Tag Archives: uc san diego

Do Spoilers Actually Ruin Stories?

Dodging spoilers on the internet is no easy task, especially if your ex is using them as a form of revenge. Many of us live in fear of reading a spoiler about our favorite TV show or an upcoming blockbuster.

But should we be working so hard to avoid spoilers? Do they actually ruin stories?

We’ve long assumed that the suspense makes a story interesting and the reason we keep on watching (or reading) is because we don’t know what happens next. Removing the element of surprise intuitively seems like it would make fiction less enjoyable.

Yet people rewatch their favorite movies all the time and read classic stories like “Romeo and Juliet,” even though they know what’s going to happen.

UC San Diego psychology professor Nicholas Christenfeld wanted to put spoilers to the test in the most straightforward way possible: by spoiling stories for people.

According to his research, spoilers should really be called “enhancers”: people consistently enjoyed spoiled stories more than unspoiled stories in experiments.

But this doesn’t mean that plot doesn’t matter.

“The plot is in some ways like a coat hanger, displaying a garment,” said Christenfeld. “If it’s just a crumpled heap of fabric on the floor, you couldn’t admire the garment.”

Knowing the ending can be useful because it allows you to focus on other aspects of the narrative (characters, themes, style, symbolism) and to more easily understand how the story is unfolding.

Can Lasers Make The Internet Faster?

Faster, faster, more and more data. Our demands for Internet speed are outpacing the technology. UC San Diego alum Janelle Shane has an answer: lasers.

As we try to fit more and more data on wires, we are running up against the limit of what electricity can do. Wires heat up, and interfere with each other. Fiber-optic cables, using light instead of electricity, have solved many of these problems for long-distance transfer – but inside your computer or your cell phone, the problems persist.

Janelle Shane, alum to the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego, shows how lasers could provide the next breakthrough for data transfer. But first, how can we shrink a laser to work on the scale of a microchip?

Read more about Janelle Shane’s work with whispering gallery lasers: Lasers could make the Internet faster – and cleaner.

How Dust Is Holding Science Back

To most of us dust is just something we clean off our furniture, but to scientists dust can cause big problems in the lab. Computer chips are put together and tested in what are called clean rooms. These environments use filters to limit the amount of particles of dust in the air. UC San Diego’s Janelle Shane explains how just one of these particles can ruin microscopic components.

The research highlighted in this video has been supported in part by the National Science Foundation.

Learn more at: http://lewisandquark.tumblr.com

FEATURING: Janelle Shane, alum to the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego

A video game that teaches you how to code

“I think everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think,” Steve Jobs said in a lost interview from 1995.

But for a beginner, learning to code from scratch can be intimidating.

Enter CodeSpells. UC San Diego computer scientists developed this video game to teach people how to code. The story line is simple: you’re a wizard that uses spells (i.e. code) to navigate through the world, fight off foes, and solve problems.

While experienced coders can delve deep into the programming to create some truly devastating spells, newbies can easily experiment with the simple drag-and-drop coding interface.

CodeSpells was influenced by research conducted on how successful programmers learn their trade. They surveyed 30 computer scientists and identified five characteristics that are key to learn programming outside a classroom setting: activities must be structured by the person who is trying to learn; learning must be creative and exploratory; programming is empowering; learners have difficulty stopping once they start; and learners spend countless hours on the activity.

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How Do Our Bodies Fight Off Dangerous Chemicals?

We’re all subjects in a massive experiment. Humans have created about 80,000 synthetic industrial compounds — including plastics, the flame retardants that cover our sofas, and pesticides. These compounds have structures that are not commonly seen in nature and present a risk to our health. Everybody on the planet is exposed.

It’s important to understand what these substances are doing to our bodies so that scientists can create a rule book for making these chemicals safer.

The challenge to understanding how dangerous compounds get into our body is complex. The way we have been doing this in the past is to test if a synthetic compound dissolves in fat. If it does then theres a high likelihood that it can easily enter our body’s cells where it can cause harm.

The problem with this method is that it doesn’t always accurately predict how much a compound accumulates in organisms. A historic example of this is DDT which was used on crops to get rid of pests, but ultimately found its way through the food chain. It’s now considered a risk factor for breast cancer in humans.

At UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Amro Hamdoun is looking at the biological properties of how these compounds interact with cells. The focus is on how the cell decides which compounds to let in and which ones to eliminate.

 

Microscopic Nanolasers

From an electrical engineering researcher at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego:

“It resembles a mushroom cloud, but in fact, it’s one of our microscopic nanolasers, imaged under an electron microscope.  These lasers are among the smallest in the world, so small you could fit a billion of them on an iPhone home button, small enough to one day fit easily on a computer chip to help computers send data using light.

Here, you see the laser partway through our fabrication process, a process that can take a week or more.  In the previous step, the laser was coated with a puffy layer of glassy material, used to keep the laser light from leaking away and to keep the laser’s two electrical contacts separated. At the center beneath this smooth white layer lies the actual laser core.  When my labmate Qing gets to this step, it comes with a sense of relief, since the glassy layer helps strengthen the laser, keeping it from snapping in half.  When this laser’s eventually finished, it will be encapsulated in a thin shell of metal, and emit light through its base.”

The hope is that this technology will one day produce much faster computer chips.

Exploring Urban Trends through Selfies

Vintage Selfie

The term ‘selfie’ took on a life of its own in 2013, especially after the Oxford English Dictionary selected it as the ‘international word of the year’. The Internet and mobile phones were awash in self-portraits as consumers purchased more smartphones with front-facing cameras – turning the selfie into a truly worldwide phenomenon.

Now, the Software Studies Initiative –– led by UCSD Comp Sci professor Lev Manovich –– has been working on a project called selfiecity, which investigates selfies using a mix of quantitative, theoretic and artistic methods.  Looking at five cities around the world, they randomly select 20,000-30,000 photos per city, per day.

Here are some of their findings:

  • People take less selfies than often assumed –– depending on the city, only 3-5% of images analyzed were actually selfies.
  • Moscow is at the bottom of the selfie smile index. (Bangkok is at the top.)
  • In every city analyzed, there are significantly more women selfies than men selfies.
  • Men over 30 share more selfies than women over 30. “Women may take them, but they don’t post them.”
  • And it’s a young person’s game. The median selfie age is 23.7 years.

What will they look at next? Perhaps Manovich will compare selfies taken in cities with those taken in suburbs or rural areas … or selfies that have professional polish with those of a more casual nature.

[The image above is from the Museum of the City of New York.]