Happy Passover and Easter; I hope you’re having a lovely holiday weekend.
Resuming our travels, we arrive at the scenic village of Kinderdijk, a World Heritage site remarkable for its nineteen preserved 18th century windmills. Not merely picturesque, the windmills are an innovative hydraulic system (first developed in the Middle Ages) that harnesses wind power to pump water away from the land, allowing cultivation and preventing flooding. Low-lying Holland would be underwater without its network of polders (land reclaimed from the sea), windmills, and protective dikes (embankments)!
We’re docked near eight of them (built in 1740) — an easy walk — and begin with an overview of the area, aka Windmill 101.
We then stroll over to one of the mills which allows visitors inside. Much like a lighthouse, it features minimal living quarters (and low rent) for the person who tends the mill and keeps it in running order.
l skip the steep climb to the top, as I can envision one of us losing their footing and everyone tumbling down like dominoes. Even so, the windmill is a majestic sight.
TOKYO, Japan — As digital devices become an everyday part of society, many probably view a pen and paper as things of the past. Despite the ease of tapping information into a smartphone or tablet, a new study finds you may want to keep those paper notebooks after all. Researchers in Tokyo have discovered that people writing notes by hand display more brain activity than their peers entering data into an electronic device.
A team from the University of Tokyo adds the unique and tactile information that comes from writing things on paper may also help writers remember the information better.
“Actually, paper is more advanced and useful compared to electronic documents because paper contains more one-of-a-kind information for stronger memory recall,” says corresponding author and neuroscientist Professor Kuniyoshi L. Sakai in a university release.
“Our take-home message is to use paper notebooks for information we need to learn or memorize.”
The pen is mightier than the tablet?
It’s a common belief that digital devices help people complete tasks faster. Despite this, the study finds people writing notes by hand actually finished their task 25 percent quicker than tablet users.
Researchers add that paper notebooks also contain more complex spatial information than a digital screen. Physical paper allows the writer to add tangible permanence to their important information. Writers can also use irregular strokes to convey special meaning and uneven shapes — like a folded corner of a page. Study authors say “digital paper” is much more uniform. There is no fixed position when scrolling and the information disappears from view when users close the app.
What happens to the brain when you write on paper?
The study gathered 48 volunteers to read a fictional conversation between two people talking about their future plans. The discussion included 14 different class times, assignment due dates, and scheduled appointments. Researchers also sorted the participants — all between 18 and 29 years-old from university campuses or the NTT Data Institute of Management Consulting — into three groups, according to memory skills, personal preferences of digital or paper methods, gender, and age.
The groups then recorded the fictional schedules using a paper notebook and pen, a calendar app using a tablet and stylus, or an app on a smartphone using the touch-screen keyboard. The participants did not take extra time to memorize the information after completing the task.
After a one-hour break and an “interference task” to distract the volunteers from thinking about their notes, researchers gave participants a test on the conversation. The multiple choice questions also ranged in difficultly from simple to more complex. Simple questions asked “when is the assignment due?” while others included “which is the earlier due date for the assignments?”
During this test, study authors examined brain activity using functional MRI (fMRI) scans. During this procedure, scientists say increased blood flow in specific brain regions is a sign of higher neuronal activity.
The results reveal young adults using paper completed their note-taking in just 11 minutes. Tablet and smartphone users finished in 14 and 16 minutes, respectively. Volunteers using pen and paper also scored higher on the multiple choice test. However, researchers say the participants’ brain activity reveals even greater differences.
Volunteers using paper displayed more brain activity in areas with a connection to language and imaginary visualization. They also show more activity in the hippocampus, a brain region vital to memory and navigation.
Writing on paper may also be better for kids and creativity
Study authors say the fact that writing on paper triggers activity in the hippocampus shows analog methods contain richer spatial details which make hand-written notes easier to remember.
“Digital tools have uniform scrolling up and down and standardized arrangement of text and picture size, like on a webpage. But if you remember a physical textbook printed on paper, you can close your eyes and visualize the photo one-third of the way down on the left-side page, as well as the notes you added in the bottom margin,” Sakai explains.
The team notes that it is possible to personalize digital documents, using highlighting, underlining, circling, and drawing arrows. People who prefer a digital pad can even leave virtual sticky notes that mimic analog-style spatial enrichment.
Although the experiment only included young adults, researchers believe the link between paper writing and brain activity will be even stronger in children.
“High school students’ brains are still developing and are so much more sensitive than adult brains,” Sakai adds.
“It is reasonable that one’s creativity will likely become more fruitful if prior knowledge is stored with stronger learning and more precisely retrieved from memory. For art, composing music, or other creative works, I would emphasize the use of paper instead of digital methods.”
This week, braving dreary weather, R and I visited one of our favorite wineries, where one of our favorite people manages the tasting room. She gently reminded me that I’ve been remiss in my blog posting, so Linda, this one’s for you!
Back to the topic at hand.
I’m all for smart technology, such as the dishwasher that senses when my dishes aren’t dry enough, or when I need to refill the rinsing agent so the glasses don’t have leprosy.
On the other hand, some inanimate objects seem to have been designed with a real smart-alecky attitude. Like my smartphone’s spelling “correction”, which regularly replaces perfectly good English with gibberish. Or its more obscure settings, which convey general condescension toward those of us who grew up with princess phones. (What? You can’t find that function? Bwaa-ha-ha…!)
Where does the term “smart alec” come from, you ask? (OK, you didn’t, but now don’t you want to know?)
It originates from the exploits of one Alec Hoag, an infamous con man in 1840’s New York. He and his wife Melinda, along with an accomplice known as French Jack, operated a con called the Panel Game, in which prostitutes and their pimps robbed customers. Or so says Wikipedia.
What’s next in phones, I wonder. Will the built-in camera automatically subtract 10 pounds and add hair to hairless heads? Will it flash a warning to delete a tactless text before we send it? Will it short-circuit if we drunk dial our ex-lovers or horrible bosses? Wouldn’t any of these features improve our lives more than AutoCorrect? I rest my case.
Smartass tech is poised to invade other aspects of our lives, too. Imagine a fridge equipped with auto-lock if you open it too often. Or between meals. Likewise, a scale that proudly announces your last weight. Or a mirror that self-writes helpful suggestions such as, “Time to color your hair” or “Ever considered Botox?”
Soon we’ll have self-driving cars, which could be useful for those of us who don’t have chauffeurs. But will they refuse to go somewhere they feel isn’t in our best interest, such as the racetrack or the restaurant that gave us heartburn?
The line between human and machine grows ever thinner, my fellow curmudgeons. Stay vigilant!
A team of researchers at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, has built a bionic device that they say can restore vision to the blind through a brain implant.
The team is now preparing for what they claim will be the world’s first human clinical trials of a bionic eye — and are asking for additional funding to eventually manufacture it on a global scale.
It’s essentially the guts of a smartphone combined with brain-implanted micro electrodes, as TechCrunch reports. The “Gennaris bionic vision system,” a project that’s more than ten years in the making, bypasses damaged optic nerves to allow signals to be transmitted from the retina to the vision center of the brain.
The system is made up of a custom-designed headgear, which includes a camera and a wireless transmitter. A processor unit takes care of data crunching, while a set of tiles implanted inside the brain deliver the signals.
“Our design creates a visual pattern from combinations of up to 172 spots of light (phosphenes) which provides information for the individual to navigate indoor and outdoor environments, and recognize the presence of people and objects around them,” Arthur Lowery, professor at Monash University’s Department of Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering, said in a statement.
The researchers are also hoping to adapt the system to help those with untreatable neurological conditions, such as limb paralysis, to regain movement.
“If successful, the MVG [Monash Vision Group] team will look to create a new commercial enterprise focused on providing vision to people with untreatable blindness and movement to the arms of people paralyzed by quadriplegia, transforming their health care,” Lewis said.
A trial in July showed that the Gennaris array was able to be transplanted safely into the brains of three sheep using a pneumatic insertor, with a cumulative 2,700 hours of stimulation not causing any adverse health effects.
It’s still unclear when the first human trials will take place.
“With extra investment, we’ll be able to manufacture these cortical implants here in Australia at the scale needed to progress to human trials,” Marcello Rosa, professor of physiology at Monash and MVG member, said in the statement.
The news comes after Elon Musk’s brain computer interface company Neuralink announced it’s testing its coin-sized interface prototype in live pigs. The end goals are similar: to treat brain issues including blindness and paralysis.
Whether the Monash device is technically the first bionic eye, though, may come down to semantics.
A separate brain implant, a “visual prosthetic” device, developed by scientists at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, recently allowed both blind and sighted participants to “see” the shape of letters, as detailed in a paper published in May.
As a proud — dare I say “defiant” — owner of an older iPhone, I was pleased to read that Apple’s rapacious strategy of planned obsolescence has been noted.
They were fined 25 million euros (£21m, $27m) for deliberately slowing down older iPhone models. France’s competition and fraud watchdog DGCCRF imposed the fine, saying that consumers were not warned. I’m hoping other countries follow suit.
To a company that size, I’m sure this is the equivalent of a tiny flea bite. But it does indicate that if you’ve noticed your older model is slowing down for no apparent reason, you’re not going crazy.
Old oil and gas rigs might have a new lease on life that could benefit both industry and the planet, says a study from the University of Edinburgh.
Instead of decommissioning North Sea oil and gas rigs, which costs a boatload of money, they could be refitted — for 10x less — as pumping stations for self-contained carbon dioxide storage sites below the seabed.
The sites could be used to lock away CO2 produced by power stations, as well as emissions generated by natural gas production.
If the word “drone” conjures negative thoughts of spying and remote warfare, here’s something cheerful to contemplate.
Drones and digital tags are helping scientists study humpback whales in remote areas of the Antarctic, where in-person access is limited.
A partnership among Duke University Marine Robotics and Remote Sensing Lab (MaRRS), Friedlaender Lab, California Ocean Alliance, and the World Wildlife Fund is using drone photography to study how the whales feed, how healthy they are, and how they’re being affected by climate change. Drone images are also used to count local populations.
There’s a fascinating article in October Vogue magazine about a new device that could change the way health care workers perform breast exams.
Imagine — something faster and more pleasant than squashing your boobs in a giant panini press!
iBreastExam is a handheld cancer screening tool about the size of a travel-sized clothing steamer. Using Cloud technology rather than radiation, the padded electronic sensor can detect abnormal lumps as small as five millimeters. And it only takes a few minutes to assess multiple quadrants in each breast and then store the info.
Already in use across developing countries where access to radiology and conventional mammograms is limited at best, iBreast Exam is now becoming available to primary care physicians and gynecologists in the U.S.
Despite some limitations — e.g., it’s unable to detect tiny amounts of calcium that may indicate precancerous cells — the tool’s sensitivity is equivalent to a mammogram. For women showing early warning signs, the standard (and proven) mammo would likely be the next step. But for women with healthy indicators, this might be all that’s needed.
Good news indeed for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.