Archive for 'Arts and science'

Books to train your brain to suchandsuch or thisandthat

Thursday, June 25th, 2015

If you want to buy a book to try to train your brain to do something, you have many somethings and many books to choose from. Here’s a sampling:

There is a near-infinity of other such books available for consideration by you or your brain. All of them may be equally effective.

Near-infinity extends in many (perhaps a near-infinity of) directions. In one direction, you can find the splendid Brain Train, invented by Ig Nobel Prize winner Bart Knols. In a very different direction, you can find BrainTrain.

The final birthday party of Dr. Nakamats, this Friday in Tokyo

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015

I am traveling to Tokyo to take part in the final birthday party — that’s how he describes it — of Dr. Nakamats, the world’s most inventive inventor (more than 3500 patents, including patents for the floppy disk, the self-defense wig, and flying shoes), author, political candidate, Ig Nobel Prize winner (in 2005, for having photographed every meal he had consumed during the previous 34 years) and the closest we will ever see to a real-life Wizard of Oz.

Unlike most people’s birthday parties, this one will happen at the National Press Club, in Tokyo. Dr. Nakamats was diagnosed with a form of prostate cancer that will kill him, his doctors say, some time before the end of this year. Dr. Nakamats, in characteristic form, is choosing to make the very best of the situation. [UPDATE NOTE: See photos from the press conference / party, below.]

There will be nine days of Nakamats and Ig Nobel events — the first-ever official Ig Nobel Prize events to be held in Japan. Several other of Japan’s many Ig Nobel Prize winners will participate in some of those events.

This week’s Improbable Research podcast is largely about Dr. Nakamats, and features the adventure we had recently on a train going from Denmark to Sweden.

If, somehow, you have never encountered the wonder that is Dr. Nakamats, you can get a good introduction by watching Danish filmmaker Kaspar Astrup Schröder’s mesmerizing documentary called “The Invention of Dr. Nakamats.” Schröder is filming a second documentary, which will include footage from some of the upcoming events.

Here is the schedule of events (we will frequently update the details, on our events listing page — so check there to see the latest version of this list):

  • June 26, Friday: Sir Dr. NakaMats 87 the LAST birthday party & Ig Nobel Prizes Japan Event Press Conference, @Japan National Press Club, 10th floor Nippon Press Center Bldg., 2-2-1 Uchisaiwaicho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo Tel:03-3503-2721
  • June 27 (Saturday) 12:00-12:30 Sir Dr. NakaMats Cancer CD Artist Debut Event @GINZA
  • June 28 (Sunday) 13:30- Lecture at Tokyo City University and Setagaya-ku.
  • June 29 (Monday) — special event at the Dr. Nakamats House.
  • June 30 (Tuesday) Ig Nobel event at University of Tokyo – public lecture in science — featuring Dr. Nakamats and other Ig Nobel prize winners: Masanori Niimi (effect of opera songs on heart transplant patients who are mice), Yukio Hirose (why one particular bronze statue fails to attract pigeons), and the team of Shinsuki Imai, Nagatome Yoshiaki, and Tsuge Nobuaki (biochemistry of onions causing human tears), and others. Details TBA.
  • July 1 (Wednesday) 15:00-16:00 — press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan. Details.
  • July 3 (Friday) Ig Nobel Event at Chuo-prefecture. Details TBA.
  • July 4 (Saturday) 10:00. Marc Abrahams will cut the tape at the Opening ceremony of the World Genius Convention, of  which Sir Dr. NakaMats is chairman.
  • Other events, possibly in profusion, TBA

If you are in Tokyo, please join us at one or more of these events. If you have friends in Tokyo, please spread the word.

Here is a further look at the world of Dr. Nakamats:

UPDATE: Here are panoramic photos I took while sitting next to Dr. Nakamats at the press conference, and at the Final Birthday Party, which immediately followed the press conference (Click on each image to see an enlarged version):




Be still my beating heart … smashed fingers, battered shins and fake murder

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015

If you (yup, you) use a fake weapon to brutally beat a stranger, and then slit his throat, and then shoot him in the face, and then you assault a little baby, will your heart and blood pump like mad — even if you know that it’s all a trick and the man will suffer no harm and the baby is just a life-like doll? An American experiment sought an answer to that question.

You can read about it in a study called Simulating Murder: the Aversion to Harmful Action, published in the journal Emotion. The authors, Fiery Cushman [pictured below, with colleagues from his lab], Kurt Gray, Allison Gaffey and Wendy Berry Mendes, are respectively at Harvard University, the University of Maryland, the University of Notre Dame, and the University of California, San Francisco.

So begins this month’s Improbable Research column in The Guardian.


How much wood would… if a CPU chip were made of wood?

Thursday, June 18th, 2015

How much wood would a CPU chip manufacturer ship if a CPU chip were made of wood?

The answer to that seldom-asked question appears to be contained, more or less, in a June 17, 2015 report called “Researchers Develop Biodegradable Wooden Computer Chips,” in Tech Briefs. This photo accompanies the report, which says:

In an effort to alleviate the environmental burden of electronic devices, a team of University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers has collaborated with researchers in the Madison-based U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) to develop a surprising solution: a semiconductor chip made almost entirely of wood.

Feature Photo 1-500-300x201

Thanks to investigator Don Bockinfeld for bringing this to our attention.)


“The Osler Industry: Insightful History or Insipid Hagiography?”

Thursday, June 18th, 2015

Osler, Osler, Osler. What about Osler, all these years after he departed the scene?

The Osler Industry: Insightful History or Insipid Hagiography?” C.S. Bryan and R.L. Golden, Journal of Medical Biography, 2007;15 Suppl 1:2-5. The authors explain:

“The life and legacy of Sir William Osler (1849-1919) have been celebrated by nearly 1900 articles, 10 special issues of medical journals, several biographies, numerous lectures and orations, and regular meetings of ‘Osler Societies’ throughout the world. To what extent does this ‘industry’ reflect serious history as opposed to hagiography?”