Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Holding your breath underwater...

According to the Guinness Word Records the longest anyone has ever held their breath underwater is 8 min 32.59 sec and was achieved by Karoline Mariechen Meyer (Brazil) at the Racer Academy swimming pool, Florianopolis, Brazil, on 10 July 2009.

Name: Karoline Mariechen Meyer (Brazil)
Time: 18 min 32.59 sec
Where: Racer Academy swimming pool, Florianopolis, Brazil
Date: 10 July 2009

(Source: Guinness World Records)

I also found this amazing short film showing "base jumping under water" - it would have taken a large amount of breath-holding despite presumably being shot in a number of different takes:

Monday, 14 June 2010

Colourblind Bulls...

Does the flag have to be red to anger a bull? No. Bulls are colourblind so it doesn't matter what colour the flag is - it just annoys them that you're waving a flag at them. It would probably annoy me too.

Other information: Since the seventeenth century fighting bulls have been bred on bull ranches and apparently they go through several selection processes during their first three years. Only those with the best physical appearance, stamina and courage are selected. They have no training so as to keep them "virginal" when it comes to fighting, and because of their excellent memory experienced bulls could start to use tricks that would be dangerous to the matadors.

Friday, 11 June 2010

How Dolphins Sleep...

Background: I had often wondered how air-breathing mammals were able to sleep without drowning. Today I decided to do some research...
Main Source: http://whale.wheelock.edu/whalenet-stuff/sleeppage/
Backup Source: http://www.ntra-net.com/2008/09/18/dolphins-sleep-with-half-of-the-brain-awake/
Topic: Animals/Biology

Details: Unlike humans, for dolphins breathing is a voluntary action, rather than being involuntary. Since they breath air and live in water they need to consciously head to the surface to fill their lungs. Dolphins, like any other mammal need to sleep, and rather than lying at the surface, which could leave them open to attack from all manner of predators - they have evolved a rather amazing way of sleeping. With one eye closed, they are able to disconnect one half of their brain from the other and sleep one half at a time.

In laboratories scientists have measured dramatically decreased activity in the sleeping half, whilst the opposite eye is closed. After about 20 minutes or so this is reversed. Dolphins apparently rest this way on and off throughout the day and during these periods, everything inside the dolphin slows down, and the mammal moves very little.

Someone once said to me that dolphins didn't seem very clever to him because all they did all day was play around in the sea. To me that seems VERY clever...

Thursday, 10 June 2010

The Last Ever Lecture...

How I Heard About This: A friend of mine sent me this. Very powerful.
Main Source: http://www.gurteen.com/gurteen/gurteen.nsf/id/X0022B066/
Topic: Lifestyle/Philosophy

Details: There is a tradition at Carnegie Mellon University that lecturers are asked to give a hypothetical "last ever lecture". They are requested to give a talk as if it were their last, and pick the topic accordingly. Prof. Randy Pausch (23rd October 23 1960 – 25th July 2008) gives his lecture on the Oprah show in the US, what's notable is that this really will be his last lecture as he is about to die of pancreatic cancer. In his 10 minute lecture he talks about life, love, parenthood and living your childhood dreams. Very uplifting.

Here is a link to the original full length Carnegie Mellon lecture (1hr16mins) and is worth a watch if you have the time: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ji5_MqicxSo

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Expanding Water...

Is water is the only liquid that expands when it freezes? Yes.

Water is most dense at 4 degrees Celcius. That's why lakes freeze at the top and you would never find frozen pockets of ice at the bottom of the sea - the pressure would force it to be in the liquid state.

All substances expand when you heat them, as the particles vibrate more the average space between them increases. Water is no exception, but it's only when it freezes that the strange stuff happens:

Science bit: "The reason water expands when frozen is the crystalline structure that forms, and the strong O-H bonds. The hydrogen atoms have a very strong attraction for the unbonded electrons in the nearby molecules. In an ice crystal, each oxygen atom has it's own 2 electrons, and grabs hold of 2 more electrons from the water molecule next door. And so they crystallize into a big hexagon shape, which takes up more space than the same molecules do when the water is in liquid form. An ice crystal's form is called a 'network structure.' Same molecules, but takes up more space."

Source: http://en.allexperts.com/q/Science-Kids-3250/water-expand-freezer.htm

Thursday, 20 May 2010

We can never really be sure of anything...

How I Heard About This: I heard this quote from Einstein many years ago at university - I was reminded of it the other day by a friend.
Main Source: http://www.rockportinstitute.com/resources_transform.php
Topic: Philosophy/Science

Details: Part of the my physics degree was the study of the Philosophy of Science. One thing that did upset a few members of our class was the idea that whatever equations or theories we come up with, they are just one possibility, and can never really be proven "right". Even Newton's laws of motion, although amazingly accurate at predicting the motions of the planets, break down when you look at very small subatomic particles.

According to Prof. Steven Hawking, often when well respected theories are called into doubt by experimental findings - the accuracy of these readings (or indeed sometimes the characters of the scientists) are called in question before the theory is re-assessed. People put a lot of their faith in Science and in some ways it has become very much like a religion, the only thing that makes this religion so powerful is that it can often make very accurate predictions about the future. In our degree we were discouraged from thinking that this is the only answer, and one scientist I met some time ago said to me "the more I learn about science, the more I know there has to be a god."

Regardless as to whether there is a god, we should understand that we cannot ever really know what is going on, and anything we do "know" already is just one interpretation of many possible truths.

Here is what I consider to be Einstein's greatest contribution to science:

"In our endeavor to understand reality we are somewhat like a man trying to understand the mechanism of a closed watch. He sees the face and the moving hands, even hears its ticking, but he has no way of opening the case. If he is ingenious he may form some picture of a mechanism which could be responsible for all the things he observes, but he may never be quite sure his picture is the only one which could explain his observations. He will never be able to compare his picture with the real mechanism and he cannot even imagine the possibility of the meaning of such a comparison."


Monday, 5 April 2010

Blood is three times thicker than water...

Background: there is an expression that says "blood is thicker than water" - I wondered if it was true in a literal sense.
Main Source: http://www.madsci.org/posts/archives/1999-03/921961618.Me.r.html
Topic: Biology/Sayings

Details: It's pretty obvious that blood is indeed thicker than water...but by how much? One thing to look at is the density of blood. This can be done by taking a sample, of known volume, and weighing it. I don't have any I can spare so I looked it up.


"Blood is a liquid tissue composed of roughly 55% fluid plasma and 45% cells. The three main types of cells in blood are red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. 92% of blood plasma is composed of water and the other 8% is composed of proteins, metabolites and ions. The density of blood plasma is approximately 1025 kg/m3 and the density of blood cells circulating in the blood is approximately 1125 kg/m3. Blood plasma and its contents is known as whole blood. The average density of whole blood for a human is about 1060 kg per cubic meter."

So a density of 1.06 g/cubic centimeter, compared with water's 1 g/cubic centimeter, means it's only a little denser.

But to get an idea of it's thickness, I think we should also look at its viscosity...how runny/sticky it is.

According to Nicole Davis, a grad student (Department of Genetics, Harvard Medical School) it is about 3 times greater than that of water:


So blood really is thicker than water, about 3 times in fact.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Sand can also be pink...

How I Heard About This: I was lucky enough to visit this island
Main Source: http://www.harbourislandguide.com/
Topic: Travel/Geography

Details: Habour Island in the Bahamas is well known for its pink sand beaches that run more than three miles and are between 50 to 100 feet wide. Sand is a composition of bits of coral, tiny rocks, broken up shells and calcium carbonate from minute marine invertebrates. The sand is pink due to tiny microscopic shelled animals called Foraminifera, which has a bright pinky-red shell full of holes (that allow it to extend grip onto things and feed).

One 5-star hotel on the island is called "Pink Sands" and is situated right by the beach.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Why our stomaches growl when we're hungry...

How I Heard About This: I once went to see almost completely silent art-house film whilst studying directing at university. Halfway through I had to leave as my stomach was being so noisy, and almost everyone in the cinema couldn't stop laughing (including me). I ate something and was able to sneak back to watch the end. A friend of mine reminded me of this story today and I decided to try and find out how it happened.
Main Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borborygmus
Backup Source: http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20081202151229AA5HGx8
Topic: Biology

This is actually called "borborygmi". This is the process where by the walls of your intestines squeeze together to mix and digest food as well as move food down the digestive tubes. The brain switches on and off the digestive processes throughout the day, so you may hear these sounds even when you're not hungry. We hear these sounds more clearly when we are hungry as there is no food in there to muffle the sounds.

Borborygmi - great word!

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Spaghetti Tree Hoax

How I Heard About This: Since today is April Fools Day, I thought I would look up some high profile hoaxes.
Main Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spaghetti_tree
Topic: Hoaxes/Tricks

Details: In 1957 the BBC aired an episode of their well known Panorama program which documented the Swiss spaghetti harvest beside Lake Lugano.

Wikipedia says this: The report was first produced as an April Fools' Day joke in 1957, reporting on the bumper spaghetti harvest in Switzerland, resulting from the mild winter and "virtual disappearance of the spaghetti weevil." Footage of the traditional "Harvest Festival" was aired as well as discussion of the breeding necessary for the development of a strain that produced the perfect length.

The report was given additional plausibility by the voiceover by respected broadcaster Richard Dimbleby. Pasta was not an everyday food in 1950s Britain, and was known mainly from tinned spaghetti in tomato sauce. It was considered by many to be an exotic delicacy. Parts of the documentary were filmed at the (now closed) Pasta Foods factory on London Road, St Albans in Hertfordshire, and other parts at a hotel in Castiglione, Switzerland.

Panorama cameraman Charles de Jaeger dreamed up the report after remembering how teachers at his school in Austria used to tease his classmates for being so stupid that they would believe it if they were told spaghetti grew on trees.

An estimated 8 million people watched the programme on April 1, and hundreds phoned in the following day to question the authenticity of the story, or ask for more information about spaghetti cultivation and how they could grow their own spaghetti trees. The BBC reportedly told them to "place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best".

At the time of the broadcast there were 7 million homes in Britain with television sets, out of a total of 15.8 million homes.
The story has been labeled by CNN "undoubtedly the biggest hoax that any reputable news establishment ever pulled".

In the obituary for de Jaeger, who died in London on 19 May 2000, which was published in The Independent Newspaper, Ian Jacob, the then-Director-General of the BBC, is quoted as having said to Leonard Miall, Head of Television Talks 1954-61:
"When I saw that item, I said to my wife, 'I don't think spaghetti grows on trees', so we'd looked it up in Encyclopædia Britannica. Do you know, Miall, Encyclopædia Britannica doesn't even mention spaghetti."

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Definition of a Successful Life

How I Heard About This: My friend Marina sent it to me
Main Source: http://www.gurteen.com/gurteen/gurteen.nsf/id/X0022B066/
Topic: Lifestyle/Philosophy

Details: Definition of a Successful Life:

To laugh often and much;
to win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;
to earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
to leave the world a bit better,
whether by a healthy child,
a garden patch or redeemed social condition;
to know even one life has breathed easier
because you have lived.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson (American Essayist & Poet)

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Having Children...

"Having children makes you no more a parent than having a piano makes you a pianist."
- Michael Levine

"As a parent: you do your best and try not to screw up too much..."
- My mum

I was told recently by a psychologist friend of mine "The only way to be the perfect parent is to have no emotional investment in your child whatsoever, but the flip-side to that is you produce a child that's a sociopath." So the answer it seems is just screw up, and just as long as you love them it'll work out ok.

Makes the idea of being a parent a little less scary if you know you are going to mess up whatever you do.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Postumous Oscar Wins...

I set out to see if Heath Ledger was the first person to win an Oscar after death. Many websites claim that he was the second, so I wanted to find out who the first was...

The answer wasn't easy to find but it turns out that the first person to win an Oscar posthumously was Sydney Howard, for the screenplay of Gone With the Wind (1939). Peter Finch was the first performer to win an Oscar posthumously for Network (1976). This makes Ledger the third posthumous Oscar winner for The Dark Knight (2008).

Friday, 12 March 2010

Breast Feeding is Best...

This is the scientific reason why breast milk is better for babies than artificial formula:

"Arachidonic acid is a type of fatty acid that is necessary for the development of the human brain; it's normally supplied to a baby through its mother's milk. Once an infant develops the proper enzymes, the baby can manufacture arachidonic acid from linoleic acid, which is found in many food sources, including animal fats, peanuts, and sunflower oil. Premature infants, however, must have direct supplementation of arachidonic acid, and there is as increasing body of research that suggests adding it to regular infant formula would be a good idea as well. Arachidonic acid is only one of many very important nutrients that infants are supposed to get from breast milk. Feeding a child with artificial formula deprives children of some of these nutrients."

Source: http://www.mrflint.com/bear2.html

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Colours in Fireworks...

Do you remember the various colours that were generated by burning different chemicals in the science lab at school? The Chinese have been making fireworks for thousands of years and they applied the same principal to their firework displays.

The bright white sparks come from the burning of metallic dusts such as magnesium, iron, and aluminum. The other colours come from other chemicals like:

* reds - strontium compounds
* yellow - sodium
* orange - calcium chloride
* green - barium
* blue - copper

"All of these compounds are extremely chemically reactive, so they cannot simply be stuffed into a rocket and left sitting around waiting to be lit. Instead, various proprietary compositions are formed into pellets that react when heated to form the compounds needed for the various colors."

Source: http://www.mrflint.com/bear2.html

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Retail Therapy & Why Sad People Spend More...

How I Heard About This: I've always been interested in the need for "retail therapy". Today I decided to look into whether there was a link between sadness and the need to spend. Turns out there is.
Main Source: http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2008-02-08-sadness-spurs-spending_N.htm
Backup Source: http://moneyandvalues.blogspot.com/2008/02/psychology-of-money-sad-people-are.html
Topic: People/Psychology

Details: In a 2004 study, looking at shopping habits, an interesting phenomenon linking mood to expenditure was reported. The so-called "misery is not miserly" phenomenon is apparently well-known to psychologists, advertisers and personal shoppers alike and says that the sadder people are the more likely they are to spend.

Last year a similar study (as reported in USA Today) showed that people who had just watched a sadness-inducing video clip were willing to pay almost 4 times as much for a water bottle as people who had just watched a neutral video.

This study also looked at how self-focussed the participants were after watching the videos. They measured this by having them write a short essay and counting how many times they referred to themselves in it (the words I, me, my, myself).

What is very interesting to me is that the study found that of the "sad" group, those who were less self-focussed weren't as likely to spend the extra money on the water-bottles. It points to the idea that it is a much more sub-conscious action than that of conscious "retail therapy".

USA Today reports: "This is a phenomenon that occurs without awareness," Jennifer Lerner, a Harvard professor who studies emotion and decision making, said in a phone interview. "This is really different from the idea of retail therapy, where people are feeling negative and want to cheer themselves up by shopping. People have no idea this is going on."

Sensible advice is that we should avoid all kinds of shopping when we feel down, but what this study is pointing to is that we'll spend more even when we don't know we are feeling down...

I've kept this short but read more at the above links.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Acting in Close-Up Camera Shots...

How I Heard About This: Watching Michael Cane's "Acting in Film" BBC workshop from 1987 - he talks about techniques for film actors.
Main Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vvUcJz7TuBM&feature=channel
Topic: Film Acting/Techniques

Details: At the start of his workshop Michael Cain talks about acting for camera close-ups. He starts by describing two things an actor shouldn't do. The first is blinking and the second is switching from eye to eye when looking the person in the eye.

Cain says that the actor providing the eye-line should be stood as close to the camera as possible, and the actor in shot should then look that person in the eyes. They should then look directly at the eye closest to the camera and not move their focus. Over-blinking is a "sign of weakness" to Cain and in order to be listened to an actor should not blink at all. Of course, blinking can be used to react, but all reactions should be as minimal as possible.

"Doing nothing" is acting so long as you are feeling.

YouTube Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vvUcJz7TuBM

Monday, 8 March 2010

Participatory Video...

How I Heard About This: A friend working for an NGO in London is currently working on a number of PV projects
Main Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Participatory_video
Backup Source: http://www.insightshare.org/training_book.html
Topic: Style of Film-Making

Details: Unlike documentary filmmaking, where (often) a group of outsiders come in to make a film about a group of people, with PV, this group of people are allowed to make their own film. They are not schooled in the art of story creation, they simply make a film about something they care about in a way that they communicate naturally. Unlike with standard documentaries where people have little or no say in how they are represented, PV gives them full control over what is shown, and how it is represented.

To fully understand this method of film-making, and also to see why I feel this is important, take a look at its history:

"The first experiments in PV were the work of Don Snowden, a Canadian who pioneered the idea of using media to enable a people-centered community development approach. This took place in 1967 on the Fogo Islands, with a small fishing community off the eastern coast of Newfoundland. By watching each other’s films, the different villagers on the island came to realise that they shared many of the same problems and that by working together they could solve some of them.

The films were also shown to politicians who lived too far away and were too busy to actually visit the island. As a result of this dialogue, government policies and actions were changed. The techniques developed by Snowden became known as the Fogo process. Snowden went on to apply the Fogo process all over the world until his death in India in 1984.
" (Wikipedia)

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Get Up When I Fall...

How I Heard About This: A friend sent a YouTube link today (by email) with only the words "this made me cry"
Main Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MslbhDZoniY
Backup Source: http://www.lifewithoutlimbs.org/
Topic: People/Lifestyle

Details: This video is pretty amazing. If you're interested and don't want to ruin the amazement I felt the first time I watched this video then stop reading this, and click the link below now... Nick Vujicic was born without limbs, he lectures around the world and is pretty inspirational. I've included this link today because it's definitely taught me something. Have a look:


Saturday, 6 March 2010

Myth: Hair & Nails Grow After Death...

How I Heard About This: At university many of my medical-student friends were amazed that the bodies they were assigned to dissect over course of their studies had experienced some form of hair and nail growth after death. Having met up with an old university friend for a drink today we discussed this. I did some research...
Main Source: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg19426072.500-life-after-death.html
Backup Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hair
Topic: Human/Biology

Details: There is a myth that when you die your hair and nails continue to grow for a couple of months. There are a whole host of websites that claim it is a "strange fact". It turns out that this is not quite true. While it is true that some of the longer lasting cells in the body may live on for a few days after the heart has stopped, the amount of growth (if any) is in fact negligible.

Apparently this misconception comes from a phenomenon whereby the surrounding tissue shrinks away from the nail folds and hair shafts as the tissue starts to dry out. This then gives the impression that the hair and nails have continued to grow.

Friday, 5 March 2010

5 Languages of Love...

How I Heard About This: This evening a family friend mentioned that she has been helping at a course for teenage parents. The young couples who attend this course are apparently being taught this to help their relationships.
Main Source: http://www.fivelovelanguages.com/
Back-up Source: http://marriage.about.com/cs/communicationkeys/a/lovelanguage.htm
Topic: Relationships/Love

Details: Apparently there are five languages of love:

* Words of Affirmation: words to boost your partner's self-image and confidence)
* Quality Time: spending time together, eg. turning off the tv and actually being togeher)
* Gifts: giving little or large gifts often, not missing birthdays etc)
* Acts of Service: doing things for your partner that takes time and creativity, eg. planning a trip or just washing up)
* Physical Touch: holding hands or even just a kiss

These are different methods of expressing love that your partner will understand to varying degrees. It is apparently important to understand this, as everyone has different ways in which they like to communicate love. By asking your partner to rate these in order of importance (to them) you can learn to better communicate your love... that's if you want to.

Apparently this matters much more after the first 2 years of marriage as the spark starts to fade, and many people are different in the way they want to "be loved". Dr. Chapman (link above) recommends that you have what he calls a "Tank Check" 3 nights a week for 3 weeks. People should ask one another "How is your love tank tonight?" If, on a scale from zero to ten, it is less than 10, then ask "What can I do to help fill it?".

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Colours Help You Remember Better...

How I Heard About This: This is something many of us believe or are told at school, but I wanted to know if there was any scientific evidence of this. Turns out there is.
Main Source: http://www.colorcom.com/why_color.html
Backup Source: http://www.uwlax.edu/URC/JUR-online/PDF/2007/huchendorf.pdf
Topic: Memory/Learning...

Details: It is not hard for us to concede that colours have a profound effect on our moods and perceptions. Even if this is just a gut-feeling, we know that if we walked into a room painted entirely red we would feel differently than if the room were painted a gentle off-white.

In 1950 Faber Birren proposed that warm colours, such as red and yellow, increase arousal more than cool colors, such as green and blue. G. D. Wilson (in his 1966 book "Arousal properties of red versus green. Perceptual and Motor Skill") reported similar findings in his study. He exposed 20 undergraduate students to a slideshow of alternating red and green colors. They were instructed to look at a cross in the center of each slide. During the course of the experiment, he used electrical conductivity of the skin and galvanic skin response (GSR) to measure arousal. Wilson found that both measures of physiological arousal were higher during the viewing of the color red than they were for green. Other researchers found similar results: Jacobs & Hustmyer, (1974), Levy (1984), O’Connell, Harper, & McAndrew (1985)

Arousal and Memory

It is apparently widely accepted in the scientific community that arousing events have the ability to increase memory (B. Roozendaal, 2002) and that when undergoing arousing events, hormonal changes in the brain lead to enhanced memory. A groups of researchers in 2007 split a group of participants into two groups. Both were shown a set of slides depicting a story accompanied by a taped narrative that described each slide. One set showed "arousing" content, while the other showed neutral content. After viewing the slideshow, tests showed that recognition for the more arousing story was significantly higher than recognition for the neutral story.

These studies make sense, I certainly remember the more emotionally charged moments of my life over less arousing ones. It is not a massive step for us to conclude that the use of colours when we are trying to remember something might cause greater arousal and thus help us remember things a little better.

Colour and Memory

In 2006 a group of researchers tested 120 participants by giving them a sequence of images of natural scenes on the computer. Each image was either in colour or black & white. The test subjects were then shown these images again, and asked if they had seen any of these scenes before. Those with colour where more easily identified than those in grey scale.

Advice: this is proof that you should use a set of highlighter pens when you're trying to remember something. I kinda knew that before but now I KNOW it.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

African Elephants Can Jump!

How I Heard About This: From an early age I had heard the elephants were the ONLY mammals that couldn't jump. I thought I'd look it up.
Main Source: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/1461/followup-african-elephants-can-jump
Backup Source: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/1462/can-elephants-jump
Topic: Animals/Biology

Details: As I started to look into this I found a ton of websites and books that claimed that Elephants couldn't jump, but they weren't alone. In fact, there are many mammals that can't jump, for example the hippopotamus, whale and giraffe. That's pretty obvious, but suddenly I found a website that talks of the "Elephant Jumping Festival" which is held annually in Nairobi.

So it turns out that African Elephants CAN jump!


Tuesday, 2 March 2010

RSS Feeds & How to Subscribe...

How I Heard About This: Second Person's singer Julia asked me yesterday if one could see if a blog was updated without having to go to the blog page every day. I didn't know. Now I do.
Main Source: http://www.rss-specifications.com/subscribe-to-feeds.htm
Backup Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RSS_(file_format)
Topic: Internet/Communication

Details: RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication and is a file format used to publish things like blog entries, news headlines, as well as audio and video feeds on the internet. An RSS document contains either the full or summarised text as well as information about publishing dates and who wrote it. People with an RSS reader program can then subscribe to blogs without having to go to the page every day and it'll let you know whenever anything new is written.

If you wanted to subscribe to this (or any) blog do the following:

1. Download an RSS Reader: you can find one by clicking this link

2. Install and run the program on your computer

3. Locate the RSS feed address: most web-browsers have an RSS button at the top of the page if you're viewing a page that allows RSS feeds. The one for this blog is: feed://i-learnt-today.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default?alt=rss

4. Most programs have a + button or "insert feed" button. Type in the feed address and hit OK.

Add other blogs and news feeds that you like...and there you go.

Monday, 1 March 2010

A Snail Can Sleep For 3 Years...

How I Heard About This: One of my students asked me if snails got tired, it seemed to him that they moved so slowly that they were almost resting. I decided to look up whether they slept at all.
Main Source: http://ezinearticles.com/?A-Snail-Can-Sleep-For-Three-Years---It-is-That-True?&id=1521929
Backup Source: http://www.amusingfacts.com/facts/Detail/snails.html
Topic: Animals/Biology

Details: Snails are members of the mollusk family and need moisture to keep themselves alive. On a very hot day snails will retreat into their shells and wait until night before coming out to eat. When they do retreat into their shells they seal the entrance with a layer of slime that then hardens, leaving only a small hole for air. It has been shown that snails living in particularly dry areas, such as deserts, can hibernate up to 3 years before coming out to find water.

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Meisner's Acting Technique...

How I Heard About This: Many of my friends are actors, some of them are very successful, and a few of them follow Meisner's teaching. I decided to see if there was anything online from the man himself. Turns out there is.
Main Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zNuFSrsYfpM
Backup Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meisner_technique
Topic: Film-Making/Acting Techniques

Details: Meisner talks here about acting as "being" and actually doing. "The seed to the craft of acting is the reality of doing". Really interesting.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Archetypal Characters...

How I Heard About This: Before putting pen to paper I am studying some of the books that were on our recommended reading list for my film degree many years ago. One such book is The Writer's Journey, by Christopher Vogler. I highly recommend it if you want to learn anything more about story-writing.
Main Source: The Writer's Journey, by Christopher Vogler
Backup Source: http://annezo.net/fiction/archetype.html
Topic: Storytelling/Writing

The role of the Hero is familiar to us all. The word means, "to protect and to serve." Someone willing to sacrifice his own needs on behalf of others. The story, the Hero's Quest is "the search for identity and wholeness." Above and beyond the physical challenges the Hero faces, he must also come to terms with himself, he must change and grow. The audience identifies with the Hero though this process. He's responsible for most of the action in a story, he takes the risks and reaps the rewards (which he probably shares with others).

The Mentor figure is also familiar. Sometimes called, "The Wise Old Man/Woman," or the "Shaman." This is a positive figure who aids or trains the hero. The Mentor gives advice, gifts that will help the Hero on his journey, motivates, and sometimes acts as the Hero's conscience.

There are also Threshold Guardians. Characters whose function is to provide obstacles the Hero must overcome as he struggles to defeat them and strengthen himself for the ultimate battle with the "Shadow" or main villain. Threshold Guardians are stepping stones. As the Hero battles and defeats each of them (or recruits them as allies, as sometimes happens), the Hero becomes stronger, moves toward the end of his Quest.

The Shadow is the threat - the primary obstacle to the Hero's successful completion of his Quest, and should be strong enough to provide a worthy opponent. The Shadow can be the darker side of the Hero that he is trying to suppress. (An obvious example would be the "Evil Duncan" that emerges when MacLeod takes the Dark Quickening in Highlander. The best Heroes, and the best Quests incorporate both internal and external Shadows.)

Something to remember when creating your Shadow is that, to the villain, he is the Hero and it is the Hero who is the enemy/Shadow. We are all the Heroes of our own stories and history is written by the winners. Keeping this in mind will help you create more rounded, more challenging villains.

A necessary archetype is the Herald--the harbinger of change who delivers the "Call to Action" or challenge to the Hero. The Herald can be a minor character, a significant ally of the Hero's, or even an agent of the Shadow. The Call can be an event instead of a message delivered by a person. The way the Call is delivered, and the Hero's reaction to it, can tell the reader a great deal about the story and about the Hero. (Typically, the Hero refuses the Call in some manner characteristic of his internal weakness or doubts before he is persuaded to accept it, thus setting the scene for his struggles with his own nature later.)

The Trickster embodies the energy of mischief and the desire for change. Tricksters cut big egos down to size and, most importantly, provide comic relief that eases tension and brings the Hero (and the audience) down to earth. They also work to make fun of/highlight hypocrisy. Still, the Trickster's loyalty and motives can be in doubt. Is the Trickster an ally? An agent of the Shadow? Or an independent agent working to some private agenda? This character is so dedicated to laughing at the "status quo" and mocking everything around him that his true motives can remain in doubt.

The Shapeshifter can be "fickle, two-faced, or bewilderingly changeable" and functions to bring doubt and suspense to a story. If you find yourself wondering if a character is going to betray the Hero, if the character is an ally or an enemy, that character is probably a Shapeshifter. (The Shapeshifter-Trickster is a common combination.) Think of the femme fatale of famous noir films. Those characters were almost always Shapeshifters. (In mythology, think of Zeus changing into a beam or light or some other animate or inanimate object to pursue a maiden. In those contexts, Zeus is acting as a Shapeshifter.) Shapeshifting can be signaled by a character changing appearance, behavior, or by lying.

None of these are mutually exclusive characteristics. Also, a character can serve more than one function, and his or her primary function can change as the story progresses.

For more information please read: http://annezo.net/fiction/archetype.html

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Cheating a Rubik's Cube...

How I Heard About This: A guy I met at a party a few weeks ago mentioned that he'd just learnt how to solve a Rubik's cube. He tried to explain it to me, but without a cube, it was usless. Today I tried to look it up...
Main Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HsQIoPyfQzM
Backup Source: http://www.rubikssolver.com/
Topic: Problem Solving/Puzzles

Details: There are always going to be some days that I learn about something but realise that I don't have the time to fully learn it. Today was one of those days. I did learn how to safely "cheat" by taking apart a Rubik's cube. It's pretty simple, you rotate the top layer by 45 degrees and then pop off one of the middle cubes on that top layer (ie. one with only 2 faces showing). I've ordered a Rubik's cube from Amazon, I'll get practicing and maybe one day I'll have a blog post that says "Solve a Rubik's cube".

If you want to have a go then "Dan Brown" has a go at it in this video:

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Pareto's 80/20 Principle...

How I Heard About This: This is something I'd vaguely heard about before but doing some research today on business I found something rather interesting.
Main Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareto_principle
Backup Source: http://www.selfgrowth.com/articles/Stelling1.html
Topic: Lifestyle/Economics

Details: The Pareto principle is also known as the 80-20 rule, the law of the vital few and the principle of factor sparsity. It simply states that in many cases: 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Joseph M. Juran devised the principle and named it after the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who noted that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population.

Juran went on to show how 80% of the productivity in a business come from the top 20% "star" workers. It is also commonly known that 80% of wealth in the world is owned by only 20% of the people.

It can then be applied to our own lives in many ways. For example when we set about work on a project we do almost 80% of it in 20% of the time. The other 20% is spent fiddling with the details to get it right. It has been suggested by a great number of people that if we just let it go around 80% we'd have a lot more time to do other projects and have better lives.

I'm still in the middle of being convinced of the application in my own life, but I can already think of ways that it can be used to save a LOT of time.

Friday, 15 January 2010

There Are Only 7 Stories Ever...

How I Heard About This: At university we studied the 7 basic story archetypes. Today I found a website that described them so well I had to include them here.
Main Source: Suite101.com - http://writingforstagescreen.suite101.com/article.cfm/the_seven_basic_plots
Backup Source:
Topic: Storytelling/Writing

There are apparently only seven basic plot archetypes, it is from these that almost every story ever written is derived. Any story you read or watch at the cinema will a combination of one or more of these. The descriptions are taken from the fantastic suite101 website.

* The Quest

The Quest story model revolves around a central protagonist striving to meet an all important and often far off goal. The hero cannot rest until this task has been completed. Along this journey the hero will be met with obstacles and forces trying to stop him from achieving his goal.

Examples of the this story model are The Lord of the Rings, Apocalypse Now, Raiders of the Lost Ark.

* Voyage and Return

Much like the Quest, the Voyage and Return story type is based around a journey. In this plot type the hero is transported to another world and then back again. On this journey the protagonist learns things that give him a deeper understanding of himself and the world around him.

Examples of Voyage and Return stories are Alice in Wonderland, Gulliver's Travels, Back to the Future, the Wizard of Oz.

* Rebirth

In the rebirth story type the protagonist is often cast under some dark spell either instigated by himself or an outside force. The heroes liberation can only be achieved through the actions of other good forces. In these story types the redemptive power of love can be a liberating force. What is striking about the Rebirth story type is that the protagonists imprisonment is derived from something from within his own psyche.

Examples of the Rebirth story type are A Christmas Carol, Beauty and the Beast.

* Comedy

Defining the Comedy story archetype is problematic as in modern times the term has come to mean simply anything that is funny. Therefore stories constructed from the other basic plot types have been mistakenly termed comedies.

Aristotle described comedy as showing people to be worse than they are and tragedy as showing people to be greater than they are. In the classic definition of Comedy plots the characters are thrown into a state of confusion, darkness and bewilderment where resolution can only come when these constricting factors have been played out to their extremes.

Comedy examples are All’s Well That Ends Well, When Harry Met Sally, Some Like It Hot.

* Tragedy

In Aristotelian tragedy the central character is an individual (usually of great status) who goes through a series of actions and decisions that unwittingly brings about their own downfall. This downfall is supposed to provoke feelings of pity and fear in the audience and end in a catharsis or what is sometimes called a “purging” of emotion.

Examples of Tragedy are Hamlet. Carlito’s Way, Macbeth, Oedipus the King.

* Overcoming the Monster

In Overcoming the Monster stories the hero/heroes must overcome a dark evil creature/person/entity that has exerted an evil destructive force over a place, persons or people.

Examples of this plot are The Silence of the Lambs, Dracula, Jaws, Hansel and Gretel.

* Rags to Riches

In Rags to Riches plots the central character is seemingly plucked from nothing to greatness where he/she is very often rich and of immense status. In this story type the hero very often gets quick success which is swiftly taken away from him/her. In order for him/her to return to this “rich” state the protagonist must very often defeat a foe of some kind.

Examples of this story type are Aladdin, Cinderella, Great Expectations.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

What My Digit Span Is...

How I Heard About This: Having spent almost a decade tutoring children of various ages, I'd often heard of the digit span. I understood the basics but decided to research it further and see what my digit span is now.
Main Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digit_span
Backup Source: http://www.fullpotentials.com/wst_page4.html
Topic: Memory/Learning

Details: The memory span is the number of items that a person can retain and recall over a brief period of time. It is called the Digit Span when numbers are used. People who can retain and quickly recall higher numbers of items often do better in Psychometric tests. Why is it interesting to me? Being dyslexic I was subjected to a large number tests as a child, and as was to be expected, I performed far better verbally than I did whilst writing things down. Although I had a slight photographic memory I would often have to look at the black board for almost every letter of a word I was trying to spell out. This became very time consuming. Looking back now I can guess that my digit span (when relating to letters) must have been no higher than 2 but likely to be as low as 1.

After years of extra lessons I was able to speed up this process but by the time I left school I doubt it was any larger than 6. For me it wasn't until university and my work as a music producer after that I started to really push my brain. Today I wondered what my digit span was and took the test linked below. Having done it a couple of times the highest I can get to is 15 digits. Certainly a lot better than when I was younger. Apparently practicing this can increase your digit span, and thus increase your likelihood to do well in Psychometric testing.

Have a go yourself: take a digit span test now.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Aristotle's Six Elements of Drama...

How I Heard About This: As I've started to write a script I started looking through my old film degree notes and found this. I don't know if remembering something counts as learning a new thing but it was very new to me reading it today.
Main Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Participatory_video
Backup Source: http://www.insightshare.org/training_book.html
Topic: Story Structure/Writing

Detail: Aristotle's Poetics theories have influenced almost every great play-write of the last two thousand years.

The six elements of Drama are:

* The Characters: It is important to make sure your characters are watchable as your story will be told through their trials and tribulations. Whether they are a Mother Theresa or Adolf Hitler they must be compelling else they should be re-written or scrapped.

* Plot (Action): This is what actually goes on in your story and in what order it all happens. Classic three act structure consists of you plucking your hero out of his ordinary life, treating him pretty badly and then putting him back down again. It is important to keep things moving and always interesting. Some writers think that you should have a surprise on every page.

* Ideas: A good story always means something. What does your story mean and what is it's central theme? This central theme should be weaved into every part of your story.

* Dialogue: The dialogue (or lyric poetry) is very important. If your characters talk, then they need something to say, and a way to say it. They should have some form of accent, even if it's RP, and how they say things will tell the audience a lot about who they are and where they come from.

* Music: Music is an incredibly powerful tool. From the earliest operas, ballets and plays through to modern cinema: music can easily create tension and affect the emotions of the audience. It should be used carefully but if done well will add an amazing amount to your story/play/film.

* Spectacle: This is everything that is included in the visual and audio production. The explosions, the magic, the sounds, the costumes and set are all part of the spectacle and people's enjoyment can be increased by careful use (or even lack) of spectacle.

According to Aristotle, great Drama is formed by understanding these six elements, and by combining them carefully.