21.12.06

Holidays

The holiday edition of New Scientist is out. The headline article is 'Party ferrets to the rescue', and there's a wealth of light-hearted, festive articles - one about kissing, another predicting that developments in recycling toilets will require men to sit down to pee in the near future. One article on bad internet habits is available online. This bit in particular leapt out at me:

According to Jeff Hancock, who specialises in computer-mediated communication at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, the way we act and emote online has implications for our offline selves. In a study to be published shortly, he and colleagues asked subjects to pretend to be extroverted either on a live blog or in a Microsoft Word document they knew would not be made public, and then ran the participants through a personality test. Hancock says the group that blogged emerged as more extroverted than the Word group. He says that acting out a particular personality online reinforces the behaviour, making it more likely to be followed in real life.

The article focuses on the possible negative aspects of this, quite rightly I suppose - but I can't help but wonder about the possible positive benefits as well. I certainly know many bloggers who feel that blogging has helped them to make positive changes in their lives and gain in confidence. Like most technologies, the internet can be used for good and ill.

Best out of the lot (not including the summary of the year in science) is an article on calendrics:

In 46BC, the "Year of Confusion", Caesar made the changes necessary to switch to a solar calendar. He added two temporary months and extended the length of the existing 12 to make that year 445 days long. The jubilant public believed that their lives had been extended by 90 days. More importantly, when 45BC arrived it was back in phase with the seasons.

My first brush with calendrics was reading Stephen Jay Gould's Questioning the Millennium. Interestingly, since Gould was chiefly concerned with the irrational importance with which we imbue the (arbitrary) specifics of dates, the New Scientist article is actually a more thorough explanation of the specifics of how we keep the date in tune with the seasons. Strikingly, we can now measure the length of the solar year with greater precision than the regularity of the Earth's orbit, with the result that almost every year 'leap seconds' are added to make up for the differences. This problem would dissolve, of course, if we were to eschew dates altogether and measure our passage through the year by the Earth's solar longitude.

5 comments:

zhoen said...

I figure we have the computer power to adjust the hours to fit day and night. Twelve relative hours between dawn and dusk, twelve from dusk to dawn. Long winter's sleep, for one thing.

Michelle said...

I suppose I had been quit "acting" depressed on my blog...:P

Michelle said...

I meant to say "better quit". I'm tired.

Disillusioned kid said...

This is only vaguely related, but you might find it of interest.

Pacian said...

@Zhoen: And except for the fact that that's crazy, it's a great idea.

@Michelle: But is being unhappy a personality trait to reinforce? I'd stick to sharing what you need to and following it up with thoughts on how you should deal with the problem(s).

@DK: A rather entertaining way to present such a disturbing trend.