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Friday Fun: Totally Sidetalkin'

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With the advent of the iPhone, I'm reminded of an older phone/gadget that introduced us to a new way of making phone calls: the Nokia N-Gage. The N-Gage was (well, is) a gaming phone which suffered from several serious design problems in its first version. With the original N-Gage, if you wanted to make a phone call you'd hold the edge of the phone to your head to talk, thus presenting onlookers with a full view of the phone's face. (Also, in order to change the game, you had to partially disassemble the phone!) Anyway, the strange posture required in order to talk was dubbed "sidetalking," and it was a mark of either geek cred or just pure lameness, depending on how you looked at it.

Portland software maven Cabel Sasser started a web site as a tribute to the new art of sidetalking: Sidetalkin.com. Written in hilarious pidgin English, the site encouraged visitors to send in photos of themselves "sidetalkin'" using objects other than the N-Gage, as a kind of homage to the device. Soon the site was filled with pictures of people totally sidetalkin' with cats, shoes, Nintendo Entertainment Systems, various Apple products, and...well, just take a look. (I recommend: sidetalkin' with animals.)

Tragically, as the site proclaims, sidetalkin' is now history. Later revisions of the Nokia N-Gage changed the phone function so it didn't require users to look like goofs when making phone calls. Despite the site's efforts to save sidetalkin', it is now just a footnote in cell phone history.

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Health
Growing Up With Headphones May Not Damage Kids’ Hearing
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A study published in the American Medical Association's JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery finds no increase in child and adolescent hearing loss despite a rise in headphone and earbud use.

"Hearing impairment in children is a major public health burden given its impact on early speech and language development, and subsequently on academic and workforce performance later in life," the authors write. "Even mild levels of hearing loss have been found to negatively affect educational outcomes and social functioning."

As portable music players continue to grow in popularity, parents, doctors, and researchers have begun to worry that all the music pouring directly into kids' ears could be damaging their health. It seems a reasonable enough concern, and some studies on American kids' hearing have identified more hearing loss.

To take a closer look, researchers at the University of California-San Francisco analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), collected from 1988 to 2010. They reviewed records from 7036 kids and teens between the ages of 12 and 19, checking each participant's hearing tests against their exposure to noise.

As expected, the authors write, they did find a gradual increase in headphone use and other "recreational noise exposure." And they did see an uptick in hearing loss from 1988 to 2008 from 17 percent to 22.5 percent. But after that, the trend seemed to reverse, sinking all the way down to 15.2 percent—lower than 1988 levels. They also found no significant relationship between noise exposure and hearing loss.

The results were not uniform; some groups of kids were worse off than others. Participants who identified as nonwhite, and those of lower socioeconomic status, were more likely to have hearing problems, but the researchers can't say for sure why that is. "Ongoing monitoring of hearing loss in this population is necessary," they write, "to elucidate long-term trends and identify targets for intervention."

Before you go wild blasting music, we should mention that this study has some major limitations. Hearing loss and other data points were not measured the same way through the entire data collection period. Participants had to self-report things like hearing loss and health care use—elements that are routinely under-reported in surveys. As with just about any health research, more studies are still needed to confirm these findings.

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Design
Glow-in-the-Dark Paths Come to Singapore
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Studio Roosegaarde's Van Gogh path in the Netherlands in 2014.

Glow-in-the-dark materials are no longer for toys. Photoluminescence can help cities feel safer at night, whether it’s part of a mural, a bike lane, or a highway. Glow-in-the-dark paths have been tested in several European cities (the above is a Van Gogh-inspired bike path by the Dutch artist Daan Roosegaarde) and in Texas, but now, the technology may be coming to Singapore. The city-state is currently developing a 15-mile greenway called the Rail Corridor, and it now has a glow-in-the-dark path, as Mashable reports.

The 328-foot stretch of glowing path is part of a test of multiple surface materials that might eventually be used throughout the park, depending on public opinion. In addition to the strontium aluminate-beaded path that glows at night, there are also three other 328-foot stretches of the path that are paved with fine gravel, cement aggregate, and part-grass/part-gravel. The glow-in-the-dark material embedded in the walkway absorbs UV light from the sun during the day and can emit light for up to eight hours once the sun goes down.

However, in practice, glow-in-the-dark paths can be less dazzling than they seem. Mashable’s reporter called the glowing effect on Singapore’s path “disappointingly feeble.” In 2014, a glowing highway-markings pilot by Studio Roosegaarde in the Netherlands revealed that the first road markings faded after exposure to heavy rains. When it comes to glowing roads, the renderings tend to look better than the actual result, and there are still kinks to work out. (The studio worked the issue out eventually.) While a person walking or biking down Singapore’s glowing path might be able to tell that they were staying on the path better than if they were fumbling along dark pavement, it’s not the equivalent of a streetlight, for sure.

The trial paths opened to the public on July 12. The government is still gathering survey responses on people’s reactions to the different surfaces to determine how to proceed with the rest of the development. If the glow-in-the-dark path proves popular with visitors, the material could eventually spread to all the paths throughout the Rail Corridor. You can see what the glowing path looks like in action in the video below from The Straits Times.

[h/t Mashable]

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