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The Globe and Mail

Your group could be making you less intelligent

Nothing to say for yourself?

"Have you ever clammed up at a party or found yourself tongue-tied at a meeting for fear of saying something stupid – even though you consider yourself at least as smart as anyone else in the room?" The Wall Street Journal asks. "Research from scientists at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute offers an explanation of why many people become, in effect, less intelligent in small group settings. If we think others in a group are smarter, we may become dumber, temporarily losing our problem-solving ability and what the researchers call our 'expression of IQ.' The clamming-up phenomenon seems to be more common in women and people with higher IQs, according to the report, published in January in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B."

Helicopter parents at work

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"Michigan State University surveyed more than 700 employers seeking to hire recent college graduates," National Public Radio reports. "Nearly one-third said parents had submitted résumés on their child's behalf, some without even informing the child. One-quarter reported hearing from parents urging the employer to hire their son or daughter for a position. Four per cent of respondents reported that a parent actually showed up for the candidate's job interview."

Police-state gadget?

"A new generation of closed-circuit TV cameras that automatically warn users to leave have been condemned by privacy campaigners as only acceptable in a 'police state,'" The Telegraph reports. "The cameras, in the Walker House estate near London's St. Pancras, have been installed by Camden Council. An American voice warns users to leave, including residents and legitimate visitors. The prerecorded message says: 'Stop, this is a restricted area and your photograph is being taken. It will be sent for processing if you don't leave the area now.' Nick Pickles, of pressure group Big Brother Watch, condemned the installation. 'This kind of technology may be acceptable in a police state or in a science-fiction film, but it is absolutely not in modern Britain,' he said."

Identified by your buttocks

"Facial recognition technology is growing rapidly, both in the consumer world and among police, but privacy advocates are troubled by the potential for intrusion and misuse," California Watch reports. "… India's government is working on an ambitious plan to biometrically identify each of its more than one billion people, and Mexico in 2010 signed a contract with Pennsylvania-based Unisys Corp. to build a large database of fingerprint, eye and faceprint information belonging to millions of people there. Officials in the United States already collect biometric data on international travellers wishing to enter the country. … Researchers are also looking at the way we walk and even at human buttocks as possible unique identifiers for the future."

Beware the storm clouds

Discover magazine notes:

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– "Cumulonimbus clouds are the ones that make your flight late. Their winds are so intense and unpredictable that pilots never go through them. Not 'through' but sometimes over."

– "In 1959, Lt. Col. William Rankin was flying his F-8 fighter jet over a cumulonimbus when the engine failed. He parachuted out and spent the next 30 minutes bounced around inside the storm. Amazingly, he survived."

– "In 2007, German paragliding champion Ewa Wisnierska experienced 'cloud suck.' While gliding under a cumulonimbus, she was pulled upward to 32,000 feet [9,750 metres] She blacked out due to lack of oxygen but regained consciousness at roughly 23,000 feet [7,000 metres]"

Wind farms and weather

"Wind farms are intended to help combat global warming, yet, say scientists, they themselves can alter the climate," The Sunday Times of London reports. "Although the effect so far is largely local, the expansion of renewable energy means the much larger wind farms planned could change wind and rainfall on a regional scale. 'In the daytime, the temperatures downwind of a wind farm can fall by as much as 4 C,' said Somnath Roy, assistant professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 'At night the reverse happens and the turbines have a warming effect.' Britain has about 3,500 wind turbines but is planning a tenfold increase."

Smart headphones

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"Prototype headphones [that]can tell which ear they are in have been developed by Japanese researchers," BBC News reports. "The earphones use proximity sensors to detect if they are in the right or left ear in order to play the correct audio. Researchers at the Igarashi Design Interface Project also found a way to tell if two people were sharing – and play a mono mix to each. … 'We believe that checking the sides of the earphones before using them is annoying,' said Daisuke Sakamoto, an assistant professor at the University of Tokyo."

Thought du jour

"Things are as they are. Looking out into the universe at night, we make no comparisons between right and wrong stars, nor between well and badly arranged constellations."

Alan Watts (1915-73), British philosopher and writer

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