The Fly with Tattooed Wings: A scientific examination of mimicry and evolution

In this lesson, students will learn about a new scientific discovery that shows an example of Mimicry in nature. Twitter has been buzzing (pun intended) with a picture taken of a Goniurellia tridens, a fruit fly with wings displaying the mimicked image of two ants. Students will explore this discovery and assess whether this is another step in evolution or just an optical illusion.

Mimicry is defined as:
A superficial resemblance of one organism to another or to natural objects among which it lives that secures it as protection from predation.

The term mimicry is commonly applied to the resemblance of one insect (called the mimic) to another (called the model) so that a third predatory animal is confused or scared away.

ps4_virtual_reality-1366x768 thumbnail

The Future is Here Pt. 1 of 3: Virtual Reality, The Beginning or the End of Society as We Know It?

 

matrix_slide_01-36ss-virtual-reality-100413967-orig_thumb800

“Whoa!” That was the famous word Keanu Reeves said when he discovered the alternate reality of The Matrix back in 1999. Of course, as we learned in the movie, Keanu was stuck in a false reality. His senses were tricked into believing he was on Earth, when in reality an alien planet was living off his body and sending false signals to his brain through some creepy cord connected to his head. It was an apocalyptic, futuristic take on virtual reality, a concept that has been featured in many science fiction films.

The origins of virtual reality date back to 1968 when Ivan Sutherland created a wearable headset  to simulate being in a wireframe polygon room at the University of Utah. Starting in 1966, Thomas Furness spent over two decades at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base developing the virtual reality environments for pilots to train in. In the 1990s, movies like Lawnmower Man and Disclosure, made Virtual Reality look like it was about to enter the mainstream. By the mid-1990s gaming companies Sega, Atari and Nintendo had all invested heavily in Virtual Reality focused games, but the Virtual Reality hype quickly fizzled when all of their prototypes failed. Nintendo managed to get two of its products in the marketplace, the Power Glove and Virtual Boy, but they had awful sales and caused a virtual reality bust.

NES-Power-Glove
Virtual-Boy-wController

The possibilities of virtual reality have only reemerged recently with Oculus Rift, a VR headset company that Facebook bought for $2 billion in 2014. LucasFilms is currently marketing Star Wars: The Force Awakens with a Google Cardboard virtual reality experience called Jakku Spy and even the New York Times is embracing it. But what is it? How does it ‘trick’ our brains? How can it be used for social good? In this lesson make your own VR headset and get in on the ground floor in figuring out how VR can change the world.

lipreadingte thumbnail

The Science of Why We Love Bad Lip Reading Videos

Bad Lip Reading 
Bad Lip Reading is a hilarious YouTube channel that produces videos with false dialogue dubbed over popular movies, television, sports, and news segments.  They make us crack up because the dialogue they use has the most random, ridiculous plot lines, but when you look at the characters, their mouths move pretty much close enough so that you could believe it’s what they’re actually saying. The experience of seeing and hearing these videos, and believing them, compared to what we know about the source material, makes us chortle heartily.

Verbal Communication
Thinkprogress recently published an article about this topic, and we are also excited about the science behind why we love these videos. Our brains translate the sounds and visuals we take in, via our senses, into what we call verbal communication. Language recognition is different, depending on what language you speak or are fluent in. Our brains often make up for a lack of perfect pronunciation, or something misheard, by filling in the gaps, and using logic to conclude what the intended message was. Verbal communication is something called multimodal, using two or more senses to interpret information.

McGurk Effect
A really good way to see this process in action is by seeing the McGurk Effect.  You can see it in the video below by AsapSCIENCE. In it, the man repeats “bar, bar, bar.” When paired with an image of a man clearly mouthing a “bar” sound, that’s what you hear. But when an image of the man clearly mouthing a “far” sound is shown instead, what you hear changes to “far, far, far.” The key is, the sound never changes.  If you close your eyes, it goes back to “bar.” So, your brain concludes what the sound must be, based on what your eyes are perceiving through lip reading. But, it’s also tricking you, because the sound never changes even though the visual does.

Creating Logic by Believing What We See and Hear
Our brains indeed learn better when combining visual and auditory information, and it’s used to this sensory experience every day of our lives.  So, when we see something that doesn’t quite make sense, our natural processes fill in the gaps in the attempt to create logical meaning. With the Bad Lip Reading videos, what’s happening is your brain wants the visual and the auditory signals to match up, because that’s what we would normally predict, and it wants to use all the information available.  But the visuals aren’t crisp enough to completely disagree with the audio. The images don’t quite match what we’re hearing, but our brains just go with it. The creators of these videos aren’t using random words either. They are matching words that are close to the way the subjects’ mouths are moving to make the original words.

Origins of the Bad Lip Reader
In an interview with the Washington Post in 2011, the anonymous figure behind Bad Lip Reading said that he started by trying to lip-read a video of a talk radio host mouthing words to himself. “My brain kept coming up with completely random, strange interpretations. They were mainly random word combinations like “Bacon Hobbit” and “Moose potion, poke me” — things like that. So I grabbed my microphone and recorded these phrases into the computer, and when I played that back in sync with the video, it really looked like the guy was saying it,” he said. One of the reasons lip reading is so hard to do, for anyone attempting it, like the hard of hearing,  is that so much of sound production occurs inside our mouths. One lip movement may correspond to a number of sounds, posing a serious challenge. The Bad Lip Reading creator  is actually a decently good lip reader, he’s finding really well-matching words, just the wrong ones.

Priming and Activating in Communication
Yet, even despite the inherent ridiculousness of the sentences, the video has a sort of logic. This is because of the way we pick which words we’re going to use next.  Priming is what we do when engaged in conversation, preparing to hear a set of words that match with the content of the discussion. If the topic at the moment is hair, we’re likely to keep talking about hair, so we “activate” words related to hair and make them easier to produce. So, the creators of these videos are not only manipulating the way our brains process language, but also the way we communicate, and our natural tendencies to predict, assume, prime, and interpret. Bingo! I mean, Peephole! Ugh, what I’m saying is, Bravo!

What Can We Do About Gun Control Laws in the US?

In this lesson, students will brainstorm about what they can do to encourage the US government to enact stricter gun-control laws, and they will take action by engaging with the means of communication closest to them, and by getting in touch with their peers and political representatives. With what seems to be an increase in the frequency of mass shootings in the US, students have plenty of thoughts and reactions.

The Science of Google Glass: An introduction to prisms and augmented reality

The unveiling of the Google Glass still seems more sci-fi than reality to many. Like any new technological advancement, we should understand the science behind these futuristic specs and their pending impact on our society.

Google Glass is simply a wearable CPU that includes a camera, mic, speakers and a visual lens called a prism. This prism makes use of the electromagnetic spectrum, focusing on visible light. All light travels as waves, and that wavelength defines the various regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. The prism uses a mini projector to transmit light or visuals to your eye’s retina, fovea and optic nerve. This visual layer is projected onto your eye, allowing you to see a digital image layered on top of your actual eye sight.

Some users have complained of eye soreness and a tendency to get headaches coming from their right temple. These symptoms are believed to be related to motion sickness. While there is no evidence of health hazards associated with the use of the Google Glass, some lawmakers are trying to outlaw the use of the glasses while driving, claiming that the additional images being sent to your brain will cause a distraction and can lead to disastrous results.

Naturally, this leads us to more questions than answers. Society will change drastically the more popular and widely used Glass will become. Soon we will need to ask ourselves where do we draw the line between socially acceptable and unacceptable behavior with new technology? What will be the new rules? And more importantly, what will be next?

microsoft hololens thumbnail

The Future is Here Pt. 2 of 3: Augmented Reality, Gimmick or Game Changer?

Released in 1999, a scene in David Fincher’s movie Fight Club features the narrator walking through his apartment visualizing products from the IKEA catalog popping up along his walls. The items pop up paired with information about them from the catalog – adding depth to the viewable reality. Today, IKEA has made that brief minute of fiction an actual reality. You can now use an IKEA catalog and your smartphone to visualize how their products would actually fit in your home or office.

IKEA cataloge with a smartphone showing a AR chair.

This new technology is referred to as Augmented Reality or simply AR. It has existed in movies like Robocop, Terminator, Minority Report and Iron Man, for years, but it has only recently found its way into our modern life, with smart devices.

The advance in mobile-device technology has given the world a new digital window to look at our surroundings. Augmented Reality is used in a lot of new advertising, as well as, with translating, construction tools, medical training, military training… the list is endless. Some Augmented Reality uses QR codes, others printed text and still others use real objects like the buildings of a city as a trigger, or marker, for AR objects.

WordLensDemo5Feb2012.jpg

Augmented Reality augments our viewable realities by adding information, images and depth. Microsoft has developed, what they’re calling, the first untethered augmented reality or holographic computer. They’re looking for innovative people to try out their new technology and come up with new ways to communicate, invent, explore and solve the world’s problems.

hololens 3d

AR is a rapidly expanding technology.  Where is your place in it? Do you currently use it? Is AR surrounding you more than you realize? Do you want to try your hand at creating some of your own AR objects? Explore the limits of AR in this lesson and see what all of the buzz is about!

ps4_virtual_reality-1366x768 thumbnail

The Future is Here Pt. 1 of 3: Virtual Reality, The Beginning or the End of Society as We Know It?

 

matrix_slide_01-36ss-virtual-reality-100413967-orig_thumb800

“Whoa!” That was the famous word Keanu Reeves said when he discovered the alternate reality of The Matrix back in 1999. Of course, as we learned in the movie, Keanu was stuck in a false reality. His senses were tricked into believing he was on Earth, when in reality an alien planet was living off his body and sending false signals to his brain through some creepy cord connected to his head. It was an apocalyptic, futuristic take on virtual reality, a concept that has been featured in many science fiction films.

The origins of virtual reality date back to 1968 when Ivan Sutherland created a wearable headset  to simulate being in a wireframe polygon room at the University of Utah. Starting in 1966, Thomas Furness spent over two decades at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base developing the virtual reality environments for pilots to train in. In the 1990s, movies like Lawnmower Man and Disclosure, made Virtual Reality look like it was about to enter the mainstream. By the mid-1990s gaming companies Sega, Atari and Nintendo had all invested heavily in Virtual Reality focused games, but the Virtual Reality hype quickly fizzled when all of their prototypes failed. Nintendo managed to get two of its products in the marketplace, the Power Glove and Virtual Boy, but they had awful sales and caused a virtual reality bust.

NES-Power-Glove
Virtual-Boy-wController

The possibilities of virtual reality have only reemerged recently with Oculus Rift, a VR headset company that Facebook bought for $2 billion in 2014. LucasFilms is currently marketing Star Wars: The Force Awakens with a Google Cardboard virtual reality experience called Jakku Spy and even the New York Times is embracing it. But what is it? How does it ‘trick’ our brains? How can it be used for social good? In this lesson make your own VR headset and get in on the ground floor in figuring out how VR can change the world.

Watermark Mania! Hashtags and Social Media Marketing Campaigns

In this lesson, students learn about the different social media marketing strategies that television networks implement and discuss what their benefits might be. At the end of the lesson, students produce their own social media marketing campaigns for a specific television show in efforts to boost the network’s ratings.

Social networks have their throne on the Internet, but over the last couple of months, they have made their way to television screens everywhere. On popular shows such as Glee, The Voice, X Factor, and 106 & Park, the network staff includes a hashtag watermark (#AmericanIdol, #Glee, #TheVoice, #XFactor, etc.) on the lower sides of the screen to promote discussion about the shows on Twitter and other social networks. Also, the news and talk shows let viewers know that they have Facebook and Twitter pages that they can access.

The Science of Google Glass: An introduction to prisms and augmented reality

The unveiling of the Google Glass still seems more sci-fi than reality to many. Like any new technological advancement, we should understand the science behind these futuristic specs and their pending impact on our society.

Google Glass is simply a wearable CPU that includes a camera, mic, speakers and a visual lens called a prism. This prism makes use of the electromagnetic spectrum, focusing on visible light. All light travels as waves, and that wavelength defines the various regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. The prism uses a mini projector to transmit light or visuals to your eye’s retina, fovea and optic nerve. This visual layer is projected onto your eye, allowing you to see a digital image layered on top of your actual eye sight.

Some users have complained of eye soreness and a tendency to get headaches coming from their right temple. These symptoms are believed to be related to motion sickness. While there is no evidence of health hazards associated with the use of the Google Glass, some lawmakers are trying to outlaw the use of the glasses while driving, claiming that the additional images being sent to your brain will cause a distraction and can lead to disastrous results.

Naturally, this leads us to more questions than answers. Society will change drastically the more popular and widely used Glass will become. Soon we will need to ask ourselves where do we draw the line between socially acceptable and unacceptable behavior with new technology? What will be the new rules? And more importantly, what will be next?