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Relief for Couch Potatoes, Canine Contraceptives and One Charmingly Alarming Solution


Losing the remote is so last year with the new device that detects hand movements to control a television. Australian researchers have developed a box that can recognize seven different hand motions, from the thumbs up to an outstretched hand, to signal different commands for a television, DVD player or video recorder. The device supposedly works in any light and from a range of distances. Once the researchers get the box small enough to fit on a television, we'll finally be able to watch TV without all that hassle of actually lifting up a remote.

The iMartha

All those style-blind guys out there trying to match ties and shirts have help on the way. HP has announced a research project that would allow people to use their camera-phone to match colors. After sending a picture of themselves or an object they want to match, users will receive a text message a few minutes later with color recommendations. The pictures are processed and analyzed pixel-by-pixel for color value, erasing the effects of bad lighting. HP officials say the new tool will help women trying to buy makeup, but I can guarantee I'll use it almost every day to figure out what color shirt I should wear with my jeans.

Insert Tiger Woods pun here
caddyshack12.jpgMembership at your country club might get a little less exclusive if a team of American scientists has their way. They're advocating that golf courses be used as animal sanctuaries, since 70 percent of the well-manicured land isn't even used for playing. The greens are ideal places for animals, since they can be altered to mimic natural habitats and would be protected. On the other hand, this idea opens the door to all kinds of Caddyshack gopher-style animal hijinx.

PLUS: An Argentinian Snowfall, An Alarmingly Good Idea and Confidence via FDA-approved Nose Candy after the jump.

Snow in Buenos Aires?!
I'll admit, after living my entire life up north where winters are cold and snow is common, I can't empathize with people who joyfully greet every flurry by trying to have a snowball fight. But even my heart was warmed by the story of Buenos Aires getting its first taste of snow in almost 90 years. There have been cold temperatures plaguing Argentina since May, but a moisture-laden system moving in caused the snowfall on Argentina's Independence Day, the city's first since 1918. Sure, the story is dampened by the 23 deaths from exposure to cold, the energy crisis that has hit the country in light of the cool temperatures and the knowledge that this is just more evidence of how screwy our weather system has become, but the thought of Argentine children making snow angels is too much to not be happy.

nasal spray.jpgBoost Your Confidence, Via Nose
We've all been told that the best way to get over a fear of public speaking is to imagine everyone in their underwear. Apparently, the second-best way is a confidence-boosting nasal spray. Australian researchers developed the spray, which releases oxytocin into the bloodstream. In tests of 70 men and women, the drug was shown to reduce shyness in stressful social situations. Following large-scale tests, the spray should be commercially available in five years, so shy guys will finally have the courage to talk to girls at the bar after putting a little something up their nose. Sounds like a totally novel idea that will do great in the 1980s.

Neuter no more
Until now, dog birth control has been pretty one-sided; it's either neuter or nothing. But now an Australian company has unveiled a contraceptive implant for use in male dogs that will curb testosterone for months at a time, leaving a less permanent and relatively more comfortable alternative. The implant controls the hormone linked to testosterone production, not only killing the dog's sex drive, but also relaxing his aggressive behavior. Dogs aren't quite out of the water yet; the company still urges neutering as the best option if the owners don't want any breeding.

Picture 13.pngIsn't it time you gave her a ring?
Don't worry, I'm not talking about proposing. Since I reward myself for enduring the obnoxious buzz of my alarm clock with five more minutes of sleep, I think I might be in line for this sleek alarm from Yanko Design. The alarm is actually a ring that can be programmed to vibrate at a certain time. The vibrations of the ring then awake you in a manner slightly less jarring than the blaring horn of most clocks. This innovative alarm is especially useful for the hearing-impaired and couples waking up at different times.

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Animals
New Plankton Species Named After Sir David Attenborough Series Blue Planet
John Phillips, Getty Images for Tourism Australia
John Phillips, Getty Images for Tourism Australia

At least 19 creatures, both living and extinct, have been named after iconic British naturalist Sir David Attenborough. Now, for the first time, one of his documentary series will receive the same honor. As the BBC reports, a newly discovered phytoplankton shares its name with the award-winning BBC series Blue Planet.

The second half of the species' name, Syracosphaera azureaplaneta, is Latin for "blue planet," likely making it the first creature to derive its name from a television program. The single-cell organisms are just thousandths of a millimeter wide, thinner than a human hair, but their massive blooms on the ocean's surface can be seen from space. Called coccolithophores, the plankton serve as a food source for various marine life and are a vital marker scientists use to gauge the effects of climate change on the sea. The plankton's discovery, by researchers at University College London (UCL) and institutions in Spain and Japan, is detailed in a paper [PDF] published in the Journal of Nannoplankton Research.

"They are an essential element in the whole cycle of oxygen production and carbon dioxide and all the rest of it, and you mess about with this sort of thing, and the echoes and the reverberations and the consequences extend throughout the atmosphere," Attenborough said while accepting the honor at UCL.

The Blue Planet premiered in 2001 with eight episodes, each dedicated to a different part of the world's oceans. The series' success inspired a sequel series, Blue Planet II, that debuted on the BBC last year.

[h/t BBC]

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science
5 Ways You Do Complex Math in Your Head Without Realizing It
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The one thing that people who love math and people who hate math tend to agree on is this: You're only really doing math if you sit down and write formal equations. This idea is so widely embraced that to suggest otherwise is "to start a fight," says Maria Droujkova, math educator and founder of Natural Math, a site for kids and parents who want to incorporate math into their daily lives. Mathematicians cherish their formal proofs, considering them the best expression of their profession, while the anti-math don't believe that much of the math they studied in school applies to "real life."

But in reality, "we do an awful lot of things in our daily lives that are profoundly mathematical, but that may not look that way on the surface," Christopher Danielson, a Minnesota-based math educator and author of a number of books, including Common Core Math for Parents for Dummies, tells Mental Floss. Our mathematical thinking includes not just algebra or geometry, but trigonometry, calculus, probability, statistics, and any of the at least 60 types [PDF] of math out there. Here are five examples.

1. COOKING // ALGEBRA

Of all the maths, algebra seems to draw the most ire, with some people even writing entire books on why college students shouldn't have to endure it because, they claim, it holds the students back from graduating. But if you cook, you're likely doing algebra. When preparing a meal, you often have to think proportionally, and "reasoning with proportions is one of the cornerstones of algebraic thinking," Droujkova tells Mental Floss.

You're also thinking algebraically whenever you're adjusting a recipe, whether for a larger crowd or because you have to substitute or reduce ingredients. Say, for example, you want to make pancakes, but you only have two eggs left and the recipe calls for three. How much flour should you use when the original recipe calls for one cup? Since one cup is 8 ounces, you can figure this out using the following algebra equation: n/8 : 2/3.

algebraic equation illustrates adjustment of a recipe
Lucy Quintanilla

However, when thinking proportionally, you can just reason that since you have one-third less eggs, you should just use one-third less flour.

You're also doing that proportional thinking when you consider the cooking times of the various courses of your meal and plan accordingly so all the elements of your dinner are ready at the same time. For example, it will usually take three times as long to cook rice as it will a flattened chicken breast, so starting the rice first makes sense.

"People do mathematics in their own way," Droujkova says, "even if they cannot do it in a very formalized way."

2. LISTENING TO MUSIC // PATTERN THEORY AND SYMMETRY

woman enjoys listening to music in headphones
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The making of music involves many different types of math, from algebra and geometry to group theory and pattern theory and beyond, and a number of mathematicians (including Pythagoras and Galileo) and musicians have connected the two disciplines (Stravinsky claimed that music is "something like mathematical thinking").

But simply listening to music can make you think mathematically too. When you recognize a piece of music, you are identifying a pattern of sound. Patterns are a fundamental part of math; the branch known as pattern theory is applied to everything from statistics to machine learning.

Danielson, who teaches kids about patterns in his math classes, says figuring out the structure of a pattern is vital for understanding math at higher levels, so music is a great gateway: "If you're thinking about how two songs have similar beats, or time signatures, or you're creating harmonies, you're working on the structure of a pattern and doing some really important mathematical thinking along the way."

So maybe you weren't doing math on paper if you were debating with your friends about whether Tom Petty was right to sue Sam Smith in 2015 over "Stay With Me" sounding a lot like "I Won't Back Down," but you were still thinking mathematically when you compared the songs. And that earworm you can't get out of your head? It follows a pattern: intro, verse, chorus, bridge, end.

When you recognize these kinds of patterns, you're also recognizing symmetry (which in a pop song tends to involve the chorus and the hook, because both repeat). Symmetry [PDF] is the focus of group theory, but it's also key to geometry, algebra, and many other maths.

3. KNITTING AND CROCHETING // GEOMETRIC THINKING

six steps of crocheting a hyperbolic plane
Cheryl, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Droujkova, an avid crocheter, she says she is often intrigued by the very mathematical discussions fellow crafters have online about the best patterns for their projects, even if they will often insist they are awful at math or uninterested in it. And yet, such crafts cannot be done without geometric thinking: When you knit or crochet a hat, you're creating a half sphere, which follows a geometric formula.

Droujkova isn't the only math lover who has made the connection between geometry and crocheting. Cornell mathematician Daina Taimina found crocheting to be the perfect way to illustrate the geometry of a hyperbolic plane, or a surface that has a constant negative curvature, like a lettuce leaf. Hyperbolic geometry is also used in navigation apps, and explains why flat maps distort the size of landforms, making Greenland, for example, look far larger on most maps than it actually is.

4. PLAYING POOL // TRIGONOMETRY

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If you play billiards, pool, or snooker, it's very likely that you are using trigonometric reasoning. Sinking a ball into a pocket by using another ball involves understanding not just how to measure angles by sight but triangulation, which is the cornerstone of trigonometry. (Triangulation is a surprisingly accurate way to measure distance. Long before powered flight was possible, surveyors used triangulation to measure the heights of mountains from their bases and were off by only a matter of feet.)

In a 2010 paper [PDF], Louisiana mathematician Rick Mabry studied the trigonometry (and basic calculus) of pool, focusing on the straight-in shot. In a bar in Shreveport, Louisiana, he scribbled equations on napkins for each shot, and he calculated the most difficult straight-in shot of all. Most experienced pool players would say it’s one where the target ball is halfway between the pocket and the cue ball. But that, according to Mabry’s equations, turned out not to be true. The hardest shot of all had a surprising feature: The distance from the cue ball to the pocket was exactly 1.618 times the distance from the target ball to the pocket. That number is the golden ratio, which is found everywhere in nature—and, apparently, on pool tables.

Do you need to consider the golden ratio when deciding where to place the cue ball? Nope, unless you want to prove a point, or set someone else up to lose. You're doing the trig automatically. The pool sharks at the bar must have known this, because someone threw away Mabry's math napkins.

5. RE-TILING THE BATHROOM // CALCULUS

tiled bathroom with shower stall
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Many students don't get to calculus in high school, or even in college, but a cornerstone of that branch of math is optimization—or figuring out how to get the most precise use of a space or chunk of time.

Consider a home improvement project where you're confronted with tiling around something whose shape doesn't fit a geometric formula like a circle or rectangle, such as the asymmetric base of a toilet or freestanding sink. This is where the fundamental theorem of calculus—which can be used to calculate the precise area of an irregular object—comes in handy. When thinking about how those tiles will best fit around the curve of that sink or toilet, and how much of each tile needs to be cut off or added, you're employing the kind of reasoning done in a Riemann sum.

Riemann sums (named after a 19th-century German mathematician) are crucial to explaining integration in calculus, as tangible introductions to the more precise fundamental theorem. A graph of a Riemann sum shows how the area of a curve can be found by building rectangles along the x, or horizontal axis, first up to the curve, and then over it, and then averaging the distance between the over- and underlap to get a more precise measurement. 

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