Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The ninjas of advertisement

Growing up with television and the Internet, we have become accustomed to advertisements bombarding us in every way possible. Our sneaky little friends over at Kameraflage felt that this wasn’t enough, and have come up with a new way to get a point across, using a 21st Century version of subliminal messaging.

The company’s founders thought it would be clever to decorate billboards, T-shirts and an assortment of other objects with colors we cannot see. Sounds pointless, right? Well, it turns out the creations are visible through the lens of a camera, which still makes the discovery sound pretty silly.

Needless to say, when I started reading about Kameraflage, I thought it was a joke. I was expecting someone from The Onion or the now-defunct Weekly World News to have “created” the product. I understand how the technology works — through using colors our eyes cannot see but can still be picked up by electronics — but I couldn’t readily understand why anyone would want to use it. Who walks around all day with a camera stuck to his or her face?

The obvious answer is the paparazzi. I guess the celebrities who don’t enjoy being followed by the media can now voice their displeasure on a T-shirt, a refreshing change from the traditional vulgar hand signal or bouts of profanity. Big-name fashion designers can add another dimension to their clothing lines and annual fashion shows by featuring Kameraflaged garments. In fact, a prototype garment was worn during 2006 Fall Fashion Week in Paris, according to the company’s Web site.

The film industry could also benefit from the invisible text in order to cut back on movie piracy; a big “nice try” stamped on the entire film may deter people from distributing illegal copies. If this idea doesn’t fly, film makers could always use Kameraflage to provide subtitles to a deaf audience or on a foreign film. Of course, theaters would probably have to distribute a viewing device, since the screens on camera phones are only so large.

But then there are the people who would use Kameraflage for the purposes of evil, such as advertising agencies.

Imagine taking photos of a landmark on vacation, only to later find McDonald’s famous “golden arches” proudly displayed on the structure, or the Web address for Internet casino GoldenPalace.com. Although I’d like to think that corporations have better things to do than deface buildings with invisible ink, there is no way to tell what tricks the executives may have up their sleeves; I would hate to see the Statue of Liberty’s green torch replaced with an invisible bottle of Coca-Cola.

Although it is pretty neat that someone thought to use these invisible colors, I still don’t think Kameraflage will be the next “in” thing for the American public. It doesn't really give us the instant gratification that we've become accustomed to in this country.

You can read more about here and here, although all of the news articles about the product basically say the same thing.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A combination of things

Throughout life, we learn to associate colors with different tasks: red means stop, yellow means caution, and red and yellow together mean McDonald’s.

I learned my senior year of high school that green and pink together induce nausea, but only after we chose them as our class’s Homecoming colors. Oddly enough, though, not everyone sees color the same way you do.

Apparently some women can see more colors than the rest of us, which may cause them to spend more time comparing shades of hairdye. Called tetrachromats, these people can see four different channels of color, instead of just the red, green and blue variety that most humans can see. Unfortunately, there is no way to describe these other or more intense colors. If you've read The Giver, you probably know what I mean.* Anyway, there's also no online vision test for these extra colors, since computers monitors tend to use three colors.

Of course, there are people who can't even see all three colors, in a characteristic that is more common in men than women: color blindness. Many mammals are color blind, but, thanks to science, there are now three mice that can see color, says Scientific American. This was done in an effort to figure out the evolution of our eyes — or play God, if you're of the Brother Micah variety. For those of you who don't know who Micah is, or if you just miss him,** here's a video of one of his visits to FAU Boca. (Note: The video may not be safe for work.)

Anyway, back to the mice. The researchers bred "genetically altered" mice (whatever that means) into passing along a gene which allows the mice to see the color red. If the scientists wanted to get really fancy with the human-rat vision evolution, they could've also given the mice a nifty pair of contact lenses, since mice are relatively nearsighted.

Nearsightedness, or the inability to see distant objects clearly, is caused by light not quite reaching the retina while remaining in focus. It's almost as though your eyes are too big for the amount of light they let in, and thus the light cannot reach the back of the eye. Farsightedness, the inability to see close objects clearly, is caused by too much light hitting the retina before the object comes into focus. You could also pretend that I said your eyes are too small for the amount of light they let in.

Anyway, besides just seeing colors — or not seeing them, in some cases — there are also people who feel colors. No, this isn't some sort of New Age philosophy, but an actual neurological condition. Called synesthesia, people with this condition can not only feel colors, but also hear, smell and taste them, says LiveScience. I guess it's like eating Skittles all the time.

There are variations of synesthesia, such as seeing time, but there is no explanation for any variation. While it would be neat to experience this condition without the use of illegal drugs, I am truly glad that I do not have it, as Skittles make me sick after a while.

* For those of you who haven't, most of the people in the book see in black-and-white, except for a select few who can see red. Those who can see red in the book cannot describe why the red objects look different, since no one can conceptualize the color. This is similar to how certain people in the 1950s, like Joseph McCarthy, could spot a communist.
**Brother Micah week is better than Christmas, and I love Christmas.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

We're going in circles again

From the early morning into the evening, the campus parking lots look like those at the mall around Christmas: cars circling around for hours, vehicles parked on the medians and hundreds of frustrated drivers. Unlike the mall, though, there is usually plenty of parking out in the middle of nowhere - such as the fifth floor of the Art and Letters parking garage on the Boca campus - but who wants to park there?

Not most students, apparently. So, based on research done by real scientists, I've drawn my own conclusions about why we would rather drive in circles than walk a few extra yards.

One possible reason is that our brains are full; there's just not enough room to remember our multiplication tables, all six American Idol winners and where we parked our car. LiveScience says we have such horrible short-term memories because we try to remember too much. Given that we're college students who thrive on cramming sessions and memorizing answer sheets, I can believe it - sort of. The problem arises in that we have no idea how to forget things; it’s easy to say that our brains are nearing capacity, but there's really nothing we can do about it. And if you think your memory is bad now, just wait a couple decades and see how many more useless memories are clogging your brain – you may just need to tie those plastic flowers to your car’s antenna or put a dozen flags on your windows.

Another reason could be that we need the false sense of accomplishment which getting a closer spot - or even preventing someone else from getting it - brings to us. Like our grade-school bullies, some people live only to make the lives of others more difficult. And I’m sure you know who I’m talking about: The people who follow you too closely so that you can’t back up a foot or two, and the people who try to cut you off and steal your spot. According to Reuters, odds are that these bullies are your bosses on a nice power trip. So next time, try to keep in mind that the jerk who took your spot may actually be the same person who lost your transcript or short-changed you at a campus venue. And I’m just going to leave it at that, since I’m all against retaliation when I’m on the record.

Of course, we could also claim that we are fulfilling our supposed urge to hunt by following people to their cars. Based on what Science Daily says, this could easily backfire, since our immediate response to being followed is to run, freeze or weave in and out of cars. The guy who conducted this study (which used a Pac-Man-like game) says this reaction "is a poor survival strategy and makes it more likely that the animal will be eaten and not pass on its genes." It also makes us more likely to stand there and point when Godzilla wanders out of the ocean and stomps all over the city. So, it turns out that following a person for too long may only make him or her nervous and instinctually try to ditch you, but at least this method also serves as something to do if you have time to kill.

Anyway, the truth of the matter is that we probably just drive around in circles because it's hot outside and we're lazy college students. But, really, where's the fun in that?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Zombies are real... sort of

If you think your job is hard, you should try being an amoeba. While they often just lounge around the bottom of a lake, which sounds like a good ol' time, other times they have to go ahead and eat some brains.

The latest victim chosen by the Naegleria fowleri -- which might as well be Latin for zombie -- was a 14-year-old boy who happened to get some lake water up his nose around Sept. 10, 2007. The boy died one week later after the amoeba, which was in the water, ate its way from the boy's nasal cavity into his brain.

There were six deaths associated with this zombie-amoeba in 2007 and -- guess what -- half of the cases were in Florida. The most common way for the amoeba to enter the nasal cavity is through water, as it is known to live near the bottom of warm fresh-water lakes and in some swimming pools. I still don't understand why people go swimming in lakes when the state is covered in beaches and swimming pools, granted not all pools are safe from this microscopic beast.

Besides Florida, there have been two cases in Texas this year and one in Arizona. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 23 documented infections between 1995 and 2004, which makes the six cases this year that much more significant. Apparently amoebic infections are on the rise, possibly leading to a zombie uprising of microscopic proportions.

This type of amoebic infection can be found using an MRI, and it can be treated with antibiotics. Unfortunately, many medical professionals are not used to looking for amoebas, reports CNN. Yes, this article was linked earlier, but I'm not sure if any of you click the links anyway.

For some reason, no one ever believes me when I bring up the brain-eating amoeba in everyday conversation. This habit started in 2002 when I read about the case in Georgia and, for some reason, the habit is still going strong.

Maybe I just like to say the word "amoeba."

One of our sneakier amoebic friends, the Acanthamoeba (Latin for eye-muncher, or something), found its way into the eyes of 138 people earlier this year and was supposedly linked to contact solution. It was never officially determined whether the solution contained the amoebas or if the solution simply didn't kill the organisms. Instead of going for the brain, this amoeba is seemingly content with the cornea.

Unlike the zombie-amoeba, eye-muncher is not linked to certain death. It only seems to lead to vision loss, which is still a serious problem. Some of the amoeba's victims are undergoing Keratoplasty, or corneal transplants, in an effort to correct their vision.

I don't know what we did to anger these little organisms, but as Tyra Banks would probably say, amoebas are fierce.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Better late than never

I'm sure there's something important you could be doing right now, but chances are you are waiting until the last minute to do it. It's ok: 90 percent of college students are guilty of procrastination, at least according to LiveScience. And now, thanks to a 10-year study, science has finally determined why people put things off until tomorrow ... sort of.

According to professor Piers Steel of the University of Calgary, we procrastinate because we are impulsive, and we need that jolt of pressure toward the end of a deadline to actually get tasks accomplished.

And here I thought I was just more productive in the morning; turns out that I just need that extra push to get things done.

Anyway, college students are impulsive by nature - really, how many times have you crammed for a test - so it makes sense that we are the largest contributors to the procrastination population. Out of the total population, procrastinators only make up 15 to 20 percent, which shows that we may eventually grow out of this awful habit.

Or it could just be an indication that 80 to 85 percent of the population doesn't use the Internet, which is the greatest procrastination tool since the television. It seems like we procrastinators thrive on instant gratification, and apparently Steel agrees.

"[Procrastinators] are the type of people who choose short-term gain and incur long-term pain," Steel told LiveScience.

Yep, that sounds like college: the land where the short term goal of having an active social life sometimes trump the long-term goal of graduating on time.

Granted, this is FAU. I'm sure there are plenty of students who don't get to graduate on time for reasons beyond their control, such as the small class sizes of many required courses and having to fight for department permission.

Anyway, for all you math people, Steel also says that procrastination can be described using the following formula:

U = E x V / I x D

According to Scientific American, U is a person's desire to finish the task (e.g. homework), E is the person's expectation of success, V is the value of the completed task, I is the immediacy in which the task needed to be done, and D is the person's sensitivity to delay.

I think the formula's just another excuse to waste time. I'm sure Steel used a considerable amount of time coming up with the formula when he could have been doing other things. I know I spent a considerable amount of time looking at the formula when I could have been doing homework.

Or, you know, surfing the internet.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Time after time

We all complain about needing more time: time to sleep, time to study and time to stalk our classmates on Facebook. Apparently our complaints have been heard, as scientists have just created a 25-hour day. The hard part will be getting Earth and the sun to cooperate.

While adding an extra hour may be difficult on Earth, since even Wal-Mart is only open for 24 hours, the experiment was designed to get the human body adjusted to the 25-hour days found on Mars. The study involved 12 people living in a controlled environment without any time clues, such as windows or clocks, for 65 days. The participants followed regular time in the beginning, but later the researchers delivered two pulses of light at the end of the "day," which tricked the participants’ internal clocks and allowed them to stay awake an extra hour. This method could be used to keep astronauts from getting jetlag when traveling to Mars — whenever we get there.

By going to Mars, we'd essentially gain more Earth-time, as days are slower on the red planet. I’m not sure how many days the average person would want to spend on Mars, though, since there’s nothing to do there yet.* Anyway, this is similar to how a time-traveling device, i.e. a time machine, would operate.

To travel forward in time, we would just need to travel close to the speed of light for a while and then come back to Earth, physicist Brian Greene told LiveScience. Of course, this is easier said than done, but at least it works on paper. Unfortunately, this method doesn’t work for traveling back in time. This means that if you really, really want to go to the future, you’ll have to learn to love it, since there’s no going back.

Time is considered to be the fourth dimension — the other three being length, width and height. While it is possible to move the first three backward and forward, time can only move forward. Thus, we cannot make time move backward, nor can we make it stop, no matter how much we may want to or how hard we try.

That said, the most developed way to travel back in time is to find a wormhole, or a tunnel which connects two areas of time and space. Unfortunately, no one is really sure if wormholes exist — not even the writers of Star Trek, who greatly depend on the wormhole in Deep Space Nine — and no one knows if our future selves have yet accomplished this task.

Here's a video from The History Channel that explains time travel and wormholes with better visual representation:

Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking once asked in a PBS special, "Time travel might be possible, but if that is the case why haven't we been overrun by tourists from the future?"

He makes a good point.** While these future-people may be able to help us in ways we can’t even imagine, they may choose to travel to our time just to laugh at us and our primitive ways. You know you’d do the same thing if you could, and then probably post the photos on Facebook.

*Really, Mars would be more boring than Boca.
**We have enough problems with tourists from other states; could you imagine tourists from other eras?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

But there's still no sign of Bigfoot.

Much like a storyline out of a Disney movie, scientists have successfully separated a little electron from its parent atom and filmed it. Granted, the footage is no Finding Nemo, but the film is the first of its kind and will be featured later on in the blog entry. (I know the suspense must be killing you.)

For those of you who don't remember anything from chemistry class, these are electrons:

Hopefully the image rings a bell, even though electrons don't really rotate in such clear-cut shells. Turns out that electrons travel in clouds, but you are not going to hear about it from me. Anyway, electrons are subatomic particles that essentially grab onto and jump off of other atoms in order to form compounds.

As mentioned in Live Science, the film depicts an electron "rid[ing] on a light wave after just having been pulled away from an atom." I'll let you interpret that for yourselves:

To me, the footage looks like something I'd see on screen at a rave* — but maybe it's just the music. It really just looks like a thumbprint wiggling around the center of the frame, but I'm sure it means the world to some scientists.

*And they do still exist.