Wednesday, 18th July 2012
Q. Try to braintease out the missing number here...
1, ___, 2, 4, 7, 11, 16, 22.
A. Notice that starting backward at the 22, first you subtract 6 to get 16; then 5 to get 11, then 4 to get 7, 3 to get 4, 2 to get 2. It follows that next you subtract a 1 to get to the blank space, making 1 the missing number.
This works out well since when you now subtract a 0 from 1, you get the initial number 1. Hence, the solution: "With each step, the numbers increase by 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, respectively," yielding 1, 1, 2, 4, 7, 11, 16, 22, say Helene Rosenstand in "Science Illustrated" magazine.
Q. You've heard of "taste aversions" developing in people, such as when they eat contaminated mussels, become violently ill, then have a hard time ever eating mussels again. How has use of this knowledge helped save the lives of wolves and coyotes?
A. In one study, coyotes and wolves ate poison-laced sheep carcasses, causing them to develop an aversion to sheep meat, says David G. Myers in "Psychology: Tenth Edition." "Two wolves later penned with a live sheep seemed actually to fear it." This not only saved the sheep but also the sheep-shunning coyotes and wolves, that were spared by angry farmers and ranchers. Such stimulus-response manipulations have also deterred baboons from devouring garden crops, raccoons from attacking chickens, and ravens from eating crane eggs. "In all these cases, research helped preserve the prey and their predators," Myers concludes.
Q. Do newborn babies enter the world as virtual blank slates or as little Einsteins, loaded with knowledge about things they've barely even seen?
A. "Helpless as they are, babies pop into the world neurally programmed for reasoning about objects, physical causality, numbers, the biological world, the beliefs and motivations of other individuals, and social interactions," says neuroscientist David Eagleman in "Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain." For example, Baby's brain EXPECTS to see faces, and so Baby will turn toward face-like patterns but not toward scrambled versions of these patterns. By just a few months old, babies will express surprise if one object seems to pass through another, or if solid objects seem to disappear as if by magic. They know to treat supposed animate objects differently from inanimate ones and also make assumptions and draw conclusions about adults, trying to impersonate them when they do something right but not if they make a "whoops-punctuated" mistake.
As for babbling, deaf children do this in the same way as the unimpaired, and children hearing radically different languages nevertheless wind up babbling similarly.
"In other words," Eagleman concludes, "by the time babies are old enough to be tested, they are already making assumptions about the workings of the world. So although children learn by imitating what's around them aping their parents, pets and the tv they are not blank slates."
Q. What's in ice cream that you probably never thought about, though the manufacturers certainly have, counting their profits along the way? Beer lovers, take note.
A. Beer, you know, has foamy bubbles collected in the "head" that for many drinkers never lasts long enough, though others argue it lasts too long, says F. Ronald Young in "Fizzics: The Science of Bubbles, Droplets, and Foams." Some beer manufacturers fatten the foams by using additives, but ice cream manufacturers?
Fact is, ice cream is a dessert famous for its foam. Before she became a politician, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once worked for an ice cream company and helped devise a method for introducing more air into the product, lightening the texture and winning over customers. "It also resulted in less ice cream (which is relatively expensive) and more air (which is relatively cheap), creating bigger profits. Mrs. Thatcher's method, of course, spread widely."
Q. According to the classic Parkinson's Law, "work expands to fill whatever time is available for its completion." What's the garbage version of this principle?
A. As discovered by Tucson anthropologist William Rathje and reported by Edward Humes in "Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash," the amount of garbage a household generates expands to fill its available receptacles. As part of his Garbage Project, Rathje discovered this after researchers pointed out "that households in Phoenix threw away a third more trash than their counterparts in Tucson, despite similar demographics." Phoenix used mechanized garbage trucks and 90-gallon bins, whereas Tucson used smaller containers.
Then when Tucson adopted the same trash system, the amount of garbage increased by a third. Included were more yard waste, old clothes, household toxins, recyclable plastics, glass and cans (previously disposed of separately, now all too easily dumped into the bigger bin). Concluded Humes: "Parkinson's Law suggested the need for separate mechanized bins for recyclables, which has since become the industry standard."
Q. Performance-enhancing drugs in sports are one thing, polydactyl pitchers are quite another. In what fascinating sense do the two somewhat overlap?
A. While most sports fans decry the use of such drugs, pointing to the rapid beefing up of Barry Bonds, others ask why Tommy John surgery is OK when it's not "natural" either, says Steve Mirsky in "Scientific American" magazine. A pitcher used to pitch till his arm gave out, but in 1974, orthopedic surgeon Frank Jobe replaced pitcher Tommy John's ulnar collateral ligament with a tendon from his arm, allowing him to take the mound for another 15 years. Yet today, "so many pitchers have performed so well after Tommy John surgery, some young pitchers have considered having it done electively."
Consider also pitcher Mordecai Brown, nicknamed "Three- Finger" after losing a finger to a farm equipment accident. Ironically, his curve ball became better. "Pitcher Antonio Alfonseca's hereditary polydactyly gave him six fingers per hand. Do we need a five-finger rule?" Mirsky quips. Then there was Finnish Olympic seven-time cross-country skiing medalist Eero Mantyranta, whose genetic condition dramatically increased his red blood cell count and oxygen- carrying capacity. "Which is a pretty terrific thing for an endurance athlete to have. (Much, much better than an extra finger on each hand.)"
Isn't this a form of blood doping? Actually, yes, answers Mirsky, though it's a natural form if a mutation is natural. "So if users of performance-enhancing drugs are disqualified, should holders of performance-enhancing mutations be barred too?" The debate goes on, along with the unanswered questions.
Q. "Alas for me, that I do not at least know the extent of my own ignorance," lamented Aurelius Augustinus (354-430 C.E.) in his "Confessions." Can you cite a much more recent statement of this rather knotty epistemological problem?
A. Here's one from U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld at a February 12, 2002 Department of Defense news briefing: "As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are unknown unknowns the ones we don't know we don't know."
(From "Kurt Godel and the Foundations of Mathematics: Horizons of Truth", edited by Matthias Baaz, et al.)
Q. Who cares if cramped, boring aquaria make for fussier, more aggressive fish?
A. The fish certainly care--you wouldn't want to be living in a small, barren fish bowl either, answers Jackie Fitch in "Think," the magazine of Case Western Reserve University (CWRU). A recent study by CWRU biologist Ronald Oldfield, PhD, showed that aquarium fish living in such spaces are more aggressive than fish in nature or those living in more stimulating surroundings with lots of obstacles and rocks and plants for hiding places. "With more than 182 million ornamental fish living across the country, that's a lot of aggressive aquarium-dwellers," Fitch says.
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Google AlertWhen a company which has it's European Headquarters here in Ireland is called 'evil' and 'immoral' by M.P.s in The House of Commons you tend to sit up and take notice. The particular company that was being referred to was Google and the reason it had enraged M.P.s in London was because even though it has a big operation there and conducts a lot of business there it pays no corporate tax. It does this by having all of its financial transactions finished here in Ireland. And the company here is …
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