Archive for 'Arts and science'

Boer’s Lively Dining Table and Toilet Brush

Monday, September 28th, 2015

“Sharing a mealtime, but not truly eating together can cause social friction and discomfort. For instance, being closely observed whilst eating can feel awkward and disrespectful. The person who is last to finish the food may suffer the discomfort of being watched by their no longer actually eating dining companions.”

What, if anything, might be done? For answers, see the work of ethnographic provocation specialist Professor Laurens Boer (at the Mads Clausen Institute, University of Southern Denmark) who, along with colleagues Robb Mitchell, Alexandra Papadimitriou and Youran You, has worked on the development of a ‘Keep-Up-With-Me’ dining table :


“This mechatronical table incorporates a mechanism to gauge the relative weight of food on the dishes of dining partners. Actuators gradually raise the dish of a slower eating partner, and lower the dish of a faster eater by a corresponding amount. These discrete signals may iteratively bring the eating pace of dining companions back into mutual alignment.”

See: ‘Really eating together: a kinetic table to synchronise social dining experiences’ in: AH ’15 Proceedings of the 6th Augmented Human International Conference, March 2015, Singapore, pp. 173-174.

For another example of the professor’s ethnographic provocations, also see ‘The Toilet Companion’ – an augmented toilet brush, which aims to provide moments of joy in the toilet room.

“Based upon the amount of time a user sits upon the toilet seat, the brush swings it handle with increasing speed: initially to draw attention to its presence, but over time to give a playful impression. Hereafter, the entire brush makes rapid up and downward movements to persuade the user to pick it up. In use, it generates beeps in response to human handling, to provide a sense of reward and accompanying pleasure.“

‘The toilet companion: a toilet brush that should be there for you and not for others’ (also from AH’15)

Question: Improbable seems to recall accounts of an artist who built a dining table that, over the course of the meal, swapped around the location of every seat, so that people got to spend part of the meal seated next to each other person at the table – but now we can’t find any reference to it. Can any readers assist?

Science: Controlling Our Bladders Makes Us Better Liars

Sunday, September 27th, 2015

According to a recent scientific study, we’re better at lying when we are also controlling our bladders.

Investigators Elise Fenn, Iris Blandón-Gitlin, Jennifer Coons, Catherine Pineda, and Reinalyn Echon from Claremont Graduate University were studying the Inhibitory Spillover Effect (ISE), which “occurs when performance in one self-control task facilitates performance in another (simultaneously conducted) self-control task.” Deception requires inhibitory control, and of course so does holding one’s bladder.

The following expert from the paper’s abstract provides a good summary of the authors’ findings:

Deceiving requires increased access to inhibitory control. We hypothesized that inducing liars to control urination urgency (physical inhibition) would facilitate control during deceptive interviews (cognitive inhibition). Participants drank small (low-control) or large (high-control) amounts of water. Next, they lied or told the truth to an interviewer. Third-party observers assessed the presence of behavioral cues and made true/lie judgments. In the high-control, but not the low-control condition, liars displayed significantly fewer behavioral cues to deception, more behavioral cues signaling truth, and provided longer and more complex accounts than truth-tellers.


This new article cites — and takes part of its name from — the Ig Nobel-winning paper by M. A. Tuk et al.: Inhibitory spillover: Increased urination urgency facilitates impulse control in unrelated domains.

(Thanks to investigator Karen Kustedjo for alerting us to this article.)

What’s it like to be an atom (and be in love?)

Sunday, September 27th, 2015

Frank Wilczek tells BBC3 Radio’s “Private Passions” what it was like to be an atom, which is what Wilzcek was in his public opera-singing debut, in which he played the role of an atom who fell in love with a human being (and she with him!) in the Ig Nobel opera “Atom and Eve‘.


BONUS (unrelated, really): “The vocal tract organ is a new musical instrument

Wedding spending and marriage duration, linked?

Saturday, September 26th, 2015

diamondAre higher wedding expenses associated with longer-lasting marriages? And is the phrase “A diamond is forever” just a fairytale? Professors Andrew M. Francis and Hugo M. Mialon of the Economics Department at Emory University, US, express their opinions in their forthcoming paper for Economic Inquiry, entitled: ‘‘A Diamond is Forever’ and Other Fairy Tales: The Relationship between Wedding Expenses and Marriage Duration’

“The wedding industry has consistently sought to link wedding spending with long-lasting marriages. This paper is the first to examine this relationship statistically. We find that marriage duration is either not associated or inversely associated with spending on the engagement ring and wedding ceremony. Overall, our findings provide little evidence to support the validity of the wedding industry’s general message that connects expensive weddings with positive marital outcomes.”

Also see: (by Professor Hugo M. Mialon) ‘The Economics of Faking Ecstasy’


Jurassic Pork: Were dinosaurs and their colleagues kosher?

Saturday, September 26th, 2015

Dinosaurs, the so-called “paleo diet”, implied time travel, and religious theoretical sensibilities all figure in a new study called “Jurassic Pork: What Could a Jewish Time Traveler Eat?“, by Roy E. Plotnick, Jessica M. Theodor, and Thomas R. Holtz, published in the journal Evolution: Education and Outreach, vol. 8, no. 17, September 34, 2015. The authors, at the University of Illinois at Chicago, the University of Calgary, the University of Maryland, and the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, explain:

Paleontologists use multiple methods to reconstruct the anatomy and behavior of extinct animals, including direct observations from well-preserved fossils and inferences from the phylogeny of modern and extinct relatives. We illustrate these techniques by reference to the biblical definitions of kosher and non-kosher animals; that is, how can we apply these approaches to the hypothetical question of whether an extinct form would have been kosher. The biblical categories do not readily map to modern understandings of systematics, but are heavily based on life mode. When given, distinguishing characteristics, such as the presence of fins and scales in aquatic animals, can be readily seen directly in fossils. In other cases, such as cud chewing, they need to be inferred from the phylogenetic relationships of the fossil forms. Dinosaurs (other than birds), unfortunately, are not kosher. A kosherpaleo diet” would be increasingly difficult further in the past….

“Figure 1 shows the known time range of the families whose members today are considered kosher and that occur in the fossil record. The range goes from today back to the oldest fossil occurrence of that family. Of the forty-four families that are found as fossils, only 14 go back as far as the Cretaceous, four to the Jurassic, and only one, the bowfins (Family Amiidae) as far back as the Triassic.”

fossil record

Here is an earlier, somewhat similar — though incomplete — study, the trailer for a film called “Jurassic Park”: