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01/2011

1


FOCUS

London, cloudy There might very well be a huge cloud over London during the Olympic Games in 2012. Not the rainclouds the Brits are so used to, but an observation deck topped by a huge bank of transparent, inflated, solar-powered plastic spheres. If its proponents have their way, The Cloud will rise above the Olympic Stadium. Visitors will be able to reach the cloud, which will also do duty as a park, via a 120m ramp on foot or by bike. Luckily, there’s a lift for those of us who can’t walk on air. The intention is that the balls will project information to the crowds in the stadium. Like game results, the number of visitors or... you guessed it... the weather.

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This month braintainment@panorama.co.za @braintainmentza

Once bitten, never shy

E

xperience is the best teacher, so the old adage goes. Case in point: Did you ever place your hand on a hot stove when you were a child? Chances are that it was a painful experience and you vowed never to do it again. Lesson learnt, right? Not quite. Our cover story paints a different picture and we don’t quite learn from the past. Are we suckers for punishment or are our brains wired in a way that makes us follow the norm even if it means putting our own lives at risk? Experts call it herd mentality and liken us to wildebeest crossing a perilous river during their migration. They could very well be on to something. Why do I say this? Have you ever been in a stampede where thousands of people are all trying to escape through the only exit? I experienced it at a concert many years ago and it was downright scary. Apart from literally being pushed by a wave of frantic revellers and trampling on those who couldn’t keep up with the masses, I also had to avoid being hit by batons as the police tried to keep us at bay. It was an ordeal I vowed never to go through again. Call it déjà vu or just bad timing, but I was in the same scenario last year. A fight broke out at a concert. Pandemonium ensued and everyone had the same idea – run for the nearest and, in this case, only exit. I knew the dangers of doing so and yet I joined the scores without giving it a second thought. Free will is supposed to separate us from the rest of the animal kingdom. This may not be the case. Try as we may, our brain could be telling us not to rock the boat and go against the grain. If this is the case then the wildebeest analogy is not farfetched. Enjoy your read. Gerard Peter Editor-in-Chief

ON THE COVER Herd mentality

Are you a leader or a follower?

Page 12

Fasten your seatbelts

Crashing a Boeing for the sake of science.

Page 22

Is it art?

Dead bodies on display.

Page 30

Trojan horse

What is the real truth behind the legend of Troy? Page 44

Mellow yellow

How did Pac-Man change the gaming world? Page 58

Q&A

What time is New Year in space? What would happen if you could keep your eyes open while you sneeze? Why do dogs stick their heads out of the window of a moving car? What is the most frequently played game in the world? Find out the answers to these and many other intriguing questions. Pages 18, 78

INTERNET

Do you trust Google?

Revealed: the popular search engine’s prejudices. Page 10 SCIENCE

See how they grow

A 25-year experiment shows amazing results. PPage 26 NATURE

Botany

Nature’s record breakers.

Page 36

TECHNOLOGY

Just press print

3D printer put through its paces.

New generations

A 25-year experiment shows amazing results. Page 26

Page 50

We’re going down Crashing a Boeing for the sake of science. Page 22


Society

Is your life worth anything without social media?

Social myth?

Whether you are looking for a new idea, new friends or a singing career, you’ll find it via social media sites such as LinkedIn and YouTube. True or not? 7 TEXT: CARLIJN SIMONS

You can chat about everything on

I

t’s great to share your whole life on Facebook. That is why most people use this networking site. Various research

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has shown that Facebook is used to keep in touch – and see other people’s pictures. Not only do you derive some pleasure from doing this, but

other people like you more for doing it. This is according to a researcher at America’s Cornell University. He found that people who stay on top of others’ lives via Facebook know how to win their sympathy. How? By asking follow-up questions about photos of that yachting weekend posted on Facebook and then chatting about the shared interests they’ve discovered on this profile site. But be warned: writing about your personal life on Facebook can also have far less desirable consequences. One accountant

let it be known on Facebook that she finds her job boring. She probably forgot that she’d accepted her boss as a friend. But he was no longer her friend after he saw her post: she was summarily dismissed. A whopping 81% of matrimonial lawyers say that in the past 5 years they have seen a massive spike in the use of social networking information as evidence of infidelity, a new poll shows. The most widely used cyber-evidence, including messages to lovers and incriminating photos, is found on Facebook, a survey from the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers reveals. Yip, it’s great sharing pictures and heartfelt moments. Until the wrong person lays eyes on them.


Marrying via Twitter can provide a phalanx of benefits Where do Saffers meet?

B

esides Facebook et al, social networks popular in South Africa include: MXit Mobile internet and social networking application based

in SA with over 14 million global users www.mxitlifestyle.com Zoopy A South African social video site with a vibrant look

www.zoopy.com Afrigator A blog, photo and video sharing network based in South Africa www.afrigator.com Gatorpeeps covers the social

networking side www.afrigator.com/peeps/ tansali Focuses on African enter-tainment news www.tansali.com

free wedding invitations and a honeymoon trip. Their Project Twedding can be followed via @TweddingNL and #twedding. I need accommodation: Quintin, a student, has to vacate his room in June 2007. He has three months to find new accommodation. He puts up notices at the Albert Heijn (equivalent to our Spar supermarkets) and signs up with a rental agency. No success. He then decides to post a video on YouTube. He informs all his friends and asks them to give his video a high rating. The view count grows daily. To such an extent that Quintin gets the

terrific idea to alert the media to his unique project. He keeps the ball rolling via newspapers and TV and at the end of August 2007, he moves into his new digs.

Real life snippets

L

inkedIn for work, Facebook for social contacts, YouTube for videos. Increasingly social media creeps into our daily lives.

In this way, events can play a role in our lives in ways we never expected. Here are two examples from the Netherlands. Holy matrimony#twitter: On 20 October 2010, Janetta Dorsman and René Hoksbergen exchange wedding vows. For virtually nothing. There is such a huge response after René asks Janetta’s hand in marriage via a tweet, that the pair decide to make an experiment of it. By organising and financing the entire wedding via social networks and Twitter. They receive, among other things,

EXTRA INFO http://tinyurl.com/3pk57pl The 50 most watched YouTube videos ever www.facebookcheating.com A woman leaves her husband after an old flame rekindles on Facebook. This is where her ex, and others who share his fate, vent their spleen.

gives me a scintillating social life

B

eate Völker, a sociologist at the University of Utrecht, discovered that the average person in the Netherland has 4 friends. Yet, the average Hyver has about 97. More than that, the

number can be justified. Because according to Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of Oxford, you can maintain about 150 relationships. Of those 97 Hyver friends, 93

are mere acquaintances. And acquaintances are the ones you should pay attention to. In 1973 sociologist Mark Granovetter proposed that those ‘weak ties’ are stronger than we

might think. ‘Weak ties’ being people you see at most once a week but at least once a year. Since then various researches have shown that acquaintances play important roles in our lives. For example, we tend to buy a second-hand vehicle from a former colleague, distant relative or a friend of a friend. We also exchange handy bits of info with them. Like the address of a hotel in Dullstroom. Or the contact number for a reasonable handyman. But it might feel awkward calling up your cousin twice removed. With Hyves, the biggest social networking site in the Netherlands, this is as easy as pie. A message here, a post there and in no time contact is established. A communications scientist at the University of Amsterdam, Marjolein Antheunis, concludes that Hyvers maintain intensive social contacts, both online and in real life. Moreover, membership to Hyves complements and enriches existing social contacts. 01/2011

5


Quickies 7 BODY & SOUL

Shorts

Poo test reveals mom smoked N

oooo! Don’t throw that away! The first full nappy your baby produces is popular as a research tool. Because that first baby poo reveals how much mom smoked or was exposed to smoke during her pregnancy. Researchers at Chapel Hill University in North

Carolina waded through 337 baby nappies for a good cause. They compared the black tar-like first poo baby produces, also known as meconium, with other sources of information about the body, like blood counts. The more we know about the smoking

habits of mothers, the better. The researchers say if you know how many dangerous substances a baby has been exposed to, you’re more likely to solve their eventual health problems. And that might just make it worthwhile poking around in baby poo!

7CULTURE

Poo Facts ‘Black tar’ is how most moms describe meconium (the first bowel movement of a baby). A Doctors call particularly thick and green meconium ‘pea soup’. A Meconium contains fine body hair (called lanugo), mucus, bile, amniotic fluid and old cells that have been shed by baby’s skin and intestinal tract.

A

Braintainment’s photo editor was kind enough to spare you the real visuals

Barbastelle bat vs moth: 1-0

Relaxed record

N

ever before has a world record attempt been this laid back – at least, for the participants that is. Recently, droves of masseurs gathered in Daylesford, a tiny Australian city about 115 kilometres from Melbourne. The area is known for its beauty and natural mineral springs. The previous record for most people being massaged simultaneously stood at 167, and was established in the USA. Would the Aussies exceed that? With tremendous ease. 263 masseurs showed off their kneading skills.

7 NATURE

Bats beat ‘em

T

hey’ve been involved in aerial combat for years, bats and moths. For many years biologists thought the moths were on the winning side. Bats find their prey through echolocation. They make noises and listen to their echoes to figure out where

Shorts

Batman!

The Barbastelle is called the “mopsvleermuis” aka “pug-faced bat” in Dutch because it has a flattened face. A Humans can’t hear bats’ echolocation. The tones the animals emit are simply too high. A When a bat relaxes its muscles, its claws are closed. That’s why it can take a nap hanging upside down off a branch.

A

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their prey is. Moths can hear the noises and make nippy escape manoeuvres. The result? Most bats end up with empty stomachs. But not the European Barbastelle bat (Barbastella barbastellus), also known as the Western Barbastelle. That’s clear from research conducted by the University of Bristol. The scientists attached measuring equipment to test the nerve activity in the insects’ ears. They discovered that moths can tune in to the average bat’s echolocation at a distance of 30 metres. But they only hear the Barbastelle’s echolocation at 3,5 metres and by then it’s too late. How does the bat manage this? By producing really quiet sounds. You might say the Barbastelle bat is the original moth whisperer.

7 ARCHAEOLOGY

Maya mosaics T

o survive 3 months’ drought, you need a large water supply. That’s why the Maya people built large drinking water reservoirs, aka aguadas, before the dry season. Archaeologists from the University of Bonn have found two exceptional examples in Uxul, a Maya city in Mexico. They are about 1,500 years old, and each is about 10 times the size of an Olympic pool.

“What makes these aguada so special is their finishing,” says archaeologist Iken Paap. Generally, aguada floors are clay or limestone. “We’ve exposed a few pieces of floor and they’re very carefully tiled with ceramic shards. That would have required a lot of earthenware and labour.” Never before has a surface tiled by Mayans been found.


This month in history 7 PSYCHOLOGY

A family who prays together...

D

o you suspect your partner of cheating? Prayer helps, say psychologists from Florida State University. There’s a catch: the cheater, in particular, must turn to God. In one experiment 100 students were questioned about their tendency for adultery. Then they had to explain how strong their relationships were. After a month of praying, the group answered the questions again. The pray-ers appeared a lot less adulterous, they say themselves. Praying together helps the most, say the psychologists.

No shoddy workmanship: German researchers have found that the floors of Maya water reservoirs in Uxul are painstakingly covered in pottery shards and bricks

Is news always, well, new? Nope. Just look at the sometimes literally earth-shattering things that have happened in August through the ages! (All dates are years AD)

September and October in history 1066 King Harold II of England is defeated on 14 October by the Norman forces of William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings, England. At the end of the bloody, all-day battle, Harold was killed –shot in the eye with an arrow, according to legend – and his forces were destroyed. He was the last Anglo-Saxon king of England. After his victory at the Battle of Hastings, William marched on London and received the city’s submission. On Christmas Day 1066, he was crowned the first Norman king of England, in Westminster Abbey, and the Anglo-Saxon phase of English history came to an end. French became the language of the king’s court and gradually blended with the Anglo-Saxon tongue to give birth to modern English. 1492 On 12 October, after sailing across the Atlantic Ocean, Italian explorer Christopher Columbus sights a Bahaman island, believing he has reached East Asia. His expedition went ashore the same day and claimed the land for Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain, who sponsored his attempt to find a western ocean route to China, India, and the fabled gold and spice islands of Asia. 1666 At about 2am on Sunday, 2 September, a fire broke out in the home of Thomas Farynor, one of the king’s bakers. Most of Farynor’s family escaped the flames by climbing out a window and onto a neighbour’s roof. The fire was not fully brought under control until the morning of Thursday, 6 September. By the time the fire was finally snuffed out, more than 100,000 people had been left homeless. The following week, a royal proclamation decreed that any rebuilding of the city had to be done with brick and stone (rather than wood). And that any land that was not rebuilt within 3 years of the fire would be seized by the government. Other reforms that came out of the Great Fire were the advent of fire insurance and the formation of dedicated fire-fighting squads. 1797 The first parachute jump of note was made on 22 October by André-Jacques Garnerin from a hydrogen balloon 975 meters above Paris. 1810 When Bavarian Crown Prince Louis (later King Louis I of Bavaria) married Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen on 12 October, the Oktoberfest is celebrated for the first time. The Bavarian royalty invited the citizens of Munich to attend the festivities, held on the fields in front of the city gates. These famous public fields were named Theresienwiese (Therese’s fields) in honour of the crown princess. Locals have since abbreviated the name simply to the “Wies’n.” Horse races in the presence of the royal family concluded the popular event, celebrated in varying forms all across Bavaria. The decision to repeat the festivities and the horse races in the subsequent year gave rise to the tradition of the annual Oktoberfest. It now begins in late September and lasts until the first Sunday in October. Alcohol consumption is an important part of the modern festival, and more than 3.8 million litres of beer are consumed annually at Oktoberfest. 1886 On 4 September, Apache chief Geronimo surrendered to US government troops. For 30 years, the mighty Native American warrior had battled to protect his tribe’s homeland. General Nelson Miles accepted Geronimo’s surrender, making him the last Native American warrior to formally give in to US forces. It signalled the end of the Indian Wars in the Southwest. 1887 On 1 September Emile Berliner filed for a patent for his invention of the lateral-cut, flat-disk gramophone – yip, that thing we know as a record player. (Thomas Edison made the idea work.) 1923 Rocky Marciano (Rocco Marchegiano), the only heavyweight champion to have won every fight in his professional career is born on 1 September. 01/2011

7


Space travel

After 2011, NASA will abort its manned shuttle programme

Spaceshuttle:

the end This year, NASA will launch a space shuttle for the last time, 30 years after the first version streamed into space. Perfect opportunity for Braintainment to count down the 10 most remarkable shuttle facts. 7 TEXT: BERRY OVERVELDE

Accurate to the second

P

10

ay close attention to the precise moment you launch your space shuttle. Because that shuttle needs to connect to the International Space Station (ISS) (or the Russian station MIR before it dropped, as planned, into the Pacific Ocean in 2001). The space station circles the earth’s orbit and only flies by at a specific time. If your shuttle leaves too early – or too late – it will miss the station. So the shuttle’s launch time is calculated precisely. Well in advance. The countdown already starts 43 hours prior to the loud 10-second countdown of the launch. Or, as they say in the control centre, ‘T minus 43 hours’. All checks and safety procedures are run during this time. In space travel circles, the actual launch time is considered ‘zero time’ or ‘T zero’. Hence the familiar 10 seconds that are counted down are ‘T minus 10’. Time following the launch, such as the duration of the mission, is ‘positive’ time. The 10 seconds just after launch are known as ‘T plus 10’. Plus6 seconds on the clock after lift-off. The Endeavour flew to the ISS for the 10th time on 15 July 2009

Return to space

T

he highest number of flights in a single year was 9, in 1985. Is that too many? Nope. When America started its space travel programme in the 70s, they envisaged weekly flights. In this way a regular space service would have been established. Great plan. But not feasible. The shuttles required far more maintenance than expected, and that maintenance proved to be very expensive. Instead of 52 annual trips, 9 became the maximum. Sometimes, after a fatal accident for example, it could even be none.

9

And this is how it gets transported to the launch pad: the Endeavour straddling a Boeing 747

A space shuttle is not an airplane. It doesn’t land as smoothly as a Boeing. That’s why it needs a parachute

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One of the 8

T

he flight of the Netherlands’ only astronaut, Wubbo Ockels, in 1985 was special for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it was a true research mission, where they carried out all kinds of experiments. The manpower required made this flight rather crowded: Ockels was just one of 8 crewmembers on board the Challenger. This was a record; never before or since had so many people launched into space on

a single mission. Granted, there was one other similar flight. It left Earth with 7 people and returned with 8 after picking up an astronaut at the MIR space station. In theory, a space shuttle has space for 11 passengers. But it would only get that full if the shuttle had to pick up more than 1 person from the space station. That never happened. Another thing that made Ockels’ flight special: it was the first of 2

8

West German shuttle flights. The Germans footed the bill. That’s why it launched from Oberpfaffenhofen in Bavaria and its flight number was D-1 (D for Deutschland, obviously).

Wubbo Ockels was a Professor at a Dutch university when he was selected to travel into space 0 01/2011

9


Q&A

Questions & Answers

Got questions you’ve been carrying around for years? Braintainment answers them! Mail your questions to braintainment@panorama.co.za

Even a dead body contains useful information

T

hey can sometimes do it through a so-called ‘isotope analysis’. Certain chemical elements are found across the world in different variants (isotopes). For instance, there are three forms of oxygen which occur in different ratios. If you live

in a certain area, you’ll drink, via your local water supply, the specific ratio that occurs in your area. And if you live there long enough, the ratio occurs through-out your whole body. By comparing the ratio of oxygen isotopes in the dead body to the

Where do mosquitoes go in winter? Yvonne Muller, Mbombela

M

osquitoes can’t stand the cold. And most of them die during winter. Some survive by hiding in warm places, like small crevices in houses. There they spend their time snoozing winter away. Mosquitoes are cold-blooded. That means they need heat to function. That’s why they only get active again in spring, and go on the hunt for fresh blood. Mosquitoes don’t live more than a few months. So they can survive a maximum of one winter season. The survivors provide the next generation.

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isotope ratios in different parts of the world, forensic scientists can deduce where the victim lived for extended periods. Besides oxygen, strontium, sulphur and lead are suitable for analysis based on isotopes. These substances also occur in different ratios.

Where coils fail, winter takes over and kills mosquitoes

You could easily confuse a donor heart for a piece of steak.

Can someone with a donor organ become a donor himself when he dies? Pascal Schutte, Cape Town

I

n theory, yes. But the chances that it would actually happen are small, says the Dutch Transplant Foundation’s Janine van Trierum. “Before any donation, there are strict requirements: the donor must die in a hospital, preferably in the Intensive Care Unit. That’s because the donated organs require a constant oxygen supply, otherwise they are no longer suitable for donation. And of course, the organ itself has to be in excellent condition.” These requirements mean that very few organs are suitable for transplants. The chances that an organ recipient’s donated organ would still meet these requirements after

his own death are even smaller. That’s probably why, as far as is known, it’s never happened that a donated organ was re-donated.

Q&A

How can the police know, simply by investigating a corpse, in which part of the world someone grew up? Fred Bishop, Margate

FLASH

• In South Africa, there are more than 3 500 people waiting for organ transplants, according to the SA Organ Donor Foundation. • You can register to donate an organ at www.odf.org.za • You can choose which organs you’re willing to donate


How heavy must an object be before you can feel its gravitation? Tom Smit, Bloemfontein

I

If you’ve been weightless, you become very aware of how much the earth pulls at you

Why do we eat three meals a day? Jules Hlowgwawr, Utrecht

T

he short answer: because we get hungry again about 4 to 5 hours after our last meal. The time frame varies according to the climate and how much physical labour you have to do. In northern countries, people tend to eat much more than in southern countries. Because it’s colder in the north, you work through the available energy in food much faster. In earlier times, labourers sometimes

Who decides what to call a new hurricane? Henry Fisher, Howick

H

urricanes are named by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). The WMO has lists of 6 names per letter of the alphabet. The first hurricane of the season gets a name that starts with the letter A – Andrew, Alex or Ana, for instance. The next hurricane gets a name that starts with a B, and so on. A male name is followed by a female name, and the letters Q,

U, X, Y and Z aren’t used. The WMO also recycles like good citizens: after 6 years, they start all over again and re-use names. After the damage Katrina did to New Orleans in 2005, no other hurricane will ever carry the same name

But there are exceptions. If a hurricane has been particularly destructive, or claimed victims, the name is not repeated. In 2005,

the names Katrina, Dennis, Rita, Stan and Wilma were removed from the list. In 2008, Gustav, Ike and Paloma disappeared.

ate 4 or 5 times a day. But hunger isn’t the only thing that determines dinnertime. In the Middle Ages, for instance, it was considered a sign of weakness to eat more than twice a day. And since the industrial revolution, mealtimes have been determined by work hours. You eat before or after work. Plus, depending on the whims of your employer, somewhere in between as well.

Q&A

t depends on where you are. Here on Earth an object can be light enough that you don’t feel its gravitation, officially known as its ‘gravitational force’. In space it’s different. It works like this: All objects, including humans, have mass. The higher its mass, the higher its gravitational force (or magnetic force). The force means everything pulls at everything else. Light objects pull a little, heavier objects pull more. The TV pulls at the plug and vice versa. You pull at your neighbour in the movies. And vice versa. But on Earth you don’t notice it. The magnetic force of our planet is so immense it overpowers all other gravitational forces between objects with mass. But if you were floating through space with a friend, you’d automatically drift towards each other – even if you weigh only 80kg. It could take a while though. If you’re 100 metres away from each other floating in the same direction at the same speed, it would take 125 days before you reach one another.

FLASH

• Depending on its location and strength, a tropical cyclone is referred to by names such as hurricane, typhoon, tropical storm, cyclonic storm, tropical depression, or simply cyclone. • The word hurricane comes from the word Hunrakan, the name of the Mayan storm god. 01/2011

11


Sport

Get your own sports heart – with loads of exercise

The yellow jersey’s

secret

On 2 July the 98th Tour de France started along the Passage du Gois, a tidal causeway linking mainland France to the Isle of Noirmoutier in Vendée. In just over twenty days cyclists covered a gruelling distance of about 3500 kilometres. To pass the winning line in Paris they had to be in top condition. But what really helped them get there? 7 TEKS: ANTJE VELD

Riders know that competitors can break away at any moment 12

01/2011


Bulky muscles A

What? The

muscles you require depend on the type of cyclist you are, but thigh muscles are super important to all cyclists. A Why? Without muscles you won’t make progress or reach the summit. But a climber only wants the most indispensable muscles to reach the top. Al-though he needs his leg muscles, he must keep his body weight right down. All other muscles are unnecessary baggage. A trialist needs constant speed and focuses on bulkier leg muscles than the climber. A trialist needs explosive power, and apart from leg muscles he also needs a strong upper body. A tour winner has to be good at both slopes and time trials. A How? Training, training, training. Alternate your interval, stamina and power training with rest days. In cycling it’s called periodisation. Harm Kuipers, movement scientist at the University of Maastricht, emphasises that cycling training

should focus on 5 aspects: 1. Riding very hard for long. Important for time trials – use interval training to get there. 2. Increasing your tempo in a short time. Necessary to catch up with those who broke away – interval training becomes your friend. 3. Sprinting. Essential to making the winning break and crossing the winning line first – short time trials are a great way to train. 4. Riding with a constant load for a long time. Important in every long stage. Develop this by carrying about 90% of the maximum load during sections of your training route. 5. Endurance. Extremely important. Without it you’ll never finish a Tour de France. Build it by cycling distances of more than 100 kilometres 3 to 4 times a week. A Check it out. Switzerland’s Fabian Cancellara and his 77kg body was far too heavy to do well in the mountain stages of the Tour de France. This sprinter, nicknamed Spartacus because of his muscular body, was convinced he could win the 2010 race. He won the first time trial, but ended 121st overall.

Does a rider lose valuable protein during ejaculation?

Sex and play

ex or no sex before the race? S This is an age-old debate.

Those opposed say testosterone levels decline after sex. Some people even think men lose important protein through ejaculation. Other say go ahead! Sex helps you to sleep well and relax. But it would seem that cycling isn’t healthy for a man’s sex life. An American investigation published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine in 2008 says that all those hours on a bicycle are not a good thing for men. In the study, the erections of American policemen were compared. Policemen who daily sit on bicycles had shorter and less fi rm erections than their non-cycling colleagues, probably because of the constant pressure of the saddle on the pelvis.

01/2011

13


Focus

Vibrant art: whiskey, champagne and beer show their true colours

Under

the

Sure, you can drink alcohol. But you can also create the most beautiful photographs with it. Enlarge a crystallised drop of vodka tonic, and you’re likely to see patterns and shapes you’d normally only experience when you’re completely sozzled. 7 TEXT: CARLIJN SIMONS

PINA COLADA

In his lab, American researcher Michael W Davidson places individual drops of alcohol onto a microscope slide with a pipette. They dry into a crystalline structure, which is clearly visible under a microscope. A cocktail, like pina colada, is packed with sugars and fruit acids, which make particularly pretty crystals. And when he photographs them, they take on a life of their own.

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0

CHAMPAGNE

0

It can take up to 4 weeks for the alcohol to evaporate completely. Davidson keeps the slides in an airtight storage container in the meantime.

WHISKY

The microscope’s globe floods the crystal structure with light from the bottom. The camera does the same, but from the top. Together, the two form a polarising light source. The polarised light beams are deflected as they shine through the crystals, and this brings the beautiful colours and structures to the fore.

VODKA TONIC

Compared to other cocktails, vodka is a pure drink. Because it lacks fruit acids and sugars, it tends to fall apart during drying. Davidson sometimes has to dry out as many as 200 drops to get one slide that is sufficiently crystallised to be photographed.

LAMBIC BEER

Lambic beer is a speciality of the area surrounding Brussels. Unlike conventional beers, which are fermented by carefully cultivated strains of brewer’s yeasts, lambic beer is produced by spontaneous fermentation, a natural process. But the purer the drink, the less likely it is to crystallise. Davidson has developed a number of tricks to force even the most stubborn alcohol monster into submission. Liquid nitrogen cooling, for instance, sometimes helps.

EXTRA INFO http://micro.magnet.fsu. edu/ Davidson has put anything from diamonds to DNA and medicine under the microscope. His pics are available on this site.

01/2011

15


Psychology

A negative photo alongside bad news ensures the message has extra impact War makes you forget

A

dvertising your product after the news? In times of war that’s not smart. Marketing researchers at Oregon State University showed subjects 2 blocks of 5 minutes each of Iraq War news coverage, followed by 2 commercials of 30 seconds each. Next, researchers asked viewers what they still remember about the commercials. What emerges? The more intense the images of war, the less the subjects still know about the advertising. The researchers say it’s because processing intense emotions requires focused attention from the brain. And therefore your memory will not be working as well as normal. But there is a difference between supporters and opponents of the war. When opponents see even mild images, it evokes strong emotions. The memories of supporters of the war, however, take longer to be influenced by the news.

0 A Sick of news? Bad news hits you emotionally and produces stress, but can you Bad news hits you emotionally and produces stress, but can you really become sick or depressed? Little research has been done about it. The only Dutch research on this is from a 2009 study by the Dutch Institute for Research Health Care (Nivel). It shows that news about disasters leads to ill health and more visits to the doctor. The researchers analysed the GP visits of Enschede residents (see picture above) after they had seen or read reports on international catastrophes, such as the attacks of 11 September 2001 and the bombings of 11 March 2004 in a Madrid train station. The respondents had all experienced the 2000 fireworks disaster, during which a complete neighbourhood was wiped away and 23 people died. One group are direct victims, the other group simply residents of Enschede at the time of the tragedy. What emerges? In the week after a disaster makes the news, both groups pay more visits to their GPs than in the

week before the disaster. This does not mean that miserable news is bad for everyone’s health. The researchers suggest that people who suffer from a post-traumatic stress disorder, or are naturally sensitive about disasters and other bad news, are likely to feel

poorly after watching negative news. In short, if you’re already anxious, you’re more likely to be fearful as a result of bad news. Ard Heuvelman puts our minds at rest: “You’re not likely to get seriously ill or depressed because of bad news in isolation.” 7

Good days for bad news

C

Cheer up! The good thing about bad news is realising that you’re better off

16

01/2011

hoose the moment your company puts out press releases with care. Suppose you have bad news for the market, like disappointing annual figures. You want as few people as possible to pick up on it. Yet you want your good news known as widely as possible. How do you manage both? For bad news that can be planned (like bad annual figures), organisations choose news-rich days. These are days when, for example, large sports events are planned. Another strategy is to choose days when the news receives less attention anyway, such as Christmas Day. For positive messages you should specifically choose news-poor times, like days without a large national event, for instance. But

Jo Moore planned the bad news about the English Transport Ministry too well... this strategic tampering can work against you. In England it cost the advisor to the Minister of Transport, Jo Moore, her job. She had to tell the nation that the railways had to cut back. On 11 September 2001, when everyone’s focus was on New York, she grabbed her chance and released the news. But then news that she had expressly done it that way was leaked. It was considered so unethical that she had to resign.


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