Reason; as the supreme authority in matters of opinion, belief, or conduct

Month: October, 2012

Perception of facial expressions

When the cues considered to be highly communicative in the facial expressions we make are mimicked by a computer generated head model; it has been shown that we are able to distinguish male from female speakers.



Strong, reliable magnets play a hugely important role in much of the technology we benefit from today as well as in the production of the energy that animates such technology. With the premise that small size is often favourable, the magnet industry saw its most significant revolution during the 20th century with the development of rare earth element magnets (1970s). These afforded significant advancements from their inception and the development and subsequent refinement of magnets based on the element neodymium led to a new era of possibilities.

These Neo magnets, in their continually refined forms, are still the most powerful magnets we have developed. They have allowed the development of power steering; intense magnetic fields in MRI; head actuators in hard discs (that accurately position their arms to particular data tracks); magnetic components of headphones and loudspeakers; and a myriad of size-conscious electrical motors and generators.

These magnets, because of their strength, even carry unique hazards. A few cubic centimetres of Neo magnets is enough to cause serious injury to human tissue caught between them. This has even included cases of broken bones under their force. Magnets allowed to attract each other in free space can accelerate to such energetic velocities that they can shatter on impact, causing shrapnel-like injuries from resulting fragments. There is a current pressure in the scientific community to resolve the future of this area given that soaring demand, created in large by the requirement for high performance generators and motors that need far more magnetic material than most current applications, looks as though it will soon exceed the supply of neodymium we can achieve.

“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Do you believe what you see?

Anyone who has been interested in the illusions that we sometimes see before our mind corrects them – the errors, assumptions or omissions that can manifest in our vision – will have had no shortage of material to ponder over. From the sudden appearance of a high contrast insect on a surface that looked bare a second before (an insect you now cannot fail to see even in your peripheries); to the certainty that it was the silhouette of a person you saw, only to realise that that was an absurd stretch from a less threatening bush.

We believe that the human visual system integrates information over a relatively long time period; 0.12 seconds. When you consider that you see, in most instances, sharp, defined edges on objects moving through your visual field at speed, you are given an insight into the interference of the non-conscious brain into what we perceive. A camera exposing for 0.12 seconds would not be able to capture in focus a jogger, let alone a dozen birds in flight.

Cyberdyne unveil HAL

Cyberdyne unveil HAL

Japanese venture firm Cyberdyne, after working in coordination with Prof. Sankai’s lab at the University of Tsukuba, have unveiled HAL. When I first read this article I had to look around online to verify that this was genuine given the two science fiction film references in the title; it certainly is, however. HAL, or Hybrid Assistive Limb, has taken the already impressive fledgling exoskeleton technologies we have seen over the last few years and brought them forward significantly. The device uses a network of sensors to detect nerve innovation meaning that the limbs move in unison with the wearer. The suit therefore feels weightless and allows far superior physical strength, all while monitoring the user’s vital signs.


“A superior man is modest in his speech, but exceeds in his actions” – Confucius

TED talk: David Pizarro: The strange politics of disgust

TED talk: David Pizarro: The strange politics of disgust

There is, at all times, a fascinating interplay in our minds between the higher conscious control that we are afforded today, and the more surreptitious direction we receive from our emotions. There is real wisdom in the practice of considering your judgements when you are not emotionally stimulated. Just as fear will course through your body and influence your decision making, so too will other emotions have their say in your views; albeit perhaps only to be ironed out of our memories in their tirelessly active editing rooms. David Pizarro is describing a topic many would readily reject as contradictory to their personal experience. As such, he needed to be extremely thorough with the data that could be used to describe this phenomenon, and to his credit he has covered every base.


How to be best understood

According to censuses from 2007, the most recent globally available data, the five most spoken languages, by native speakers, are as follows: Mandarin (935 million speakers); Spanish (387 million); English (365 million); Hindi (295 million); and Arabic (280 million).

The overall figures of how many people speak particular languages (including non-native speakers) are available from 2010 data: Mandarin (1151 million); English (1000 million); Spanish (500 million); Hindi (490 million); and Russian (277 million).

Smoother than ice

The combined ensemble of the articular surfaces covering the ends of the associated bones; the synovial capsule; and the contained synovial fluid, of human synovial joints, has a lower coefficient of friction than ice on ice. Joints like your knee, comprised of the components above, return less resistance to movement than you would feel pushing one block of smooth ice over another.

My back hurts, I need to sit down

The forces in your lower back are around double their standing values when you are sitting. When sitting there is reduced lordosis, curvature, in the lower back and the resultant of the forces in the lower spine is pulled to a position where it irritates the associated soft tissues. Nerves in the intervertabral discs respond painfully to structural disruption of the discs and the position we adopt when we sit increases the likelihood of this. Improved muscle strength in the back and abdomen can help to counter the action of the forces that are damaging your discs – damage that is currently beyond the scope of medicine to repair. Sitting more upright helps to pull the vector of the acting forces into more favourable lines of action, similarly to how stronger muscles will. Some academics, rather dryly in my opinion, describe the chair as the most dangerous orthotic device ever developed; under the assumption that for most of the 150,000 years or so of our existence we would not have spent extended periods sitting in one position. Will a new generation who spend more time sitting than previous generations suffer from worse backs from an earlier age? If mine and those of some of my friends are anything to go on then yes, certainly.