Monthly Archives: June 2011

The app that helps you decide which bar to visit – by analysing all of its customers’ faces

Two hundred bars across the United States are set to install facial-recognition cameras at their entrances and exits. These cameras will be able to detect the gender of their customers, and keep a running tally of the men and women present at any given time.  

Why? It’s all part of an iPhone app called SceneTap. It is an app for people who are having a night out and want to know how busy each local bar is – and whether they are packed with guys or loaded with women. SceneTap uses the data collected from the cameras and produces a ratio of males:females for that particular bar. The user can then access this data to help them decide which bars are worth visiting.  

The makers of SceneTap have been quick to point out that the app can only tell you the gender of the people in the bar; it cannot tell you the name or identity of each visitor. And, perhaps frustratingly for anyone who was only planning on using this app to find a partner, the app cannot tell you the attractiveness or the relationship status of the people in the bar either.

Full story: Forbes


Research shows that pigeons have learned to discriminate against unkind people

If you are an urban pigeon, the idea of hovering near a person for food is a bit of a gamble. For every person sitting on a park bench who will happily flick the crumbs of their lunch towards you, there will always be others who will angrily stamp their feet and scare you away.

Well, latest research suggests that it is not a gamble at all. According to researchers in France, pigeons have the ability to tell the difference between generous humans and unkind ones.  

The team carried out two tests in an urban park. One person would feed the pigeons, while another would chase the birds away. “In both experiments”, the researchers noted, “the pigeons learned quickly to discriminate between the feeders.”

“The pigeons avoided the hostile feeder even when the two feeders exchanged their coats, suggesting that [the birds] used stable individual characteristics to differentiate between the experimenter feeders. Thus, pigeons are able to learn quickly from their interactions from human feeders and use knowledge to maximise the profitability of the urban environment,” they said.

Conclusion: Be nice to pigeons. They will remember who you are and forever hold a grudge against you otherwise.

Full story: BBC Nature News

This rocks! Scientists invent t-shirt that can charge up your mobile phone

Don’t you just hate it when you’re at a music festival and your phone battery dies?

Fear no longer. Scientists have invented a t-shirt that can recharge your mobile phone. (Yes, you read that correctly: a t-shirt that can recharge your mobile phone). The shirt contains a piezoelectric film panel, which absorbs compressed sound waves. The panel then converts these waves into an electric charge, which powers up the mobile phone. So all you need to do is plug your phone into your shirt, stand in the crowd, rock out to the band – and, hey presto, your phone will charge itself up. 

The shirt, endorsed by Orange and called the Sound Charge, is set to be tested at this year’s Glastonbury festival. With average noise levels of 80 dB, Orange say the weekend sound will produce enough aural stimulation to charge even your smartphone.

Full story: Recombu

The cell that can produce laser light

Have you ever fantasised that you’re a Super Hero who can shoot laser beams out of your eyes? Well, this has been turned into a reality on the microscopic scale. In a triumph of genetic engineering, scientists from the Wellman Center for Photomedicine at Massachusetts General Hospital have caused a living cell to emit laser light. They describe it as a “self-healing” laser, as the cell remains alive during and after the process, and if any light-emitting proteins are destroyed, the cell can simply produce more. It’s like giving a cell the superpower to be an invincible torch. 

It all began when scientists took cells from a glowing jellyfish, individually placed them between two tiny mirrors, and flooded them with blue light. This caused the cell to emit a beam of green laser light. The scientists have now engineered human kidney cells to produce the same protein that can turn the cell into a living laser-maker.

What are the benefits to this? Well, the researchers behind this work, Malte Gather and Seok Hyun Yun, believe it could revolutionise microscopic imaging, and therapy. 

They say that intracellular processes will now be able to be detected “with unprecedented sensitivity”, and, as far as light-based therapy is concerned, “we can [now] approach this problem in [a new] way: by amplifying light in the tissue.”

However, the application of turning us all into Super Heroes who can blast enemies with laser beams remains a long way off.

Full story: BBC News

Bad news for left-handed people everywhere…

Julius Caesar, Leonardo Da Vinci and Jimi Hendrix all had one thing in common. As well as being regarded as either the most influential, intelligent, or talented people who have ever lived, all three were left-handed.

So can it be true that being left-handed makes you more skilful and intelligent? Apparently not. In fact, a new study from Flinders University suggests the exact opposite. 

Professor Mike Nicholls has carried out research across the English-speaking world into cognitive ability and handedness. His conclusion is that left-handed people score consistently lower in aptitude tests than their right-handed counterparts. He even claims that being left-handed is cognitively equivalent to being born prematurely. All of this rather dismisses the “myth” that lefties are more likely to end up being gifted.

“The evidence, based on our analyses of very large databases of handedness and other attributes in people across Australia, the UK and the USA, doesn’t bear out that myth. Our study of members of the same family confirms that left-handed children will do worse than their right-handed siblings,” he said.

This is certainly a controversial theory. How and why should left-handedness be a sign of cognitive impairment? Well, the left hemisphere of the brain controls the right hand, and vice versa. And, according to Nicholls, the fact that the left hemisphere is responsible for more tasks than the right, puts left-handed people at a disadvantage. He describes it as being “most likely related to squeezing as many eggs as possible into one basket.”

Professor Nicholls is left-handed. 

Full story: IO9 Science

Psychologists prove that our brains can only cope with 150 friends

Have you have ever thought “I can’t be bothered to keep in touch with all these random people any more”, decided to have a “Facebook cull”, and proceeded to delete a vast majority of people from your list of friends? It’s something that many of us do without much thought, but there is in fact a scientific principle that explains why we do it.

Research in the 1990s by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar showed that 150 friendships appears to be the highest number that humans can want, can need, or can bear.

It’s an evolutionary thing. Social primates build communities to form bonds and protect one another. Yet a number limit must exist in a community, because groups that are too large compromise their sense of intimacy, their cohesion, and their chances of survival.

After studying many primate species, Dunbar realised that the size of a social group increases with brain size. He came to the conclusion that 150 is the limit when it comes to humans. It is certainly a figure that has recurred throughout history: Neolithic farming communities tended to split up if they exceeded 150 members; the Romans made 150 soldiers the basic unit of an army; the size of a nomadic tribe is around 150. And many subsequent studies have supported Dunbar’s simple finding that you can’t realistically maintain regular contact with more than about 150 people.

But modern online social networks (i.e. Twitter and Facebook) allow us to have lists of hundreds – or even thousands – of friends. So doesn’t that disprove Dunbar’s findings? It would seem not. Latest research from Bruno Goncalves at Indiana University reveals – even if we do have enormous lists of friends and followers – around 150 is still the maximum that our brains can truly withstand.

After studying social networks of three million Twitter users over the last four years – studying 380 million tweets in the process – Goncalves discovered a common habit amongst Twitter users. People start using the service, collect a huge number of friends, and then get overwhelmed. And, incredibly, this limit occurs … somewhere between 100 and 200 people.

Full story: IO9 Science