News for Nerds - The 'Phantom Vibrating Phone' Edition

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  • Posted by: Dom Testa|
  • 7/19/2013 |
  • 10:00 am
News for Nerds - The 'Phantom Vibrating Phone' Edition

After a two-week hiatus, welcome back to News for Nerds! This week we'll uncover a device that could enable dog-to-human communication, we'll find out whether mosquitoes really do love some people more than others, and we'll learn where all the world's beach sand comes from. But first, here are your headlines.

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There's no doubt about it: cell phones have changed our lives in many ways, and mostly for the better. But have you ever been walking along, minding your own business, when you feel your phone vibrating in your pocket? You reach down to see who's trying to reach you, and lo and behold -- no one is calling. You only imagined that your phone was vibrating

Well, you're not alone. In fact, this actually may be the sign of healthy brain function. Studies show that 80% of us have experienced this at one time or another, and almost 30% have reported hearing non-existent ringing. So what gives?

It's known as a perceptual judgment, and psychologists use a concept called Signal Detection Theory to explain it. Look at it this way: when it comes to your phone, there are only four possible outcomes -- either it's ringing and you notice it, it's ringing and you don't notice, it's not ringing and therefore you don't notice it, or it's not ringing but you think that it is. This last phenomenon is known as a false alarm, and it's a result of your brain trying to decode the signals it's getting from all the various parts of your skin, your nerves, and your central nervous system. Sometimes your brain gets it right, and sometimes it doesn't.

What's most interesting, though, is that we condition ourselves to get more false alarms. Scientists believe this is because we hate missing calls a lot more than we hate the false alarm. In other words, since we'd rather check our phones and find that no one is calling instead of missing a call altogether, our brains err on the side of caution, telling us that our phone is vibrating even when it isn't. It's a prime example of 'better safe than sorry.' Your brain, it seems, is just looking out for you.

- from The BBC

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Because of the great advances made with tools like the Kepler and Hubble Space Telescopes, astronomers are finding new planets at an astonishing rate. Better yet, we are getting all sorts of detailed information about these planets that our grandparents never would have imagined.

The latest example is the planet HD 189733b, a mere 63 light years away. It was first discovered in 2005, but this week astronomers announced some fascinating details about it. For one thing, it is a beautiful azure blue color, much like Earth. But unlike Earth, its climate is not exactly hospitable. Daytime temperatures reach 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit (almost as hot as Palm Springs!), and because it orbits within a mere 3 million miles of its parent star, it is gravitationally locked, so that one side is always dark.

But here's the kicker: scientists are pretty sure that it rains liquid glass amid winds that gust up to 4,500 miles per hour. Forget majestic, Earth-like oceans. Instead, it is this glass-like rain, part of what one expert calls a "blow-torched atmosphere," that gives the planet its beautiful blue color.

HD 189733b is a gas giant that shares some characteristics, such as size, with our own neighbor, Jupiter. Another characteristic that they share? Don't expect to buy a vacation home there anytime soon.

- from CNN (and submitted by News for Nerds fan Nick)

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Here are a few other cool science stories you might enjoy:

  • If you've ever spent a summer evening listening to friends complain that they are getting eaten alive by mosquitoes, or that mosquitoes seem to love them more than most people, take note: your friends are not just being dramatic. Mosquitoes really are attracted to some people more than others.
  • Speaking of summer, this is the time of year that folks in non-landlocked states like plop down on the beach and enjoy a good book. But did you ever stop to wonder where all that sand comes from? And why the sand on one beach is different from the sand on another? Our friends at LiveScience explain.
  • And finally, a team of researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology are developing a device that would allow dogs to communicate important information, such as the detection of bombs or even cancer, to humans. They are calling the project Facilitating Interactions for Dogs with Occupations, which of course has the clever acronym FIDO. Ha! Sit Booboo, sit. Good dog.

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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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