September 27, 2012 1:27 pm
Scientists at CERN learned that the hard way that font choice is important after they were roundly mocked for using Comic Sans in their presentation on the discovery of the Higgs boson particle. But in some situations—a fast-moving car, for instance—proper font choices can not only save you from ridicule, they could also save your life.
Working with text and graphic company Monotype Imaging, scientists at MIT’s AgeLab (the outfit responsible for the age empathy suit) looked at what worked and what didn’t in fonts used in car displays, like GPS. They found that, when they made the letters cleaner and more easily distinguishable, men spent 10.6 percent less time looking at the screen. That’s a significant difference, and it represents time that can be spent watching the road instead of the dashboard. Women, interestingly enough, were not affected by the font change.
So what does this mean for your car? Not much yet. But in an article for Popular Science, David Gould, Monotype’s director of product marketing, said the company was pitching the idea to carmakers. They just need to find a font that works better and fits the image their products project :
Reimer and Gould have already taken these findings to Detroit to share them with carmakers, and this research could have equal application for cell phone or other device manufacturers. All of these companies could use either an existing humanist typeface, or design new ones based on these same principles of legibility. Carmakers, Gould suspects, will likely want to find typefaces that communicate a unified sense of their brand. This sounds a little surprising. But, yes, the text on your dashboard LCD display is an integral part of the design of your car’s interior, too.
“Automobile companies are very big on their brand,” Gould says. “When you get in that car, you need to feel and have that emotion in that particular vehicle. They want to make sure that’s consistently represented on everything in the car, including on the screen.”
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September 27, 2012 11:32 am
It has been a dry year for most of the United States, and, in the animation above, you can see how the groundwater levels in the United States have been affected by the drought that affects large parts of the country. The animation starts in 2002 and goes through a decade of changes, so watch carefully for the last few seconds to get a good idea of what’s going on now.
Scientists created the maps by using the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, or GRACE, a set-up that consists of two satellites that measure the Earth’s gravity field. Gravity is related to mass, and water reservoirs (both surface and groundwater) have enough mass to affect the gravitational field of the earth.
The effect is very small, but significant enough that GRACE can pick up on the changes as water dries up (or rains down). The instrument is sensitive enough to pick up and differentiate between moisture in less than an inch of soil (the surface zone), moisture in the ground down to 39 inches (the root zone) and water in the aquifers below that.
The image from NASA, below, shows the differences between the three. Look at Texas, where the soil moisture is doing ok, but the groundwater is devastated. The state might have had some rain recently, but not enough to make up for the serious problems with groundwater.
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September 27, 2012 10:30 am
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is best known for his novels about a certain Mr. Holmes, who keeps popping up in movies and TV shows. Conan Doyle’s most famous character may have inspired period-themed pilgrimages to Switzerland, but his author enjoyed a rather different kind of travel. When he was a 20-year-old medical student, Conan Doyle became the ship’s surgeon on board a whaling ship, the Hope.
Like any good writer, Conan Doyle kept notes while on board, and this week, the British Library published his journals from his voyage to the Arctic. The book contains full color images of the diary, as well as photographs from the expedition, and a few of the fiction stories that were inspired by the trip.
The diary isn’t for the faint of heart. Conan Doyle described the hunting of seals and whales in gruesome detail. From a Daily Mail review of the book:
Conan Doyle reported seeing millions of seals, and it was no exaggeration. ‘They look a sort of cross between a lamb and a gigantic slug,’ he wrote. ‘On the 3rd, the bloody work began and has gone on ever since. The mothers are shot and the little ones have their brains knocked out with spiked clubs.’
Depressing stuff. But it’s not all blood and gore: the sketches are really lovely.
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September 26, 2012 3:32 pm
A 44-foot-long piece of a 5,000 year old tree trunk was uncovered on September 25 in the U.K. The BBC reports that it was unearthed from a bog in Norfolk.
After marinating for thousands of years underwater and then seasoning for months in a kiln, bog oak and other kinds of bog woods take on a distinctive color and durability that’s highly prized by artists and carpenters the world over. The many years underground tend to dye the wood a deep brown, almost black color.
The part of the tree that was uncovered in Norfolk didn’t appear to have roots or branches, leading those involved to conclude that the tree itself might have been four times as large.
The planks from the tree trunk found in the UK will stay in a kiln until April 2013, when carpenter Hamish Low will attempt to build a 44-foot-long table and set it out for public display in honor of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. The people working on the project have even set up a Twitter page where people can follow their progress. Expect pictures and tweets like: “A gigantic 5,000 year old oak tree. An extraordinary challenge. An unprecedented masterpiece. A gift to the nation.”
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September 26, 2012 2:51 pm
The largest earthquake of the year left quite an impression on the earth, but not via mass destruction or tsunamis. In fact, you probably didn’t even hear about it. The 8.7 magnitude earthquake struck on April 11 in the Indian Ocean. Two people are known to have died as a result of the quake, while eight others died of heart attacks.
The quake lasted for 2 minutes and 40 seconds and inspired many scientific studies, including two published today in Nature. In the first, scientists at UC Berkeley announced that the earthquake triggered numerous others as far away as Baja California, almost a week after the original. The scientists announced that they found five times the expected number of earthquakes in the six days afer the event.
“Until now, we seismologists have always said, ‘Don’t worry about distant earthquakes triggering local quakes,’” co-author Roland Burgmann, professor of earth and planetary science at UC Berkeley, said in a statement. “This study now says that, while it is very rare – it may only happen every few decades – it is a real possibility if the right kind of earthquake happens.”
Burgmann calls this quake “one of the weirdest…we have ever seen.” It was the same type of earthquake as caused the 1906 San Francisco disaster—which the U.S. Geological Survey calls “one of the most significant earthquakes of all time”—only fifteen times “more energetic,” according to Burgmann.
“It wasn’t a single fault that produced the quake, it was a crisscrossing of three or four faults that all ruptured in sequence to make such a big earthquake, and they ruptured deep,” he said.
That weird nature of the earthquake was the subject of the second Nature paper, authored by scientists at the University of Utah and UC Santa Cruz. They found that the earthquake was part of a much larger process, the breakup of the Indo-Australian tectonic plate into at least two pieces.
“We’ve never seen an earthquake like this,” study co-author Keith Koper, an associate professor geophysics at the University of Utah said in a statement. “This is part of the messy business of breaking up a plate. … This is a geologic process. It will take millions of years to form a new plate boundary and, most likely, it will take thousands of similar large quakes for that to happen.”