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Apr 22, 2010

Does Counting Sheep Really Help You Fall Asleep?

As far as we can tell, the idea of counting sheep to get to sleep might go back to ancient shepherds, who had to literally count their sheep every night before turning in, to make sure they were all there. Given the timing and the monotony of the task, someone eventually gave it a shot as a sleep aid and it caught on.

But does it work? Not according to researchers at Oxford University. Allison G. Harvey and Suzanna Payne, from the university’s Department of Experimental Psychology, conducted a study where volunteer insomniacs were monitored as they tried different distraction techniques for falling asleep over several nights.1

Harvey and Payne found that subjects took longer than usual to fall asleep on the nights they were instructed to count sheep, or were not told to do anything. When the insomniacs were told to distract themselves with a relaxing scene like a quiet beach, a walk in the woods, a massage, etc., though, they fell asleep 20 minutes sooner, on average, than they did when sheep counting or doing nothing. Harvey and Payne concluded that counting sheep is just too boring to do for very long, but a more engrossing distraction, like the detailed images of relaxing beaches, occupies enough “cognitive space” to keep people from engaging with too many other thoughts or worries.


Apr 21, 2010

What is the Maximum Memory Capacity of the Human Brain?

The human brain consists of about one billion neurons. Each neuron forms about 1,000 connections to other neurons, amounting to more than a trillion connections. If each neuron could only help store a single memory, running out of space would be a problem. You might have only a few gigabytes of storage space, similar to the space in an iPod or a USB flash drive. Yet neurons combine so that each one helps with many memories at a time, exponentially increasing the brain’s memory storage capacity to something closer to around 2.5 petabytes (or a million gigabytes). For comparison, if your brain worked like a digital video recorder in a television, 2.5 petabytes would be enough to hold three million hours of TV shows. You would have to leave the TV running continuously for more than 300 years to use up all that storage.


Apr 20, 2010

Is earthquake activity increasing?


China’s tragic magnitude 6.9 earthquake on April 13 and the recent devastating earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, Mexico, and elsewhere have many wondering if this earthquake activity is unusual.
Scientists say 2010 is not showing signs of unusually high earthquake activity. Since 1900, an average of 16 magnitude 7 or greater earthquakes — the size that seismologists define as major — have occurred worldwide each year. Some years have had as few as 6, as in 1986 and 1989, while 1943 had 32, with considerable variability from year to year.

With six major earthquakes striking in the first four months of this year, 2010 is well within the normal range. Furthermore, from April 15, 2009, to April 14, 2010, there have been 18 major earthquakes, a number also well within the expected variation.

“While the number of earthquakes is within the normal range, this does not diminish the fact that there has been extreme devastation and loss of life in heavily populated areas,” said USGS Associate Coordinator for Earthquake Hazards Dr. Michael Blanpied.

What will happen next? Aftershocks will continue in the regions around each of this year’s major earthquakes sites. It is unlikely that any of these aftershocks will be larger than the earthquakes experienced so far, but structures damaged in the previous events could be further damaged and should be treated with caution. Beyond the ongoing aftershock sequences, earthquakes in recent months have not raised the likelihood of future major earthquakes; that likelihood has not decreased, either. Large earthquakes will continue to occur just as they have in the past.


Apr 18, 2010

Can stress cause hair to turn grey?

If you look at photos of President Obama taken before he ran for president and then more recently, you’ll notice a distinct difference: where there used to be only dark brown hair, there are now areas of gray dotting the landscape. It seems that the stress of running a country would turn any person’s hair gray. But is stress really to blame? And why does hair turn gray, even for those of us who don’t have jobs quite as stressful as President Obama’s?

Stress doesn’t actually turn hair gray—the color can't change once produced by hair follicles, so hair cannot suddenly turn gray if you are under a great deal of stress. If a single strand of hair starts out brown (or red or black or blond), it's never going to turn gray. Your hair follicles produce less color as they age, so when hair goes through its natural cycle of dying and being regenerated, it’s more likely to grow in as gray beginning after age 35. Genetics can play a role in when this starts. President Obama is in his mid-40s, so aging could explain his graying. But stress may have played a role, too.

Stress can trigger a common condition called telogen effluvium, which causes hair to shed at about three times the rate it normally does. The hair grows back, so the condition doesn’t cause balding. But if you’re middle-aged and your hair is falling out and regenerating more quickly because of stress, it’s possible that the hair that grows in will be gray instead of its original color.

When and how thoroughly your hair turns gray has mostly to do with the genes you inherit from your parents. Though stress may play a role in the process, it would be more helpful to look to past generations rather than your current stress levels to help you predict when or if you’ll go gray. That’s true whether you’re the President of the United States or someone with a less stressful job.


Apr 9, 2010

What's Inside the iPad and What it Costs to Make?

The single most expensive part of an iPad is its 9.7-inch diagonal, thin film transistor liquid-crystal display that supports 262,000 colors and costs $65.

LG Display, a South Korean company, made the display in the particular model torn down by iSuppli, but the firm said that Apple might enlist other companies to make these displays down the road. The same goes for other parts and pieces of the iPad, and as Apple refines its manufacturing processes the costs and number of parts needed should decline, iSuppli said.

The next most expensive component, a glass touch screen and bezel assembly ballparked at $30, is made by Wintek, based in Taiwan.

Rounding out what one feels when holding an iPad is the aluminum backing that adds on $10.50.

For more:

Apr 5, 2010

Can soap get dirty?

Soaps are mixtures of sodium or potassium salts derived from fatty acids and alkali solutions in a process called saponification. Each soap molecule is made of a long, non-polar, hydrophobic (repelled by water) hydrocarbon chain (the “tail”) capped by a polar, hydrophilic (water-soluble) “salt” head. Because soap molecules have both polar and non-polar properties, they’re great emulsifiers, which means they can disperse one liquid into another.

When you wash your dirty hands with soap and water, the tails of the soap molecules are repelled by water and attracted to oils, which attract dirt. The tails cluster together and form structures called micelles, trapping the dirt and oils. The micelles are negatively charged and soluble in water, so they repel each other and remain dispersed in water—and can easily be washed away.

So, yes, soap does indeed get dirty. That’s sort of how it gets your hands clean: by latching onto grease, dirt and oil more strongly than your skin does. Of course, when you’re using soap, you’re washing all those loose, dirt-trapping, dirty soap molecules away, but a bar of soap sitting on the bathroom counter or liquid soap in a bottle can also be contaminated with microorganisms. This doesn’t seem to be much of a problem, though.

In the few studies that have been done on the matter, test subjects were given bars of soap laden with E. coli and other bacteria and instructed to wash up. None of the studies found any evidence of bacteria transfer from the soap to the subjects’ hands. (It should be noted that two of these studies were conducted by Procter & Gamble and the Dial Corp., though no contradictory evidence has been found.)

Dirty soap can’t clean itself, though. A contaminated bar of soap gets cleaned via the same mechanical action that helps clean you up when you wash your hands: good ol’ fashioned scrubbing. The friction from rubbing your hands against the soap, as well as the flushing action of running water, removes harmful microorganisms from both your hands and the soap and sends them down the drain.


Apr 1, 2010

How did Adolf Hitler die?

With the end of World War 2 nearing, defeat of Germany was evident. While the war raged on, Adolf Hitler along with Eva Braun, his girlfriend of long standing, took shelter in the subterranean bunker - F├╝hrerbunker on January 16, 1945. It was located below Hitler's Reich Chancellery in Berlin. As German forces suffered one loss after another in the hands of the Allied forces, it is said that Hitler suffered a nervous breakdown on April 22, 1945. By that time the Russian army had entered Berlin and were marching on to the center of the city to capture Hitler.

Hitler consulted his physician Werner Hasse on the best way to commit suicide. Hasse suggested a dose of cyanide along with a gunshot to the head. On the suggestion of his physician, Hitler got doses of cyanide but paranoia seized him after he heard of the attempts of Henreich Himmler's to negotiate peace with the enemies. This was a big blow to Hitler's faith in his men and he started suspecting that the pills were fake. To test their authenticity, Hitler ordered the pills to be tried on his dog Blondii whom he was known to love a lot. The pet died due the poison in the capsules.

Hitler's confidence further suffered a huge setback when he heard about the execution of his Italian ally Benito Mussolini. He did not want to suffer the same fate as Mussolini and the execution of the Italian dictator made Hitler finalize his act of suicide.

On April 29, 1945 around midnight, Hitler married his long time girlfriend Eva Braun in his bunker with minimal ceremony. Later early morning Hitler is said to have signed his last will. He also granted permission for an attempt to breakout later that night to his general Helmuth Weidling. After having their lunch, Hitler and his new bride conveyed their last farewell to their men in the bunker and retired to his personal study at around 14:20 hours.

Witnesses report to have heard a loud gunshot at around 15:30 hours from the study. Hence, the answer to the question when did Hitler die is April 30, 1945 and not April 29, 1945 as it cited in certain resources. When Hitler's valet Heinze Linge opened the door of the study, he found the couple slumped on the sofa leaning away from each other. Hitler had a gunshot wound in his temple from which blood was oozing out. The smell of prussic acid, the gaseous form of cyanide, pervaded the room. Eva Braun did not have any physical injury. It was evident that she had died due to consumption of cyanide. Later reports confirmed that Hitler had also consumed cyanide.