News for Nerds - May 4, 2012

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  • Posted by: Dom Testa|
  • 5/4/2012 |
  • 10:00 am
News for Nerds - May 4, 2012

Welcome back to more News for Nerds! This week we'll look at brilliant toddlers, big moons, expensive rocks, and the correlation between your handshake and your longevity. But first: sometimes I start a dialogue with myself because I'm the only one who can relate.

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We all talk to ourselves, right? Research has shown that most people talk to themselves at least every few days, and sometimes on an hourly basis. But while that might carry with it the implications of a crazy person, it's actually a very helpful habit.

Scientists have known for years that children practice so-called 'self-directed speech' when they're working through step-by-step tasks such as tying their shoes. But we now know that it's a practical, useful process for adults, too.

This story from MSNBC chronicles a recent study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison which shows that self-directed speech helps people searching for a specific item to find it faster. Says psychologist Gary Lupyan, "The general take-home point is that language is not just a system of communication... [but] it can augment perception, augment thinking."

Keep that in mind the next time the remote control goes missing.

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This is cool: Saturday night will bring us the biggest, brightest full moon of 2012. Be sure to make some time to go outside and appreciate it.

By nightfall on Saturday our lunar neighbor will swing within 221,802 miles of Earth. This will make the moon appear noticeably larger than normal, and also 16 percent brighter. Astronomers call it a 'supermoon,' and we haven't seen one in more than a year.

If you're worried about possible side effects from the fly-by, don't be. Experts tell us that there will be no extreme tidal effects or suspicious earthquakes as a result of the supermoon. It's really just an opportunity to gaze up in wonder at the night sky the way we all used to when we were kids. Your best bet will be just after it rises or just before it sets, when its proximity to the horizon produces an optical illusion that makes it look even more pronounced.

On the other end of the spectrum, November 28 will bring us a full moon that coincides with apogee, the moon's farthest approach, resulting in the smallest and dimmest moon of the year. Just one more reason to like May more than November (although you can make a pretty strong case for Thanksgiving).

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And while we're on the subject of space, did you hear the one about the California mom who stumbled across a rock that turned out to be worth $20,000?

It happened this week in the town of Lotus, just outside Sacramento. Brenda Salveson, a stay-at-home mom, was walking her dog when she came across a 17-gram 'rock' that turned out to be a precious meteorite. Estimates put its age at between four and six billion years old -- and its value in the tens of thousands of dollars.

But never mind all that. Brenda did what any good mom would do after learning of the meteorite's value: she gave it to her son to take to show-and-tell.

Thousands of other modern-day treasure hunters have flocked to the area hoping to cash in on similar finds. Some have come from as far away as Australia. But as for Brenda, she says she has no immediate plans to sell it. Let's just hope it makes it back from show-and-tell in one piece.

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Here's one of my favorite news stories in recent weeks. Emmelyn Roettger is in many ways your typical three year-old. She likes to play and laugh and sleep. But she also loves to read, and to talk about complicated astronomical concepts like nebulas and black holes.

And because she is so obviously brilliant, the toddler was accepted as a member of Mensa this week, making her the youngest ever to achieve such a feat. The previous record-holder is also an impressive specimen: a four year-old British girl who, it was revealed last week, has an IQ of 159 -- just one point shy of theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking.

What makes Emme's story so special, though, is the radical transformation she has undergone. When she was an infant, doctors told Emme's parents that she had 'unspecified delays' in her ability to learn, and that she might be autistic.

But the girl's mom didn't believe that was true. On a hunch, she had Emme's vision checked, and lo-and-behold: "It turned out she just needed glasses!"

For a girl who couldn't see much of anything a few short years ago, the future now appears to be very bright indeed.

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And finally, a story about the inevitability of old age and the potential indicators of long-term health problems.

New research was published this week that indicates a possible link between how fast you walk and your risk for dementia later in life. It was also found that people with a stronger handshake are less likely to suffer strokes as seniors.

It's an interesting concept, but even the study's authors caution that more research is needed. What everyone can agree on, however, is that there are many things that you can do early in life that will definitely lower your risk of strokes and dementia.

That list includes the usual suspects: eat a balanced diet, don't smoke, keep your weight in check, and exercise. Getting your blood pressure and cholesterol checked regularly is also a pretty good idea.

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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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