On Smooth Cuts

Pattern welded Damascened steel sheath knife

And now for a bit of history.

It has oftentimes been the stuff of legend that the Muslims had a weapon that supposedly gave them the advantage over Christian counterparts during the crusades. The former is said to have swords strong enough to cut “through European swords and even rock.” That is, the Damascus sword prided itself of strength and sharpness.

Two years ago, its molecular properties have been studied by a group from the University of Dresden. The result? The blacksmiths of yore were inadvertently using nanotechnology as the carbon nanotubes found in the study indicate. More on the article here.

I found the succeeding comments of interest too. For example, there was one who pointed out another supposed inadvertent nanotechnology in history: this time in stained glass. I haven’t read the link given yet though.

The image here is linked from the given wikipedia article. Yup, that was pretty lazy of me.

School Time

Despite the fact that I have tons of stuff to do at work and school during the weekends, I knew I had to place this somewhere. What can I do? Some things are just too good to leave forgotten among the wilderness of cyberspace. I guess the fact that I’ve decided to go for a postgraduate degree’s the primary culprit here.

Anyway I’ve encountered an English instructor’s rambling take the form of an article. There he writes of the difficulties of teaching Adult education to students who decide to pursue higher education in the United States. Everyone who lived long here in the Philippines have heard in one way or another the degredation of the quality of education here as manifested in the quality of a lot of recent university graduates. Reading a certain Professor X’s piece however, I got a glimpse of other facets of the educational issues–this time in the setting of a developed country.

The first thing that came to mind upon reading the article is a post by leelock sometime ago in highfiber. There she writes of the difficulties she encountered from irate parents when she fails a number of students from a certain university. It’s one of the issues included here as well as the author writes:

…There seems, as is often the case in colleges, to be a huge gulf between academia and reality. No one is thinking about the larger implications, let alone the morality, of admitting so many students to classes they cannot possibly pass. The colleges and the students and I are bobbing up and down in a great wave of societal forces—social optimism on a large scale, the sense of college as both a universal right and a need, financial necessity on the part of the colleges and the students alike, the desire to maintain high academic standards while admitting marginal students—that have coalesced into a mini-tsunami of difficulty. No one has drawn up the flowchart and seen that, although more-widespread college admission is a bonanza for the colleges and nice for the students and makes the entire United States of America feel rather pleased with itself, there is one point of irreconcilable conflict in the system, and that is the moment when the adjunct instructor, who by the nature of his job teaches the worst students, must ink the F on that first writing assignment.

Yup. Everyone’s all for higher learning but it seems not everyone’s prepared to face the realities that come with its pursuit.

Finally just a couple of items more:

  • A coincidental but unrelated bit in what seemed to be a pun at the said article, X-Men’s Professor X (Patrick Stewart) becomes a real professor at the Huddersfield University.
  • I’ve never been much of a Chemistry guy but I give credit where credit is due. In an effort to provide a very substantial and effective reference, the guys at the University of Nottingham put up a Periodic Table of Videos. Though I don’t appreciate what it’s for much, I have to say kudos to the effort and creativity in coming up with something that’s supposed to help hold the chemistry student’s attention for a few more seconds at the very least.
  • Tons of free e-books at Burgomeister’s Books. Be sure to read the disclaimer though.

Modern-day Trends

IT Anyone?

While the IT-sector of the Philippine economy has undoubtedly grown, I never thought the figure’s currently pegged at 400,000 related jobs from 8,000 last 2000. That is if co-Chairman of the National Competitiveness Council, Cesar B. Bautista is to be believed.

In an Infotech article written at PDI today, he spoke of a positive outlook for the country’s BPO services sector as something “to overtake India” in the near future. This as he cites a Frontier Strategy Group report released early this month as the reason for the optimism.

I hoping that the present crop of IT workforce could stand up to the challenge-if ever there really is going to be one.

What was that again?

A PC World article featured at Yahoo news tells of the effect of frequent mobile phone usage that is brain slowdown. The result of a study on 300 persons for nearly two and a half years indicated that the slowdown was still considered normal though.

However plans on expanding the study this time for a longer period of study on 17,000 people, is already on the drawing board.

Now that’s something definitely worth looking into as mobile phone usage has made it to the just about any common man’s routine. That and the fact that society adapted to it so quickly that just a decade ago, only the most affluent in this third world country could be seen flipping their phones in public, all point to a possible health hazard to a mobile generation of humans.

The Long Way Home

So the average L.A. driver gets to spend the longest time in traffic according to a Reuters report on the 10 worst metropolitan traffic in the U.S. In particular, those in L.A. waste 72 hours annually in traffic, (that’s 3 whole days of a year spent in traffic alone.) Runner-ups include (unfortunately) San Francisco, Washington D.C., Atlanta, the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arllington area, San Diego, Houston, Detroit, San Jose and Orlando in that order. Read the rest of the whole article here.

I’d like to see an independent study come up with something on Metro Manila traffic to give L.A. a run for its money though. :))

I Want My Money Back

One of the reasons why I keep few personal stuff besides not wanting to spend for something I won’t use often is that protection for consumer rights here in the Philippines still has to go a very long way. How many times has the mediocrity of products and services been read or heard?

Sadly I’ve had my share of things such as the shrug of the shoulder, inefficient support and downright defective products and service. The thing is protection for small-time public consumers is still practically non-existent here even if service providers are given the green light to clamp you down with an exclusive contract for a good number of months.

In a society whose government does strive to protect the voter’s interest, some steps on complaining do get results. Looking at that article, it’s not hard to see how much consumer protection in this country still has to improve on.

A Smashing Touchdown

A common theme in movies is a meteorite or asteroid streaking down from the skies and blowing up a sizeable portion of the earth then causing a catastrophe wiping out a significant fraction of humanity if not its entirety.

No tsunamis, earthquakes or gigantic explosions in this one though. If a featured AFP news yesterday is true however, a meteorite, which crashed somewhere in southern Peru, afflicted villagers with a mysterious illness. The said villagers reported “headaches and vomiting brought on by a ‘strange odor,'” according to the report.

A more recent AP article reports however that experts did confirm the crash but are still investigating the claims on the “illness” the crash caused.

Wait a minute! Didn’t venom originate from a meteorite from outer space as well?! 😛

The Beautiful Ones

It’s another one of those conventional things the normal person is accustomed to in his/her everyday life that has the focus of a science research: attention given to attractive people.

Jon Maner of the University of Florida is the leader of the study, which “flashed pictures of attractive men and women and average-looking men and women in front of participants and measured the time it took to shift their attention away from the image.”

According to Maner, the results of the study showed that “women paid just as much attention to men as men did to women.”

Big deal, huh? I guess that just goes to show that neither gender specimen has a right to complain when it comes to attraction.

Rise of the Lefties

Nope, nothing political here; just a research reported at Yahoo News indicating a rise in the number of left-handed persons today. If it is to be believed, it’s now at “about 11 percent of the population.”

I remember the same topic of a paper our written communications professor had as an example in tackling the exploratory paper we were supposed to submit then. If I remember it right, its title was “The Left-handed’s Struggle in a Right-handed World.”

Liberals vs. Conservatives: The Neurologists’ Take

I have a pint of attention for neurological study results not only because I’m such an information junkie but also because the subjects placed under study here are oftentimes trivially interesting. A year or two ago for example, I encountered a curious finding on how the sarcastic’s brain functions.

So when early this week this PDI article reported on a certain political scientist of New York University, David Amodio and his colleagues’ endeavor of placing the liberal and the conservative under the microscope, this libertarian-leftie decided that it had to be worth the attention. To summarize they had 43 right-handed subjects tested. The computer tests were done to evaluate the subject’s response when the need to change routines arises and the article goes on with the results:

The match-up was unmistakable: respondents who had described themselves as liberals showed “significantly greater conflict-related neural activity” when the hypothetical situation called for an unscheduled break in routine.

Conservatives, however, were less flexible, refusing to deviate from old habits “despite signals that this … should be changed.”

Interpretations differ however. One suggestion is that it may mean that “liberals are nimble-minded and conservatives rigid and stubborn.” Another one suggests that “wishy-washy liberals don’t stick to their guns, while conservatives are steadfast and loyal.”

No wonder I seem to think about things too much. 😀

Human Behavior Tidbits

Really stuff for the news entry previously, (only more dated that is.)

One of Four American Adults Read No Books Last Year

Not really surprising as far as I’m concerned. I think advances in technology has something to do with the dent on the amount of time people get to spend with books significantly. A lot has been said about the impact of such technological development on human behavior from shorter attention spans brought about by the ease of access to necessary information to more distractions brought about by the increased multitasking capabilities inherent in today’s computing technologies.

Even the definition of books themselves have become vague as a lot of publications have gone digital much like the trend seen for music records last year as I have written in this blog entry.

Anyway here’s the said Associated Press report:

One in four adults read no books at all in the past year, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll released Tuesday. Of those who did read, women and older people were most avid, and religious works and popular fiction were the top choices.

The survey reveals a nation whose book readers, on the whole, can hardly be called ravenous. The typical person claimed to have read four books in the last year — half read more and half read fewer. Excluding those who hadn’t read any, the usual number read was seven.

Web Usage Eats Up TV Time

Knew this one was coming when earlier this year related studies came out reporting on more people spending time on YouTube than in front of the TV. The sky’s still very much the limit for the growth of the internet as a related Reuters report on the findings of an IBM survey on consumer behavior goes:

In the latest sign of television’s decline as the primary media device, 19% of respondents said they spend six hours or more each day on personal Internet usage. That compares with 8% who said so about the TV. One to four hours of TV usage was reported by 66%, compared with 60% for the Web.

The number of TV viewers using digital video recorders continues to expand, with 24% of U.S. respondents saying they have a DVR and watch 50% or more of TV programming in replay mode, IBM found. Of those viewers, 33% said they are watching more TV since owning a DVR, in line with other recent studies.

New Diseases Due to Sex, Farming and Population Growth.

Yup, that’s pretty much a no brainer there. Consider the following Associated Press report quoting WHO authorities. WHO epidemics expert Dr. Mike Ryan in particular says:

“We’ve seen a shift in trend that reflects a transition of human civilization,” Ryan said. “The relationship to the animal kingdom, our travel, our social, sexual and other behaviors have changed the nature of our relationship with the microbial world and the result of that is the emergence of new pathogens and the spread of those pathogens around the world.”

And the facts laid down:

  • The increase of the rate at which food and people around the world carries risks which must be managed effectively. The increase in poultry to meet the demands of the growing world population for example might have resulted in the spread of bird flu according to WHO-Director General Dr. Margaret Chan.
  • Majority of the 39 new diseases recently including AIDS, Ebol, SARS and bird flu came from animals.

Architects and Urbanization

The global warming issue has been touching on the topic of urban living for a good reason: this year’s summer marks the first time that more people living in urban areas compared to those in rural areas. Effective policies and measures in place in cities therefore should translate to a considerable if not significant plus towards the effort.

Anyway a livemint article features the architect’s take on the subject:

As the demands on the world’s planners grow, academics from around the world gathered at a recent conference and expressed great unease about their ability to prepare the next generation of architects to build for this urban future.

“Every year the urban population increases by 80 million, equivalent to the population of Germany,” said Lars Reutersward, an architect and director of the global division at UN Habitat, the UN department that looks at urban development.

“Within that, there will be an increase in slum dwellers the size of Holland and Belgium put together—35 million—every year. This is a complete disaster, and it doesn’t have to happen,” he added. “People are dying in slums every day. It is horrible. We are lacking a sense of urgency; we are not coping with the speed of it.”

For a good reason. UN estimates place properly planned building work in expanding cities around the world at a dismal 5%. In Asia for instance, it is estimated that 70% of urban residents live in the said unplanned areas.

Techies’ Preview

Body Heat for Gadgets

In time it might be possible to power gadgets using body heat. That is if the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits research results hit the market. As the related Yahoo Tech news bit puts it:

…they are developing special circuits that use body heat. These could lead to battery-less cell phones and medical monitors that draw energy from their users.

The new circuits utilize the principle of thermoelectric generators (TEG) made from semiconductor elements… the TEGs extract electrical energy simply from the temperature difference between a hot and a cold environment. Normally, a difference of several tens of degrees would be required in order to generate enough power, but the difference between the body’s surface temperature and that of its environment is only a few degrees. To boost the energy, they combined a number of components that store up the energy until there’s enough to operate the electronic device.

Laptop Battery Tidbits

Andrew Pollack’s recent problem with Dell’s service eventually brought about an interesting article on laptop batteries. Andrew’s one of the Notes gurus out there and his entry focuses on something I didn’t give much attention to despite years of using mobile computers. Especially useful are the tips on their usage.

A Little Bit of the News

Virginia Tech Four Months After

In April 16 this year, Virginia Tech got the world’s attention not as a prominent institution of the US academe but because of the rampage involving Korean student, Sueng-Hui Choi. The said student killed 30 people in all including himself so after the incident, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine appointed 8 members of a panel that was to investigate everything.

Four months later, the said panel’s report on the incident was released. An Associated Press report on the findings goes:

The panel concluded that lives could have been saved if alerts had been sent earlier and classes canceled after two people were killed on April 16.

Understandably, Va. Tech president, Charles Steger would eventually defend himself against the calls for his resignation and other criticisms which arouse from the massacre. Thus another Associated Press report the day after the panel report was released goes:

At a news conference where he was grilled about an independent panel’s conclusion that lives could have been saved had the school warned the campus sooner that a killer was on the loose, Charles Steger suggested there may have been nothing anyone could have done to stop the rampage by gunman Seung-Hui Cho that left 33 people dead.

The U.S. Illegal Immigration Scene

From time to time I see campaign propaganda of presidential aspirants for the U.S. touch on the issue of illegal immigrants in television news. The point raised there is that the jobs that illegal immigrants have should go to American citizens.

It didn’t come as a surprise therefore when I encountered this Reuters report on a raid of Koch Food plant near Cincinatti in search for illegal immigrants. The authorities efforts got them 160 illegal workers that day. The report goes:

A day after one of the largest workplace immigration raids in Ohio, the Hispanic community in Cincinnati’s suburbs was scrambling to track down missing family members and arrange care for children whose parents were caught up in the raid.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the raid was the culmination of a two-year investigation of Koch Foods, suspected of knowingly hiring undocumented workers. The company said it was cooperating.

What came as something saddening was an Associated Press report on how an estimated number of 85 immigrant widows are facing deportation because their husbands died before necessary immigration procedures are completed. A case of one married to an American regarded as a hero for saving two boys from drowning is told as the report went:

Jacqueline Coats’ husband drowned after he dove into a fierce Pacific Ocean riptide to rescue two boys. Now the immigrant from Kenya might be forced to leave the United States because he died before filing her residency application. She is among more than 80 foreign-born widows across the nation who face possible deportation because their husbands died before immigration paperwork was approved.

Wow. Shit does happen.

Who Killed Beethoven

Beethoven's imageNot the title of a new Whodunnit but a shot of controversy into the death of one of the great musical geniuses from Germany. If the finding is to be believed, it’s another one for the lead overdose angle proponents as the related Associated Press report goes:

Viennese forensic expert Christian Reiter claims to know more after months of painstaking work applying CSI-like methods to strands of Beethoven’s hair.

He says his analysis, published last week in the Beethoven Journal, shows that in the final months of the composer’s life, lead concentrations in his body spiked every time he was treated by his doctor, Andreas Wawruch, for fluid inside the abdomen. Those lethal doses permeated Beethoven’s ailing liver, ultimately killing him, Reiter told The Associated Press.

The image’s linked from the same report btw.