When Texting, One Little Thing Makes a Big Difference

iStock
iStock

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]

Smart HVAC Systems Promise the Perfect Temperature—and Energy Bill Savings

Alea
Alea

Smart home technology is often touted as a luxury convenience. What if you could turn on your lights with your voice, or see who’s knocking at your door using your phone, or play online quizzes in your kitchen while you cook? But smart home technology has the potential to do far more than just give us new gadgets to mess around with. It can help save energy and solve some of the issues that have plagued homeowners for decades. Like, for instance, the problem of an air conditioning system that works better in some rooms than others. Alea Air, a new smart HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) system, does just that, as Fast Company reports.

Keeping your environment at just the right temperature in every room isn’t exactly a sexy issue, but it’s one that touches just about everyone. Try to find an office that stays at a comfortable temperature throughout the day, year-round, in both conference rooms and cubicles. You probably can’t, because there are so many factors that go into keeping a building with many rooms—like an office, apartment building, or house—at just the right temperature. Variables such as how many vents there are, where they’re placed, how much sun the windows get, how big the room is, and how many people are in that room can all affect how much heating or cooling power a particular area needs.

A black vent sits on the floor before installation.
Alea

Whereas most HVAC systems only have one temperature sensor to track the environment of the whole house, Alea Air features WiFi- and Bluetooth-connected smart vents that can be installed in every room to track temperature, air quality, room occupancy, and other factors to keep houses at the right temperature no matter what room you’re in. The vents have 11 sensors to track air conditions, including infrared temperature sensors, humidity sensors to track the real-feel of the temperature, air quality sensors, UV and ambient light sensors, audio sensors that can detect if your system is emitting those loud whooshing sounds, and more.

That means the system can tell that your kitchen with its giant south-facing windows and active oven is always way too hot, or that your guest bedroom never has anyone in it. You can use the app to adjust your bedroom to be cooler than the rest of the house, so you can snuggle up under your giant comforter at night, but still keep your home office toasty enough that your fingers don't freeze while you work.

Screenshots of the Alea app showing temperature monitoring and adjustment functions
Alea

You don’t have to install a totally new heating and cooling system. If you have a central heating or heating/cooling system, you can replace your old vents with the Alea Air vents and plug into your old system. You can use your existing smart thermostat, too.

Though you will no doubt save money on your energy bill with your newfound ability to micromanage your household heating and cooling, there’s a hefty pricetag that comes with being an early adopter—especially if your house has more than three rooms. A kit of three vents and one Airhub costs $379, with additional vents starting at $119 each.

The vents come in black or white and are available for pre-order here.

[h/t Fast Company]

Italian Scientists Created a Robot Toddler and It's Kind of Terrifying

Oli Scarff, Getty Images
Oli Scarff, Getty Images

Scientists have already given us creepy headless dog robots and robots that squirm around like eels. Now, Futurism has spotted a different kind of robot to haunt our nightmares. Meet iCub, a humanoid machine that's designed to look and move like a toddler.

Created by scientists at the Italian Institute of Technology, iCub was designed as a tool for researching child development. It's made to study embodied cognition, the theory that cognitive function is directly influenced by our physical experiences. In particular, iCub can help researchers study how interacting with the physical world can influence how children's brains develop.

With iCub, researchers can recreate the motions of a toddler in a controlled environment. The first prototype of the robot debuted in 2009, but recently, researchers developed a technique that lets them control iCub's movements and see through its eyes in virtual reality [PDF]. (You can see it at work in the video below.)

The science sounds intriguing, but to a layperson, iCub looks like a bit of a horror show. It walks with outstretched fingers and an awkward gait that's more zombie than toddler. The face, which has a huge set of eyes but lacks a mouth, also fits snugly in the uncanny valley.

iCub's design is open source, so if any roboticists out there think they can tweak the design to make it less unsettling, they're welcome to do so.

Behold the nightmare in action:

[h/t Futurism]

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