Archive for 'News about research'

Music to sooth the savage customer? Don’t count on it

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

Companies that run call centers — responding to complaints and requests from vocal customers — know that the job will always be done imperfectly. A new study suggests that one particular technique is likely to fail big time.

Karen Niven, a lecturer in organizational Psychology at the Univeristy of Manchester (UK)’s business school, looked at (and listened to) the music that callers hear while they are waiting to talk to a call agent. Niven’s study is called “Can music with prosocial lyrics heal the working world? A field intervention in a call center” [published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, epub July 23, 2014]. Niven writes…

—so begins another Improbable Innovation nugget, which appears in its entirety on BetaBoston.

Science, technology, and potato-chip-related sound

Monday, August 4th, 2014

Sounds related to potato chips are again inspiring scientific innovation.

THEN: The 2008 Ig Nobel Prize for nutrition was awarded to Massimiliano Zampini of the University of Trento, Italy and Charles Spence of Oxford University, UK, for electronically modifying the sound of a potato chip to make the person chewing the chip believe it to be crisper and fresher than it really is. [Details of their work are in the study "The Role of Auditory Cues in Modulating the Perceived Crispness and Staleness of Potato Chips," Massimiliano Zampini and Charles Spence, Journal of Sensory Studies, vol. 19, October 2004, pp. 347-63.]

NOW: Now a research project at MIT is spurring headlines such as this one from Engadget: ” Visual microphone can pick up speech from a bag of potato chips“. The MIT research team explains their work, in this video:

(Thanks to investigator Louisa Vandross for bringing this to our attention.)


How to interpret a new discovery

Sunday, August 3rd, 2014

Wolter Seuntjens, in exploring yet another frontier that few have examined, made a discovery. In a newly published study, Seuntjens gives a clear explanation of how to interpret his  or anyone’s new discovery about anything. The study is:

Mary Symmetrical and Mary Nonsymmetrical – A Hitherto Undetected Difference in the Iconography of the Two Most Important Women in the New Testament?JUnQ, 4, 2, 18–27, 2014. Seuntjens first summarizes his research:

“In the history of Christian art the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene are undoubtedly the two most frequently depicted women. Contrary to expectation, the praying postures in which the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene are depicted are not random. The Virgin Mary prays most often symmetrically whereas Mary Magdalene prays predominantly nonsymmetrically…


Later comes this instructive passage:

“Assuming that the observed pattern is indeed a new fact, it is difficult if not impossible to see in advance where this new fact will lead. But, if it is a new fact, then its interpretation and its possible connections with other facts and interpretations old and new should be addressed. If, however, the pattern is a fluke, then that is also interesting.”

blinkeyeTwo of Seuntjens’s previous discoveries achieved some eminence:

Seuntjens also investigates blinking and winking. The blinking or winking eye you see here is from his web site.

Seuntjens’s new study appears in the journal JUnQ, the Journal of Unsolved Questions.

Mathematicians’ Romantic Yearning for Love and Chaos

Saturday, August 2nd, 2014

Here’s the latest chapter in a possibly endless series of papers by different mathematicians fancifully using the metaphors and mathematics of chaos to tell and re-tell tales of love:

 “Love stories can be unpredictable: Jules et Jim in the vortex of life,” Fabio Dercole and Sergio Rinaldi, Chaos: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Nonlinear Science, vol. 24, 023134, 2014. (Thanks to investigator Mason Porter for bringing this to our attention.) The authors are at Politecnico di Milano, Italy. Here is a photo of the top portion of Fabio Dercole. The object behind him is a blackboard.


Decole and Rinaldi write:

“Love stories are dynamic processes that begin, develop, and often stay for a relatively long time in a stationary or fluctuating regime, before possibly fading. Although they are, undoubtedly, the most important dynamic process in our life, they have only recently been cast in the formal frame of dynamical systems theory…. [We] conjecture that sentimental chaos can have a relevant endogenous origin. To support this intriguing conjecture, we mimic a real and well-documented love story with a mathematical model in which the environment is kept constant, and show that the model is chaotic. The case we analyze is the triangle described in Jules et Jim, an autobiographic novel by Henri-Pierre Roche that became famous worldwide after the success of the homonymous film directed by Francois Truffaut.

“[This figure shows a] graphical representation of two hypothetical love stories. (Left) Feelings’ time series. (Right) Trajectories in the plane of the feelings.”


Here’s a snippet from the film Jules et Jim. We leave it as an exercise for the reader (i.e., you) to analyze the chaotic dynamics on view:

Whether to go naked if you’re going to be shot: It depends

Friday, August 1st, 2014

The question of whether one is better off being naked or clothed when being shot is not so simple as it may appear.

A 2013 study suggests that if one is going to be shot with a bullet, one might be better off naked. Another study, however, suggests that if one is going to be shot with shotgun pellets, one might be better off wearing clothing. The study is:

klatt_ec_1The effect of intermediate clothing targets on shotgun ballistics,” Kenneth Cail and Edward Klatt [pictured here], American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 2013 Dec;34(4):348-51. (Thanks to investigator Ivan Oransky for bringing this to our attention.) The authors, at Mercer University School of Medicine, Savannah, Georgia, report:

“The ballistic properties of shotgun shells are complex because of multiple projectiles fired simultaneously that interact and spread out to affect their energy relayed to a human target. Intermediate targets such as clothing can affect penetration into tissues. We studied the effect of common clothing fabrics as intermediate targets on penetration of shotgun shell pellets, using ordnance gelatin to simulate soft tissue and thin cowhide to simulate skin. A standard 12-gauge shotgun with modified choke was used with no. 8 shot ammunition. We found that protection afforded by fabrics to reduce penetration of shotgun pellets into tissues was greater at increasing distance from the muzzle beyond 40 yd (36.6 m). The thicker denim and cotton fabrics provided slightly greater protection than polyester.”

BONUS (related): The 2009 Ig Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Stephan Bolliger, Steffen Ross, Lars Oesterhelweg, Michael Thali and Beat Kneubuehl of the University of Bern, Switzerland, for determining — by experiment — whether it is better to be smashed over the head with a full bottle of beer or with an empty bottle. REFERENCE: “Are Full or Empty Beer Bottles Sturdier and Does Their Fracture-Threshold Suffice to Break the Human Skull?” Stephan A. Bolliger, Steffen Ross, Lars Oesterhelweg, Michael J. Thali and Beat P. Kneubuehl, Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, vol. 16, no. 3, April 2009, pp. 138-42.]