News for Nerds - How to Build a Pyramid

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  • Posted by: Dom Testa|
  • 5/9/2014 |
  • 10:00 am
News for Nerds - How to Build a Pyramid

Welcome back to News for Nerds! This week we'll explain why using a middle initial makes you smarter, we'll get the skinny on fake laughter, and we'll use science to get silly about a children's classic. But first, here are your headlines.

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Some topics hold a special allure for people, and their mysteries endure for generations. I've always found the pyramids to be one of those endlessly fascinating subjects, and I don't think I'm alone. Just look around pop culture, which continues to churn out books, movies, and TV shows about the pyramids thousands of years after they were erected.

Among the many mysteries that the pyramids hold, one of the most curious is the simple question: how did early Egyptians, without the benefit of modern construction technology, manage to move those massive pieces of stone around?

It's long been assumed that huge teams of workers hauled stones using giant sleds, but just how that worked was never clear -- until now. An ancient drawing found in the tomb of Djehutihotep shows a person standing at the front of a sled, apparently pouring water onto the sand in front of him.

A team of researchers from the University of Amsterdam decided to test this technique, and eureka! They found that adding water to the sand in front of a large object creates 'cappilary bridges' that hold the sand grains together, making them more compact (and thus reducing friction). This technique would reduce the number of workers needed to pull a heavy sled by as much as half.

Check out the video to learn more.

- story from The Huffington Post, photo from NilsonFM via Wikimedia Commons

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There's a huge push to get more technology into classrooms, and for the most part that's a good idea. Practical technology in the hands of a capable teacher is a powerful tool.

But a new study shows that in some cases, low-tech practices just can't be beat. Researchers at Princeton have found that, when it comes to students taking notes during a lecture, writing out longhand notes is far more effective than typing into a laptop.

The Princeton team tried all sorts of variables, but what it seems to boil down to is this: because we type so fast, taking notes on a laptop tends to lend itself to transcription more than anything else. The professor talks, and we type whatever she says -- even when we're told not to. But because writing by hand takes longer, we are forced to actually process what's being said before jotting it down in our own words. And researchers believe that "this initial selectivity leads to long-term comprehension."

Are you getting all of this? Would you like me to wait while you go find a pen?

- story from The Atlantic, photo from Paty Montano via Wikimedia Commons

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And here are a few other cool science stories you might enjoy:

  • Forget the pencil behind your ear and the thick black frames on your glasses. A new study says that if you want to appear smarter, all you have to do is start using your middle initial.
  • Did you know that while many animals laugh, humans are the only species known to fake laugh? (What a bunch of phonies.) A professor at UCLA has studied this phenomenon extensively, and he says that most of the time, we're probably not fooling anyone.
  • And finally . . . Pinocchio. Science students at the University of Leicester have crunched the numbers, and they say that Pinocchio could only have told 13 lies before the weight of his nose caused him to break his neck. Ha!

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That's all for now! I'll be back with more News for Nerds next week, but be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter, and to sign up for the free e-Newsletter so that you can properly get your nerd on every single month! And please send any juicy News for Nerds tips to me right here!

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