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Man’s Best Friend

April 30, 2012 1 comment

            For as long as I can remember my family has always had a dog living with us in the house. Arriving at this realization got me to start to think about why we as human beings generally accept having a different species live amongst us in our homes.  As it turns out the earliest archaeological evidence of the domestication of dogs dates all the way back to China in 7000BC. Scientists have also determined by comparing the proportions of grey wolf haplotypes to modern dogs that the Middle East is the most probable location of the origins of initial domestication of dogs. This early form of domestication probably begun with the domestication of orphaned wolf cubs that studies have shown is possible to be done before a cub is twenty one days old. Over time the DNA of wolves and dogs split giving humans the opportunity to domesticate and cross breed dogs to use as guard animals and beasts of burden. This cross breeding based upon favorable attributes yielded dogs with increasingly juvenile characteristics that prompt cross species protective behavior in most adult mammals, including humans. Image

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The Thin Line between Genius and Insanity

April 29, 2012 Leave a comment

Working for the Smithsonian Natural History Museum this semester, I’ve met a lot of scientists at the top of their fields.  They all have one thing in common: they’re slightly insane.  Whether only insane people choose to work for the museum or working for the museum slowly makes you crazy is still unclear to me.  One thing is certain though–nearly everyone I’ve met there is more eccentric than your average non-scientist.  A few of their eccentricities include making a hobby out of macerating road kill to clean their skeletons (so as not to waste a good specimen) and enjoying memorizing Latin binomial nomenclature to a ridiculous degree.  Not to mention a generally odd sense of humor which is at times morbid.

I find it interesting that this personality type is often correlated with a career in science.  I wonder what it is is about science that attracts these weirdos (which I say completely affectionately and knowing I probably am or am on my way to becoming just as eccentric).

Categories: Uncategorized

Final Project

April 29, 2012 Leave a comment

I am going to deviate from our blogs standard of operation and ask a question not related to a science article. My question is regarding the final project we have been working on for the past 3-4 weeks. I would, by no stretch of the imagination, call myself a scholarly writer. Putting words to paper has always been a weakness of mine. However, this project has attempted, whether successful or not, to help break some of my bad habits. Thanks to my project group members I have been able to see, understand, and incorporate several different types of writing. I feel this will have a beneficial influence on me in the rest of my academic career. My question is what other people think of the processes involved with this final project, do you think they have helped you in the long run? I ask because I’m not sure if everything we did as a group had a helpful benefit to it. My group met a lot and on some occasions spent upwards to 11 or 15 hours with each other hammering out parts of the paper. Other times we would meet when we could, whether it was for 1 or 3 hours. I’m curious to know if other groups had the same experience and whether they thought more or less time focusing on the subject is beneficial. I know we will write about all of this in our reflective writing, but I was just curious about what other people thought of the project.

DC’s Derranged Birds

April 29, 2012 1 comment

I have always thought birds were sweet little creatures like just tweeted around the town.  Well, coming to DC this year my whole perception of birds changed.  It is like they are a whole other species compared to the normal birds I grew up with. I have been scared on many occasions because I think these tiny feathered animals are going fly straight into me until it swerves last minute and dodges me. It gives me unnecessary anxiety because who knows if one bird is just inept and flies right into.  You never know, it is always possible.

Common knowledge tells me that it must be some sort of food that the birds eat or the culture that were nurtured in. In high school, the birds weren’t deranged but the squirrels definitely were. They would stare you down with their beady little eyes and it’s as if they were going to attack you at any minute. Of course, this gave me as much anxiety as birds darting towards me.

But honestly, based on their habitat why do animals personalities differ.  Clearly these birds and squirrels are less timid, but what made them like this? What makes them so possessed? Please someone help me out on this one.

Categories: Uncategorized

Electronic Skin

April 28, 2012 Leave a comment

The article “Electronic Skin” presents an electronic device created by John Rogers and the other scientists part of his lab. This device, in the form of something like a temporary tattoo, has the ability to record data about your health: “Placed on a forehead, the device can record brainwaves; on the wrist, blood flow and muscle movement. On the skin of sick patients, it can track vital signs and watch for problems, replacing the bulky equipment usually found in hospitals. And stuck to the throat, it can function as a secret cell phone, activated by the movements of a person’s voice box.” It can even be placed near the heart, where it will pick up information about heartbeats. 

With the size being close to that of a postage stamp, its thickness of half a paper, and its ability to be flexible like the skin, it’s barely felt by the person who has it on them.  

This opens up numerous possibilities- some that are mentioned in the article include the ability to record the brainwaves of a person with epileptic seizures and it can identify throat movements while someone is speaking (helpful for deep-sea divers and spies). With this device, the larger machines may not be necessary.

The article even took it outside of the health world. Coleman says, “If we can monitor the brain signals between teachers and students who are interacting, then maybe we can learn the extent to which they understand each other. That could revolutionize education and training. It’s easy to imagine the possibilities. And if we don’t imagine, then what are we doing?”

It’s crazy what technological innovations have provided for us- I can’t believe how far technology has taken us and how much further it will take us in the future.  

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The power of the self-fufilling Prophecy

April 28, 2012 Leave a comment

Have you ever had a book or movie, article or anecdote inspire a wave of self-revelation? I think everyone experiences these unexpected epiphanies, and I’m sure most people would agree with me when I say how surprising it is where they lead you. Walking out of a movie with a friend tonight, we got around to exchanging fatalist philosophies and questions. These musings led me to, of course, a google search, and then to a study released a few years ago by the American Psychological Society, called “Self-Fulfilling Prophecies: The Synergistic Accumulative Effect of Parents’ Beliefs on Children’s Drinking Behavior.” 

The study involved 115 parents and their seventh-grade children. At the beginning of the year researchers administered a survey asking the parents what they predicted in terms of their children’s drinking patterns for the upcoming 12 months. After the year had passed they collected responses from the kids, asking about their drinking over that time period. Ultimately, the results showed that parents assessed the alcohol use beyond the predicted risk-factors- something that researchers identified as the self-fufilling prophecy effect.

Although the study was very narrow in it’s focus, the questions raised and the results found are incredibly applicable and thought-provoking. As it turned out, parents who overestimated their children’s drinking habits had the strongest self-fuffilling effect. By contrast, parents who underestimated their children’s drinking habits did not have as dramatic an effect. I think that many of us wonder, particularly at our age when there is such a heavy emphasis on our future, to what degree do our assertions alter the direction of our lives? What we do not always consider, and perhaps wrongly so, is the effect that other people’s expectations have on the decisions we make. 

A review of the study suggested its implications in terms of the negative stereotypes that surround certain groups, particularly certain age groups such as adolescents. Although a certain behavior must initiate perceived characteristics, perhaps these stereotypes are as perpetuated by those who perceive certain individuals as they are by those individuals themselves. Perhaps the way we act at each stage of our lives is dictated not by free-will, but by a subliminal influence of those whose expectations we interact with on a day-to-day basis. If some behavior is expected of you by an overwhelming majority of people, even if it is negative, irrational, or irresponsible behavior, do you not, on some level, feel obligated to act accordingly? 

I cannot think of a group of people to who this is more relevant. In college, we are exposed to so many conflicting expectations and standards. There are those of our parents, which by all means vary with each individual. There are those of our peers, which, again, when broken down, depend entirely on those friends we surround ourselves with. In a way, I think it is very much a domino effect; one action can attract attention from a certain kind of person, whose influence can lead to more actions, either of a similar or entirely different nature. 

Not to freak anybody out, I know I get really overwhelmed as is, but I think it’s important to take a careful look at the environments we’re in, how the opinions of others influence our own priorities, and how these priorities, particularly at such a crucially developmental stage, might shape our futures. What do you guys think? Do you find yourself responding more to your own expectations or to those of the people in your life? At what point do you leave it all to chance, to your own self-fufilling prophecy, or to the prophecy of others? Just some food for thought; here’s the article if you’d like to read more! http://www.psychologicalscience.org/media/releases/2005/pr050103.cfm 

 

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Categories: Uncategorized

Hard to Stay Focus at Times? That Might be a Good Thing…

April 27, 2012 3 comments

Do you feel hard to stay focus at times? Hang on, that might actually be a good thing…

In this transcription of a 1-minute podcast news titled “Mind Wandering is Linked to Your Working Memory“, it is reported that our working memory capacity is positively correlated with how often our minds wander. There is a link to the journal article also there. If you have a burning interest on that topic, it might be worthwhile to take a look.

So, that news strikes me personally, because I used to think that the inability to stay focus on 1 task at a time was always a bad thing. And sometimes I just can’t focus on 1 task at a time. “That’s just what my weakness is…” is what I used to think of myself. But then this news brings a new hope. It might be that my inability to focus at 1 task is because I have a good working memory capacity (which I hope is the case!). Which means I can handle a bit more complicated task better than a single simple one. Sometimes I just feel that it’s very difficult for me to sit down and do nothing. I have to do something. If not, my mind has to think about something. And I like to do at least two things at once, for instance lifting my pillow up and down with my legs while I’m lying on the bed and studying for school. It just feels better for me to have my legs busy with something else while my brain focuses on studying. I know this is not a very common habit (in fact I don’t do it so often anymore now), but anyway, yeah, it is worth mentioning I guess since I’m talking about this topic.

So what do you guys think? Do you think that this research is doubtful/not reliable/doesn’t make sense? Or is there anyone else feeling the same way that I feel?

A little different this time.

April 26, 2012 Leave a comment

So I wanted to do something a little different this time on the blog. I just wanted to take a minute and look back at the blog as a whole. I noticed that there were some really interesting post that were posted throughout the semester. I really took the time and effort to look for articles that I thought would be the most interesting for you guys. I have never written or read a blog before, so this was new to me. Also, coming here to the U.S., things like Twitter looked like it’s going to take over the world. I will hopefully never get one and this other website called Tumblr? Sometimes I feel like such an international student not knowing these things that everybody should know about. I feel like Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook definitely have a “science” behind them. Technology is changing the world faster than we thought it would. I remember having a CD walkman and thinking it was the coolest thing in the world. And now, we have things like iPod nanos. I remember the first time my parents brought home a cellphone. Those big Nokia cellphones with the big buttons and everything. Now, we have touch screens and bluetooth. Who knows what technology will have advanced to in 5, 10, 15, years. It is a little scary, I have to admit. I feel like by the time our generation has children, our children won’t even know how to write. All they would know is how to type on a computer. Have you guys ever thought of that? I think about how different “science” will even be in a few years. I feel like science is the world’s future. What do you guys think? And for the international students out there, do you think it’s just my imagination that America may be a little more into technology than other countries? Why do you think so? Just give us your general thoughts about science. No articles, no scientific terms, just science.

The Life of a Pirate

April 26, 2012 Leave a comment

My office is currently purchasing new computer equipment to replace the more outdated machines that currently populate our office. I was drafted to help in the process, and spent the majority of last week browsing for the cheapest deals on laptops and desktops. I had certain criteria that I had to meet for each computer, and a budget, but apart from that I had free reign over what laptops were purchased. Between the scrimping and saving, and virtual coupon cutting I found that the thing that was eating up the majority of my budget, for the least gain, was the Microsoft Office Software. $250 for the Microsoft Office Suite. Maybe for a business it really isn’t that much, but to me it seems kind of ridiculous. For the last decade or so, Microsoft Word has remained basically the same, apart from a few new font packs, except the price remains ludicrously high. Or so I feel anyways.
      Like any good law-abiding citizen I turned my attention to the Microsoft alternative, Open Office, which runs quite smoothly on my old desktop at home. However when I tested it on some of the current machines at the office to see how it ran, it was incompatible with several programs simply because it wasn’t Microsoft Word. Not because it had a different functionality. Not because there was some deep seated problem with Open Office Software. It didn’t run simply because it was not from Microsoft. It seems to me that Microsoft has an unspoken Monopoly in the business world, with any office that wants to spare itself the headache of buying Microsoft Office entering into a new realm of compatibility nightmares.

     Now as a good law-abiding citizen I would never condone piracy in any way shape or form, and did end up ordering the software. It just left me with a bad taste in my mouth. With that being said, what do all of you think about piracy? If a company has a monopoly over a certain market, and charges unreasonable prices, does that make piracy justifiable? Or is that just an excuse people use to justify stealing?

 

Categories: Uncategorized

Math and…Art??

April 26, 2012 3 comments

As a huge math nerd and art hobbyist (especially photography), I get really excited when the two overlap. Have you ever heard of the Fibonacci sequence? It starts with 0, 1, then continues with each term equaling the sum of the previous two:

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, etc.

What’s fascinating about the Fibonacci sequence is that it appears everywhere in nature in the form of the golden ratio.  Dividing a number in the sequence by the preceding number approximates the golden ratio (the approximation becomes more accurate the further down the sequence the numbers are and approaches ~1.618).  This ratio is expressed in the dimensions of conch shell spirals, the arrangement of branches on trees, the formation of petals on flowers, and even in proportions of the human body.

The golden ratio is used in art because shapes which express the ratio are more appealing to the eye–more beautiful.  In photography, a common composition technique is the “rule-of-thirds” in which the subject or horizon line is placed a third of the way from the frame.  This makes more interesting photographs than if the subject were in the center, and it works because it was derived from the golden ratio.

I think it’s incredible that this simple mathematical pattern seems to govern nature and even how we perceive beauty!

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