The Null Device


The East Japan Railway Company is experimenting with making its stations more environmentally friendly by harnessing the energy-generating potential of passengers as they pass through ticket gates:

The ticket gate electricity generation system relies on a series of piezo elements embedded in the floor under the ticket gates, which generate electricity from the pressure and vibration they receive as people step on them. When combined with high-efficiency storage systems, the ticket gate generators can serve as a clean source of supplementary power for the train stations. Busy train stations (and those with large numbers of passengers willing to bounce heavily through the gates) will be able to accumulate a relatively large amount of electricity.
The system is being tested at the company's offices in Shibuya, though is expected to be rolled out in actual stations if this is successful.

Though would such a system really be able to generate a non-negligible amount of electricity? And, given that the passenger gates don't involve the passenger actually pushing anything as crude as a turnstile, how long until someone starts fitting footpaths with something similar? If it takes more energy from the walker to traverse than otherwise, they could even market it as an integrated exercise facility.

(via Engadget) energy environment japan railway 0

International consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers has called on Australia to introduce an 18+ rating for video games, rather than the present system of banning anything not suitable for children. Given that it's a voice of multinational corporate capital (a force the Tories respect more than paternalist wowserism and populist culture-war politics) making the call, and not the despised inner-city refugee-loving latte-socialist elite, perhaps someone will give the censorious theocrat in South Australia who holds the veto a sharp push and get things changed.

australia authoritarianism censorship culture war wowserism 0

Discovery of the day: there is a Scots edition of Wikipedia (or "Wikipædia", as it's known in Scots). That's written in the Scots language, which is descended from Middle English, and is just about comprehensible to English speakers. (Though while it may look like English with funny spellings and odd words, it should not be mistaken for Scotched English; not only that but one should be wary of artificial attempts to make it more English-like, such as the nefarious apologetic apostrophe). In it you will find 1,573 articles about various subjects, including (naturally) Scotland, the "Unitit Kinrick" and Europe, the "mathematical an naitral sciences", "airt an cultur", "applee'd sciences an industry", "daily life an leisur" and "ither", as well as on written Scots and a Scots-English dictionary. Also, the Scots for "search" is "rake" (though "Edit" appears to be the same as in English; either that or MediaWiki doesn't let one change this), and some articles begin with the disclaimer:

The "Scots" that wis uised in this airticle wisna written by a native speaker. Gin ye can, please sort it.

(via Bowlie) language scotland scots uk wikipedia 0

A biologist posits the intriguing hypothesis that a country's national character may be influenced by its rate of parasite infection, particularly by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii (i.e., the "crazy cat person" parasite):

The author of the study is Kevin Lafferty, a biologist at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Lafferty made three straightforward observations.
  1. Toxoplasma infection rates vary from country to country. South Korea has prevalance rate of only 4.3%, for example, while Brazil's rate is 66.9%. These rates are determined by many factors, from the eating habits in a country (steak tartar, anyone?) to its climate (Toxoplasma oocysts survive longer in warm tropical soil).
  2. Psychologists have measured some of the personality traits influenced by Toxoplasma in these countries. People with Toxoplasma tend to be more self-doubting and insecure, among other things. Among the differences in men, Toxoplasma is associated with less interest in seeking novelty. Toxoplasma-infected women are more open-hearted.
  3. A nation's culture can be described, at least in part, as the aggregation of its members' personalities.
Lafferty's hypothesis predicted that the national cultures/characters of countries with high rates of Toxoplasma infection would have higher rates of characteristics such as neuroticism, uncertainty avoidance and "masculine" sex roles:
He found a signficiant correlation between high levels of the parasite and high levels of neuroticism. There was a positive but weak correlation between Toxoplasma and levels of uncertainty avoidances and masculine sex roles. However, if he excluded the non-Western countries of China, South Korea, Japan, Turkey, and Indonesia, the correlations of both personality measurements with Toxoplasma got much stronger.
So--has Lafferty discovered why the French are neurotic (Toxo: 45%) and Australians are not (28%)? As he admits, this is just a first pass.
Lafferty also notes that many other factors shape a nation's culture--which actually raises another interesting question: what about other parasites? Do viruses, intestinal worms, and other pathogens that can linger in the body for decades have their own influence on human personality? How much is the national spirit the spirit of a nation's parasites?

(via Mind Hacks) biology cats culture national character parasites science toxoplasma gondii 0

Some say that global warming has already passed the point of no return, it's too late for even the most radical CO2-reduction regime to save us (let alone the pitiful compromises politicians are squabbling over) and that we're all going to roast to death and/or starve when the food chain collapses spectacularly. Not to worry, says Nobel laureate Professor Paul Crutzen; if it gets to the point of global catastrophe, we could always release sulphur into the upper atmosphere, reducing the amount of sunlight getting through, and cooling things down:

A fleet of high-altitude balloons could be used to scatter the sulphur high overhead, or it could even be fired into the atmosphere using heavy artillery shells, said Professor Crutzen, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany.
His plan is modelled partly on the Mount Pinatubo volcanic eruption in 1991, when thousands of tons of sulphur were ejected into the atmosphere causing global temperatures to fall. Pinatubo generated sulphate aerosols in the atmosphere which cooled the Earth by 0.5C on average in the following year. The sulphate particles did this by acting like tiny mirrors, preventing a portion of incoming sunlight from reaching the ground.
Some scientists aren't too happy with the plan, lest it encourage people to keep driving Hummers and leaving their VCRs on standby, secure in the knowledge that they can always spray some sulphur into the upper atmosphere if things get too bad.

This is only one of several proposed "geo-engineering" ideas to remedy the symptoms of climate change by technological means; others involve boosting the growth of CO2-swallowing plankton and floating white plastic islands on oceans to replace all the highly reflective sea ice that has melted. (Speaking of sending the wrong message, one can't top the last one; I wonder how many people will use it as an excuse for throwing plastic bags into drains.)

albedo carbon environment geoengineering global warming 0

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is letting the public remix Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries. Remixes have to be a maximum of 2 1/2 minutes long, may be in any style (such as "classical, dj, world, mash up"), and are due in on the 21st of August. This contest is open to Canadian residents only, though there doesn't seem to be anything prohibiting non-Canadians from downloading the original audio file, remixing it and not entering the contest.

(via Boing Boing) canada music remix wagner 0