May 23, 2013 5:01 pm
If you want to get your kid ahead in school, you might get him some tutoring lessons or flash cards. Or, if you’re tech savvy, you might think that having a computer in the home would help. But it turns out that kids with computers at home don’t do any better or worse than their peers without, according to a new paper out of the University of Southern California.
The study looked at 15 schools in California that had, in total, 1,123 students enrolled in grades 6 through 10. None of these students had computer at home at the beginning of the study. At the beginning of the school year, half of them were given computers for their homes. At the end of the school year, the researchers looked at all sorts of parameters, from the school administered tests to how often the students were absent or late, to see if those who won the computer lottery had done any better. None of it had changed. “Although computer ownership and use increased substantially,” they wrote, “we find no effects on any educational outcomes, including grades, test scores, credits earned, attendance and disciplinary actions.”
This result might surprise people in both directions. Some studies have suggested that computers at home distract kids by giving them access to games and Facebook. Other, earlier studies found that having a computer at home is associated with higher test scores, by giving them access to educational materials they might not otherwise have. But for the students in California, it simply didn’t seem to matter at all. That’s probably because students do both the educational and the distracting things with their computers. “The kids with the free computers used them for homework — and for videogames and Facebook,” researcher Robert Farlie explained to the Wall Street Journal.
Of course, computer can certainly be useful to students, Farlie says. “It’s not to say that computers are not useful,” he said. “It’s always hard when you’re trying to measure these impacts on grades and test scores. It’s hard to change grades and test scores but it still could be useful for kids. It’s not clear that this had a measurably large impact.”
But what they can say is that simply giving kids computers won’t suddenly make them do better in school.
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May 21, 2013 4:44 pm
On Monday, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer said she wasn’t going to worry about ridding Tumblr of porn. “It’s just the nature of user-generated content,” she said.
In other words: Welcome to the Internet, there will be porn.
And Mayer is right. The numbers about just how much of the Internet is dedicated to porn are wildly variable, but they’re there. Some estimates put porn at 30 percent of all Internet traffic. Other places claim the percentage is far higher. Forbes put the question to neuroscientist Ogi Ogas, who studies our consumption of all things wicked, and heard that, in 2010, about 4 percent of websites were dedicated to porn and, between July 2009 to July 2010, about 13 percent of web searches were for some sort of erotica.
Now, some of that comes from the changing demographics of who uses the Internet, says Ogas. When the web was first formed, it was largely populated by dudes. “I think in 1999 that 4 or 5 of the top 10 searches on the Web were for porn,” he told Forbes. But now the uses and users of the Internet have increased dramatically. And while Internet users are still looking for porn, it’s not the only thing or even the most common thing they’re after.
But it is there. It’s there, and it’s easy to find. Which is why parents and lawmakers are still talking about it. In the UK, David Cameron announced that all porn sites would be blocked from public places, striving to create “good, clean WiFi.” Mirror News writes that the Prime Minister “stressed the importance of parents having confidence in public internet systems and that their children ‘are not going to see things they shouldn’t’.” And the UK isn’t the only place to talk about cracking down on porn. In Iceland, they’ve proposed to ban all online pornography—a curious turn for a generally liberal country.
Now, actually carrying these bans out is hard. You can’t just flip a switch and change the content of the Internet. The Economist explains why Iceland’s ban in particular would be hard, but the reasons stand for most porn bans:
Banning online pornography would be tricky. The definition of violent or degrading pornography would have to be clearly enshrined in law. Iceland would then have to police the internet, a difficult thing to do. When Denmark and Australia introduced online blacklists in an effort to block porn sites, some innocuous websites crept on to the lists by mistake.
Basically, actually rooting out which sites are porn and which aren’t isn’t as easy as it might sound. And, ban or no ban, porn will always be on the Internet for those who choose to seek it out.
This is why some places are arguing that rather than ban or regulate or stamp out porn, children and adults should simply be educated on the pros and cons of pornography. In the UK, where they want to ban porn from public wifi, 83 percent of parents felt that students should learn about pornography in sex education classes. In the United States, one class at Pasadena College takes porn head on. The course, Navigating Pornography, has students watch and discuss porn, and tries to debunk the myth that people should learn about sexuality through porn. “Students today live in a porn-saturated culture and very rarely get a chance to learn about it in a safe, non-judgmental, intellectually thoughtful way,” professor Hugo Schwyzer told the Huffington Post.
Buzzfeed visited Schwyzer’s class to see just what a course in porn might be like:
But in many places, where even regular sex education is hard to come by, the chances that students will learn about porn are slim to none. The National Children’s Bureau says that teaching about porn is crucial to giving children a well-rounded education about sex and relationships. Lucy Emmerson, Co-ordinator of the Sex Education Forum for the NCB, says that teachers are too scared to mention porn in class. “Given the ease with which children are able to access explicit sexual content on the Internet, it is vital that teachers can respond to this reality appropriately,” she says. “Whilst in some cases children find this material by accident, there are instances when they come across pornography whilst looking for answers to sex education questions; it is therefore wholly appropriate that pornography and the issues it reveals are addressed in school SRE.”
Basically, the reality is that ban or not, young people are going to encounter pornography on the Internet. Whether or not they’re ready for it seems to be up to their parents and teachers.
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May 16, 2013 12:01 pm
There is no plumbing on Mount Everest. When nature calls, climbers must use makeshift holes dug by sherpas, or use buckets as substitute toilets. With the ever-increasing number of climbers attempting to scale the mountain, containing all of that human waste is no small problem.
Currently, National Geographic reports, much of the excrement is carried in sealed containers on the backs of porters to the nearby village of Gorak Shep (which also lacks plumbing or sanitation facilities), where it is emptied into open pits. Up to 12 metric tons of the stuff can be hauled to Gorak Shep in a single year. But the village is running out of space for containing the mess, and last year researchers discovered that the refuse had contaminated one of the village’s two major water sources.
Seattle climber and engineer Garry Porter witnessed the problem first hand when he attempted to scale Everest ten years ago. Since then, the image of all of that waste has stuck with him. ”I couldn’t shake the feeling that my final tribute to Nepal and the people of Everest was having my waste dumped in these open pits. It just didn’t seem right,” he told National Geographic.
Porter decided to found the Mount Everest Biogas Project as a potential fix, along with Everest guide Dan Mazur.
In biogas production, bacteria feed on organic waste (like feces) and produce several gases as a byproduct. One of these is methane, which is the primary component of natural gas and can be burned for heat and light, or converted to electricity. One cubic meter of biogas provides about two kilowatt-hours of useable energy. This is enough to power a 60-watt light bulb for more than a day, or an efficient 15-watt CFL bulb for nearly six days. A biogas reactor at Gorak Shep could address the fecal contamination problem while providing the perennially low-income community with a sustainable source of methane gas for energy, especially for cooking, Porter says.
The team plans to keep the biogas digester tanks warm (they stop working if temperatures drop below freezing) with solar panels.
In addition to getting rid of all the feces, the team hopes that the biogas project will relieve some of the pressure on Everest’s natural resources. All of those poop-producing climbers also need to eat, and cooking fuel often takes the form of native plants harvested around Everest, including an endangered species, the alpine juniper. If successful, the project will be the world’s highest elevation biogas reactor and could be introduced to other high altitude areas around the world.
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May 16, 2013 10:24 am
It’s been just over four years since NASA’s exoplanet-hunting Kepler satellite switched on and began staring unwaveringly at the same patch of the universe, watching for the subtle dips of light caused by a far-off planet passing in front of its star. Where the ancient Greeks knew of five planets besides our own Kepler gave us thousands. Extrapolations from this tiny patch of sky gave us hints of billions more.
Originally designed to run for three-and-a-half years, Kepler has pushed on. But the satellite’s quest may be at an end. Sad news came out from NASA yesterday that one of the satellite’s reaction wheels, a device that keeps Kepler’s eye steady, has failed. There may still be a way to fix the broken wheel or concoct some other strategy to keep Kepler shooting straight. But without a steady gaze the satellite can no longer carry out its mission.
In the science press, the obituaries are already rolling out. Though many scientific experiments teach us something new about the world, few have been able to so clearly redefine our place in the universe as Kepler. Decades ago, the planets in our solar system were all we knew. Now, we’re practically swimming in them.
Kepler may be down (but not “out”), but that doesn’t mean the discoveries will stop. It will take years to sort through and analyze all the data the mission has already collected. And, follow up research using other satellites on Kepler’s exoplanet “candidates” could still yet unveil the marvels of the universe.
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17 Billion Earth-Size Planets! An Astronomer Reflects on the Possibility of Alien Life
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May 15, 2013 3:49 pm
In elementary school, we learn that caterpillars turn into butterflies and moths through a process called metamorphosis. But what really goes on within the hardened chrysalis has continued to puzzle scientists. Now, computer tomography scans have allowed researchers to peep in on the caterpillar-to-butterfly action taking place inside the chrysalis, The Scientist reports.
Previously, researchers hoping to learn about metamorphosis had to dissect the chrysalis, which killed the developing insect inside. The key breakthrough about this new technique, they say, is that it allows them to study living tissue as it grows and changes.
Using series of dead individuals provides snapshots of presumably sequential development, but it can be unclear whether one insect’s third day in a chrysalis is really the same developmentally as another’s. CT scans can provide a more complete picture of how development proceeds.
In this new study, the team scanned nine painted lady chrysalises. Four of the insects died during the experiment while the other five hatched. In their results, the researchers focused on data derived from one of the insects in particular that provided the most detailed scans.
Here’s a video the researchers put together of their caterpillar’s gradual development into butterfly:
Rather than rewriting the story of butterfly development, the researchers told The Scientist, this experiment fills in missing details. For example, The Scientist describes:
The trachea did become visible surprisingly fast, within 12 hours after pupation, indicating that the structures either are more fully formed in caterpillars than previously thought or form very rapidly in pupae. While the trachea and the intestines showed up remarkably clearly, the “soft, gooey bits,” such as muscles and the central nervous system, were unfortunately invisible, Garwood said.
Lepidopterists, the scientists who study butterflies and moths, are not the only insect researchers who can benefit from CT scans. Many other arthropods—including beetles, flies, bees, wasps, ants and fleas—also go through metamorphosis.
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