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Spacesuits Go Spandex, Harry Potter Goes Green and Checkers Gets Solved!

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Who'll Stop the Rain?

beijing-2008-logo.gifCountries go to great lengths of make sure the Olympics are perfect- Athens officials took unconventional steps to clear away stray dogs and prostitutes. But Beijing's preparations may take the cake- they've designed a rocket to blast away rain clouds and guarantee sun. History shows that there's a 50 percent chance of rain during the opening and closing ceremonies, but Chinese scientists have created a method to disperse precipitation clouds and prevent rain over the city. The rocket is still being tested and while some meteorologists say it won't work, Chinese officials expect nothing but sunny days ahead.

NASA gets sexy
Current spacesuits have layers upon layers of fabric and pressurized gas to keep a safe amount of air pressure on the body. But they're so bulky and unflattering. Luckily, astronauts can now show off their svelte figures with the spacesuit1.jpgnew BioSuit, a spandex-like alternative in space fashion. This new suit provides pressure by tightly wrapping the fabric around the body, but also allows for flexible movement. The redesign wasn't just done for vanity- the current suits weigh almost 300 pounds and make movement difficult when astronauts aren't floating in space; the new suits will make those football games on the moon a little less awkward.
Harry Potter and the Environmental Conscience
061021_HarryPotter_Vl.widec.jpgAdmit it, the only thought you had when you were reading the new Harry Potter book wasn't "˜Will Harry defeat Voldemort?' or "˜I wonder who's going to die.' No, you were too busy thinking "˜This behemoth of a book probably single-handedly destroyed an acre of the Amazon and now the Earth is going to die because I wanted to know what happened to Snape.' Well, worry no longer; Deathly Hallows was actually the greenest book in publishing history. Scholastic got 65 percent of their paper from forests maintained in an environmentally- and socially-responsible way and also contained 30 percent post-consumer waste fiber. The printing is expected to inspire other publishers to use environmentally responsible methods for choosing their paper.

Liquid TV, Why You'll Never Be Able to Beat Your Computer in Checkers (if it's really playing) and Bee Deaths Solved all after the jump!

The Chameleon Liquid
Scientists say a new liquid that changes color with exposure to magnetic fields could do for LCD monitors what ethanol is doing to oil. The liquid, which contains oxide particles covered in plastic, is cheaper and easier to make and control. Besides replacing LCD technology, the liquids could also revolutionize paper; The ability to make the liquid as thin and flexible as necessary means that scientists could use it to make rewritable paper. As far as I'm concerned, if they can make a TV that makes Planet Earth look even better for less money, I'm on board.

No Words, Just Emotions
Chinese researchers have created a video player that doesn't just measure volume or time, but also the emotions of the video. The EmoPlayer will eventually be adapted to use emotion-detecting technology, but for now it just lets users edit the emotional timeline. Experiments show that people found it easier to navigate the videos. It'll probably be a while before the EmoPlayer gets fully integrated onto YouTube, so for now here's a quick tip: kittens, puppies and babies always signal happy.

King me!
If neither player makes a mistake, checkers will always end in a draw. That's the result of a study at University of Alberta, Canada, which used computer simulations and plenty of complex math to "solve" checkers. This shows how a computer was able to defeat checkers champ Marion Tinsley in the 1990's and why you'll never be able to beat your computer at work.

Bee Deaths: Case Closed
Weeks I ago I wrote about a condition that was killing the world's bees. Now a Spanish scientist says an Asian parasite called nosema ceranae is to blame. After studying the deaths for several years and testing various theories, he settled on the parasite as the culprit. Asian bees aren't as susceptible to it, but it kills Western honeybees in a matter of days. Among the other ideas that were tested were drought and some odd theory about the electromagnetic waves from cell phones throwing off bee navigation.

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London's Sewer-Blocking 'Fatbergs' Are Going to Be Turned Into Biodiesel
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UK officials can't exactly transform the Whitechapel fatberg—a 143-ton trash mass lurking in London's sewer system—into treasure, but they can turn it into fuel. As The Guardian reports, Scottish biodiesel producer Argent Energy plans to convert parts of the noxious blockage into an environmentally friendly energy source.

For the uninitiated, fatbergs (which get their names from a portmanteau of "fat" and "icebergs") are giant, solid blobs of congealed fat, oil, grease, wet wipes, and sanitary products. They form in sewers when people dump cooking byproducts down drains, or in oceans when ships release waste products like palm oil. These sticky substances combine with floating litter to form what could be described as garbage heaps on steroids.

Fatbergs wash up on beaches, muck up city infrastructures, and are sometimes even removed with cranes from sewer pipes as a last resort. Few—if any—fatbergs, however, appear to be as potentially lethal as the one workers recently discovered under London's Whitechapel neighborhood. In a news release, private utility company Thames Water described the toxic mass as "one of the largest ever found, with the extreme rock-solid mass of wet wipes, nappies, fat and oil weighing the same as 11 double-decker buses."

Ick factor aside, the Whitechapel fatberg currently blocks a stretch of Victorian sewer more than twice the length of two fields from London's Wembley Stadium. Engineers with jet hoses are working seven days a week to break up the fatberg before sucking it out with tankers. But even with high-pressure streams, the job is still akin to "trying to break up concrete," says Matt Rimmer, Thames Water's head of waste networks.

The project is slated to end in October. But instead of simply disposing of the Whitechapel fatberg, officials want to make use of it. Argent Energy—which has in the past relied on sources like rancid mayonnaise and old soup stock—plans to process fatberg sludge into more than 2600 gallons of biodiesel, creating "enough environmentally friendly energy to power 350 double-decker Routemaster buses for a day," according to Thames Water.

"Even though they are our worst enemy, and we want them dead completely, bringing fatbergs back to life when we do find them in the form of biodiesel is a far better solution for everyone," said company official Alex Saunders.

In addition to powering buses, the Whitechapel fatberg may also become an unlikely cultural touchstone: The Museum of London is working with Thames Water to acquire a chunk of the fatberg, according to BBC News. The waste exhibit will represent just one of the many challenges facing cities, and remind visitors that they are ultimately responsible for the fatberg phenomenon.

"When it comes to preventing fatbergs, everyone has a role to play," Rimmer says. "Yes, a lot of the fat comes from food outlets, but the wipes and sanitary items are far more likely to be from domestic properties. The sewers are not an abyss for household rubbish."

[h/t The Guardian]

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Does Self-Control Deplete Over the Course of the Day? Maybe Not, Says New Study
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For months now, I’ve been trying to cut out sugar from my diet. I’ve read about all the ways my sweet tooth will be the death of me, and I’ve resolved to give it up. And yet, even as I write this, my long-term goal to eat healthy is losing out to my eternal desire to eat M&Ms at my desk. Is it because it’s the end of the day, and I’ve been trying to make choices for eight hours already? Or is it something else?

A new study in PLOS One pushes back on the popular theory known as "ego depletion," which hypothesizes that self-control is a finite resource that depletes throughout the day, much like energy levels. Instead, researchers from the University of Toronto and the learning technology company Cerego found that people's self-control depletes when it comes to doing one task for a long period of time, but that self-control fatigue isn't a factor when you're switching tasks. In other words, it's hard to say no to the box of cookies all day long, but saying no to the box of cookies won't impede other acts of self-control, like your ability to focus on your homework instead of turning on the TV.

The study used data from Cerego, which publishes online study materials, examining the study behaviors of two groups of college students using the Cerego system as part of semester-long psychology courses. The researchers looked at data from two groups of users, one group of 8700 students and one of almost 8800, focusing on how long they worked during each session and how well they performed at the memory tests within the curriculum.

If self-control really is a finite resource, it should be depleted by the end of the day, after people presumably have spent many hours resisting their first impulses in one way or another. But the researchers found that this wasn't true. Overall, students didn't do any better if they used the program earlier in the morning. Instead, performances peaked around 2 p.m., and people logged in to use the software more and more as the day went on, suggesting that the motivation to learn doesn't fall off at night (though that may also be because that's when college students do their homework in general).

However, mental resources did seem to be drained by doing the same task for a long period of time. The researchers found that after a certain point, students' performance dropped off, peaking at about 28 minutes of work. They made about 5 percent more mistakes 50 minutes into the session compared to that peak.

When it comes to the idea that we exhaust our store of self-control, the authors write, "the notion that this fatigue is completely fluid, and that it emerges after minutes of self-control, is under considerable doubt."

The notion of ego depletion comes from a 1998 study in which researchers asked participants to hang out in a room full of fresh-baked cookies, telling them to eat only from a bowl of radishes, leaving the cookies untouched. Then, those volunteers worked on an impossible puzzle. Volunteers who had spent time avoiding the delicious pull of cookies gave up on the mind-boggling task an average of 11 minutes earlier than a group of volunteers who were brought into the same room and allowed to eat as many cookies as they wanted. (Lucky them.)

Since then, the idea has taken off, leading to hundreds of subsequent studies and even influencing the habits of people like Barack Obama, who told Vanity Fair in 2011 that he only wore blue or gray suits in order to cut down on the non-vital decisions he had to make throughout the day.

This current study isn't the first to challenge the theory’s veracity, though. In 2016, a 2000-person replication study by some of the same authors (with scientists in 23 different labs) pushed back on the theory of ego depletion, finding that short spurts of self-control didn't have any effect on subsequent tasks. This study just adds to the evidence against the well-established idea.

So it's looking more and more like ego depletion isn't a good excuse for my afternoon vending-machine habit. Perhaps the true secret to excellent self-control is this: Just be a raven.

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