Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Born Leaders (Gossips/Flirts/Wallflowers, etc.)

According to studies, your role in (and the size of) your social network is a function of your genetic code. Whether you're the central hub in a network of interconnected acquaintances or an outlier with a few friends who don't know each other, your position is apparently predicted by your genes.

To get these results, they studied fraternal and identical twins. The identical twins had the same number of people who knew them as friends, and those friends had an equal chance of knowing each other. Fraternal twins had social networks of differing "shapes," with different numbers of friends and a varying likelihood of whether or not those friends knew each other.

Almost as interesting as the unsung breakthrough itself is the ability of the professors involved to milk a concept for all the sweet, sweet grant money that they can get their hands on. That's right. Research into social networks should sound familiar for good reason--these same two professors from Harvard Medical School and UC San Diego were in the news previously for using grant money to research how social networks spread happiness.

I wish I had paid more attention in school. Then I'd be able to get people to pay me for spending all my time on myspace thoroughly researching social networks like these two professors.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Science Fiction? Media Hype? Both?

The University of Maryland got me all excited the way they were casually throwing around words like teleportation, but it's not as cool as you'd think. For one thing, it's only occurring one atom at a time, which isn't very useful for Star Trek style transport. It also turns out that they're not moving atoms, they're moving information from one atom to another.

They think it will help with Quantum Computing, which is supposed to be the Next Big Thing in computers, all smaller, faster, and more sophisticated than the current systems that are limited by the physical properties of their construction. I remain nonplussed. After all, assuming that they do manage to construct a working quantum computer, I don't think I'll personally see the effects of one for decades. The first quantum computers aren't going to be cheap, and I've never been an early adopter of new technology.

Oh, and the information? Yeah, it's up to 90% accurate. That's right, even if they do find a way to apply this to teleporting people, you've got a 1 in 10 chance of winding up with your index finger where your big toe should be and your teeth trading places with your fingernails. Good times.

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Silent Killers: Now with More Silence!

That's right, flying robot killers from the future are going to be more silent than ever before! That's robots who fly and kill people, not flying people who kill robots, by the way.

Georgia Tech is working on making our unmanned aerial drones quieter, so that they will be tougher to spot. Short-term thinking says that's a good idea, because we'll be able to spy on today's enemies more effectively.

In the long term, we're already developing more efficient aerial predators based on the design of prehistoric killing machines. It's bad enough that they'll be harvesting our own organs to hunt us down and kill us more effectively, now they'll be able to do it without giving us any warning.

It's going to be a dark future, indeed.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Illusions of Value

Ohio State University has determined that when we think about money, the numbers involved can be more important than the value. Some of the subjects were actually making different choices depending on whether they were asked to make decisions about one dollar or 100 cents. In fact, it seemed like they thought that it was better to receive 100 cents than it was to receive a dollar.

To conduct the study, they used that "prisoner's dilemma" game. Are you familiar with it? I'm kind of sick of hearing about it, since it seems like the stock scenario that someone brings up when they want to sound like they know something about psychology or human behavior, but the idea is that you can screw over other "players" in the "game" or not screw them over. The outcome is based on their reactions, but it's a safer bet to screw them over (you can gain more if you don't, but you'd have to trust the other players for that).

Is anyone surprised that participants were more impressed by numbers than they were by actual values? It's kind of like the way that products are advertised for $39.99 instead of $40. Our minds can play tricks on us, so it's always important to think twice before you spend your hard-earned money.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Good News for Gigolos

Harvard Medical School has found a way to "wipe out" the Herpes virus. I guess it's good news for anyone with a cold sore, too.

This new cure messes with the RNA of the virus. It ends up unable to replicate, and unable to get picked up by the body. At least, that's how it has worked for the mice so far, and hopefully it will also work in people.

I hope it works for people. I don't have any plans to contract herpes in my future, but it's good to know that Harvard's got my back if I ever change my mind. Of course, there is a downside to this. That's right. More ads like those Valtrex commercials where attractive people tell you how great life is now that they've found a cure for their herpes.

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The header image is adapted from a photo taken by Bill McChesney and used under a creative commons license.
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