News for Nerds - October 5, 2012

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

Welcome back to News for Nerds! This week we celebrate some dubious award-winners, we learn more about how movie sound effects are made, and we give you an excuse to look at cute internet photos. But first: do you hear that noise, or is it just me?

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If you want to stay in good health, it's important to be in touch with your body. But what happened to Manny Pavao goes to show that it is possible to have too much of a good thing.

Pavao, a 44 year-old Boston man, is hearing the world normally again for the first time in 10 years. Over the course of the last decade, his life has been a torture chamber of constant sounds. And those sounds were coming from inside his own body.

The problem was something called superior canal dehiscence syndrome. It's caused by a tiny hole that separates the inner ear from the brain. In Manny's case, that tiny hole meant that he could hear pretty much hear everything that was going on inside his body, from the beating of his heart, to the movement of his eyes (which he said sounds like "rubbing sandpaper on a piece of wood back and forth.") Even his own voice was amplified inside his head, sounding as though he was talking through blown-out speakers.

For years he saw a stream of doctors, but no one could figure it out. It wasn't until his wife saw a story on the news about a woman who had been cured of a similar condition that the puzzle was finally solved. After a four-hour surgery to repair the hole in his skull, Manny's nightmare is over.

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Having a hard time staying on task? Does your mind drift from one topic to the next? Are you a constant daydreamer?

Well, scientists at Hiroshima University have an unlikely solution to your troubles: looking at cute animals.

Yes, that's right. A new study claims to show that exposure to cute animals increases the brain's concentration levels for short periods of time. Based on a similar 2009 study, this series of experiments split 48 participants into two groups. They would play games that required high levels of concentration, then each group would spend some time looking through pictures of either cute baby animals, or standard adult animals. Then they reconvened for more gameplay.

The results were pretty clear. The group that studied the pictures of cute baby animals during the break scored higher and finished faster than the other group, which registered no change.

As to the reasons for this noticeable difference -- no one seems to be sure. The Japanese team behind the study says only that the "psychophysiological state underlying the feeling of cuteness has to be explored further" before any firm conclusions can be made. But in the meantime, get your Cute Overload fix and then get back to work.

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People are always sending me stuff from Buzzfeed. Some of it is great, some of it is less so.

But I really enjoyed this peek behind the curtain of the movie-making process. It's a look at how the most famous sound effects from nine very famous movies came about. And some of them are downright bizarre.

Take, for instance, the famous T-Rex roar in Jurassic Park. It's the blended sounds of a baby elephant, an alligator, and a roaring tiger. Or how about the blasters used by storm troopers in the first Star Wars movie? Doesn't it sound like it was created by some kind of crazy synthesizer? It was actually produced by sound designer Ben Burt, who climbed a radio tower and recorded himself hammering away on a cable.

But perhaps my favorite -- and the most cost-effective -- is from the classic film Spartacus. There's a famous scene featuring the entire Roman army marching into battle, all clad in their bulky metallic armor. How'd the filmmakers produce that sound for the movie?

Jangling car keys, of course.

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And finally: the Ig Nobel Awards!

Held annually for the last 22 years, the Ig Nobels are a very fun, very loose acknowledgment of the types of scientific accomplishments that make you laugh and make you think. And the ceremony itself is a hoot. For example, if your acceptance speech runs for more than a minute, two 8-year-old girls are sent to the podium to shout, "Please stop, I'm bored!" until you sit back down.

Anyway, here are a few of the best entries from this year's winners:

  • A Dutch team that studied why leaning to the left makes the Eiffel Tower appear smaller;
  • A French team that advised doctors who perform colonoscopies how to minimize the chance that their patients will explode;
  • A Japanese team that created a 'Speech Jammer', which is a machine that disrupts a person's speech by making them hear their own spoken words on a slight delay; and
  • The US Government General Accountability Office, which issued a report about reports about reports, which recommends the preparation of a report about the report about the reports about reports.

You can check out the full list of winners, along with some silly pictures of the festivities, right here.

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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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