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The Placebo Effect Not Just On Drugs 824

dvdme writes "It seems the placebo effect isn't just valid on drugs. It's also a fact on elevators, offices and traffic lights. An article by Greg Ross says: 'In most elevators installed since the early 1990s, the 'close door' button has no effect. Otis Elevator engineers confirmed the fact to the Wall Street Journal in 2003. Similarly, many office thermostats are dummies, designed to give workers the illusion of control. "You just get tired of dealing with them and you screw in a cheap thermostat," said Illinois HVAC specialist Richard Dawson. "Guess what? They quit calling you." In 2004 the New York Times reported that more than 2,500 of the 3,250 "walk" buttons in New York intersections do nothing. "The city deactivated most of the pedestrian buttons long ago with the emergence of computer-controlled traffic signals, even as an unwitting public continued to push on."'"
The Internet

Andreesen Offers New Browser 'Rockmelt' 185

DrHeasley writes "Rockmelt, available for the first time Monday, is built on the premise that most online activity today revolves around socializing on Facebook, searching on Google, tweeting on Twitter and monitoring a handful of favorite websites. It tries to minimize the need to roam from one website to the next by corralling all vital information and favorite services in panes and drop-down windows. 'This is a chance for us to build a browser all over again,' Andreessen said. 'These are all things we would have done (at Netscape) if we had known how people were going to use the Web.'"

Real-Time Holograms Beam Closer To Reality 79

sciencehabit writes "It's not quite the flickering blue projection of Princess Leia begging, 'Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope!' from the classic sci-fi movie Star Wars, but holographic projection has just beamed a bit closer to reality. Researchers in Arizona have devised a novel plastic film that can be used to generate holographic 3D images sent electronically from one location to another. The technology opens the door for everything from holographic surgery to movies that literally surround the viewer."

How Much Math Do We Really Need? 1153

Pickens writes "G.V. Ramanathan, a professor emeritus of mathematics, statistics and computer science at the University of Illinois at Chicago, writes in the Washington Post that although a lot of effort and money has been spent to make mathematics seem essential, unlike literature, history, politics and music, math has little relevance to everybody's daily life. 'All the mathematics one needs in real life can be learned in early years without much fuss,' writes Ramanathan. 'Most adults have no contact with math at work, nor do they curl up with an algebra book for relaxation.' Ramanathan says that the marketing of math has become similar to the marketing of creams to whiten teeth, gels to grow hair and regimens to build a beautiful body, but even with generous government grants over the past 25 years, countless courses, conferences, and books written on how to teach teachers to teach, where is the evidence that these efforts have helped students? A 2008 review by the Education Department found that the nation is at 'greater risk now' than it was in 1983, and the National Assessment of Educational Progress math scores for 17-year-olds have remained stagnant since the 1980s (PDF). Meanwhile those who do love math and science have been doing very well and our graduate schools are the best in the world. 'As for the rest, there is no obligation to love math any more than grammar, composition, curfew or washing up after dinner. Why create a need to make it palatable to all and spend taxpayers' money on pointless endeavors without demonstrable results or accountability?'"

Comment Re:This is Useful How? (Score 2, Informative) 51

The structures made by block copolymers can be either functional (or a template to make something functional) or used as a mask (like a photoresist) for chemical etching (so it is, in a way, a replacement for a photoresist). In one of the examples from this paper, the block copolymers are used to template the formation platinum nanowires; these could be used either as a functional structure or as a mask allowing one to etch a very fine striped pattern into the surface. The unique feature of using microwaves is that it speeds up the self-organization of the block copolymer, allowing it to realize a minimum energy configuration (i.e. the desired pattern); other methods have generally required a substantial period of time to fully organize. This method manages to complete the organization in under 4 minutes, which is something that the ITRS (published by the Semiconductor Industry Association, see: http://www.itrs.net/ ) has stated is a necessary step for the commercial implementation of block copolymer lithography. The paper, published in ACS Nano, really goes into details. If you /you institution is not a subscriber, you can still access the Supporting Information free of charge which includes dozens of pictures & SEM images and a video.

(rohtua ht4 eht m'i)
(oops... didn't mean to do that last one anon.)

Self-Building Chips — As Easy As Microwave Meals 51

nk497 writes "Canadian researchers have found a way to speed up self-assembling chips — by using microwaves instead of traditional ovens. Self-assembly is seen as key to enabling nanotechnology, but until now the block co-polymer method, which directs nanomaterials to create moulds and then fills them in with a target material, was too slow to be useful. 'By using microwaves, we have dramatically decreased the cooking time for a specific molecular self-assembly process used to assemble block co-polymers, and have now made it a viable alternative to the conventional lithography process for use in patterning semi-conductors,' the researchers said. The technique could make the technology a viable alternative to conventional lithography for chip production. 'We've got the process — the next step is to exploit it to make something useful.'"

Comment Aesthetic value in science (Score 1) 60

I think that these images highlight the value of aesthetics in science, especially for the purposes of communication. The scientists rendering these photos make choices of perspective and colour schemes that dramatically effect whether it communicates the message. Science, after all, is not always merely about facts, but about a message. And it is important for scientists to be able to communicate those facts.
While some may bemoan the lack of scale bars, it must be kept in mind that these images are made to communicate an idea. Rest assured that they likely have hundreds of copies of the same or similar structures with scale bars in abundance... and this too is an aesthetic choice.
I think that the greater question should lie in asking ourselves as scientists, is it the "prettiest" paper that gets published in Nature or Science? It seems that quite often there is a direct correlation between the aesthetic quality of figures and graphs and the likelihood of publication in more prestigious journals.
Interesting science with far reaching consequences can easily be passed up if not presented in an attractive manner. I think that may be the greater question - do aesthetics applied to scientific data create biases? Or is it merely a more effective means of communicating a message?

Users Know Advertisers Watch Them, and Hate It 243

Chris Blanc tips an Ars writeup on a survey of consumer attitudes toward targeted advertising. The results of the survey, conducted for TRUSTe, confirm that advertisers are in a tough spot. "[The survey company] randomly selected 1,015 nationally representative adults... Although only 40 percent of the group was familiar with the term 'behavioral targeting,' most users were well aware of the practice. 57 percent reported that they weren't comfortable their activities [were being] tracked for advertising purposes, even if the information couldn't be tied to their names or real-life identities. Simultaneously, 72 percent of those surveyed said that they find online advertising annoying when the ads are not relevant to their needs..."

Using X-ray Radiography To Reveal Ancient Insects 67

1shooter writes "Researchers in France are using a synchrotron as a giant X-ray machine to peer into the insides of opaque amber to reveal insects dating from the age of dinosaurs. 'The European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France, produces an intense, high-energy light that can pierce just about any material, revealing its inner structure... From more than 600 blocks, they have identified nearly 360 fossil animals: wasps, flies, ants, spiders.' The process reveals detailed 3D images that can be used to make near-perfect enlarged scale models of the bugs using a 'plastic printer.'"

IBM Suspended From US Federal Contracts 136

theodp writes "IBM has been temporarily banned from receiving future contracts with federal agencies, the Environmental Protection Agency confirmed on Monday. The suspension went into effect last Thursday due to 'concerns raised about potential activities involving an EPA procurement,' the agency said in an e-mailed statement. Under a reciprocal agreement among federal agencies, when one issues a ban, the others follow it. The EPA said it will not comment further on the matter. An IBM spokesman said he had no immediate comment. 'You don't see this very often, particularly for large companies,' commented a stunned industry analyst, mentioning a bankrupt MCI as a notable exception. IBM earned an estimated $1.5 billion in revenue from federal prime contracts in fiscal 2007."

Submission + - Magnetic Nanotechnology for Displays

westcoaster004 writes: Researchers have reported a new means of inducing colour-change in a system using magnetism. The technology is suggested to have potential as a new display technology. The results are reported in Angewandte Chemie International Edition (abstract). Using polymer-coated iron oxide nanoparticles, a magnetic field organizes the nanoparticles into a 3-D array which acts as a photonic crystal which shows brilliant colours by reflecting light. By varying the magnetic field, a full spectrum can be obtained. Not only is this a first variable-colour photonic crystal, it is also done with iron, a rather inexpensive material. Here's another press release.
It's funny.  Laugh.

Submission + - Canadian 'Spy' Coins "Looked Like Nanotechnolo

westcoaster004 writes: Earlier this year it was reported that according to the U.S. Department of Defence that "on at least three separate occasions between October 2005 and January 2006, cleared defence contractors' employees travelling through Canada have discovered radio frequency transmitters embedded in Canadian coins placed on their persons."
While the claims were quickly retracted, new reports indicate that the cause of the confusion was a 2004 Canadian coin emblazoned with a red poppy to commemorate the country's war dead. According to reports,

The worried [defence] contractors described the coins as "anomalous" and "filled with something man-made that looked like nanotechnology."
"It did not appear to be electronic (analog) in nature or have a power source," wrote one U.S. contractor, who discovered the coin in the cup holder of a rental car. "Under high power microscope, it appeared to be complex consisting of several layers of clear, but different material, with a wire like mesh suspended on top."
The coin's protective coating also glows peculiarly under ultraviolet light.

Feed Scott Adams' Pointy Haired Views On Copyright (techdirt.com)

I've been quite busy lately and haven't had a chance to get much work done on the latest post about economics in the absence of scarcity, but it seems like Dilbert creator Scott Adams has picked up on a piece of the topic. dcm writes in to let us know: "Sounds like Adams has been reading your blog. He mentions a few reoccurring themes from your many entries, but comes to the opposite conclusions. Being a copyright owner, he sees it from a different perspective. I don't think I suffer from cognitive dissonance as he says, but that maybe that is the cognitive dissonance speaking. What do you think?"

It's an interesting read, and his description of the position statement of those who don't believe copyright infringement is the equivalent of stealing is almost word for word along the lines of what we generally say. However, where Adams gets confused is when he gets down into analogy land. He uses an argument about borrowing someone's underwear, cleaning it and putting it back -- but that's a bad example and not at all analogous. Also, the use of underwear and the idea of wearing someone else's is designed to make people react emotionally, not logically. The problem is that the analogy isn't at all valid, since the underwear is a scarce good -- and even if someone else takes it and cleans it, wearing it has a real "cost" to the original owner. The underwear is worn down slightly, the owner cannot wear it at the same time if he wanted to and there is, of course, that emotional cost of knowing someone else is wearing your underwear. However, a much more analogous situation is that someone learns that you wear one kind of underwear and makes a similar pair for themselves. In fact, to make it even more analogous, say that someone has created a special replicating machine that allows you to replicate the style of anyone's underwear that you like. That's what's happening. Suddenly, it doesn't seem nearly as bad.

The bigger problem with Adams' essay, however, is that he seems confused about how markets work. He complains that the "loss" created by infringement is the creator's right to control how a work is marketed. Unfortunately, there is no such right. If I build a chair and someone buys it, then they can then market it however they want. The creator doesn't retain control. Or, if you want to get even more specific, if I build a chair and someone else likes it and builds their own similar chair, again they can market it however they want. In fact, as we were just discussing, this is pretty much how the fashion industry works -- and it's working out quite well there, creating all sorts of incentives for continual growth, creativity and innovation. Once a product is out in the market, the original creator no longer gets to keep control over it.

Finally, it's quite weak of Adams to then pick some very poorly thought out defenses of copyright infringement and use that as evidence that everyone who disagrees with copyright policy has cognitive dissonance on the issue. It's a blanket way of brushing off all criticism without addressing the actual points. All in all, Scott Adams is an intelligent and thoughtful guy -- so it's too bad that his argument on this particular topic wasn't more compelling.

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I haven't lost my mind -- it's backed up on tape somewhere.