Saturday, 27 March 2010

Definition of a Successful Life

How I Heard About This: My friend Marina sent it to me
Main Source:
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."


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."


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:
Backup Source:
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:
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:

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:
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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:
Backup Source:
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:
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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:
Back-up Source:
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:
Backup Source:
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:
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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:
Backup Source:
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://

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:
Backup Source:
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.