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Monday, July 17, 2017

Not Puzzling at All: Crossword Puzzlers Have Better Brain Function

      The more regularly people report doing word puzzles such as crosswords, the better their brain function in later life, a large-scale and robust online trial, published today, has found.

      Researchers at the University of Exeter Medical School and Kings College, London, analyzed data from more than 17,000 healthy people aged 50 and over, submitted in an online trial. In research presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference (AAIC) 2017, the team asked participants how frequently they played word puzzles such as crosswords.

     "The study, one of the largest of its kind, used tests from the CogTrackTM and PROTECT online cognitive test systems to assess core aspects of brain function. They found that the more regularly participants engaged with word puzzles, the better they performed on tasks assessing attention, reasoning and memory."

       "From their results, researchers calculate that people who engage in word puzzles have brain function equivalent to ten years younger than their age, on tests of grammatical reasoning speed and short term memory accuracy."

      Keith Wesnes, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Exeter Medical School, said: "We found direct relationships between the frequency of word puzzle use and the speed and accuracy of performance on nine cognitive tasks assessing a range of aspects of function including attention, reasoning and memory. Performance was consistently better in those who reported engaging in puzzles, and generally improved incrementally with the frequency of puzzle use. For example, on test measures of grammatical reasoning speed and short-term memory accuracy, performing word puzzles was associated with an age-related reduction of around 10 years. We now need to follow up this very exciting association in a clinical trial, to establish whether engaging in puzzles results in improvement in brain function."

      "The study used participants in the PROTECT online platform, run by the University of Exeter and Kings College London. Currently, more than 22,000 healthy people aged between 50 and 96 are registered in the study, which is planning further expansion. The online platform enables researchers to conduct and manage large-scale studies without the need for laboratory visits. PROTECT is a 10 year study with participants being followed up annually to enable a better understanding of cognitive trajectories in this age range. 

     Clive Ballard, Professor of Age-Related Diseases at the University of Exeter Medical School, said: "We know that many of the factors involved in dementia are preventable. It is essential that we find out what lifestyle factors really make a difference to helping people maintain healthy brains to stop the soaring rise of the disease. We can't yet say that crosswords give you a sharper brain -- the next step is to assess whether encouraging people to start playing word games regularly could actually improve their brain function."

     "This new research does reveal a link between word puzzles, like crosswords, and memory and thinking skills, but we can't say definitively that regular 'puzzling' improves these skills. To be able to say for sure, the crucial next step is to test if there are benefits in people who take up word puzzles."

       Looks like Will Shortz took up a good profession. No puzzle there.

What do you think, cruciverbalists all? 

{I see a few holes in the study, but every good crossword puzzle needs a few holes/black squares, eh?}

Thursday, July 6, 2017

A Concrete Idea: Roman Sea Walls--Ash Me No Questions

      Ancient Roman concrete is still standing strong after thousands of years and, not only does it resist damage, but the salt water actually makes it stronger. X-ray examinations may have found the key to the concrete's amazing longevity, which could help improve modern concrete recipes. Dissolving phillipsite in pumice, as seen in this Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) image, is believed to be part of the secret:

      Note that modern sea walls last only a few years in salt water where these Roman sea walls have lasted thousands of years.

      Although the complete recipe has been lost over the years, studies of samples have shown that volcanic ash, lime, and seawater are the main ingredients. "But, according to an article published in American Mineralogist the real magic seems to happen when those ingredients interact with the environment – specifically the saltwater incessantly pounding on the surface."

     Al-tobermorite is part of the cementing matrix, key to its strength. Modern "Portland cement" relies more heavily on heating the elements, exacting an environmental toll.

Huzzah for the ancient Romans. . .and for seawater! Has this idea been cemented in your brain?

Pink Martini and Rufus Wainwright at Red Rocks, July 6, 2017:

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

6/28: So Much More Than Tau Day, It's a Perfect Day

      June 28th as Tau Day (pi x 2) is only part of the story of today's date. The digits in 6/28 (or 28/6, if you will, mate) are made up of two perfect numbers. A perfect number is a number that is the sum of its factors besides itself, and 6 (1+2+3) and 28 (1+2+4+7+14) are the first two perfect numbers. 

      Today is also my twin brothers' birthday. This morning, I also found out that my mom picked today, the perfect day, for inducing their birth! (It is also her best friend's birthday.)

     The next two perfect numbers are 496 and 8,128.


      The relationship between Mersenne prime numbers and perfect numbers is seen below:

      A Mersenne prime is a prime number that is one less than a power of two. That is, it is a prime number that can be written in the form Mersenne number = 2n − 1 for some integer n. They are named after Marin Mersenne, a Frenchman who studied them in the early 17th century. The first four Mersenne primes are 3, 7, 31, and 127 (although some of Mersenne's primes were proven later to be incorrect).

      As of May 2017, the largest known prime number is 274,207,281 − 1, a number with 22,338,618 digits. It was found in 2016 by the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search (GIMPS-ha!). 

        Primes, GIMPS, perfection, oh my!

       Happy Birthday and have a luminescent trip around the sun, bros. Hope you had a parfait day!

Hope you've all had a perfect day, or at least a few perfect moments,

     5000 new neighbors moved into our backyard yesterday!


Monday, June 19, 2017

Celebrate Cephalopod Week: Squid, Octopuses, Cuttlefish, and Nautiluses

       It's the second annual Cephalopod Week.  How can you not love a creature whose name means head-foot? Cue the "open mouth/insert foot jokes."

        How will you celebrate?!

      Cuddle a cuddlefish with its 'W'-shaped eyes?

      Ogle an octopus, like this one from the Maldives? 

      Swim with a squid, like this technicolored fellow?

       Net with a nautilus?

      Come on out of your shell and join the Cephalopod Party. Cephalo off to Buffalo?

Do you have a favorite cephalopod. . .and why? {I like them all; off to celebrate!}

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Let's Make This Post go Chiral: From Amino Acids to Zwitterions

      A recent RadioLab story inspired this week's post on chirality; we certainly hope this Partial Ellipsis of the Sun post goes chiral

      Chirality is the property of having a structure that is non-superimposable on its mirror image. The term chirality is derived from the Greek word for hand, χειρ (kheir).

      The mirror images of a chiral molecule/ion are called enantiomers or optical isomers.

     Most DNA (B-DNA) double-helix molecules are right-handed, though there are some DNA molecules called Z-DNA that are left-handed. Thus, the labels on the following diagram are correct for most DNA.

     The chirality of molecules has much importance in biomolecules and in pharmaceuticals where left-handed molecules are more often the norm; the toxic version in right-handed molecules (like thalidomide) are the abnormal and destructive ones. Ironic that the handedness of molecules caused so much hand/arm (and foot/leg) deformities in thalidomide babies.

      On earth, amino acids characteristic of life are all left-handed in shape (Levo), and cannot be exchanged for their right-handed (Dextro) counterparts.  However, all sugars characteristic of life on Earth are right-handed, hence, dextrose. The opposite hands for both amino acids and sugars exist in the universe, but they just aren’t utilized by any known biological life form.

      A zwitterion is a neutral molecule with both positive and negative electrical charges. The image on the right (above) is a zwitterion.

     Thus, amino acids in earth's life forms go left, sugars go right, DNA double helixes go right. What's the Chirality Winner? ;-)

Please hand in your Chiral thoughts. . .

(And here's Telluride, CO, this weekend to clear your head and hands from all those chiral molecules):

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Track Lighting: Dinosaur "Dance Floor" in Bolivia -- Over 5,500 Footprints

       These late Cretaceous dinosaur footprint fossils on a near-vertical outcrop in Bolivia represent at least 294 different dinosaurs (and, at least 8 species) with over 5,500 footprints.

       The paleontological site, known as Cal Orck'o, is located a few kilometers south of Bolivia's Sucre city center.

       Although, I imagine there was more chasing than dancing on this "Dinosaur Dance Floor," it is an exquisite find, uncovered in 1994, in a cement quarry. Both carnivores and herbivores are represented. This longest set of tracks is over 350 footprints! Parco Cretacio is now open to the public; 68 million years in the making!

     The tracks were likely created by a juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex, nicknamed Johnny Walker ;-).

     And these footprints were likely made by an Iguanodon.

      The extent of dinosaur footprints on over 25,000 square meters is being studied by Christian Myer and Martin Lockley (of Colorado Morrison Dinosaur Ridge footprint fame). The largest prints are 3 feet long.

     Tectonic uplift moved these fossil footprints to a 70 degree plus angle. Pretty wild dance party ;-).

Have you been to see the Bolivian dinosaur footprints? Have you seen dino tracks in the Connecticut River Valley or elsewhere?


{The Colorado Dinosaur Ridge footprints are quite spectacular, but are not nearly as extensive as the Bolivian tracks.}

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Angling Mathematics: Fishing For Complementary Angles

      Our late-spring trip along the North Platte River from Waterton Canyon to Deckers, Colorado, and on to Wellington Lake, was filled with angles and anglers. According to the link cited above, 

  "There are physical properties associated with the bending (refraction of light) which have significant effects on what a trout could possibly see.  The trout’s world consists of a window, the diameter of which is determined by a thing called the Snell’s equation."

    "In simple terms the window is 2.26 times as wide as the trout is deep. So it can clearly see things on the surface over a wider area the deeper the fish is. At one meter the fish can clearly see things on the film in a 2.26 meter wide circle above its head."

      "Many angling writers have made much of this, because a relatively small increase in depth radically changes the size of the window. At 0.5 meters the window has a diameter of 1.13 meters, but at a depth of a meter that window grows enormously to 2.26 meters across. If you take the area of the window the results are all the more dramatic. At 0.5 meters depth the area of the window is 1 square meter, at one meter in depth that window jumps to 4 square meters. Double the depth and you effectively quadruple the size of the window."

      Ah, look at this sky window near Wellington Lake.

       The term angler derives from one who uses an "angle, or, originally "angel," i.e., fishhook for fishing with a line.

     A bit of both angles and angels might be involved in angling mathematics.

       Much better angling earlier in the week than on May 18 during the intense Colorado snowstorm. . .

      Big flakes abound in Colorado this month ;-).

      Are you an angler?

Fishing for complementary angles,