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I’ve long been interested in the Sapir-Wharf hypothesis, and how one’s language affects perceptions of space and color. Interestingly, there’s now some quantitative evidence that metaphors can have a strong influence on our perceptions. Primary metaphors, those that are so deeply embedded in our language that we aren’t usually consciously aware of them, are so strong that we confuse our basic physical senses with the things our language has linked with those senses metaphorically.

Bargh at Yale, along with Lawrence Williams, now at the University of Colorado, did studies in which subjects were casually asked to hold a cup of either iced or hot coffee, not knowing it was part of the study, then a few minutes later asked to rate the personality of a person who was described to them. The hot coffee group, it turned out, consistently described a warmer person–rating them as happier, more generous, more sociable, good-natured, and more caring–than the iced coffee group. The effect seems to run the other way, too: In a paper published last year, Chen-Bo Zhong and Geoffrey J. Leonardelli of the University of Toronto found that people asked to recall a time when they were ostracized gave lower estimates of room temperature than those who recalled a social inclusion experience.

In a paper in the current issue of Psychological Science, researchers in the Netherlands and Portugal describe a series of studies in which subjects were given clipboards on which to fill out questionnaires–in one study subjects were asked to estimate the value of several foreign currencies, in another they were asked to rate the city of Amsterdam and its mayor. The clipboards, however, were two different weights, and the subjects who took the questionnaire on the heavier clipboards tended to ascribe more metaphorical weight to the questions they were asked–they not only judged the foreign currencies to be more valuable, they gave more careful, considered answers to the questions they were asked.

Boston.com: Thinking Literally

The question is, how universal are primary metaphors between languages?

I came across this study this morning, and it boggles the mind.

Chronic radiation is defined as the radiation received slowly or in a low-dose-rate from various sources. It is completely different in nature to the acute gamma or neutron radiation generated from the atomic bomb explosions that occurred in Japan at the end of World War II. Tantalizing insights from people living in higher-than-normal background radiation areas in the world and from nuclear energy workers receiving excess radiation over long years have suggested that chronic radiation might paradoxically be beneficial to humans. However, in the absence of an epidemiological study, it has been impossible to conclude whether chronic radiation is harmless or indeed beneficial to human beings. Fortuitously, an incredible Co-60 contamination incident occurred in Taiwan 21 years ago, which provided the data necessary to demonstrate that chronic radiation is beneficial to human beings.

Chronic Radiation Is Beneficial to Human Beings by Yuan-Chi Luan

luan.chart

I hope I’ve been exposed to similarly beneficial radiation and or contaminants during my time here in Taiwan.

I caught this on TED.com the other day, and it really reminded me of my friend Thomas. At least last time I met up with them, he was a programmer by day, and literally built a working spacecraft in his garage. The speaker Peter Diamonds is behind the X-Prize.

Juan Enriquez is the founding director of the Harvard Business School Life Sciences Project, a widely published expert on topics from the technical (global nucleotide data flow) to the sociological (gene research and national competitiveness), a former member of Celera Genomics founder Craig Venter’s marine-based genetic data collection team, and former CEO of Mexico City’s Urban Development Corporation and chief of staff for Mexico’s secretary of state. In the past, he played a role in reforming Mexico’s domestic policy and helped negotiate a cease-fire with Zapatista rebels. Here’s his TED talk on genomics. I enjoyed it.

This is the second part of The Enemies of Reason, in which Professor Dawkins interviewed various practitioners of pseudo-science. In this video, Dawkins focuses on the booming alternative health business:

It’s the hottest alternative health fad. It boasts and impressively vast and well-stocked medical cabinet; it’s endorsed by royalty and the stars, and is doing a booming trade in high street pharmacies. Five hundred million people world-wide claim to use it.

What is it? It’s a system for dosing up on a dilute solution of… water.

Related Posts: The Enemies of Reason: Richard Dawkins on Astrology

Solar Power, it’s not just for granola-chomping hippies anymore. Solar power generation has been increasing exponentially for decades, but as futurist Raymond Kurzweil once said, nobody notices exponential growth until it hits the “knee of the curve“. Fortunately for us and our planet, it nearly has.

Between 2000 and 2004, the increase in worldwide solar energy capacity was an annualized 60 percent. Since 2005, production of photovoltiacs has grown somewhat more slowly due to temporary shortages in refined silicon. Still, technological progress has been relentless. In 1990, each watt of solar power from an array cost $7.50. By 2005, average prices in the US were nearly halved, at $4.00. Today, the price stands at about $3.60, even with the refined silicon shortages. Mass produced cells typically have an efficiency of about 17.5%, with some at the very high end achieving 30% efficiency. Meanwhile, designs already exist to take take advantage of nano-engineering and shave the cost per watt of solar cells to a tenth of their current level.

As solar power has been getting cheaper and more refined by the year, oil costs have been going up. It still isn’t to the point at which solar power as cost efficient as traditional methods, but the trend is definitely in that direction. In some areas in which power companies pay a premium on energy sold back to them from residential customers who generate their own solar power, the adaption of this technology has been dramatic.

Last year, global solar power spending topped fifty billion dollars, with Germany and China leading the way forward. Each country spent over ten billion dollars on solar power, and saw dramatic increases in deployment, far ahead of what their governments had expected. Germany leads all countries in solar power generation:

” There are now more than 300,000 photovoltaic systems in Germany — the energy law had planned for 100,000.

Spread out across the country, they are owned by legions of homeowners, farmers and small businesses who are capitalising on the government-backed march into renewable energy.

By tapping the daylight for electricity — which power companies are obliged to buy for 20 years at more than triple market prices — they are at the vanguard of a grassroots movement in the fight against climate change. “

Planet Ark: Cloudy Germany Unlikely Hotspot for Solar Power

China is becoming both a top user and maker of the technology:

“The technological prowess of China is growing a lot faster than people in the West reckon,” said Andrew Wilkinson, co-manager of a fund at the investment bank CLSA Emerging Markets that invests in Asian clean-energy industries.

Suntech’s 3,500-strong work force at four sites in China produces photovoltaic cells, the delicate, hand-sized black silicon panels that can transform sunlight into electricity.

At a time when China’s Communist leaders are trying to turn lumbering state companies into nimble global competitors, Suntech already goes head-to-head with Japanese and European rivals in foreign markets. Shi says that all of Suntech’s technology comes from its own labs.

International Herald Tribune:
Solar power pays off for Chinese entrepreneur

Interestingly, China is also undertaking an ambitious project to spread the use of solar power in Africa. They’re both training technicians and investing in joint-ventures in undeveloped countries.

[BEIJING] Chinese scientists are to train 10,000 technicians from African and other developing countries in the use of solar energy technologies over the next five years.

Describing the plans, Xi Wenhua, director of both the Institute of Natural Energy (INE) and the China Solar Energy Information Centre, told SciDev.Net the training will include programmes on small-scale solar power generation and solar-powered heating and irrigation.

Using funding from the central and provincial governments, the INE — part of the Gansu Provincial Academy of Sciences — has established an eight-hectare training facility powered entirely by solar power. The facility, which is the largest in Asia, has trained more than 400 people from 70 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America since 1991.

Science and Development Network:
China to train developing nations in solar technologies

Raymond Kurzweil’s prediction that by 2030 we’ll be able most of our projected energy costs at that time through solar power still sounds bold. I sure wouldn’t want to bet against him, though. He’s the guy who predicted both Deep Thought’s defeat of Gary Kasparov and the mapping of the human genome 15 years before they happened.

Related Articles:
Worldwatch Institute: Solar Energy Booming in China
Japan Times: Japan cedes solar power lead to Germany; China closing gap

Disclosure: I own shares of Suntech Power (NYSE: STP), and much of this piece is based on things I learned researching the company.

I’ve long been a fan of Richard Dawkins’ books. I read the Selfish Gene as a teenager and found it absolutely fascinating. Not only was that book the foundation of sociobiology, but it also coined the term “meme”. Little did I know that a few years later, millions of people would be tossing the word around, with the original meaning a bit muddled but still intact.

In the last couple of years, Dawkins has been on a crusade against what he calls “The Enemies of Reason”. After traveling around the world and debating with numerous religious leaders (including Pastor Ted Haggard before he was caught with the gay prostitute/meth seller). In his new video, rather than continuing the assault against traditional religions, he’s after Astrology, Homeopathy, and a variety of other “New Age” beliefs.

I’m cheering him all the way on this one, and after spending years living in Taiwan it’s a godsend, pardon the term. It really is too bad there isn’t a Chinese speaker like Dawkins. The level of superstitious belief here, particularly in astrology is just mind-boggling. I must have met hundreds of Chinese who really wanted me to tell them my birth date so they could figure out what my sign was and pigeon-hole me.

The part on astrology starts at five minutes and thirty-seven seconds.

Last week, I saw Stephen Petranek give an interesting talk in the Technology, Entertainment, Design conferences. It was from a presentation he gave in 2002, titled 10 ways the world could end. He takes a rational, scientific look at ten of the most underestimated threats humanity faces and proposes solutions for each.

One thing that was particularly interesting about Petranek’s solutions is that he suggested just 2% of the current anti-terrorism/homeland security budget to deal with these largely ignored threats. I’m not sure I agree with all of his solutions, but the material was thought-provoking.


from google images

According to research coming from 华东师范大学, pumpkins may be powerful diabetes fighters. Yraaarrrgh!

Happy Halloween.

Over the last month, I’ve really noticed Scribd taking off. It seems like it’s just about got the critical mass it takes to go big time. To the right is a map comparing its traffic with Reddit’s [1].

Today, I found an old George Orwell essay about the way advances in weaponry have tilted the balance of power towards authoritarians or libertarians. Specifically, he speculates on the political and social effects of the atom bomb.

It’s a thoughtful essay, and now that it’s been 72 years since he wrote it, it’s interesting to see how accurate his predictions were.

Note: Click on on the Scribd button and it will take you to it in on their site.

[1]: Reddit and Scribd are both Y-combinator start-ups. I can’t believe how many cool things Paul Graham has his hands into.