Monday 31 January 2011

Do Nothing for 2 Minutes

In our fast-paced, multi-tasking digital world, 2 minutes can seem like an eternity. The clock slowly ticks by, one second at a time and counting out one potato, two potatoes, three potatoes turns into an onerous task which tests the outer limits of our patience. Have we forgotten what it's like to kick back, relax and quite simply do nothing at all?

A new web site - should I say novelty web site? - has recently gone on-line and apparently gone viral in the process. "Do Nothing For 2 Minutes" presents you with a picture of the sea with a sunset and the sound of waves; all a peaceful relaxing scene. The one catch is that you are supposed to touch nothing, not your keyboard, not your mouse for two full minutes. This is your supposed "Zen requirement" for getting a step closer to nirvana or whatever or at least to force yourself to break away from the madcap trajectory of your digital, multi-tasking day. If you flub it, you get your FAIL message and have to start over.

Just how viral did this go? I just checked Alexa, the web site ranking site and as of this moment, they are giving this new site a worldwide rating of 32,022 and a U.S. rating of 8,505. (N.B. 2013-08-10: Worldwide rating 131,000; U.S. rating = 71,000) To understand that ranking, note that Google is rated at number one. No surprise there, right? This web site went on-line just in mid-January and has already received such a ranking; that is quite amazing and a testimony of how "viral" it is.

True story
Years ago in my hippy-dippy days, I purchased a book on meditation. One of the first exercises was to sit quietly and think about nothing for 60 seconds. Think about nothing for 60 seconds. Sure, no big deal.

Well, it turned out to be a very big deal. Heck I couldn't do 5 seconds without my noggin running off in a million directions. I could not stop myself from thinking. Maybe I could do two, maybe three seconds then the next thing I knew, my old brain was wandering off like a hyper-active little boy in search of some distraction. Somebody get the dart gun!

Hence, when we talk about stopping for 2 minutes to look at the sunset, listen to the waves and watch the timer countdown from 120 seconds, we are talking about the personal challenge of staying focused on something other than the million little things tugging at our sleeves. "Look at me! Look at me!"

Believe or not, there is software on the market which has been designed with the idea of helping us tune out the world, not necessarily for looking at sunsets but for removing all the extraneous from our lives so we can concentrate on the essential.

Stayfocused is a free add-in to the browser Google Chrome and assists you in setting a self-imposed exile from the world. It amusingly describes the following scenario:

You sit down at the computer, and you swear you'll be productive. Next thing you know, it's twelve hours later. You've checked your email, updated your Facebook status, browsed the trending topics on Twitter, read your RSS feeds, looked up your favorite band on Wikipedia, vanity googled yourself, cyber-stalked your ex, looked at all your high-school crushes' Facebook photos, watered your plants on Farmville, and lost a week's pay playing online poker.

What you haven't done is WORK.

Now is that the perfect description of any one of us in the digital age? There may be more things going on but are we actually achieving more?

What's amusing is that we are using a piece of software - using technology - to impose self-discipline on ourselves. You have to admit, that is a comical idea.

Intermittent reinforcement
Taking into account our mail, Facebook pokes, automatic Twitter feeds and gawd knows what else, I would say the lot of us of turning into a bunch of stimulus junkies. Like a gambler pulling the lever on a one-armed bandit, we're getting some sort of high from the expectation of the next email to pop into our Inbox. Dopamine! Yeah!

In my blog Would Skinner have owned a Blackberry?, I discuss the comparison between somebody constantly checking for new mail and Skinner's experiments with pigeons. We do something over and over again because of the expectation of something new happening. We check our Inbox then recheck it even if we don't get anything because we know that sooner or later we will get something. This is pretty much the behaviour of a gambler and very much like those pigeons Skinner used. Yes, we're not much smarter than pigeons. Ha! Go figure.

Final Word
Can we walk away from it all? Can we take 2 measly minutes? Or are you the type who's responding to mail in a toilet stall? I have to admit, shutting my eyes and listening to the sounds of the surf is very soothing and very inviting. At the end of the day, if I answer a hundred emails, do 50 pokes and tweet 2 dozen times, there will just be more tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after that. I can see my grave now: Here's lies a man who Replied To All, poked, tweeted and friended fifty-three million, two hundred and seventy-five thousand, four hundred thirty-six times... and never managed to complete his 2 minutes.

The original idea of Do Nothing for 2 Minutes comes from one Alex Tew who had another extremely original idea.

Wikipedia: The Million Dollar Home Page
The Million Dollar Homepage is a website conceived in 2005 by Alex Tew, a student from Wiltshire, England, to raise money for his university education. The home page consists of a million pixels arranged in a 1000 × 1000 pixel grid; the image-based links on it were sold for $1 per pixel in 10 × 10 blocks. The purchasers of these pixel blocks provided tiny images to be displayed on them, a URL to which the images were linked, and a slogan to be displayed when hovering a cursor over the link. The aim of the website was to sell all of the pixels in the image, thus generating a million dollars of income for the creator. The Wall Street Journal has commented that the site inspired other websites that sell pixels.

PCMag - Jan 25/2011
Website Challenges Visitors to Do Nothing for 2 Minutes


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Sunday 30 January 2011

Gorilla walks like a man

A 21 year-old silverback western lowland gorilla called Ambam at the Port Lympane Wild Animal Park in Kent, England has drawn a lot of attention to himself and the park due to his walking upright. While such a practice is not unknown for gorillas, Ambam is doing this with a degree of consistency which makes him quite unusual. Zookeepers have conjectured that the animal is trying to see if there may be food on the way and staying upright gives him a better view of what may be happening outside of his enclosure.

Gorilla keeper Phil Ridges explains:

Ambam was hand raised for a few months when he was a year old because he became very ill and as a last resort he had to be taken away from his mother Shumba. He came over to port Lympne when he was 7 or 8 years old. He is our biggest gorilla at around 220kg.

Ambam's father Bitam used to display the same behaviour if he had handfuls of food to carry. Ambam also has a full sister, Tamba, and a half sister at Howletts, who also sometimes stand and walk in the same way. All gorillas can do it to some extent but we haven't got any who do it like Ambam and he is quite a celebrity at the park.

We think he might use it to get a height advantage to look over the wall when keepers come to feed him and standing up can also help him in looking for food generally in his enclosure as it gives him a better vantage point. Ambam can also carry a lot more food if he stands and uses both hands and walking on two feet also means he doesn't get his hands wet when it is raining!'

YouTube: Gorilla walks upright like a human - Jan 28/2011

There are 2 main species of gorillas: the Western Gorilla and the Eastern Gorilla and both are listed as endangered species. The Port Lympane Wild Animal Park is run by the Aspinall Foundation which is working to not just protect these endangered animals, but to breed them and return them to the wild. The About page shows:
The Aspinall Foundation is a world leader in animal husbandry and conservation and has to date returned gorillas, black rhino, Przewalski’s horses, cape buffalo, ocelots, and pythons to protected areas of their ancestral homelands.  We also manage two African gorilla rescue and rehabilitation projects situated in approximately one million acres of rainforest in Congo & Gabon, as well as a programme to protect one of the most threatened of all lemur species, the Greater Bamboo Lemur, in Madagascar.  The Aspinall Foundation also contributes to several other conservation projects around the world.

The Aspinall Foundation Mission:
John Aspinall started his famous animal collection in 1957 when he bought Howletts Wild Animal Park. In 1973 he bought Port Lympne Wild Animal Park to help house the growing groups of animals. Today the two wild animal parks are home to over 1000 animals and 90 different species. Now through The Aspinall Foundation, a registered charity, we work to ensure that the late John Aspinall's innovative work in protecting and breeding wild animals should continue. As well as the two wild animal parks in Kent, The Aspinall Foundation manages two gorilla rescue and rehabilitation projects in central African countries of Gabon and Congo, where we have successfully reintroduced over 50 gorillas. As well as projects being developed in Indonesia and Madagascar.

Of course, for those of us who may just remember the sixties, the phrase "walk like a man" evokes a popular song by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Of course, somebody couldn't resist tying the two things together, the song and a celebrity walking gorilla.

YouTube: Gorilla: Walk Like A Man - Jan 28/2011


The Aspinall Foundation
Gorilla Walks Like a Man

Wikipedia: Gorilla


Site Map: William Quincy Belle

Saturday 29 January 2011

Sex in the Digital Age

For the past three years, the magazines Shape and Men's Fitness have teamed up to do an annual sex survey. This year's effort has focused on love in the Internet age and asked some "digital questions" which reveal interesting information about how social media is affecting not just our lives, but our love lives. More than 1,200 readers of the two magazines participated in the survey and now that I have just back from the store after purchasing my copy of the February 2011 edition of Shape magazine, let's dig into those results in the article titled "Sexting: Is it helping or hurting your love life?". Just an FYI, Shape's target audience is women and the results of the survey have been written up by a woman as though she's talking to another woman. She keeps saying things like "your man", "how do you respond", etc.

First of all, 47 percent of the readers said their sex life was, as the magazine printed it, a-m-a-z-i-n-g. Hmmm, I guess that's better than just "amazing"? That compares to 21% in last year's survey. Are things getting better? Those percentages would lead me to think things are m-u-c-h-b-e-t-t-e-r.

However, 51% of the respondents said their couple-time in this digital era is less intimate than it used to be. The mag paints the picture of the guy attached to his iPad and the woman checking her cell. Oddly enough, when I read "less intimate than it used to be" I had to ask myself just how old these survey participants are. The Internet took off in 1995 which is 16 years ago. Cell phones have been around even longer. How old would you have to be to be able to make such a statement? It seems to me that this would infer one was old enough to have experience with relationships in an era other than the digital one. Would that mean you'd have to be [gasp] older than 40?

You may feel your man digitally distracted when you're hanging out but post-sex, he's all yours. More than 85% of guys said that, if they had to choose between cuddling, checking their phone, or surfing the Web after making love, they'd pick snuggling up to you. Right answer.

It turns out that Facebook may just be some sort of aphrodisiac. Communicating via social networking, instant messaging and texting are said by both men and women to lead them to the bedroom faster. The survey found that 80 percent of women felt relationships lead to sex more quickly since it is so easy to stay connected. Fifty-eight percent of the men stated that flirting over Facebook, texts and Gchat helped them get women into the sack sooner.

Does digital communication intensify the feelings we have in our relationships? Do those lovey-dovey text messages increase our anticipation and naturally pave the way to the bedroom sooner? Whatever the case, the survey found out that only 38% of the women said they had actually slept with a partner sooner than they otherwise would have due to a textual relationship. So, 80% felt it hastened things but only 38% said they did it. The proof is in the pudding?

Certainly the way we communicate is changing. Most communication between couples is now happening by text instead of phone according to the survey with men saying they texted 39% more often than they called, and women reporting that they texted 150% more often than phoning. I wonder how many people do it the old fashioned way: in person?

That doesn't seem surprising when 65% of respondents said they had been asked out via text message and 49 percent through a Facebook message. And how personal is this digital communication? 43% of women and 27% of men reported at least one instance of getting dumped via text. Getting dumped by text; now how personal is that? I look down at my Blackberry and read, "It's not you; it's me." Hmmm, how do I text "B.S."?

Before anybody does any communicating, 70 percent of women and 63 percent of men will use social media tools and Google to screen potential dates. Should I include the email address of my parole officer? Maybe references are important for any woman checking me out.

However, once the dating starts, 72 percent of women admitted in the survey to looking through a current partner's ex-girlfriends' Facebook pages. What? Men have a list of ex-girlfriends? Now there's a recipe for disaster. Never admit to anything. The current one is the only one and any previous ones were just insignificant lead-ups to the right one, that is, the current one. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

A few surprises or maybe not surprises in the survey?

76 percent of women said they would look at their partner's e-mail account if it was left open. Sixty-nine percent of men admitted to the same thing. Really? Now here I was thinking you were honest... [as I look in your Inbox for incriminating evidence of other men]!!!

Would you rather give up your cell phone or sex for a year? 61% of the women and 78% of the men said they'd give up the cell. Okay, but I have to reflect on the other 39% of the women and the 22% of the men who could not give up their cell phone. I guess you only need one hand for a cell.

What do you do if you receive a call or text during sex? 87% ignore it; 7% silence it; 5% glance to see who's calling and 1% stop to answer the phone. For the people other than the 87%, are you kidding me? You wouldn't ignore it? Gee, thanks. Here I was thinking I was a stud muffin and it ends up I may only be distracting you until something or someone more interesting comes along. Ha! But here's a newsflash for the bunch of ya: how about turning the damn thing off before you start?

Would you consider it cheating if your partner went into a sex chat room? 66% or the women and 45% of the men said yes. Of course this survey was done over the Internet so technically speaking, they didn't "say" yes, they actually "texted" yes. The bottom line is that even if you don't exchange bodily fluids, you can still get into trouble for exchanging thoughts.

Have you ever joined an online dating site? 28% said yes; 72% said no. No snide remark.

If you met your guy on a dating site, do you admit it?
5%: Yes, I like to spread the word that dating sites work.
25%: No, I'm too embarrassed.
41%: If someone asks, but I don't brag about it.
29%: No, it doesn't matter how we met.

Reboot your relationship
A sidebar in the article mentions some advice from Belisa Vranich, clinical psychologist and expert in sex and relationships. She talks about powering off the devices during dates and before going to bed. Let's focus on our partner. She also says that while sexting and instant messaging during the day has its place (keeping things hot), save some of those "i<3u" for when you are together in person. Make a point to tell your partner that he's wanted, needed, and loved. This seems to be directed at the female reader but I guess the same is applicable to us guys.

Bottom line: don't forget what to do when you are actually standing face-to-face. Remember? The "real" world?

Final Word
The digital age is upon us. Faster connections, faster break-ups, possibly less intimacy. Or is this a different kind of intimacy? Now, as I lovingly gaze into your eyes while whispering sweet nothings... Oops! [I hold up a finger in a gesture to ask for a pause] "Hold that thought!" [I pull out my vibrating phone to check the latest message from somebody other than you]

It's at this point you stand up, pick up your purse and walk out on me. Dumping my water glass out onto my lap is optional.


Men's Fitness Magazine

Shape Magazine
The February 2011 issue of Shapes features the results of the latest survey.

ABC News - Jan 26/2011 (story and video)
Facebook as Foreplay? Survey Says Social Media Leads to Sex Faster
Shape, Men's Fitness Survey Says Social Networking Leads Couples to Bed Sooner


Site Map: William Quincy Belle

Friday 28 January 2011

January 28, 1986, 11:38am: Oh, that's what an O-ring is for!

73 seconds after launch, the Space Shuttle Challenger disintegrated over the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Florida. An O-ring in the right solid rocket booster (SRB) failed at liftoff allowing hot gas from within the booster to escape and subsequently damage the SRB attachment hardware and the external fuel tank. This led to the eventual detachment of the right-hand SRB and the structural failure of the external tank at which point, aerodynamic forces broke up the orbiter.

While the space shuttle itself was destroyed, the crew cabin remained intact. It is known that the astronauts would have still been alive however the elevated G forces at the time of break-up and possible air leaks in the cabin may have quickly left them all unconscious. After approximately 2 minutes and 45 seconds of free fall, the cabin hit the ocean at an estimated 207 mph (333 km/h), a deceleration of over 200 g. Anyone still alive would have been killed instantly.

At that particular moment, like many other people I was glued to my television set watching this historic launch. Like many other people I stared at the screen perplexed by the ball of smoke, vapour and fire wondering what happened then realising that the worst had happened. Over the years, I have thought many times about the crew with the hopes they were spared the agony of being cognisant of their fate as they fell back to Earth and to their death. How many pictures have I seen over the years of a plane crash caught in mid-air realising that at that particular moment, people are alive and screaming or gritting their teeth as they hang on with some shred of hope they are going to be spared from that inevitable meeting with destiny.

Beyond the tragedy, I have thought a great deal about everything surrounding the accident itself and how such a large organisation, supposedly well planned with the best project management in the world could make such a mistake. The Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident or the Rogers Commission, named after its chair, investigated the disaster and arrived at some damning criticisms of NASA and its partners.

While the commission explained the cause of the accident, the failure of the O-ring, it also uncovered questionable management practices. The flaw in the design of the O-rings had been known within engineering circles since 1977 but the flaw or the gravity of the flaw was never discussed outside of the normal reporting channels. As such, the flaw became an "acceptable flight risk" and in the end, the decision to launch the Challenger was based on incomplete and sometimes misleading information. I quote from the Wikipedia article:

One of the commission's most well-known members was theoretical physicist Richard Feynman. During a televised hearing, he famously demonstrated how the O-rings became less resilient and subject to seal failures at ice-cold temperatures by immersing a sample of the material in a glass of ice water. He was so critical of flaws in NASA's "safety culture" that he threatened to remove his name from the report unless it included his personal observations on the reliability of the shuttle, which appeared as Appendix F. In the appendix, he argued that the estimates of reliability offered by NASA management were wildly unrealistic, differing as much as a thousandfold from the estimates of working engineers. "For a successful technology," he concluded, "reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled."

This condemnation of NASA and the environment which put public relations ahead of safety is one of the most telling criticisms of people working together. Any organisation works with the problem of maintaining public confidence. Not only must the group deliver the goods, it must ensure it delivers goods which work and which are safe. Unfortunately, the public is fickle and is easily swayed by sound bites and tidbits of information which may offer incomplete and uncorroborated evidence. Nevertheless, the public can quickly react not to a real problem or threat, but to a perceived problem or threat. It comes down to the sad fact that the majority of us never bother to properly verify "the facts" before we make a decision.

However, as the shuttle disaster so clearly demonstrated, those who are at a distance from the epicentre of any problem may not fully appreciate the magnitude of the problem. In fact, their entire decision making process may be based on something which has absolutely nothing to do with safety. Years ago, I saw a PBS special on the Challenger disaster and it pointed out how continued funding for NASA had somehow be directly tied to the successful launches of the shuttles. There was the threat of funding being cut or there was the perception of funding being cut which could have inadvertently led to more pressure being put on the organisation to succeed no matter what. If a manager who is not an engineer is standing there weighing the options of funding being cut or an O-ring failing, there is an excellent chance he may not have a clue of what an O-ring is. However, I bet he's going to easily understand what funding being cut means.

I have half jokingly; half seriously painted the scenario of a boss somewhere looking at these two issues. "If I launch, I get funding but I risk having the O-ring fail. If I don't launch, I risk having my funding cut and I could be out of job. What the heck is an O-ring anyway? I want to keep my job." What happens? 73 seconds later he's standing in front of a television set like the rest of us thinking to himself, "Oh, that's what an O-ring is for!"

For me, what is so fascinating about my little scenario is that I have actually lived through this. Okay, the results haven't been as dramatic as a loss of life, certainly nothing as spectacular as being televised in front of the entire world, but the central idea of mismanagement is very much true. I am picturing this to be a much more common occurrence in companies than we would care to admit.

In my own experience, I have watched people in positions of authority make decisions which are completely based on what amounts to being absurd reasoning. How many times have I had a superior tell me that I don't understand funding as I try to impress upon them the importance of an O-ring? This falls on deaf ears. However, because nobody is killed, because it's not televised, most of the time these issues fall by the wayside and go unnoticed by the higher-ups. What the Rogers Commission found out, that public relations comes before safety, seems to be a cultural phenomenon which may be a natural characteristic of any group of people working together. The only difference between NASA and these other possible incidents in any one of a number of organisations is the number of people killed and the televised coverage.

Final Word
Today is the 25th anniversary of the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster. This was a tragedy. However, it is even more tragic when we realise that it was preventable. Yes, going into space is a complicated business fraught with danger. As a spokesman for NASA jokingly explained at a press conference, "Let's not forget, this is rocket science."

The old saying goes, "ignorance is bliss" but sticking your head in the sand like an ostrich is not going to solve your problems. Even if nothing goes wrong today, sooner or later, something is going to come back and bite you on the posterior.

According to Wikipedia:
The Challenger accident has frequently been used as a case study in the study of subjects such as engineering safety, the ethics of whistle-blowing, communications, group decision-making, and the dangers of groupthink. It is part of the required readings for engineers seeking a professional license in Canada and other countries.

Ah, "groupthink". What a term; what a concept. As defined in Wikipedia:
Groupthink is a type of thought within a deeply cohesive in-group whose members try to minimize conflict and reach consensus without critically testing, analyzing, and evaluating ideas.

I can't help thinking of this demotivational poster:


Wikipedia: Space Shuttle Challenger

Wikipedia: Space Shuttle Challenger disaster


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Thursday 27 January 2011

Weird: Hippo licks croc, saves impala (videos)

Question: Why does a hippopotamus lick a crocodile?

Answer: Because it can.

Some of you may recognise this as a variation on the joke about a dog and why he licks his... okay, I'll let you fill in the rest. When I mindlessly surf around the Net late at night, overtired and a little zoned out, I sometimes run across the darnedest things that I may never have otherwise seen.

National Geographic has a video floating around in cyberspace on YouTube and elsewhere that shows hippos licking crocs. Yep, you heard me correctly and before I say anything else about it, you just need to look at this most unusual of animal behaviours.

Uploaded by NationalGeographic on Sep 9, 2010
YouTube video: National Geographic: Hippos lick crocs - Sep 9/2010
Although crocs are ferocious predators, they don't mess with hippos. Here's why.

Okay, I suppose like a lot of people, I could have stopped there and moved onto the next oddball video during a marathon of late night surfing, but I thought to make note of this and come back to it with the intention of discovering what could explain such behaviour. After all, a crocodile is a fairly menacing predator and it's a little hard to fathom why they just lay there and "take it". At any moment during the clip, I was expecting the croc to whip around and snap at the hippo, but no, he just didn't pay any mind to this intrusion at all.

A little digging rewarded me with an article entitled "The Hippo Whisperer" on the official web site of the BBC Wildlife Magazine. The author, Karen Paolillo, is a researcher who has spent some time studying the hippopotamus up close and personal, that is in the wild in their nature habitat. She has some revealing insights about this oddity of the animal kingdom.

A bit of a recap about this animal from Wikipedia:
It is the third-largest land mammal by weight (between 1½ and 3 tonnes), behind the white rhinoceros (1½ to 3½ tonnes) and the three species of elephant (3 to 9 tonnes). Despite its stocky shape and short legs, it can easily outrun a human. Hippos have been clocked at 30 km/h (19 mph) over short distances. The hippopotamus is one of the most aggressive creatures in the world and is often regarded as one of the most dangerous animals in Africa.

Ms. Paolillo concurs with the aggressive nature of the animal and considering how close she's gotten to them in her studies, she should know. While these animals are herbivores which one usually associates with a more passive temperament, they are apparently very territorial and display an unusual aggressiveness in their waters. In an odd contrast, hippos are known to come onto land during the night to graze on grass but they are not territorial on land, only in the water.

Why do hippos lick? According to Karen Paolillo and other experts, this plays a part in their grooming and is performed mainly around the rear of other hippos. It is thought that the scent of dung stimulates this activity. Hippos are known to flip their tails when defecating seemingly with the express purposes of spreading the fun around and considering that hippos and crocs are many times side by side one another on a river bank, it is thought that some of that dung ends up on the crocs. In the video, when we see the hippo licking the croc, the conjecture is that the hippo is motivated by dung on the croc.

Of course what is truly noteworthy in this interaction between the hippopotamus and the crocodile is the acceptance on the part of the reptile. The hippo is big, strong and armed with a sizeable set of teeth which can do untold damage to the recipient of a bite. Obviously the crocodile knows who the boss is and knows the futility of protesting.

Hippo to the rescue
Another unusual behaviour on the part of the hippopotamus is that it will sometimes intervene on the behalf of other animals. This was observed firsthand by Ms. Paolillo. The following video demonstrates this charitable attitude to those who are smaller and weaker and it is difficult not to attribute to the animal the human characteristic of kindness. What is the actual motivation of the hippo?

Uploaded by DFBda2nd on Feb 2, 2007
YouTube video: Hippo saves another animal - Feb 2/2007
A crocodile grabs hold of a young impala crossing a stream but a hippo steps in and scares the croc into letting go. The hippo then helps the impala out of harm's way and attempts to revive it. Unfortunately it's too late, the impala succumbs to its injuries but it is amazing to see the hippo try to do this.

This next video demonstrates the same behaviour on the part of the hippo: he takes a carcass away from a crocodile. However, while the viewers in the clip keep saying that the hippo is munching on the body, it strikes me when comparing this to the previous video that the hippo may be trying to revive the dead animal. Wikipedia mentions that hippos have been known to eat meat but this to be rare as its stomach anatomy is apparently not suited to carnivory.

Uploaded by danojpcmart on Dec 15, 2010
YouTube video: Hippo vs Large Male Crocodile.
Hippo takes carcass away from a crocodile.

Final Word
Hey! So, a hippo licking a croc. Ha! Is that up there on the weirdness scale? And when you read the title of this article you said to yourself, "What a crock!"


Wikipedia: hippopotamus

BBC Wildlife Magazine: The Hippo Whisperer by Karen Paolillo - July 20, 2010


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Writing: November Challenges

Why this month? Why not July? Why not February? Then again, February is the shortest month of the year and if we're going to undertake a writing assignment, having more days may be advantageous.

It would seem that the choice of this month out of the entire year owes a debt of gratitude to Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month (see my blog). For those not in the know, NaNoWriMo is an annual event where participants set aside the month of November for the challenge of writing a fifty thousand word novel in just 30 days. That is apparently around 175 pages and works out to an average of 1,667 words a day.

According to the history of the organisation slash web site slash personal challenge by Mr. Baty, the selection of month number 11 dates back to 2000. 1999 was the first year for the exercise and it was held in July of that year. It seems this was an informal start with only 21 people and no web site to speak of. The next year, 2000, he explains that "the second NaNoWriMo ... had been moved to November to more fully take advantage of the miserable weather." This event had a web site and ended up with 140 participants some coming from Canada and other places further afield. The rest is history and November was reborn as a month for writing.

Over the years, NaNoWriMo has built up considerable momentum. From its humble start, this annual event has grown to a record 200,530 participants in 2010, up 20% from 2009’s total of 167,150. As an aside, there were 37,479 winners, up 16% from 2009’s total of 32,173 which gave the 2010 event an 18.6% win rate!

For those whose area of literary endeavour is the blog, we have NaBloPoMo, National Blog Posting Month (see my blog) where the challenge is to post to your blog every day for an entire month. Eden Kennedy, founder of this event, explained how the humble start of the event has grown to the point where in January 2010, there were 16,000 people signed up. However I note that the increased response has changed the rules so NaBloPoMo has gone from just November to all months. You can sign up for any of the 12 months of the year to complete your full month of blog posts. Keeping that in mind, we are just about to start February, the shortest month of the year. If you're going to try your hand at a blog posting a day, this may be the month to do it!

Other November Challenges
It seems that other tests of literary perseverance have sprung up to offer a greater choice of just what gauntlet to pick up.

WNFIN: Write NonFiction In November
The web site shows the tagline "An Annual Challenge to Complete a Work of Nonfiction in 30 Days" and the About page explains:

This blog is one nonfiction writer’s response to National Novel Writing Month (NANOWRIMO), a contest that has fiction writers writing 50,000 words in 30 days during November. This blog challenges nonfiction writers to spend the month of November writing and completing a work of nonfiction. It also discusses nonfiction writing and provides a forum for nonfiction writers to comment on their writing experiences during November each year. This is not a contest!

WNFIN was created by Nina Amir, a self-professed journalist, author, nonfiction editor, consultant, and writing coach. It sets out the challenge to complete a work of nonfiction whether a book, e-book, booklet, book proposal, or even a series of articles or essays, but in the time limit of 30 days.

Unlike NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo, this isn't a contest per se. One doesn't sign up; one treats this as a personal challenge following the site for online help. During the November, Ms. Amir presents a post each day written either by her or various guest authors covering the various aspects of writing and publishing nonfiction.

November PAD (Poem A Day) Chapbook Challenge
Robert Lee Brewer is the originator of this "informal" challenge. I say informal in that like WNFIN, you don't have to sign up; you just do it, although he says it is more fun if you post your daily poems on the web site. Mr. Brewer reminds us that this is all about fun and poeming. Ah, is "poeming" really a word?

The rules point to a slight variation in the previously mentioned challenges. One writes a poem a day during the month of November. In December, you revise and organise your work then submit the manuscript by January 5. The winner is chosen on Groundhog Day, Wednesday, February 2, 2011.

By the way, what does the word "chapbook" mean? I didn't know myself but found in Wikipedia that it refers to pocket-sized booklet containing poetry, religious material or the like. The word comes from the old term "chapman", a type of peddler.

PiBoIdMo: Picture Book Idea Month
Tara Lazar describes herself as "a children’s book author, mother, foodie and boogeyman assassin (currently booked at 3am nightly)". She writes a blog called "Tara Lazar: Writing for kids (while raising them)" and it is here that she started and continues this annual event:

Tired of novelists having all the fun in November with NaNoWriMo, I created PiBoIdMo as a 30-day challenge for picture book writers. The concept is to create 30 picture book ideas in 30 days. You don’t have to write a manuscript. You don’t need potential best-seller ideas.

Those who manage to complete this task do not go unrewarded. Ms. Lazar promises that writers who complete the 30-ideas-in-30-days challenge will be eligible for prizes such as feedback from a literary agent, sketches by picture book illustrators, critiques from published authors and signed picture books.

Final Word
First of all, I should give a nod to one Julie Isaac for her article on November Writing Challenges. I had already run into NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo on my own but she introduced me to the three other month number eleven trials. Thank you, Ms. Isaac.

But good Lord, this woman wasn't satisfied with just committing to 30 days. No, she had really raised the flag by setting out the 100 Day Writing Challenge back in September 2010. Starting on September 23, she's asked participants to go the distance of 100 days in a row. Oh brother, here I am still trying to get my head around 30 days in a row!

Well, back to my computer. It looks like I have my work cut out for me and not just for the month of November!


my blog: NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month
my blog: NaBloPoMo: National Blog Posting Month
my blog: Writing: Less is more: the drabble
my blog: James Patterson
my blog: Assembly Line Writing
my blog: On Writing by Stephen King


Site Map: William Quincy Belle

Wednesday 26 January 2011

Solar Winds: sail to the stars

I look out from the port during the summer to see the lake spotted with the sails of the intrepid enjoying the peace of Mother Nature's push. I watch our favourite swashbuckler Jack Sparrow order his men onto the yardarm to unfurl the canvas as he strikes out on a new adventure. There's a certain romance to this age-old system of propulsion, a system which doesn't use fuel to produce the force necessary to move the vehicle but which harnesses the power of the wind. It is an interesting concept. Instead of burning a substance to release its inherent energy, we are tapping into the energy of an existing force. It could be hydro-electricity; it could be a wind mill farm; it could be a solar panel but it is all an attempt to make use of what already exists.

Such are the things of dreams but dreams can come true; they can happen to you. In science fiction circles, a story line has been presented where a space ship doesn't fire up its rocket engines; it unfurls its sails and rides the solar winds. I remember reading about such a farfetched idea when I was young, my nose buried in a sci-fi novel which sometimes included an artist's rendering of just what such a contraption would look like. This seemed so unbelievable; how could anybody think this was possible?

As strange as this sounds, all this starts with light. For those of you who may have forgotten your physics one oh one, light is made up of individual particles called photons. These particles exert a certain force, a very small force mind you but a force nevertheless. Scientists have known for a long time that such a force could possibly be harnessed as a system of propulsion much in the same way a sail captures the force of the wind. The sun is constantly shining light everywhere and the stream of particles emanating from the sun is called the solar wind ( It is this "wind" that causes the various disturbances here on Earth like upsetting our power systems or communications, producing the northern (and southern) lights and pushing the tails of comets away from the sun.

Knowing this, scientists came up with the idea that a sail, obviously a very light sail, could conceivably be pushed by the solar wind. The image of a sailing ship is a good one and while the phenomenons (phenomena?) are totally different, the idea is essentially the same. Normally we think of propulsion in terms of a fuel as when the combustion engine of our car burns fuel to produce energy to displace it or a rocket which burns fuel to provide thrust. As with a sailing ship, we are using a force of something passing by us to push a sail and hence, push our vehicle. But who would have thought that light could push a sail and hence push a vehicle?

Never heard of it, right? Hey, this is the stuff of science fiction; it is indeed exciting and we all need to get on-board and catch up with the latest from this NASA initiative.

Back on November 19, 2010 NASA's Fast, Affordable, Science and Technology Satellite, or FASTSAT, was launched from the Kodiak Launch Complex on Kodiak Island, Alaska. This satellite is a proof of concept called a "microsatellite platform" or a satellite which enables researchers to conduct low cost experiments. One of the many experiments on-board was NanoSail-D2, a device no larger than a breadbox which was to study the deployment of a solar sail. (see video of solar sail unfurling)

On January 17, 2011 NanoSail-D2 was successfully ejected from FASTSAT and according to its official web site, the sail was deployed. Unfortunately, NASA subsequently lost track of the device and the conjecture is that the battery running the device was drained. Without power, it is no longer sending out any signal. (artist's rendering of the device) However, there is a contest to snap pictures of the unfurled sail in orbit. The size of the sail is stated to be the size of a small tent and the orbit will approximately last for the next 100 days.

However, NanoSail is not the first to attempt to use a solar sail; that distinction goes to this Japanese satellite. Launched in May 2010, this interplanetary spacecraft deployed its sail in June 2010. A 20-meter sail made of polyimide resin just 0.0075 mm thick was unfurled in space (see diagram). The craft rotated 25 times per minute, and extended four "arms" of material folded origamilike, which unraveled and started generating power.

The craft is now using a solar sail for its propulsion; there is no rocket. It has already "set sail" for Venus and after doing a fly-by, it will continue to the far side of the Sun onto Jupiter where it will pass by that planet and the Trojan asteroid.

According to the official blog (Google translation of Japanese), IKAROS is currently 120 million kilometres from Earth. Signals take 14 minutes to traverse that distance!

Final Word
Considering how weight is such an important factor in anything involving space - the cost of getting all those pounds / kilograms off the ground - this new kind of propulsion system would have an enormous impact of the design of future spacecraft. Instead of costly motors and fuel, a solar-sail craft could devote more of its payload to scientific experiments. A craft with a propulsion system consisting of only solar sails would start at a snail's pace however, with no air resistance in space, momentum would rapidly build. Scientists have estimated that a mission to Pluto which currently takes 10 years could be done in five.

I read about this and saw drawings when I was a child. The future has arrived and here are two projects which have turned fantasy into fact.


Wikipedia: Solar Sail

Wikipedia: Solar Wind

Wikipedia: NanoSail-D
NanoSail-D was a small satellite which was to have been used by NASA's Ames Research Center to study the deployment of a solar sail in space. It was a three-unit CubeSat measuring 30 by 10 by 10 centimetres (12 × 3.9 × 3.9 inches), with a mass of 4 kilograms (8.8 lb). The satellite was lost shortly after launch due to a problem with the rocket carrying it, however a replacement, NanoSail-D2, was launched in 2010 to complete its mission.
NanoSail-D2 was built as a ground spare for NanoSail-D. Following the launch failure, it was launched in 2010 aboard a Minotaur IV rocket. It was ejected from the FASTSAT satellite on 6 December 2010, and successful ejection confirmed on 19 January 2011. NASA has requested to amateur radio operators to listen for Beacon signal from NanoSail-D.

NanoSail-D2 Mission Dashboard

NASA: Small Satellite Missions

Twitter: NanoSail-D

NanoSail-D2: video of sail unfurling

Wikipedia: FASTSAT
Fast, Affordable, Science and Technology Satellite or FASTSAT is a NASA satellite that was launched from the Kodiak Launch Complex in Kodiak, Alaska on November 20, 2010 on a Minotaur IV rocket. The mission's objective is to demonstrate the capability to build, design and test a microsatellite platform to enable researchers to conduct low-cost scientific and technology experiments on an autonomous satellite in space.

YouTube video: Minotaur 4 rocket launches FastSat, NanoSail-D (7 satellites total) from Kodiak, Alaska
November 19, 2010

Wikipedia: IKAROS
IKAROS (Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation Of the Sun) is a Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency experimental spacecraft. The spacecraft was launched on 21 May 2010 aboard an H-IIA rocket, together with Akatsuki (Venus Climate Orbiter) and four other small spacecraft. IKAROS is the first spacecraft to successfully demonstrate solar-sail technology in interplanetary space.

JAXA Space Exploration Center: IKAROS Project


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Tuesday 25 January 2011

Rob Ford: Cut taxes. Oops, no money for TTC

One of the first things Rob Ford did when taking over the show was to repeal the vehicle registration tax. According to him, the public didn't like it and as their champion, it was his mandate to bring to the people what they wanted. Stop the gravy train!

Yesterday the Toronto Transit Commission held the first of four proposed open houses about their plan to cut services along 48 bus routes considered to be underutilised. The TTC feels the money saved from reducing services along these routes would allow them to invest in other routes needing help during rush hour. It seems to make sense.

According to CTV, the people who met at Toronto's Metro Hall were none too pleased by cuts which would directly impact their access to everything from hospitals to recreational events. I had to chuckle when I read this:

Coun. Janet Davis (Ward 31 Beaches-East York) said the TTC's budget limitations were frustrating considering Mayor Rob Ford rushed to cut a vehicle registration tax that injected $64 million into public coffers.

She said that the vote to approve the tax cut passed before council was made aware that it would come at the expense of transit riders.

"I think that if councillors had known that the $64 million that was cut with the vehicle registration tax was going to come off the backs of transit riders, there might have been a different vote," said Davis.

Rob Ford was voted in by a public who seemed to be very much disenchanted with a number of high profile fiascos at city hall. I did not, I do not disagree that a house cleaning was in order. However, Mr. Ford while tapping into the public's thirst for buzzwords and catchy slogans kept uttering from time to time some ominous pronouncements which mathematically deserved to be thoroughly reviewed before implementation. I, like many, hate paying taxes. However, I recognise that taxes represent income for the government and just like me, if the government doesn't have an income, it can't spend money and if it can't spend money that usually translates into me not getting something I want. Did Rob Ford properly connect the dots before moving ahead with his buzzwords and slogans? Did the public understand "robbing Peter to pay Paul"?

TTC: Proposed Changes in 2011
The TTC has detailed all their proposed changes for 2011 including these cuts in services. Highlights include:
  • Effective January 30, a fare increase of 10 cents. The page details increases for cash fares, tokens and passes.
  • Effective March 27, reallocation of some weekend and/or late night weekday bus service on routes where ridership is extremely low. The page details the various routes where service will be cut back and what times.

Royson James of the Toronto Star
In his opinion piece Council lefties bleed over ‘minor’ cuts (Jan 24/2011), Mr. James as a spectator reviews some of deliberations going at city hall over the budget. The impression I get is that the squabbling is petty and the participants seem determined to undermine Rob Ford. Work has to be done and sometimes decisions are not palatable to everybody. Get over it.

James writes:
Essentially, the budget debate is over; was over the day it started. Because of the huge surplus from last year, Mayor Ford was able to abolish the vehicle registration tax and freeze property tax and not raise transit fares.

Ford was elected on October 25, 2010. He has been in power for around three months. Item number three, not raise transit fares is going to be overturned on January 31, 2011. The other two items involve taxes which mean a loss of revenue for the city. Surpluses are great but have a habit of disappearing. Where are we all going to be later on this year?

Other rants about Ford

Rob Ford: Can I count on this man? - Jan 5/2011
Rob Ford plans on getting rid of Light Rail which costs less than a subway. Really?

Rob Ford drops the bag... er, ball - Dec 30/2010
Rob Ford plans on getting rid of the plastic bag tax of 5 cents. Really?

TTC: Essential Service vs. the Right to Strike - Dec 17/2010
Make the subway an essential service because strikes are so disruptive. Really?

TTC strike: each day costs $50 million. What!?! - Dec 20/2010
Make the subway an essential service because strikes are so costly. Really?


Site Map: William Quincy Belle

2011 Oscar Nominations

They're out! The countdown begins! February 27, 2011

Yes, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced the nominations for the 2011 Oscars. In the grand scheme of things, the Oscars may be insignificant in our daily lives but the tinsel of Hollywood still holds an attraction for the public and we always tune in or certainly read about and discuss the movies. Ah, the movies, such escapism and who doesn't live to escape once in a while?

Who goes? Moi? Guilty as charged. I certainly like to dig into a large bag of popcorn while probably exceeding the recommended daily amount of sodium but meeting my fibre requirements. I get to spend a couple of hours from the rat race and transport myself to one of many places which seems for that short period of time a tad more exciting than doing my job, doing my laundry or taking out the trash.

The Academy has announced James Franco and Anne Hathaway as co-hosts. Franco's most recent film is "127 Hours" while Hathaway can be seen in "Love and Other Drugs" (see my blog). A list of presenters has been published and notable names are Jeff Bridges and Sandra Bullock, Bridges won Best Actor for "Crazy Heart" and Bullock won Best Actress for "The Blind Side".

Best Picture
  • Black Swan
  • The Fighter
  • Inception
  • The Kids Are All Right
  • The King's Speech
  • 127 Hours
  • The Social Network
  • Toy Story 3
  • True Grit
  • Winter's Bone
Best Actor
  • Javier Bardem in “Biutiful”
  • Jeff Bridges in “True Grit”
  • Jesse Eisenberg in “The Social Network”
  • Colin Firth in “The King's Speech”
  • James Franco in “127 Hours”
Best Actress
  • Annette Bening in “The Kids Are All Right”
  • Nicole Kidman in “Rabbit Hole”
  • Jennifer Lawrence in “Winter's Bone”
  • Natalie Portman in “Black Swan”
  • Michelle Williams in “Blue Valentine”
Best Director
  • “Black Swan” Darren Aronofsky
  • “The Fighter” David O. Russell
  • “The King's Speech” Tom Hooper
  • “The Social Network” David Fincher
  • “True Grit” Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Best Supporting Actor
  • Christian Bale in “The Fighter”
  • John Hawkes in “Winter's Bone”
  • Jeremy Renner in “The Town”
  • Mark Ruffalo in “The Kids Are All Right”
  • Geoffrey Rush in “The King's Speech”
Best Supporting Actress
  • Amy Adams in “The Fighter”
  • Helena Bonham Carter in “The King's Speech”
  • Melissa Leo in “The Fighter”
  • Hailee Steinfeld in “True Grit”
  • Jacki Weaver in “Animal Kingdom”

The Nominations for Best Film
Going down the list gives me an opportunity to re-live a few of those moments parked in front of the silver screen: some great films, some not so great films but a successful attempt nevertheless to lure me into the dark and get me to cough up my hard earned dollars for that cinematic entertainment.

Black Swan - Rotten Tomatoes: 89%

The Fighter - Rotten Tomatoes: 89%

Inception - Rotten Tomatoes: 86%
my blog: Why wasn't this movie made in 3D? While it is visually stunning, I had a problem with the premise. Like the Matrix, we start with an idea which allows the maker to do anything he wants to twist reality. That's a good thing and leads to some great movie scenes. Nevertheless, I found that unlike the Matrix, the supporting premise was not adequately explained and seemed just a tad convoluted for the necessary suspension of belief

The Kids Are All Right - Rotten Tomatoes: 94%

The King's Speech - Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
my blog: I found this slice of history to be well done, well acted and well told.

127 Hours - Rotten Tomatoes: 93%

The Social Network - Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
my blog: I found the movie fascinating and would give credit to Aaron Sorkin who wrote the screenplay. That man did a fabulous job with the TV series The West Wing and once again, his writing shines. Of course, considering the story is a true story makes it all that much more interesting. Fact wins over fiction.

Toy Story 3 - Rotten Tomatoes: 99%
my blog: Is 3D a fad or is it here to stay? Pixar once again show themselves to be excellent makers of great family entertainment.

True Grit - Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
my blog: This is a movie which has some meat on its bones. Jeff Bridges had a colourful role, far better than Tron Legacy and much deserves his nomination.

Winter's Bone - Rotten Tomatoes: 94%

Other Films
There were a few other films of note in 2010 I would like to point out.

Barney's Version was an excellent film and an excellent adaption of the book by Canadian author Mordecai Richler. You can't take your eyes off of Paul Giamatti. This love story will tug at your heart strings.

Blue Valentine is a sorrowful tale. This love story shows us the highs of love at first sight and the lows of two people who have grown apart.

Another Year is a wonderful character study written and directed by England's Mike Leigh. No car chase scenes but a lot of "small" action nevertheless.

I do want to add here how some documentaries proved to be some of the best if not the best films for me in 2010. Fiction is great and who doesn't love a well told story. But what about reality? Both Inside Job and Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer deal with events surrounding the financial crisis of 2008 and taking into account just what happened to all of us, to the entire world, I found these films to be truly the most fascinating films I had seen last year. I can't recommend them enough.

See my blog's site map for all of my movie reviews.

Final Word
Where will I be on February 27? Probably not watching the Oscars. I will look up the results but will probably be occupied elsewhere. Heck, I could very well be at the movies! There are still some nominated films I haven't seen so maybe I should get cracking and find out why those names wound up on the ballot.


The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
83rd Academy Awards: Oscar Nominations - February 21, 2011


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The Me Marriage

The New York Times published December 31, 2010 an article supposedly about "sustainable love" entitled The Happy Marriage is the "Me" Marriage by Tara Parker-Hope. The author starts with this idea:

A lasting marriage does not always signal a happy marriage. Plenty of miserable couples have stayed together for children, religion or other practical reasons.

But for many couples, it’s just not enough to stay together. They want a relationship that is meaningful and satisfying. In short, they want a sustainable marriage.

She goes on to point out that putting the relationship first does not necessarily define the good marriage. Previously, marriage was considered an economic and social union and the needs of the individual came second. In modern times, partners are looking for more; they want partners who make life more interesting.

Citing a couple of experts, the author arrives at the term "self-expansion", a process whereby an individual accumulates knowledge and experiences. A relationship which best contributes to a person's self-expansion is the relationship to which that person is more committed and in which they are the most satisfied.

While this sounds self-serving, it stands to reason that we would be attracted to someone who gives us something new, something interesting and something interesting and worthwhile. After all, are we going to be attracted to a lump of coal? We want someone who is going to add something to our lives, hopefully some zest!

A quiz developed by Dr. Gary Lewandowski, associate psychology professor at Monmouth University in New Jersey aims to measure just how "expansive" your relationship is. This is presented online by the NY Times and involves answering 10 questions scoring each from 1 to 7 then adding up your total and comparing it to a comparison chart. Now you'll be able to see how your relationship ranks. How much does your partner contribute to your "self-expansion"?

Ms. Parker-Hope concludes by quoting Dr. Lewandowski,

“People have a fundamental motivation to improve the self and add to who they are as a person. If your partner is helping you become a better person, you become happier and more satisfied in the relationship.”


The Happy Marriage Is the ‘Me’ Marriage
By Tara Parker-Hope - December 31, 2010

The Sustainable Marriage Quiz

blog: Natasha the Newlywed
Ms. Williams, a blogger, writes about reading the article and taking the quiz. She scored a 67!

blog: Postcards from a Peaceful Divorce
Ms. Monet, divorced in 2007 after thirteen years of marriage talks about the quiz and how it relates to her ex in the beginning then in the end and to her parents who continue to be married after 49 years.


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Monday 24 January 2011

Sex In America

The National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior has been published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, Volume 7, Supplement 5, 2010. A full copy of the survey can be printed from the web site.

This survey covers the sexual experiences and condom-use behaviours of 5,865 adolescents and adults ages 14 to 94.

Some of the results reveal that 1 in 4 acts of vaginal intercourse are condom protected in the U.S. (1 in 3 among singles).

The survey summarises the various sexual activities of people. As the introduction states, we are all curious about what others are doing and the survey gives us some information about that.

The survey indicates that there is enormous variability in the sexual repertoires of U.S. adults now, and adult men and women rarely engage in just one sex act when they have sex. While vaginal intercourse is still the most common sexual behavior reported by adults, many sexual events do not involve intercourse and include only partnered masturbation or oral sex.

There are differences between men and women. While vaginal intercourse is more likely to lead to a man's orgasm, women are more likely to experience orgasm through a variety of acts such as oral sex. There is also a difference in perception: 85 percent of the men said their latest sexual partner had an orgasm, while only 64 percent of the women reported having an orgasm in their most recent sexual event.

Adolescent Sex
A unique feature of the study was the inclusion of adolescent men and women.  Dennis Fortenberry, Professor of Pediatrics in the Indiana University School of Medicine, led the adolescent aspects of the study.

“Many surveys of adolescent sexual behavior create an impression that adolescents are becoming sexually active at younger ages, and that most teens are sexually active,” said Dr. Fortenberry. “Our data show that partnered sexual behaviors are important but by no means pervasive aspects of adolescents’ lives. In fact, many contemporary adolescents are being responsible by abstaining or by using condoms when having sex.” 

Additional Findings
  • There is enormous variability in the sexual repertoires of U.S. adults, with more than 40 combinations of sexual activity described at adults’ most recent sexual event.
  • Many older adults continue to have active pleasurable sex lives, reporting a range of different behaviors and partner types, however adults over the age of 40 have the lowest rates of condom use. Although these individuals may not be as concerned about pregnancy, this suggests the need to enhance education efforts for older individuals regarding STI risks and prevention.
  • About 85% of men report that their partner had an orgasm at the most recent sexual event; this compares to the 64% of women who report having had an orgasm at their most recent sexual event. (A difference that is too large to be accounted for by some of the men having had male partners at their most recent event.)
  • Men are more likely to orgasm when sex includes vaginal intercourse; women are more likely to orgasm when they engage in a variety of sex acts and when oral sex or vaginal intercourse is included.
  • While about 7% of adult women and 8% of men identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual, the proportion of individuals in the U.S. who have had same-gender sexual interactions at some point in their lives is higher.
  • At any given point in time, most U.S. adolescents are not engaging in partnered sexual behavior. While 40% of 17 year-old males reported vaginal intercourse in the past year, only 27% reported the same in the past 90 days.
  • Adults using a condom for intercourse were just as likely to rate the sexual extent positively in terms of arousal, pleasure and orgasm than when having intercourse without one.


Wikipedia: National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior
The National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior is a study of human sexual behavior conducted in the United States by the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University in Bloomington. Articles based on the study were first released in a supplement to the October, 2010 issue of Journal of Sexual Medicine.

The National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior
The Journal of Sexual Medicine, Volume 7, Supplement 5, 2010


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Dating: Women react to romantic songs

A recent study has concluded that women are twice as likely to accept a date from a stranger if they have just heard a romantic song. Should all the men be paying attention to the Muzak playing in the coffee shop or the bar before springing the question? Maybe the "right moment" is the moment after what we may consider to be the sappy love song.

The study with the large title of ‘Love is in the air’: Effects of songs with romantic lyrics on compliance with a courtship request was conducted by Nicolas Guéguen, Professor of Social Behaviour at the University of Bretagne-Sud in France. Professor Guéguen indicates that his research interests focus on atmospherics and consumer behaviour and compliance-gaining procedures. I'm not sure what that means but it all sounds important.

Now, how did this study of Mr. Guéguen - Or should I say Monsieur Guéguen? -  come to such a conclusion?

183 female students were recruited for the project making sure "single women" were selected, that is, they did not currently have a significant other. The researchers then did interviews to determine what the women considered to be romantic songs as opposed to neutral or non romantic songs.

Supplemental to this part of the selection process, the researchers also showed photographs of 12 young men to 18 different women who were not part of the program and asked them to evaluate the physical attractiveness of the men.

Each participant was told that the purpose of the study was market research on cookies. They were lead into a room where they had to wait by themselves for a few minutes before an interview. During this time, either a romantic song or a neutral song was played. The female subject was then taken to an interview room and introduced to one of the pre-selected male subjects. The female interviewer then questioned them on the cookies but at some point, excused herself to leave the two of them alone. The male subject had been instructed to smile and say, "My name is Antoine, as you know; I think you are very nice and I was wondering if you would give me your phone number. I’ll phone you later and we can have a drink together somewhere next week." If the female accepted the offer, the male was to write down her telephone number but if she did not accept the offer, he was to remain pleasant. The interviewer would come back and the session would end.

The results showed a correlation with the type of song played. If a romantic song had been played, 52.2 percent of the women accepted the offer of a drink from the man while only 27.9 percent accepted if the song played had been "neutral".

In the introduction to the study, the authors point out:

Previous research has shown that exposure to various media is correlated to variations in human behaviour. Exposure to aggressive song lyrics increases aggressive action whereas exposure to songs with prosocial lyrics is associated with prosocial behaviour.

The authors go on to explain:

It is well established that exposure to violent media increases aggressive behaviour, thoughts and feelings and decreases the probability of expressing prosocial behaviour (see Bushman & Huesmann, 2006 for a review). The same effects were found with violent video games (Anderson, Gentile & Buckley, 2007), and experimental studies found that listening to aggressive song lyrics, compared with neutral ones, increased aggressive behaviour, thoughts and feelings (Fischer & Greitemeyer, 2006).

In this study, they have proven that other types of music can also have an effect on people.

Listening to romantic song lyrics, relative to neutral ones, increased the probability of accepting a request for a date some minutes later. This effect confirms the behavioural effect of exposure to media content.
They point out:

Why did this effect occur in this experiment? Previous research found that music had the ability to induce positive affect (Lenton & Martin, 1991) and that positive affect is related with receptivity in a courtship request (Guéguen, 2008). Thus, in our experiment, it is possible that the romantic song lyrics activated positive affect which, in turn, made the participant more receptive to a request for a date. It’s also possible that the romantic song lyrics acted as a prime that, in turn, led to the display of behaviour associated with this prime (Bargh, Chen & Burrows, 1996). In a recent experiment, Lamy, Fischer-Lokou and Guéguen (2009) found that men who were interviewed and asked to recall a romantic episode interacted more favourably with a female confederate some seconds later.

Final Word
We seem to be influenced by our surroundings and that influence may be so subtle, we are unaware of it. I note in this paper:

In a recent experiment conducted by Jacob, Guéguen, Boulbry and Selmi (2009) it was found that male customers, but not female, exposed to romantic songs played in a flower shop spent more money than when no music was played or when non-romantic pop music was played.

It isn't just women, it is also men. We all seem to be affected by music; maybe not always under the same circumstances - Don't forget that men are from Mars. Ha! - but we are affected. As I said in the opening, as a man who may be waiting for the right moment to ask a woman for a date, should I be thinking of not just the setting, but what song just played in the background? Of course, in a busy coffee shop or in a crowded bar, who is actually paying attention to the music playing in the background? Heck, the study talks about the lyrics of a song and I know from experience that in noisy places I can barely make out what the song is never mind understand the lyrics.

So, as I'm sitting there trying to screw up the courage to ask the woman for a date, I may just bend an ear to the song playing as that may up my chances of getting a positive response and seeing me walk away with a telephone number.


‘Love is in the air’: Effects of songs with romantic lyrics on compliance with a courtship request
Nicolas Guéguen, Université de Bretagne-Sud, France
Céline Jacob, Université de Bretagne-Sud, France
Lubomir Lamy, Université de Paris-Sud, France

Nicolas Guéguen
Professor of Social Behaviour at the University of Bretagne-Sud in France


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