contract killings with his article "Killing for Money and the Economic Theory of Crime." (click on the title for the entire article)

No economist (and even very few criminologists or psychologists) has researched paid killing, adding to the importance of Cameron’s work in the field of economics. There is a wealth of literature on the economics of crime, although most attention is devoted to the deterrence of crime, rather than the contentious issue of contract killing.

Detailed research on this topic is long over-due – the last detailed analysis of contract killings was data taken during 1989-2002 in Australia. Cameron provides fresh evidence taken from a small sample of paid killing cases in the UK from data co…