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Posts Tagged ‘Benjamin Franklin

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”*…

 

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The wonders of modern millinery…

Caffeine-fueled cram sessions are routine occurrences on any college campus. But what if there was a better, safer way to learn new or difficult material more quickly? What if “thinking caps” were real?

In a new study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, Vanderbilt psychologists Robert Reinhart, a Ph.D. candidate, and Geoffrey Woodman, assistant professor of psychology, show that it is possible to selectively manipulate our ability to learn through the application of a mild electrical current to the brain, and that this effect can be enhanced or depressed depending on the direction of the current…

The success rate is far better than that observed in studies of pharmaceuticals or other types of psychological therapy,” said Woodman. The researchers found that the effects of a 20-minute stimulation did transfer to other tasks and lasted about five hours.

The implications of the findings extend beyond the potential to improve learning. It may also have clinical benefits in the treatment of conditions like schizophrenia and ADHD, which are associated with performance-monitoring deficits.

Read more at “Electric ‘thinking cap’ controls learning speed” in ScienceBlog.

* Shakespeare, Hamlet Act II, Scene 2

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As we crank up our crania, we might recall that it was on this date in 1747 that Benjamin Franklin sent a thank you note to British scientist Peter Collinson:

 Your kind present of an electric tube, with directions for using it, has put several of us on making electrical experiments, in which we have observed some particular phenomena that we look upon to be new. I was never before engaged in any study that so totally engrossed my attention and time.

As the Franklin Tercentenary notes:

The study of electricity was the most spectacular and fashionable branch of Enlightenment natural philosophy. Franklin was immediately hooked when the Library Company’s British agent, Peter Collinson, sent him a glass tube used to generate static electricity. Franklin taught himself to perform basic electrical “tricks” with it and was soon immersed in trying to understand how this surprising phenomenon worked.

Through his electrical investigations, Franklin developed important new theories, complete with new terms and instruments to describe and demonstrate them. As usual, his concern centered on developing useful applications for his discoveries: the result was a lightning protection system that is still in use today, notably on St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.

Franklin’s experiments were known all over Europe, initially through his personal correspondence and then through publications initiated by colleagues abroad. Later, Franklin’s international fame as a scientist would give him the status and political access to succeed as America’s premier diplomat.

Franklin at work on his most famous experiment

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“A pun is the lowest form of humor—when you don’t think of it first”*…

Pun, noun. Origin unknown “The use of a word in such a way as to suggest two or more meanings or different associations, or of two or more words of the same or nearly the same sound with different meanings, so as to produce a humorous effect; a play on words.” – Oxford English Dictionary

Pity the poor pun.  For the last few decades, puns have been the province of clever headline writers, anxious shopkeepers, and embarrassing uncles; otherwise, they tend to be deployed sparingly, and with a dose of irony.  Indeed, the late William Safire, the New York Times‘s long-time language writer, wrote in 2005 that a pun “is to wordplay what dominatrix sex is to foreplay – a stinging whip that elicits groans of guilty pleasure.” But puns have a long and storied history– they featured in the parables of Jesus and in the plays of Shakespeare– and they play an important role in the present, allowing Chinese social media users to address “forbidden” topics.

Are puns making a comeback?  Sally Davies explores the question in BBC Magazine‘s “The Pun Conundrum” (from whence, the photo above).

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* Oscar Levant

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As we punder paronomasia, we might recall that it was on this date in 1784 that Benjamin Franklin wrote, in a letter to his daughter Sarah Bache, of his displeasure with the eagle as the symbol of America; he preferred the turkey.

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Written by LW

January 26, 2013 at 1:01 am

The passing of the passion pit…

 The Pike, Montgomery, PA

Connecticut photographer Carl Weese uses oversize “banquet cameras” to document that quintessentially-American institution, the drive-in movie.  While the first drive-in appeared (in New Jersey) in the early 1930s, their heyday was the golden age of suburbs, the 1950s and 60s.  First pitched as a place to bring the whole family (“no matter how noisy the kids are”), drive-ins fell victim to proliferating “hard tops” (as Variety calls indoor theaters); Daylight Savings Time (which shaved an hour out of the evening’s viewing time); the growing availability of feature films on vcr, then cable and dvd (which made for an even more convenient family film night); and rising land prices (which made many “soft tops” comparatively uneconomical to operate).  For many teens in the 50s and 60s, the drive-in provided an intimate privacy unavailable elsewhere.  That too changed, as TV sets proliferated throughout the rooms of most households…  There were over 4,000 drive-ins in operation in the 60s; today, there are under 400.

 Deer Lake Drive-In, Deer Lake, PA

 [TotH to Co.Design for the photos]

As we learn to pop our own corn, we might note that this date marked the end of one American political thinker’s life, and the beginning of another’s:

Author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat Benjamin Franklin died on this date in 1790.

 They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety (source)

And on this date in 1854, Benjamin Ricketson Tucker, the champion of  “unterrified Jeffersonianism” (AKA American individualist anarchism) was born.  Tucker founded and published Liberty, a magazine that featured everything from the social economic ideas of Herbert Spencer and Lysander Spooner to articles on Free Love; it carried George Bernard Shaw’s first article to appear in the U.S. and the first American translations of Friedrich Nietzsche.

 Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, these three; but the greatest of these is Liberty. Formerly the price of Liberty was eternal vigilance, but now it can be had for fifty cents a year. (source)

Written by LW

April 17, 2012 at 1:01 am

It wasn’t the snake’s fault…

From Collectors Weekly:

These days, “snake oil” is synonymous with quackery, the phoniest of phony medicines. A “snake oil salesman” promises you the world, takes your money, and is long gone by the time you realize the product in your hands is completely worthless.  But… the original snake oil actually worked.

In the 1860s, Chinese laborers immigrated to the United States to work on the Transcontinental Railroad. At night, they would rub their sore, tired muscles with ointment made from Chinese water snake (Enhydris chinensis), an ancient Chinese remedy they shared with their American co-workers.

A 2007 story in Scientific American explains that California neurophysiology researcher Richard Kunin made the connection between Chinese water snakes and omega-3 fatty acids in the 1980s.

“Kunin visited San Francisco’s Chinatown to buy such snake oil and analyze it. According to his 1989 analysis published in the Western Journal of Medicine, Chinese water-snake oil contains 20 percent eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), one of the two types of omega-3 fatty acids most readily used by our bodies. Salmon, one of the most popular food sources of omega-3s, contains a maximum of 18 percent EPA, lower than that of snake oil.”

However, it wasn’t until several years after Kunin’s research that American scientists discovered that omega-3s are vital for human metabolism. Not only do they sooth inflammation in muscles and joints, but also, they can help “cognitive function and reduce blood pressure, cholesterol, and even depression.”

So why does snake oil have such a bad rap?

Well, hucksters that sold patent or proprietary medicine caught wind of the miraculous muscle-soothing powers of snake oil. Naturally, they decided to sell their own versions of snake oil—but it was just much easier to forgo using actual snakes…

Read the whole story (and see more nifty pix) at “How Snake Oil Got a Bad Rap.” [TotH to Presurfer]

As we give credit where credit is due, we might recall that it was on this date in 1721 that John Copson of Philadelphia became the first insurance agent in the Americas, and took out the first advertisement for insurance (in the American Weekly Mercury); he opened the first insurance office several days later.  While there’s no record of how Copson fared, his initiative was sufficiently precedential that four years later the first book printed by Benjamin Franklin contained a long passage extolling the virtues of indemnification.

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Happy Towel Day!

I’ll take the low road…

source: Argonne National Laboratory

Cartoonist Rube Goldberg sketched ironic paeans to parsimony– cartoons depicting the simplest of things being done in the most elaborate and complicated of ways.  His whimsy inspired Purdue University to hold an annual Rube Goldberg Contest, in which teams of college students from around the country compete “to design a machine that uses the most complex process to complete a simple task – put a stamp on an envelope, screw in a light bulb, make a cup of coffee – in 20 or more steps.”

New Scientist reports on this year’s meet:

Who ever said a machine should be efficient? The device in this video was deliberately over-engineered to water a plant in 244 steps, while illustrating a brief history of life and the universe in the meantime. Created by students at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, it sets a new world record for the most complex Rube Goldberg machine – a contraption designed to complete a simple task through a series of chain reactions.

The machine was unveiled in March at the National Rube Goldberg Machine Championships held at Purdue University. The competition, first held in 1949, challenges competitors to accomplish a simple task in under 2 minutes, using at least 20 steps.

Although this machine used the greatest number of steps, it encountered some problems during the contest so was disqualified. But the team tried it again afterwards and it worked – too late to compete in the championships but still valid as a world record entry. They should find out this week if Guinness World Records accepts their record-breaking feat.

For more Rube Goldberg machines, check out our previous coverage of the championships, watch this cool music video by OK Go or see how an elaborate Japanese device could fix you a noodle dinner.

As we savor the sheer silliness of it all, we might recall that The American Academy of Arts and Sciences, which was founded during the Revolutionary War, was chartered on this date in 1780.

Established by by John Adams, James Bowdoin, John Hancock, and other leaders who contributed prominently to the establishment of the new nation, its government, and its Constitution, the Academy’s purpose was (in the words of the Charter) “to cultivate every art and science which may tend to advance the interest, honour, dignity, and happiness of a free, independent, and virtuous people.”

Over the years, just about everyone a reader may have encountered in a U.S. History text has been a member: The original incorporators were later joined by Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Charles Bulfinch, Alexander Hamilton, John Quincy Adams, and others. During the 19th century, the elected membership included Daniel Webster, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John J. Audubon, Louis Agassiz, Asa Gray, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Alexander Graham Bell.  In the early decades of the twentieth century, membership in the Academy continued to grow as other noted scholars, scientists, and statesmen were elected– including A. A. Michelson, Percival Lowell, Alexander Agassiz and, later, Charles Steinmetz, Charles Evans Hughes, Samuel Eliot Morison, Albert Einstein, Henry Lee Higginson, Woodrow Wilson, William Howard Taft, and Henry Cabot Lodge.  (Current members are listed here.)

Today the Academy is (in its self-explanation) “an international learned society with a dual function: to elect to membership men and women of exceptional achievement, drawn from science, scholarship, business, public affairs, and the arts, and to conduct a varied program of projects and studies responsive to the needs and problems of society.”

The Minerva Seal (source)

A conversion experience…

1 average human stomach holds as much as 0.9203413389691 of a beer keg (photo source)

Who hasn’t wondered…

How many NASCAR Winston Cup Tires in an African Elephant?
How many kegs of beer in an Airbus A380?
How many Shaquille O’Neals in the Great Wall of China?
How many giraffe’s necks in the Weinermobile?
How many bathtubs in an average human stomach?
How many dump trucks in an Olympic Swimming pool?

One can derive excellent equivalencies to one’s heart’s content at “WeirdConverter.”

As we refrain from putting our thumbs onto the scales, we might recall that it was on this date in 1776 that Richard Bache became the second Postmaster General of (what was becoming) the United States; he took over from his father-in-law, Benjamin Franklin, who’d left for Paris to represent the interests of the Continental Congress.

Richard Bache (source: Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary)

 

One-upping Gordon Gekko…

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“The injunction of Jesus to love others as ourselves is an endorsement of self-interest,” Goldman’s Griffiths said Oct. 20, his voice echoing around the gold-mosaic walls of St. Paul’s Cathedral, whose 365-feet-high dome towers over the City, London’s financial district. “We have to tolerate the inequality as a way to achieving greater prosperity and opportunity for all.”

-via Profit `Not Satanic,’ Barclays Says, After Goldman Invokes Jesus – Bloomberg.com.

The ever-incisive Matt Taibbi ponders this pontification:  “I didn’t believe this story was true at first — thought it had to be a spoof. But it turns out to be true. The great banks of the world have gone on a p.r. counteroffensive in Europe, and are sending spokescrooks in shiny suits into churches to persuade the masses that Christ would have approved of the latest round of obscene bonuses.”

Taibbi’s piece, which explores how it is that someone could reach this kind of conclusion (spoiler alert:  it’s to do with a self-interested understanding of “free market” ideology) is well worth reading in full.  Here, let me just reprise his all-too-apt conclusion:

There are lots of different varieties of evil in the world. On the extreme end of the spectrum you’ve probably got your Ted Bundy-at-Lake-Sammamish brand of evil, torturers and such, people who actually take pleasure in the suffering of others. You look at people like that and they defy rational explanation; you have to just chalk that up to the universe basically being a horrifying place where there’s either no God at at all or a God who’s just incompetent and/or explaining himself really, really badly.

On the other end of the spectrum, not nearly as evil comparably but still pretty bad, are people like this clown from Goldman. They lie to themselves and think up elaborate reasons to do the bad acts they were already hoping to do anyway. Some day, when historians finish peeling back all the different onion-layers of this financial disaster we’re living out right now, they’re going to find at the heart of it all this social Darwinist mantra wherein a very small group of overeducated twerps agreed to believe that stealing every last dime they could get their hands on was something other than what it looks and sounds like to the rest of us. That protective delusion was the first of the many luxuries they bought with all the money they stole, and see if it isn’t the last they agree to give up. What a bunch of assholes!

By way of context, research company TNS reports that “around half of American, British and German respondents reported that they would not be able to come up with $2,000 in 30 days from savings, borrowing, friends or family” if faced with an emergency…  and then there’s the real poverty in the world that we can and must more aggressively address.

As we recover our composure, we might recall that it was on this date in 1789 that Benjamin Franklin remarked, in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, that “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”  (In fact the first recorded utterance of that sentiment in English was by Daniel Defoe in The Political History of the Devil, 1726: “Things as certain as death and taxes, can be more firmly believed”…  before that [pace Goldman] there was Jesus:  “render unto Caesar…”  One wonders what the front-runners and mortgage pushers at the top of the financial heap will make of that…)

Uncle Ben

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