Multi-tasking has been a workplace buzzword for more than a decade. For years I kept an ugly secret; I couldn’t really multi-task. I just couldn’t get my brain engaged on simultaneous tasks adequately enough to do a good job with both of them. One or both of the tasks would end up looking like the dogs breakfast. About five years ago I was vindicated when I heard this story on the radio.
“People can’t multitask very well, and when people say they can, they’re deluding themselves,” said neuroscientist Earl Miller. And, he said, “The brain is very good at deluding itself.”
Last week those earlier findings were bolstered by this study. Both studies show basically the same results; a nominally functioning brain really can’t multitask, and when we try, we end up doing a poor job at two—or more—tasks.
There was a negative correlation between multitasking ability and practice: Those who performed worse on the test were the most frequent multitaskers in real life. The subjects in the top 25 percent of performers on the multitasking test were also the least likely to multitask.
What our brains are good at is breaking big tasks into small components, and then sequencing the components of Task A with the components of Task B. This allows us to squeeze more productivity into a given period of time because we take the lulls and waiting around involved in Task A, and use that time to move Task B forward. Sequencing becomes even more proficient as we get more familiar with both Task A and B.
Take this knowledge and store it in your back pocket for the next time someone tries to imply you need to improve your multi-tasking. You’ll look smarter than them, probably because you are, and most people lose their steam when you trounce all over their argument before they really get rolling.
After years of research, the first bionic eye has seen the light of day in the United States, giving hope to the blind around the world.
Developed by Second Sight Medical Products, the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System has helped more than 60 people recover partial sight, with some experiencing better results than others.
Consisting of 60 electrodes implanted in the retina and glasses fitted with a special mini camera, Argus II has already won the approval of European regulators. The US Food and Drug Administration is soon expected to follow suit, making this bionic eye the world’s first to become widely available.
“It’s the first bionic eye to go on the market in the world, the first in Europe and the first one in the U.S.,” said Brian Mech, the California-based company’s vice president of business development.
Those to benefit from Argus II are people with retinitis pigmentosa, a rare genetic disease, affecting about 100,000 people in the U.S., that results in the degeneration of the retinal photoreceptors.
The photoreceptor cells convert light into electrochemical impulses that are transmitted to the brain via the optic nerve, where they are decoded into images.
“The way the prosthesis works (is) it replaces the function of the photoreceptors,” Mech told AFP.
Last year, the Food and Drug Administrationproposed a set of voluntary “guidelines”designed to nudge the meat industry to curb its antibiotics habit. Ever since, the agency has been mulling whether and how to implement the new program. Meanwhile, the meat industry has been merrily gorging away on antibiotics—and churning out meat rife with antibiotic-resistant pathogens—if the latest data from the FDA itself is any indication.
The Pew Charitable Trusts crunched the agency’s numbers on antibiotic use on livestock farms and compared them to data on human use of antibiotics to treat illness, and mashed it all into an infographic, which I’ve excerpted below. Note that that while human antibiotic use has leveled off at below 8 billion pounds annually, livestock farms have been sucking in more and more of the drugs each year—and consumption reached a record nearly 29.9 billion pounds in 2011. To put it another way, the livestock industry is now consuming nearly four-fifths of the antibiotics used in the US, and its appetite for them is growing.
• Of the Salmonella on ground turkey, about 78% were resistant to at least one antibiotic and half of the bacteria were resistant to three or more. These figures are up compared to 2010.
• Nearly three-quarters of the Salmonella found on retail chicken breast were resistant to at least one antibiotic. About 12% of retail chicken breast and ground turkey samples were contaminated with Salmonella.
• Resistance to tetracycline [an antibiotic] is up among Campylobacter on retail chicken. About 95% of chicken products were contaminated with Campylobacter, and nearly half of those bacteria were resistant to tetracyclines. This reflects an increase over last year and 2002.
MIB, eat your microscopic heart out. (img by It’s Okay to Be Smart)
You don’t need Will Smith and fancy CGI to explore worlds within worlds within worlds, you can just use an electron microscope and a serendipitous alignment of things. Want more? Go to It’s Okay to be Smart and browse around.
For any aviation or car nut, the late 1940′s through to the late 1960′s are the heyday of mechanical development. Cars and planes were getting faster, more reliable, and more refined at a blistering pace. But these new developments brought new problems. As is typically the case, the mechanical engineering of faster vehicles massively out paced the development of safety measures meant to address the new dangers brought about when something went wrong.
After WWII the flying branches of the military got together to investigate the number of deaths they were seeing in non-combat aircraft accidents. While the flying service knew that the problem was related to sudden deceleration—it’s not the fall, it’s the sudden stop at the end—they didn’t really have a handle on what was a lethal g-load. They decided to study the problem and enlisted the help of Dr. John Stapp. Dr. Stapp volunteered to lead a group of human subjects in a series of rapid deceleration experiments.
Dr. Stapp and his team would strap themselves onto rocket sleds which rode on a special railbed built by Northrop Aircraft. They would then be shot down the track and decelerated rapidly by either massive mechanical brakes, or pits filled with water. The impacts were recorded on high speed cameras, and their injuries would be logged.
On December 10, 1954 Dr. Stapp was strapped into the Sonic Wind I test sled. For several minutes he sat, atop a sled which mounted nine rocket bottles, each capable of producing 5000 pounds of thrust. Two minutes before ignition two technicians left his side and ran for the safety bunker a few hundred yards away. Stapp had been injured in previous tests; hematomas, broken bones, sand imbedded into his skin. He knew that this test was probably going to hurt. For two agonizing minutes sat there, staring down the track, waiting.
When the countdown reached zero, the nine rocket bottles ignited and Sonic Wind I hurtled down the track. Col. Joe Kittinger, flying a chase plane along the track at 350 miles per, recalls, “he went by me like I was standing still.” Sonic Wind I topped out at 632 miles per hour before hitting the water brake. Stapp’s body was subjected to 46.2 Gs. The stop was so sudden the capilaries in Stapp’s eyes burst, and he was temporarily blinded (his vision would return the next day). He’d broken both of his wrists, several ribs, in addition to the retinal hemorrhages. Stapp was helped to a gurney and taken to the base hospital where he recovered.
Dr. Stapp’s findings not only shattered previously held misconceptions about how many G’s the human body could endure, but also exposed flaws in pilot and passenger restraint. Additionally, with the data collected engineers could develop reasonably realistic crash test dummies, preventing the need for anyone to ever have to endure this sort of testing again. Stapps’ results were also shared with the automobile industry and used to pass the laws making seat belt’s mandatory in all passenger cars. His shoulder restraint system is still used tin every car on the road today.
Bruce Schneier’s a security specialist with his own Internet meme. And while most people believe that technology elevates, improves things, Schneier holds that technology magnifies, makes things bigger, good and…