When Texting, One Little Thing Makes a Big Difference


When texting in a hurry, punctuation is the first thing to go. Although improvements in cell phone keyboards and a widespread increase in general tech-savviness have rendered such overly abbreviated messages as “c u l8r” old-fashioned and (mostly) obsolete, texting is still a medium that calls for efficiency. However, researchers from Binghamton University have found that text recipients interpret messages differently based on the presence or absence of one simple thing: a period.

In "Texting insincerely: The role of the period in text messaging," a study of 126 college students, researchers from Binghamton’s Center for Cognitive and Psycholinguistic Sciences found that text messages punctuated with a period at the end were considered “less sincere” than identical text messages received without the period. Participants were presented with a series of brief conversational exchanges, in which a brief, informal message containing a question (“Dave gave me his extra tickets. Wanna go?”) was replied to with an affirmative one-word response like “Okay,” “Sure,” “Yeah,” or “Yup.” In half the cases, the exact reply was “Sure.” (note the period), and in the other half, the response was “Sure” – sans period. Surprisingly, this subtle manipulation was enough to cause respondents to rate the punctuation-free message as more sincere, and the correctly punctuated message as less sincere.

In addition to determining whether the period itself carried interpretive weight, the researchers also manipulated the medium by which the message was sent. Some participants were shown images of texts, represented by messages pictured on a cell phone screen, while others were shown identically worded messages hand-written on photocopied scraps of lined, loose-leaf paper (looking a lot like notes that students might pass to one another in class). Respondents in the hand-written message scenario rated both punctuated and unpunctuated sentences as equally sincere as one another, and both were judged equally as sincere as text messages without a final period. For some reason, then, a period seems to have a greater impact in text messages (a form of what psychologists call computer-mediated communication, or CMC) than it does in written communication.

As to why a digital period carries more meaning than one written in ballpoint pen, the researchers were reluctant to speculate. In the study, they conclude “not so much that the period is used to convey a lack of sincerity in text messages, but that punctuation is one of the cues used by senders, and understood by receivers, to convey pragmatic and social information.” In the absence of vocal inflection, facial expression, body language, pauses, and eye contact, a humble period might be worth more, relatively speaking. There are plenty of believers in the importance of proper text punctuation etiquette already, with various parties anecdotally convinced that ending a message with a period indicates passive-aggression, omitting an exclamation point (or three) constitutes rudeness, or that only old people use commas—but ultimately, it’s between the sender and the receiver to negotiate mutual understanding of what a text means. And if there’s any lingering doubt as to whether a response is sincere or not, maybe someday there’ll be an emoji for that.

[h/t Pacific Standard]

Charge Your Gadgets Anywhere With This Pocket-Sized Folding Solar Panel

Solar Cru, YouTube
Solar Cru, YouTube

Portable power banks are great for charging your phone when you’re out and about all day, but even they need to be charged via an electrical outlet. There's only so much a power bank can do when you’re out hiking the Appalachian Trail or roughing it in the woods during a camping trip.

Enter the SolarCru—a lightweight, foldable solar panel now available on Kickstarter. It charges your phone and other electronic devices just by soaking up the sunshine. Strap it to your backpack or drape it over your tent to let the solar panel’s external battery charge during the day. Then, right before you go to bed, you can plug your electronic device into the panel's USB port to let it charge overnight.

It's capable of charging a tablet, GPS, speaker, headphones, camera, or other small wattage devices. “A built-in intelligent chip identifies each device plugged in and automatically adjusts the energy output to provide the right amount of power,” according to the SolarCru Kickstarter page.

A single panel is good “for small charging tasks,” according to the product page, but you can connect up to three panels together to nearly triple the electrical output. It takes roughly three hours and 45 minutes to charge a phone using a single panel, for instance, or about one hour if you’re using three panels at once. The amount of daylight time it takes to harvest enough energy for charging will depend on weather conditions, but it will still work on cloudy days, albeit more slowly.

The foldable panel weighs less than a pound and rolls up into a compact case that it can easily be tucked away in your backpack or jacket pocket. It’s also made from a scratch- and water-resistant material, so if you get rained out while camping, it won't destroy your only source of power.

You can pre-order a single SolarCru panel on Kickstarter for $34 (less than some power banks), or a pack of five for $145. Orders are scheduled to be delivered in March.

Watch Ford's Sweaty-Butt Robot Put a Car Seat to the Test


Buyers tend to look at price, safety, and gas mileage when shopping for a car; a question that rarely comes up at the dealership is how well a car seat stands up to years of butt sweat. But even if it isn't a priority for car owners, the vehicle testers at Ford work to ensure the cars that leave the factory can accommodate the sweatiest passengers.

The secret to Ford's durable seats is a device called the Robutt. This video from the car company shows a Kuka robotic arm pushing a buttocks-shaped cushion into a car seat. To replicate a person sitting in the car after exercising, the dummy butt is heated to approximately human body temperate and pumped with half a liter of water. The average person produces about 0.7 to 1.5 liters of sweat in one hour of intense exercise, and people who are especially fit perspire 1.5 to 1.8 liters in the same time.

The sit test is repeated 7500 times over three days—simulating one decade of someone driving their sweaty behind home from the gym. If the surface of a car seat can make it through all that abuse without any wear and tear, the design is good enough for a Ford vehicle. Robutt-approved seats were first introduced in the 2018 Ford Fiesta and are now being built into all Ford vehicles in Europe.

You can watch the messy process play out below. Here are some more robots that, like the Robutt, were designed for oddly specific tasks.