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Is Divorce Linked to Climate Change?

April 15, 2012 5 comments


In this article in Psychology Today titled Divorce: The Second-Hand Smoke of Climate Change? the author discusses a study that had been researching the environmental impacts of divorce. 

The study shows that divorce causes energy efficiency to drop and a rise in resource consumption. This is because when a couple divorces, they each maintain a similar lifestyle to the one they had lived together, consuming the same amount of energy and resources to maintain their now-separate house and lifestyles.

When a lawyer was interviewed on the finding’s studies and asked to comment on whether or not environmental awareness would a couple to reconsider their divorce, he said 

“I think people who want a divorce are so driven to improve their quality of life—environmental factors are the least of what they’re thinking about… If they’re not thinking about the effect of divorce on children, they’re not going to be thinking what their environmental footprint is going to be or how many kilowatts they’re using.”

What do you think? Do you think that people would take environmental impact into their considerations when getting divorced or is it not important enough when compared to issues in a relationship?

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Google X’s Project Glass is REAL!

April 6, 2012 5 comments


We’ve all heard the rumors that the Google’s secret ‘Google X‘ laboratory has been working on projects such as talking fridges, space elevators, and ‘hands free‘ cars. Recently one of it’s newer projects was revealed on co-founder Sergey Brin when he wore Project Glass glasses at a charity event for blindness in San Francisco according to this Fox News article and BBC article.

The new glasses have a minimalist design with a microphone and partly-transparent video screen that places information over the view from the users’ right eye. In Google’s promotional video, it shows how the interface can be used by the wearer to connect them to updates, calendar, internet, and Google Maps to help them make it throughout the day.

This is a really interesting piece of technology, one that is likely to change the world as we know it yet again like so many other technologies before it. It also raises some concerns the public have about the use of this technology. Should people be allowed to wear the glasses while driving? Will it make cheating in schools more prevalent? Does it violate any privacy rights if someone were to bring up the Facebook and Twitter page of the person sitting next to them on the metro?

Some people also fear that if we allow this type of technology, inserting chips into our brains to be ‘connected’ to the outside world and internet won’t be far off.

What do you think about Google’s new project? Are some of the public feedback and claims founded or are they needlessly fearful and over exaggerated?

If you’re interested in seeing Google’s promotional video about Project Glass, click here. I highly recommend it, it’s pretty interesting!

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Children health and education suffering due to ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’

April 2, 2012 Leave a comment


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According to this BBC News article titled Nature deficit disorder ‘damaging Britain’s children,’ the British are noticing a change in the childhood experience.

Researchers from the National Trust are finding that the growing dissociation of children from the natural world and internment in the “cotton wool culture” of indoor parental guidance impairs their capacity to learn through experience. They cite several reasons for the decreased access to nature and child’s play outdoors: heavy traffic and fears that automobiles do not see children playing in the street, more focus on technology and toys that kids tend to play indoors with (internet, TV, other toys), and parental anxieties over crime and ‘stranger danger.’ Statistics found in the study show that the area where children are allowed to range unsupervised around their homes has shrunk by 90% since the 1970s.

Access to play outdoors or interactions with nature help children learn more effectively, and children themselves say their happiness depends more on having things to do outdoors more than owning technology. This brings up some interesting questions: how much do we encourage children to play outdoors, and should parents (specifically city parents, as those who live in the suburbs have easier access to nature) be more involved in encouraging outside play despite their parental fears? How do we find a balance between safety and play?

Personally, I grew up in a suburb with lots of access to grass and ‘safer’ areas to play in, so I do not have a perspective of what a childhood in a city would be like. However, I feel that no matter where children live, its fundamental that they get access to play spaces outdoors because it helps them develop in ways that playing indoors can only pretend to replicate.

Breaking Social Norms

March 30, 2012 8 comments


The other day in class we noticed a funny thing: almost all the database annotations were titled “Database Annotation: (Database Title).” It wasn’t in the instructions to title our annotations that way, yet we did it without talking to each other or deciding that was how every group should title their pages. Do you remember the first day of class when we had to introduce ourselves? By the end of the introductions everyone was following the pattern that had come up on how to introduce ourselves.

Why did this happen?

We all know that humans follow certain social norms that allow us to interact “properly” within the society we live in. But do we consciously realize how much they affect us on a daily basis?

One blog post I came across (titled The Cost of Social Norms) described social norms from a behavioral economics perspective. When is is appropriate to give money to people for things they have put effort into? As an example, the author, Dan Ariely, describes how a husband’s offer to give money to his mother-in-law for cooking Thanksgiving dinner is met  with gasps, embarrassment, and glares from other family members. With this example he compares how social and market norms interact in separate ways, and how “when social and market norms collide, trouble sets in.

Another aspect of social norms are trendsetters; who creates the social norms and trends? According to this article a question researchers ask is whether there is always a leader that sets or changes the norm, or whether norm change occurs organically over time, even in the absence of a strong leader. Fashion statements, apps, technology or colloquial language get spread in society enough to become social norms by being recognized by trendsetters and then spread through society by different group leaders who help to spread it.

What do you think of social norms, and how do you think they affect your life? How do you think social norms are created? Can social norms have negative effects on society, positive effects, or both?

I Think I Can…can I?

March 3, 2012 4 comments

While surfing the Bad Science blog, a post caught my interest. In his post “The golden arse beam method” Dr. Goldacre mentioned a study that looked at whether or not behaviors changed after practicing different ways of thinking about the goals they wished to achieve (in the case of this study the goal was to eat more fruit). 

The participants were split up into four groups, and each group was assigned to either repeat “eat more fruit” to themselves, imagine themselves enjoying fruit, repeat verbal plans for what they would do when they see fruit, or create a detailed mental image of themselves finding fruit, picking it up, touching it, and finally eating it. Although a short study, it found that the group that imagined themselves doing the latter task doubled their intake of fruit.

Just how effective is our mental willpower? If we sit and imagine detailed plans of how we are going to accomplish our goals (both small and big) and how we will experience them, will it affect the outcome? 

I personally have a hard time creating goals and then following through in order to reach them. While I don’t necessarily believe that this method of ‘positive mental thinking’ that’s described in the study will magically make the outcome of my actions different, I think that it could be a beneficial way to put people in the right mindset and help them focus to work on ways to accomplish the task they are thinking about.


Chicken Little – A Modern Day Story

February 22, 2012 3 comments

“The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”

These are the words of Chicken Little, a character in a well-known children’s book who thinks the sky is falling after an acorn falls from a tree and hits Chicken Little on the head. In some versions of the story, Chicken Little convinces her animal friends to go with her to tell the king that the sky is falling only to be sent back home with assurances the sky wasn’t going to fall.

Yet if the story of Chicken Little were set in today’s times, it would be a different story altogether. Just substitute scientists for Chicken Little, a satellite for the acorn, and voila! You get this article in the New York Times.

Scientists and NASA experts are growing increasingly concerned over the amount of space junk in Earth’s lower atmosphere. This comes as no surprise, as within the past two years alone two satellites have crashed into Earth. However, scientists agree that although the likelihood of collisions of Earth are small, the likelihood of collisions with other space technology such as the International Space Station and important satellites is increasing.

Researchers are working on creating technology that would clear up orbital space around Earth. Technology in developmental stages range from balloons and lasers that would push space junk out of orbit (to then burn up harmlessly in Earth’s lower atmosphere) to an $11 million dollar claw that would grab onto space junk before dragging both itself and the junk to burn in lower orbits.

Yet the question is, just how complicated is it to solve the space-junk issue?

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as writing THE END. There are many debates as to which method is the most effective at removing space junk, as well as extensive international politics. Space objects are owned by the nations that put them into orbit, and only those nations can bring them down. International agreements and policies are currently developing very slow as countries debate and often get distracted by other pressing international issues.

Do you think that space pollution and the removal of space junk is an issue that the international community should be focusing on more? Who should be responsible for its removal? What’s your favorite new technology to deal with space cleanup?

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