terriko: (Default)
2017-02-26 06:34 am
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Does ginger really help with nausea?

Thanks to headaches, travel and life, I've experienced a lot of nausea, and the remedy that I hear most often is ginger. Now, I like a good ginger tea, eat pickled ginger with my rice sometimes, and use ginger in things from stir fries to cookies, but I've never particularly noticed it making a big difference in my nausea when compared with, honestly, consuming just about anything else. (Cheese, almonds, jello, crackers, apple juice, whatever. Eating a small amount of nearly anything will take the edge off my nausea.) So today I decided to do a bit of research: is this something about my metabolism, or is ginger one of those herbal remedies that isn't really that effective?

First stop, a book chapter entitled "The Amazing and Mighty Ginger" from Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition. It tells me that there's studies that say ginger works, but also studies that say it doesn't:

Although the antiemetic effects of ginger are the most well-studied effects of this condiment and have been reviewed extensively, the effectiveness and safety of ginger for treating nausea and vomiting have been questioned in the past because the findings reported were often contradictory

Another website lists a bunch of studies (the website I don't know about, but the studies are hosted on the US National Institute of Health so they're probably legit enough). Most of these sound reasonable to me, although some seem a bit biased in study design.

So... yes, there's evidence that ginger helps with nausea. But the hint of studies that say it doesn't are very interesting, because it's *much* harder to get a negative study than a positive one published (at least in my experience). We could be deluding ourselves and letting confirmation bias win if we trust the positive studies but not the negative ones. I didn't do deep research, but I'd say it's likely that ginger helps, but not necessarily as clear-cut as people might have you believe.

As for me, well, I still like ginger, so I'll try it when it suits me, but not worry too much about stocking up before the weather change triggers more headaches.
terriko: (Default)
2015-01-09 09:41 pm

Birchbox Dec 2014

Birchbox December 2014

It's silly, but I'm always pleased when they send out special-coloured birchboxes. This one is especially pretty and will probably be used to house sewing notions in my craft room so that I can leave it out where I will be admiring it regularly. Sadly, the products inside didn't all live up to the promise of the pretty box, although there was one gem!

Acure Organics Lip Lush
Birchbox December 2014

The science of this product is crap. Plant stem cells aren't going to do anything meaningful for your skin, and the papers that claim so are highly suspect (a brief search suggests that they may be the scientific equivalent of tabloid stories about elvis giving birth to bat boy written by someone who's offering to sell you pictures for only $9.99). The company should feel bad and require everyone involved with approving this product to take remedial science classes.

I actually liked the lip gloss just fine -- birthday suit is a terribly boring colour, but it smells ok and is a pleasant enough gloss for when your lips are sore and sticky seems like a good idea. It's not an exceptional lip gloss, but it's not a terrible one either. The sample tube did leak a bit so I'm afraid to keep it in my pocket, but it's not great enough that I want it with me all day anyhow.

However, no matter how inoffensive the product itself is... As a PhD carrying scientist myself, I absolutely cannot support nonsensical bad science claims like these, so I won't be buying this and I'll be telling anyone who asks that it's bull.

[I'm betting birchbox won't publish this review...]

Davines Replumping Shampoo, Davines Replumping Conditioner and Davines Replumping Hair Filler Superactive

I didn't take pictures of the shampoo and conditioner because they were uninspired packets, and I wanted to make sure I used them before time was up on the reviews (you only get birchbox points for writing reviews if you do it before the 10th of the month!). But here's the "hair filler."

Birchbox December 2014

While the shampoo seemed effective enough, this made my eyes water before I even started lathering up my hair, and the smell lingered so much after that even my boyfriend, who has a damaged nose and can barely smell things, commented that I smelled weird. To my nose, not only was it too strong, but it smelled... old and musty, I guess. Like really old makeup that has probably gone bad or something. Not for me.

Similarly, I thought this did a nice enough job as a conditioner, but it was simply too strongly scented for a leave-in. I wasn't even sure if I should go to work the next morning without washing it out.

I wanted to give the spray a fair shot, but to be honest I had to wash it out of my hair after a half hour because the smell was driving me crazy. It was both too intense and just not a scent I want others to associate with me.

Benefit They're Real! Mascara

I already had a sample of this from Sephora, so I gave the one from my Birchbox to my sister.
Birchbox December 2014

Facegoop panned this one for the dreaded panda-eye, and I was really perplexed, as I've never had that problem. And if anyone would have it, it would be me, since I am terrible about touching my eyes during the day. But I've finally figured out the discrepancy: I don't wear creams or anything around my eyes usually, but I received one in another birchbox and was trying it out and... voila, panda eyes. So this mascara dissolves in at least one type of eye creme. Mystery solved! So yeah, don't wear under-eye concealer, or try it out for a bit before you go out with both on in case you also have one that dissolves this mascara. As I dislike undereye concealer, this isn't really a problem for me.

Birchbox December 2014

Their crappy review aside, I like this stuff so much that it has taken me from "eww, mascara" to "hey, maybe I'll wear that sometimes for fun." I guess the idea behind "they're real!" is that this mascara doesn't look that much like you're wearing a pile of eye product. And indeed, it extends the heck out of my lashes (so much so that they brush my sunglasses!) without making me look like I'm trying too hard. It's fun and not too over-the-top to wear to work or the library.

I expect makeup samples will fill all my mascara needs unless I stop the subscription box, but I would consider buying this if I ever *did* need to purchase mascara!

Color Club Art Duo Pen

Birchbox December 2014

This was definitely the winner in my birchbox this month! Great little polish with both a thin nail art-brush and a pen applicator where you squeeze the whole bottle. The brush is pretty neat, but it's that teensy pen applicator that really makes this easy to use. I loved my first manicure with it, and I think with a bit of practice, I'm going to be able to make some pretty neat nail art with this!

Birchbox December 2014

I'm usually pretty hesitant about dotty manicures since anything non-smooth doesn't last too long. One of the nail artists I follow on tumblr says hers last maybe 2 days, and I expect my nails to last around a week. But I put dots all over my nails and they lasted better than expected, so yeay!

Birchbox December 2014

Yu-Be Moisturizing Skin Cream

Birchbox December 2014

There was a project a few years back called "Significant Objects" that tested whether people were willing to pay more for an object when a talented writer wrote a story to go with it. I feel like the marketing folk for this moisturizer must have taken those lessons to heart, given the included tale of the Japanese pharmacist's secret and how travelers discovered the cream.

That said, I can't help but like the stuff. I like glycerin moisturizers when my skin has been a bit damaged. This one is effective enough, the quickly-fading medicinal scent makes it interesting to apply, and the story *is* good. I may even buy more!

Birchbox December 2014

(Final picture to show how strangely yellow it is.)

Overall, I *really* hated the hair products and was insulted by the lip balm, but the mascara and nail pen are great and I'm pretty pleased with the weird moisturizer too!
terriko: (Default)
2014-09-23 09:19 pm
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Birchbox August 2014

You might have thought I'd given up on my subscription boxes, but no, I just take pictures and forget to post them, like usual. And then I write posts and save them and forget to post those too.

Here's August's box, though!

Birchbox August 2014

5 samples, 4 of which were random and the 5th of which I actually chose.

Let's start with the one I was least excited about:

Birchbox August 2014

Harvey Prince Ageless Body Cream

This is perfectly reasonable body cream, not terribly-strongly scented once applied, although I think it's still a bit too volatile to be a good choice for me to take to work where it might irk others. And frankly, it smells like grapefruit (not my favourite scent) and it's hideously pink. But it *does* contain shea butter, so it's pretty pleasantly rich. So it's fine, and I'll use it, but I don't think I'll be ordering more.

Actually, one weird thing to note is that unlike a lot of the birchbox samples I received, this one had a little tinfoil "sealed for your protection" thing. which wouldn't be that notable, except the darned thing left a glue film that became a flap that blocked all flow of product. Inconvenient, and something I've not seen in many of my boxes. But then I saw exactly the same separating-glue problem with the next product in my box:

nügg Beauty Revitalizing Face Mask

Birchbox August 2014

So yeah, I'm sort of wondering if their warehouse got a bit dry or something.

Anyhow, here's what it looked like before that:

Birchbox August 2014

This is an absurdly minty face mask, enough to make your face tingle and your eyes water when you first apply it. I find this amusing and kind of fun, and enjoyed sitting around with it on (unlike some face masks I could mention...).

Unfortunately, I'd be lying to myself if I said I thought it did anything for my face. Here's three shots:


With face mask applied (mm, slimy and minty...):
Wearing face mask


(Aside: this is one of those series of pictures where I wonder what the heck is wrong with the people who say I don't look very Asian. Even if you don't recognize the facial structure of my awesomely mixed genetics, have you *seen* my eyes? Really?)

The redness in the after picture is mostly from washing it off my face (note abq sun damage pattern showing when I'm warm), not from a bad reaction to the face mask. No particularly noticeable difference in my skin to an outside viewer, but my face felt slightly slimy for hours thereafter, even after I had a shower that evening. It was a bit better the second time when I applied a bit less. I want to say that maybe this would be nice in the winter when I could use a bit more moisture... but honestly, I'm not sure if I'm just making excuses for it because I thought it was fun to apply.

Bottom line: if you want to play around with a fun minty face mask treatment, thumbs up to this! If you want it to be useful and not feel like you applied face lube afterwards, maybe not so much. I am actually more in the former category with face masks ("was this an excuse to lie around for a while with goop on my face? score!") so I'm pleased by the product, but probably not enough to buy more unless I was hosting a girl-style sleepover and wanted something I'd tested and not hated to share.

Birchbox August 2014

Neil George Shampoo 3.38 oz
Neil George Conditioner 3.38 oz

This is supposed to be gooseberry scented, but I don't know where Neil George gets his gooseberries because it doesn't smell much like any gooseberry I've ever noticed. I like to imagine that this is the concentrated attempt at a weaponized version of gooseberry scent. I actually quite liked it: it's sort of a spicy and less fruity scent, and while it's much stronger than real gooseberries, it's still gentle enough that it doesn't linger once my hair dries or overwhelm me in the shower. It feels a bit more masculine while still being not overly gendered, and I like it. I actually sort of wish it lingered a bit more because I enjoy it so much.

As products, these are both nice but not overly remarkable:

- The shampoo is a bit thin and does not lather much, but it cleans quite well.
- The conditioner is a bit thicker and leaves just enough slickness on my hair to make combing it out after a shower easier, but not so much that it feels weighty.

All in all, pleasantly effective product with an unusual scent. I might actually consider buying this again!

Birchbox August 2014

Laura Geller Beauty Cool Lids Cream Eyeshadow

I'd never tried cream eyeshadow, and if this sample is representative, I have been missing out. Goes on smoothly, lovely colour, lasts better than most on my eyes (that's not saying much actually as I've never had much luck with eye makeup).

I haven't taken pictures of myself wearing it on account of my insane "let's travel every few weeks and eat all your weekends" schedule, but perhaps I'll do that later.
terriko: (Default)
2013-10-24 12:07 am
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The Science of Household Tips: Does vinegar actually set dye in jeans?

When I bought my latest pair of jeans, the nice lady who helped me find them advised me to wash them with a cup of vinegar the first time, to better set the dye. I didn't think much of it, until I wore the jeans before washing them and ended up with mildly blue thighs. So clearly pre-washing would have been a good idea, but.. does vinegar actually set dye?

Googling this mostly turned up a bunch of people parroting the same tip. Which would be reassuring if I didn't know that the internet is a sucker for feasible-sounding tips regardless of they make sense or work. (Witness: Pinterest vs Pinstrosity)

My research turned up the following claims, from the ever-reputable source of "people on the internet"

1. Vinegar totally helps set dye in jeans
2. Vinegar totally helps set dye... but not in cotton, so you're wasting your time with jeans.
3. For jeans, you should really use salt, not vinegar
4. Actually, you shouldn't wash jeans at all
5. It doesn't matter, but for the love of all that is blue, wash your jeans in cold water
6. You need to wash your jeans inside-out
7. Mine totally leaked dye so I gave them away and bought new ones!

But 0% of these came with sources that gave me any indication if these were really legit or just old wives tales. I don't need scientific journal papers, but you'd think there'd at least be a science fair project or tests from some sort of cross between consumer reports and good housekeeping.

So where do you go for figuring out if there's actually any proof behind household tips like this?
terriko: (Default)
2013-06-06 11:40 pm
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"gonna go to the place that's the best"

The MRI was unintentionally hilarious. I'd just gotten moved into my magical science magneto-coffin and told I couldn't move anymore then what comes on the headphones but spirit in the sky.

"When I die and they lay me to rest
Gonna go to the place that's the best"

Oy, it was hard not to laugh to that while lying still on a slab holding my emergency "get me out of here" button. (which isn't a button so much as an old-school camera bulb!)

Anyhow, other than that it was loud (as expected) but not as boring as I'd thought it would be because the noises it makes change often enough to keep me thinking about what might be going on in there, and honestly, just staying still for 20 minutes takes a fair bit of concentration for me. Plus I had the headphones and 70's rock to keep me amused (that was my choice and *clearly* it was the right one). Sometimes I had to just focus on the cowbell to stay still, because apparently that is how I work. The headphones are kind of cool -- rather than wires, they've got tubes filled with music and occasional instructions from the radiologist.

I won't have results 'till sometime next week; I presume the doctor will phone me like she did last time. I'm hoping I can get copies of the MRI and Xrays so I can see my innards, 'cause how cool would that be?

A twitter friend suggested I should make a list of #innappropriateMRIsongs, so in that vein, I give you Mystery and Crime:

Oh no, what have I done?
Oh no, what have I done?
I've got a pain in my heart
A beat that's as loud as a drum
Now, now what do I do?
Now, now what do I do?
You got to get me out of here
Before these brand new clothes aren't new anymore

And that's not even getting to the murder murder murder part that's the usual reason this is a totally inappropriate song for all occasions. (I once had to stop myself from singing it in an airport...)

I dare you all to think of more inappropriate MRI songs, but I'm going to bed!
terriko: (Pi)
2012-09-15 10:03 pm
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Misleading products... or just a misleading article? CBC Marketplace fails at research.

So, I was catching up on the news from home when I saw this article on the 10 worst household products for greenwashing. As it happens, I know something about #1 here, because the landlords arranged to have a similar product used around our house and we were curious. Here's what marketplace says:

1. Raid EarthBlends Multi-bug Killer

With an insecticide derived from the chrysanthemum flower, Raid EarthBlends Multi-bug Killer touts itself as an alternative insect control solution. Despite its naturally derived component, the label warns users to avoid contact with skin and clothes, and not to inhale the mist when spraying it.

"A lot of things in nature are actually dangerous and toxic," said Vasil. "Not all natural things are good for you. And this is a perfect example."

The product states it can be used for bed bugs, despite that in many parts of Canada, homeowners are banned from using such pesticides on their lawns. "Banned from your backyard, but OK for your bed?" questioned Vasil.

In a statement, the maker, SC Johnson, said it is "committed to using sustainable ingredients in our products" and the products are "safe and effective when used as directed."

"Banned from your backyard, but OK for your bed?" DOOOOOOOOM.

If the CBC marketplace folk had done their research, they could have *easily* found out that the active ingredient here is, as promised, not known to be dangerous to mammals. It is an insecticide, so obviously it's bad for insects. But why can't it be used outside? It's also very bad for aquatic life, so the concern is that if used outside, it will get washed away in rain and end up in our waterways. This would be a Bad Thing. And that's why you're not allowed to use it in your backyard.

But unless you're Aquaman, or plan to bring your goldfish to bed, it is indeed pretty safe to use on bedding.

One website I found noted that after being fed high doses of pyrethrums for 2 years, rats were mostly fine with some minor liver damage (as one might expect for many intentional overdoses of anything). When forced to inhale the stuff for 30 minutes a day, there was some very minor lung irritation. Basically, don't try to kill yourself with it and you'll probably be fine. Heck, even if you try to kill yourself with it you'll probably be mostly fine.

This whole "banned from your backyard/ok for bed" doom and gloom implication is utterly misleading and uninformed. And this ignorance is really embarrassing: I found most of my information about Pyrethrums (the class of chemicals involved) using a couple of google searches and then confirmed with my sister who happens to be an expert in the field, but she pointed out that I can get all the same information via Health Canada's website. These should be very easy for the CBC Marketplace research team to find and read.

I don't know anything about the other products being discussed, but I'd take what they say with a pretty healthy dose of skepticism.
terriko: (Default)
2011-05-04 02:08 pm
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Chemistry magic show

From the CU-WISE newsletter:

Back by Popular Demand: Chemistry Magic Show

After having over 1,300 visitors to our Magic Show in February, the Chemistry Department is pleased to announce that they will be having another Chemistry Magic Show on Saturday, May 7.

The free, one-hour show features substances that explode at the touch of a feather, spontaneous combustion, magical spoons that disappear before your eyes, amazing colour changes, things that glow in the dark, and exciting new tricks.

Check out the hands-on activity room where you can make your own Olympic medals, create ice cream using liquid nitrogen, make your own slime and learn how your nose can tell if a molecule is left- or right-handed.

When: Saturday, May 7
Two shows: 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.
The activity room will be open from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., noon to 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Shows: Theatre B, Southam Hall, Carleton University
Activity Room: The Superlab, Room 204, Steacie Building, Carleton University.

The event is free, although attendees are asked to donate a non-perishable food item for the food bank.
Registration is required as seating is limited to 300 people per show. Additional seating will be provided to watch the show via screens.
For information and tickets, please visit: http://http-server.carleton.ca/~jmanthor/Chemistry_Magic_Show.html.

If you can't make it to Carleton for the live show, you can watch it in the Ottawa area on Rogers digital cable channel 243 or online from anywhere in the world via Carleton University online at: http://www1.carleton.ca/cuol/access-your-courses/ .

I fondly remember going to chemistry magic shows as a kid. Back then they were still run by a professor my mother knew who, if I recall correctly, was known for his many yellow ties that inevitably met their end in liquid nitrogen. Lots of explosions and science. :) I highly recommend this to those of you who have kids!
terriko: (Default)
2011-01-26 11:35 am
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Technobabble and checksum bits

My sister is the proud owner of the complete Star Trek: The Next Generation, and we've been re-watching first season while we eat dinner/do mending/make crafts/etc. It's much better than it has any right to be, actually, with surprisingly strong performances and decent writing. Apparently that first season cost a million per episode, and we're assuming a lot of that went into the special effects budget since they were done by ILM and they can't be cheap. (Although sadly, some of the effects are showing their age more than the actors' performances are...)

I can't remember which episode it was, but one of them contained some technobabble that I found fun because it was just a simple description of checksum bits within data. "That's not futuristic!" I joked, "We have those right now." I point vaguely in the direction of a library book. "Bet the barcode on that has a check bit."

Anyhow, in a case of "once something comes up, it starts coming up again and again" that I can't remember the term for (although there is one, and I think it's some german band name or something equally esoteric -- anyone know?) ... err. where was I? Oh, yeah. So, I just saw this graphic and it amused me because I actually think checksum bits are awesome because I'm that kind of mathematician *and* they'd just come up in the Star Trek technobabble (and I guess I'm also that kind of mathematician).

[Edit: Jay helpfully reminds me that the term I'm looking for is Baader-Meinhof. See Rob's comments on the gang it was named after, which was not a band. We should come up with a new name that's shorter, more etymologically related, and easier to remember!]

I've spent all week writing erudite paragraphs for my paper and I think I used up all my literary skill... okay, so I'm just tired and a bit lazy. But look! Math and codes!

Image via Mint.com
terriko: (Default)
2011-01-07 02:16 am

Recent writings: privacy, young scientists, academia

Some fun recent stuff:

And then some more sad stuff in the form of a round-up of the links I've seen lately about women leaving academia. Poignant for me given that I've got a contract that'll take me away from academia... although I'm actually leaving mostly for the "work that has impact" reason and not so much for the others.

And then one thing that I didn't write (but I wish I had):

Let's say that fighting sexism is like a chorus of people singing a continuous tone. If enough people sing, the tone will be continuous even though each of the singers will be stopping singing to take a breath every now and then. The way to change things is for more people to sing rather than for the same small group of people to try to sing louder and never breathe.

Isn't that just the way of it? Thanks Mary for sharing that one.
terriko: (Default)
2011-01-03 12:20 pm
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I'm doing science (and I'm still alive): Games and the scientific method

It's the time of year where people evaluate their lives and look back over the previous year, and with that in mind, I'm going to bring you a not-about-new-years post about gaming and science to mess up your reflective blog feeds. If it helps, it's a reflective post about gaming and science.

But they were pretty good at figuring out how to defeat the bosses. One day she found out why. A group of them were building Excel spreadsheets into which they'd dump all the information they'd gathered about how each boss behaved: What potions affected it, what attacks it would use, with what damage, and when. Then they'd develop a mathematical model to explain how the boss worked -- and to predict how to beat it.

Often, the first model wouldn't work very well, so the group would argue about how to strengthen it. Some would offer up new data they'd collected, and suggest tweaks to the model. "They'd be sitting around arguing about what model was the best, which was most predictive," Steinkuehler recalls.

That's when it hit her: The kids were practicing science.

You can read the rest here: "How Videogames Blind Us With Science"

My gut reaction to this article (which is actually several years old, but new to me) is "well, duh." When we neighbourhood kids got interested in a new game, we might have skipped the spreadsheets, but we definitely would resort to exploring in a structured manner if we got stuck. We'd compare notes, share ways to beat challenges, and sometimes try to improve upon the techniques (only sometimes because many games weren't really flexible enough to have multiple solutions).

I guess I'm missing some of that collaborative effort nowadays in that I can always just look up game faqs if I got stuck... but because I like people and because my brother and I grew up with a community of friends to ask for help rather than a community of internet FAQs and wikis, sometimes I ask people instead of the internet because it's more fun. And goodness knows, my sister and I have been comparing Super Scribblenauts solutions all week. ("You solved that with a mosquito? Why didn't I think of that? I made an undead blood-sucking harpy!")

I grew up in a household with two scientist parents, so not only was experimentation a daily fact of life, but the word "hypothesis" came into our lexicons fairly early on. I've grown up looking through life through a very scientific lens as a result (also a very biology-oriented filter, which accounts for my very ecologically-oriented view of computer security, but that's another story). My parents were constantly frustrated with my early science education, and I'll bet they'll find this next paragraph pretty familiar:

One of the reasons kids get bored by science is that too many teachers present it as a fusty collection of facts for memorization. This is precisely wrong. Science isn't about facts. It's about the quest for facts -- the scientific method, the process by which we hash through confusing thickets of ignorance. It's dynamic, argumentative, collaborative, competitive, filled with flashes of crazy excitement and hours of drudgework, and driven by ego: Our desire to be the one who figures it out, at least for now. It's dramatic and nutty and fun.

I actually didn't go into proper experimental science because I'm terrible at drudgework... easily bored, and not very good at the rigour required, and used to be prone to spending more time avoiding a boring task than doing it (at least until I learned perl and other automation tools). (My sister became the scientist, since as she likes to put it "I excel at boring tasks" -- but it's really that she's organized, precise, and takes a lot of joy in implementing a consistent system. I went into security because I like breaking things; she does regulatory work because she likes making things consistent. Sometimes, we have noticeable overlap in our skills and jobs, other times not so much.) I went into non-experimental computer science, though, because I love the collaboration and the competition and the ideas and the learning. But I hadn't really thought about my unsuitability for experimental science as being related to the reason I don't go into massively multiplayer online games hoping to be the first on the server to down some big raid boss.

But I do science with every new game I play, as do my friends. When we picked up Dominion (a card game which includes a variety of types of cards, and you chose some subset of them to use for any given ame), we'd play a few rounds and argue strategies and then try to implement them in different ways to see how they played against each other, or changed the groupings of cards to see how it changed the strategy. I guess maybe some people play these things closer to their chests and won't share with their friends, but we toss in a few new cards and suggest to play off each other because that's part of what makes it fun for us.

So now I'm thinking... what to games do to make sure they stay in that fun exploratory part of science and avoid the drudgework? And the answer of course is that they don't really avoid the drudgework. Earlier games had you wandering around "grinding" to get your character high enough level to take on the big boss... Let me tell you, playing final fantasy III on my DS was at times significantly less fun than "grinding" courses for my PhD has been. But they've done a lot to provide fun while you do that. One relatively modern invention has been letting players level their guild (I first saw this in Dungeons and Dragons online, but I expect the idea's been around longer... it's only recently gone into World of Warcraft) and we were shocked to discover that doing the same darned quest for the 4th time wasn't nearly as bad when there was a chance that we'd get to guild level 2 that night. Achievements, leaderboards, crafting, even ridiculous pets... there's a lot of stuff tangential to the end game that makes getting there more fun.

How do we put that joy back into science education? I'm not talking about gamification in the modern sense; I'm talking about those great teachers we managed to get. My chemistry teacher (and many others) did it through fun demo science: he'd do experiments we weren't ready to do on our own and had us all on the edge of our seats waiting for the final explosion... or sometimes the final terrible pun. Even his "you have to be careful in the science lab" talk at the beginning of the year included opening a book that promptly burst into flame. Each lecture was filled with discovery, even when it was tangential to the point. (The lecture on molar concentrations involved terrible puns involving moles and mole-asses.) And of course there's actually *doing* the hands-on experiments ourselves, which can be incredibly fun when they're well-chosen and interesting.

I guess in hindsight, we put the joy into science by enhancing the opportunities to learn and discover and accomplish... very similarly to the way we put the joy back into gaming.

Perhaps it's not really that surprising that there are a large number of scientist-types who also enjoy gaming, and that gamers will employ some science to tackle the challenges within a game.

And finally, I'll leave you with the last lines of the article, which made me smile:

At one point, Steinkuehler met up with one of the kids who'd built the Excel model to crack the boss. "Do you realize that what you're doing is the essence of science?" she asked.

He smiled at her. "Dude, I'm not doing science," he replied. "I'm just cheating the game!"
terriko: (Default)
2010-09-17 10:27 pm
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Observing animal behaviours (A question about birders of yore + dolphins blowing bubble rings!)

I've started up a regular Wednesday thing on the CUWISE blog, inspired by some folk I knew in high school who used to do fun things on Wednesdays to break up the week a bit. I'm queueing them up well in advance as I find things that are kind of fun.

Today, I found this cute video of dolphins blowing bubble rings (embedded below):

And then I started writing up some text to go with explaining why this felt like fun science and engineering to me:

Observing animal behaviours is an important part of biology, but a part that maybe doesn't have as long a history as one might think: one of my relatives told a tale of how birdwatchers used to shoot the birds and identify them later, rather than the more modern (and humane!) way of trying to identify them on the wing. I've met naturalists who hope we'll see a switch to observing bugs the way we do birds. And Jane Goodall, when she was visiting Ottawa for the Writer's Festival, talked about how when she recorded her observations of chimpanzees many people told her that she was being foolish to ascribe emotions to them when trying to explain their behaviour!

Now the thing I'd like to verify is that Carm (the relative who has/d the stuffed bird collection and who was telling us about birders of yore) mentioned that he didn't think regular folk really got interested in bird identification (as opposed to just bird shooting) until the Peterson Field Guides became available. The wikipedia page for the guides does imply that they were a very practical guide for non-scientists, but doesn't really credit them with changing the face of birding. Does anyone know if Peterson is really the one who really changed the face, or was it another guide that started the trend, or is it all murky? I'm trying to find a way to fit that little tidbit of info into the post because I thought it was cool, but I don't know how accurate it is!
terriko: (Default)
2009-08-18 05:32 pm
Entry tags:

Why aren't you supposed to scratch mosquito bites?

This summer has been unusually damp, and the mosquito population has bloomed as a result. I haven't worn mosquito repellent much since I was a teenager, preferring instead to rely on the "someone else will be tastier" defense, which has worked for years, but apparently is less effective when there are this many mosquitoes around.

For the first time in ages, I've got itchy mosquito bites. And as I was mastering the self-control necessary to keep from scratching, I started to wonder why I was doing this. So I turned to a friend and asked, "Why aren't you supposed to scratch mosquito bites?"

He replied, "Oh, because it makes them itch longer."

I looked at him. "But why does it make them itch longer?" And then, perhaps realising that I sounded like a 5 year old, i went on, "I mean, if they're injecting you with some itchy anti-coagulant, wouldn't it be absorbed by your body at the same rate regardless of how much you scratch?"

"I don't know. I know it does make them itch longer, because I've done it, but I never thought about why," he answered. "Darn, now it's going to bother me."

We guessed that one reason to avoid scratching is to avoid scars, but that didn't explain the fact that mosquito bites itch longer if you scratch them.

So I've done a bit of web research and verified it with friends and relatives with biology backgrounds (because I don't trust what I read on the internet), so here's the answer:

1. Scratching can produce scars
2. Scratching really does make mosquito bites itch longer!

Turns out that the anti-coagulant that mosquitoes inject (to keep your blood nice and thin and easy to suck) isn't itchy in and of itself -- it's actually that most of us are allergic to it. Your body produces histamines, which cause the itching. Unfortunately, scratching the mosquito bite also produces histamines, and more histamines means more itch.

While I was looking it up, I also found some suggested ways to make things less itchy. These ranged from baking soda paste to the (now obvious) anti-histamine drugs (same as you take for hayfever). But what's the number one way to deal with the itch? Distraction!

So... I recommend video games to treat mosquito bites. Now you know. ;)
terriko: (Default)
2009-08-06 10:15 pm
Entry tags:

Turns out, feminists actually like men just fine.

One of the more irksome problems when it comes to being a feminist is constantly explaining that no, feminism is not being about anti-men. So I have to say, I'm rather enamoured of this study that shows that feminists aren't that hostile to men -- Not a surprise, it's just going to be hilarious the next time someone's throwing accusations about and I'll be able to say, "actually, they did a study and showed that that's not true." (Surprisingly, being able to cite random studies actually does stop some folk in their tracks, particularly geek folk who like to believe that they respect science.)

What's much weirder is that the study actually implies that some of the real man-haters are non-feminists. I'm not sure I quite buy the theory for this put forward in the blog article I've linked, but it's interesting food for thought.
terriko: (Default)
2009-05-09 05:14 pm

Beautiful things are more functional

In the course of doing some thesis research, I stumbled across this fascinating paper in aesthetics and usability.

I'm not sure I've ever read a paper where the researcher seems so thoroughly flummoxed by his/her results.

The idea of the study was to test whether objects rated as more beautiful would also be rated as more functional. The author, I suspect, found this idea faintly ridiculous, but previous work in Japan had shown that people did indeed rate prettier banking machine interfaces as more usable. He suspected that perhaps this was just an effect related to Japan and its "culture is known for its aesthetic tradition." He would repeat the study in Israel, where the culture has a stronger emphasis on action over form. Surely, he thought, the practical Israeli people would not be as affected by aesthetics.

But what happened? "Unexpectedly high correlations" The author says, "usability and aesthetics were not expected to correlate in Israel" but they did. Oh, they did.

Even though I'd not read this paper until this week, it's something I'd noticed in doing basic testing of my web projects (back when I made more of a living writing web code rather than deconstructing and mocking... errr... inspecting its security). I used to test designs on clients, friends and invariably, I'd get more positive results (and useful!) feedback if I spent the bit of extra time to make the first draft look clean, if still aesthetically simple. Pretty matters.

It's kinda nice to have a couple of scientific papers to back up one's gut feelings, eh?

Want more than a gut instinct to explain why attractive things work better? Don Norman suggests an answer in his book, Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things. (I noticed it when seeing who had referred to this study and am working my through it. Research is fun!)

The theory goes like this: pretty things change your emotions in a positive way, make you happy, less stressed. Your emotional state changes your perceptions and ability to work. When you are happier, you often find things easier to use. Thus, pretty things are easier to use. And ugly things make you more easily annoyed, stressed out. Stress makes you perform poorly. Thus, ugly things are harder to use.

And in honour of the new Star Trek movie, I'll finish with a single word: