Archive for April, 2015

April 14, 2015

Road Rage

road rage by ken smith

Road rage is aggressive or angry behavior by a driver of an automobile or other road vehicle. Such behavior might include rude gestures, verbal insults, deliberately driving in an unsafe or threatening manner, or making threats. Road rage can lead to altercations, assaults, and collisions that result in injuries and even deaths. It can be thought of as an extreme case of aggressive driving. The term originated in 1987 at KTLA, a Los Angeles television station, during a rash of freeway shootings. These shooting sprees even spawned a response from the AAA Motor Club to its members on how to respond to drivers with road rage or aggressive maneuvers and gestures.

Road rage levels and laws vary from country to country. In Germany, mere insults and rude gestures in traffic can lead to fines and even prison sentences. Australia also has rather stringent laws against malicious motoring. In the US, a 2007 study concluded that the cities with the least courteous drivers (most road rage) are Miami, Phoenix, New York, Los Angeles, and Boston. The cities with the most courteous drivers (least road rage) are Minneapolis, Nashville, St. Louis, Seattle, and Atlanta. In spite of this, in 2009, New York, Dallas/Fort Worth, Detroit, Atlanta and Minneapolis/St. Paul were rated the top five ‘Road Rage Capitals’ of the United States.

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April 13, 2015

Warrior Gene

born to rage

Monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A), is an enzyme that in humans is encoded by the MAO-A gene, a version of which has been popularly referred to as the Warrior Gene. Several different versions of the gene are found in different individuals, although a functional gene is present in most humans (with the exception of a few individuals with Brunner syndrome, a rare genetic disorder). MAO aids in the breakdown of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine and are, therefore, capable of influencing the feelings, moods, and behaviors of individuals.

According to this, if there was a mutation to the gene that is involved in the process of promoting or inhibiting MAO enzymes, it could affect a person’s personality and could therefore make them more prone to aggression. A deficiency in the MAO-A gene has been linked to higher levels of aggression in males. In a 2009 criminal trial in the US, an argument based on a combination of ‘warrior gene’ and history of child abuse was successfully used to avoid a conviction of first-degree murder and the death penalty; however, the convicted murderer was sentenced to 32 years in prison.

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April 10, 2015

Quibble

monkeys paw by matt verges

In terms of fiction, a quibble [kwib-uhl] is a plot device, used to fulfill the exact verbal conditions of an agreement in order to avoid the intended meaning. Typically quibbles are used in legal bargains and, in fantasy, magically enforced ones. In one of the best known examples, William Shakespeare used a quibble in ‘The Merchant of Venice.’ Portia saves Antonio in a court of law by pointing out that the agreement called for a pound of flesh, but no blood, and therefore Shylock can collect only if he sheds no blood.

A ‘pact with the Devil’ commonly contains clauses that allow the devil to quibble over what he grants, and equally commonly, the maker of the pact finds a quibble to escape the bargain. In Norse mythology, Loki, having bet his head with Brokk and lost, forbids Brokk to take any part of his neck, saying he had not bet it; Brokk is able only to sew his lips shut.

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April 9, 2015

Coprolalia

Captain Haddock

Coprolalia [kop-ruh-ley-lee-uh] is involuntary swearing or the involuntary utterance of obscene words or socially inappropriate and derogatory remarks. Coprolalia comes from the Greek ‘kopros’ meaning ‘feces’ and ‘lalia,’ ‘to talk.’ The term is often used as a clinomorphism (a simplification or amplification of the term for a medical condition), with ‘compulsive profanity’ inaccurately referred to as being Tourette syndrome (an inherited neurological disorder characterized by involuntary speech and movements). Related terms are ‘copropraxia,’ performing obscene or forbidden gestures, and ‘coprographia,’ making obscene writings or drawings.

Coprolalia encompasses words and phrases that are culturally taboo or generally unsuitable for acceptable social use, when used out of context. The term is not used to describe contextual swearing. It is usually expressed out of social or emotional context, and may be spoken in a louder tone or different cadence or pitch than normal conversation. It can be a single word, or complex phrases. A person with coprolalia may repeat the word mentally rather than saying it out loud; these subvocalizations can be very distressing.

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April 8, 2015

Celebrity Culture

starsuckers

The religious texts of the world’s faiths are replete with examples of individuals who are well known by the general public. Some of the pharaohs of ancient Egypt set in motion devices to ensure their own fame for centuries to come. Herostratus, a young Greek man arsoned the Temple of Artemis (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World) in 356 BCE in order to immortalize his name. Although authorities at the time tried to expunge him from history and punished people with the death penalty for even merely mentioning his name, he succeeded in achieving lasting fame, as his name is well known to this day.

Celebrity culture, once restricted to royalty and biblical/mythical figures, has pervaded many sectors of society including business, publishing, and even academia (scilebrities). With every scientific advance names have become attached to discoveries. Each nation or cultural community (linguistic, ethnic, religious) has its own independent celebrity system (e.g. J-Pop), but this is becoming less the case due to globalization. Mass media has increased the exposure and power of celebrity.

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April 7, 2015

Alcohol Powder

Palcohol

Alcohol powder is molecularly encapsulated ethanol. The powder produces an alcoholic beverage when mixed with water. According to food chemist Udo Pollmer of the European Institute of Food and Nutrition Sciences in Munich, alcohol can be absorbed in cyclodextrins, a synthetic carbohydrate derivative. The cyclodextrins can absorb an estimated 60 percent of their own weight in alcohol while remaining dry to the touch. A US patent was registered for the process as early as 1974.

Alcohol powder can be used to reconstitute alcoholic beverages or inhaled through a nebulizer (mister). In Germany a product called Subyou reportedly was distributed on the Internet. The product was available in four flavors and packed in 65 – 100 gram sachets. When mixed with 0.25 liters of water it gives a drink with 4.8% alcohol. It was assumed a German producer manufactured the product from imported raw alcohol powder from the US.

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April 6, 2015

Goose Bumps

pilomotor reflex by boots

goose-pimples

Goose bumps (‘cutis anserina,’ also called ‘goose pimples’ or ‘goose flesh’) are bumps that develop on human skin at the base of body hairs in response to cold. They can also occur involuntarily as the result of strong emotions such as fear, nostalgia, pleasure, euphoria, awe, admiration, or sexual arousal. The same effect is manifested in the root word ‘horror’ in English, which is derived from Latin ‘horrere,’ which means ‘to bristle,’ and ‘be horrified,’ because of the accompanying hair reaction.

The reflex of producing goose bumps is known as ‘arasing,’ ‘piloerection,’ or the ‘pilomotor reflex.’ It occurs in many mammals besides humans; a prominent example is porcupines, which raise their quills when threatened, or sea otters when they encounter sharks or other predators. Small muscles at the follicles raise the body’s hair to make the animal appear larger and more imposing when facing predators. The formation of goose bumps in humans under stress is considered by some to be a vestigial reflex. In furred animals, the cold response erects hairs to trap air, creating a layer of insulation.

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April 2, 2015

Stone Soup

pet rock

Stone Soup is an old folk story in which hungry strangers trick the local people of a town to share their food: a good confidence trick that benefits the group from combining their individual resources. The story is usually told as a lesson in cooperation, especially amid scarcity. In varying traditions, the stone has been replaced with other common inedible objects, and therefore the fable is also known as button soup, wood soup, nail soup, and axe soup. In the story, some hungry travellers come to a village carrying nothing more than an empty cooking pot. Upon their arrival, the villagers are unwilling to share any of their food stores with them.

The travellers go to a stream and fill the pot with water, drop a large stone in it, and place it over a fire. One of the villagers becomes curious and asks what they are doing. The travellers answer that they are making ‘stone soup,’ which tastes wonderful, but could use a little bit of garnish to improve the flavor. The villager does not mind parting with a few carrots to help them out, so that gets added to the soup. Another villager walks by, inquiring about the pot, and the travellers again mention their stone soup which has not reached its full potential yet. The villager hands them a little bit of seasoning to help them out. More and more villagers walk by, each adding another ingredient. Finally, a delicious and nourishing pot of soup is enjoyed by all.

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April 1, 2015

Perceptual Learning

ultimeyes

Perceptual learning is the process of learning improved skills of perception from simple sensory discriminations (e.g., distinguishing two musical tones from one another) to complex categorizations of spatial and temporal patterns relevant to real-world expertise (e.g., reading, seeing relations among chess pieces, knowing whether or not an X-ray image shows a tumor). Perceptual learning forms important foundations of complex cognitive processes (i.e., language).

In visual Vernier acuity tasks, observers judge whether one line is displaced above or below a second line. Untrained observers are often already very good with this task, but after training, observers’ threshold has been shown to improve as much as six fold. Similar improvements have been found for visual motion discrimination and orientation sensitivity.

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