News for Nerds: November 12, 2010
- 11/11/2010 |
- 10:00 am
Coming up in this week's News for Nerds: the world's most amazing toilet, electro-shocking long-division into your brain, and the secret to successful test-taking. But first: hypersonic flight comes to town.
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There's no easy way to say this, so I'll just put it right out there: NASA is developing hypersonic jets that would allow you to fly from New York to Sydney in two-and-a-half hours -- nearly a 90% reduction from the current 21-hour flight time.
Most of the speculation is that long-term, the project is aimed at building a reusable aircraft that can travel to Mars. But in the short term, this could change everything we know about global travel.
These hypersonic jets would fly through the upper reaches of the Earth's atmosphere at five times the speed of sound. The Concorde aircraft, which became famous for its ultra-fast international flights until being retired in 2003, flew at Mach 2, or twice the speed of sound.
Of course there are still plenty of hurdles to get past before this thing becomes a reality, not the least of which is finding the right material for such a jet. In order to build a workable aircraft for atmospheric entry and descent, NASA will need something that is not only incredibly strong, but also light enough to carry a passenger load and durable enough to withstand extreme temperature fluctuations.
And there are other, more immediate concerns, such as: how will airlines make any money without enough time to charge $12 for a bag of peanuts and a miniature pillow?
Keep an eye on this story. By the end of the next decade, commercial air travel as we know it may be a whole new ballgame.
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What's the most bizarre gadget you've got in your home? Up until recently, I had a Three Stooges bottle opener that was both high-tech AND endlessly amusing. But that little gizmo had nothing on this list of nerdy home gadgets... some of which push the limits of usefulness and/or good sense.
You'll have to check out the link above to fully enjoy the wacky nature of some of these, but here are a few of my favorites:
The Tocky Alarm Clock (pictured): It's an alarm clock that buzzes and rolls away from you, so that you're forced to get out of bed and chase it around the room in order to shut it off. Effective, but irritating.
The Toto Intelligence Toilet II: How about a toilet that can check your blood pressure, your body mass index and even your blood sugar, all while going about your normal bathroom business?
The Wicked Lasers Torch: A flashlight that, for reasons I can't comprehend, shines at 4100 lumens, which is hot enough to scramble eggs, light matches and set paper on fire. AND the battery only lasts for five minutes. They should rename it the Lawsuit Catalyst 5000.
The Burglar Blaster: A home invasion alarm system that, if not disabled within 40 seconds, shoots out pepper spray that could blind and nauseate anyone within a 2000-foot radius. Ahhhhh!
Now honestly... who doesn't love science?
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I can't stress this enough: DO NOT try this at home.
According to recent findings, a mild, non-painful electric shock to the brain improves math skills. This sounds ghastly but may ultimately help people who suffer from math-related learning disabilities like dyscalculia.
National Geographic says it went down like this: scientists used a non-invasive method called 'transcranial direct current stimulation' to apply a weak current (via pads on the scalp) to the brains of 15 healthy adult volunteers over a six day period. During that time, the volunteers took part in a series of tests that showed that their mathematical abilities had improved.
Furthermore, the effect seemed to be long-lasting. When the volunteers were re-tested six months later, most of the improvement was maintained.
No one knows for sure why this works as well as it does. One theory is that the electric current influences brain chemicals called neurotransmitters... but as of now, that's just a theory.
Another issue that's come up is one of ethics. If such a treatment could help people with learning disabilities, that's great. But if an average (or even above-average) student could use it to gain an advantage, would that be a good thing, or would it be unfair?
One thing is for sure. I still don't want you to try this at home.
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And finally, another brain-related story that I thought you'd like -- see if you can remember it next week.
A study of 118 college students has confirmed that self-quizzing is a much more effective way of learning than simply repetitive studying. Now, this isn't exactly new information; Aristotle made this exact observation 2,000 years ago. But part of what makes this most recent study so compelling is that researchers now think they know why we learn better by quizzing and being quizzed.
You'll probably want to read the full article (linked above) to get the whole picture, but the gist is that the act of quizzing causes the brain to associate bridge words (or, if you prefer, bridge concepts) that help later recall. These bridge words are called mediators, and they're very important. For instance, when teaching the study participants the Swahili word for cloud, wingu, they found that students may subconsciously associate the word wing in order to think of a bird flying in the clouds.
It sounds pedantic, but it may be the key to successful test-taking and, more importantly, long-term learning. Says one of the study's researchers, "The illusion is, you read something and think you'll remember it... but they haven't practiced the skill they'll need on the test, which is retreival."
So the question for you is: without looking back, what was the name of the math-related learning disability in the previous story?
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You can put another edition of News for Nerds in the books. Thanks for playing along, and thanks for supporting Club Galahad. If you're a regular reader and you haven't signed up for the free newsletter or become a Fan on Facebook yet, honestly, what are you waiting for?
I'll be back next week with more fun stuff, but in the meantime, keep getting your nerd on!