The other drug epidemic

The drug problem in the US has historically focused on marijuana and heroin and the like and it is relatively recently that people have realized the extent of other dependencies such as on pain-killers. The New York Times has a long article by a young, ambitious, hard-striving woman who attended an elite college about how she got hooked on a commonly prescribed prescription for Adderall, a drug that started out being used to treat ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) for young children but now has become used by many adults to power their way through the day. About 16 million prescriptions were written in 2012 for adults between the ages of 20 and 39 and very little known about the long term effects of its use.
[Read more…]

Could the speed of light have been larger during the very early universe?

A new paper by João Magueijo and Niayesh Afshordi has been published that suggests that the speed of light has not had the same value over the age of the universe but instead could have been much higher, even infinite, at the very beginning of the universe when the cosmic temperature was extremely high. (You can see the paper without a journal subscription here.) Their suggestion is made in response to the well-known problem that the universe seems to be remarkably homogenous and isotropic over its entire size. This suggests that all the parts of the universe were in contact at one time in order for that kind of equilibrium to be reached. The problem is that the fastest communication possible is with light and that speed is not sufficient to create that kind of homogeneity.
[Read more…]

Identifying criminals using facial features alone

The idea that criminality is not contingent on external factors like need and opportunity but that some people are intrinsically prone to be criminals based on their biology has been around for a long time and led to efforts to create all manner of metrics to determine those markers. Sam Biddle writes about a troubling new study that claims that artificial intelligence (AI) software can tell whether you will be a criminal based on your facial features alone.
[Read more…]

Oh, that’s just great

We already knew that people had the ability to convincingly alter photographs and video to get almost any effect they wanted. The software has become so easy to use that almost anyone who wants to can do so. Now Marcus Ranum links to an amazing video showing new audio technology that enables people to easily do the same thing to audio, so that using just a small sample of someone’s voice, it can make it look as if that person is saying something that they never did.

[Read more…]

When correlation can be used to infer causation

It is not uncommon to find correlations in the behavior of two or more phenomena and such correlations are sometimes used to imply causation. One of the most common objections posed to such arguments is that ‘correlation does not imply causation’, and is one of the first things that people learn about statistics. Even if they have not studied the subject, many people know enough to able to bring up this objection. But people may be sometimes too quick to pull that trigger.
[Read more…]

The puzzling popularity of tattoos

Tattoos are becoming extremely common. I do not mean some little symbol discreetly placed on a small part of the body but even massive ones that cover much of it. I do not have a tattoo and have no intention of ever getting one, since I belong to a generation (and grew up in a country) in which no one I knew got tattoos. To the extent that one read about who got them, it was mainly sailors in western countries who, like Popeye, got clichéd ones with anchors or hearts with arrows through them or women’s names. The creepy 1969 film The Illustrated Man based on the Ray Bradbury story collection of that name may have cemented my antipathy to them.
[Read more…]

Who you gonna call? Michael Faraday!

Michael Faraday (1791-1867) is one the greatest scientists of all time and his contributions to physics and chemistry are immense and his name can be found associated with all manner of phenomena. The unit of capacitance known as the ‘Farad’ is named after him. Amongst all his contributions to science, perhaps the one that had the most impact on the public was his discovery of the law of electromagnetic induction, that if a wire and a magnet are in motion relative to each other, a current will flow in the wire. This forms the basis of our public electricity systems and the working of electric motors.
[Read more…]

About dreams

I have very vivid dreams, many of them, each and every night, some of which the details I remember after I wake up, though others quickly fade from memory. It turns out that everybody dreams during the REM (rapid eye movement) period of sleep but not everyone recalls those dreams on waking up, so the difference between people who say they dream a lot and those who claim to dream a little or not at all lies only in the recall of them. According to Susan Blackmore in Consciousness: A Very Short Introduction (p. 99), “In a typical night’s sleep the brain cycles through four stages of non-REM sleep; first going down through stages 1-4, then back up to stage 1, and then into a REM period, repeating this pattern four or five times a night.”
[Read more…]

Why jetlag is worse flying east

As someone who has family in Sri Lanka and New Zealand, this necessitates periodic long flights. Fortunately for me, I do not suffer as much from jet lag as some others do. I am usually back to normal within a day of arrival at my destination whereas I have friends who take up to a week. My personal hypothesis is that the after-effects of jet lag are caused largely by tiredness due to lack of sleep. As a result, on these long flights, I ignore all the in-flight entertainment and instead spend as much of my time as possible sleeping, only waking up to eat or read. Fortunately I can sleep seated.
[Read more…]