There are a lot of benefits to being the youngest child, you have more people to pander to your wishes, you tend to get away with a lot more than your older siblings did, and you can usually find someone willing to play with you. The downside… hand-me-downs! From clothes, to toys, to tech… you usually get something with a certain level of pre-loved to it. This doesn’t tend to bother my youngest much, but every so often it is lovely for him to get something new all for himself. Last month, to the envy of his older siblings, he got just that: brand new CozyPhones arrived in the post – just for him.
What are CozyPhones
CozyPhones are headband headphones. They come in a variety of different types; the ones we are reviewing here are the children’s ones. The earphones sit outside the ears, fitted inside the soft, fleece headband. These removable earphones can be adjusted within the headband, so that they sit just over the child’s ears.
The earphones should suit any device with a 3.5mm jack.
What he thinks
He loves them! He finds them very comfortable and cozy and finally has found a set of earphones that he can use for longer periods of time. He used to complain that other types just weren’t comfortable.
There is definitely a monster theme going one here
He even loved that he was able to pick which ones he wanted first, and there are plenty to choose from. There are frogs and unicorns and pandas and cats, to name but a few. He chose the monster, no surprise there!
What I think
I love that the headband is soft, comfortable and washable (as the earphones can easily be removed). They are also very, very robust (believe me they have been put through their paces). The wire is covered with chord rather than the usual plastic, which is a much more forgiving material when it comes to pulling, knotting and general rough-handling.
They have already prevented some big arguments in our house, when one child wants to listen to music and another wants to play on a device, but both want to be in the same room.
We have not had any long car journeys yet but I think this is where they will really come into their own; these CozyPhones are perfect for travelling, easy to store, don’t get in the way of the car seat and are soft enough that a child can sleep in them without any worries.
What I like MOST about the CozyPhones is the safety aspect. Up until now, my children have been using adult earplugs or headphones when they need to plug in and I worry about noise levels and safety. Firstly the CozyPhones earphones do not actually sit into the child’s ear and, more importantly, they have a volume limit set at 85 decibels. This gives me great peace of mind, I no longer need to keep checking and pestering my children to turn down the volume on their earphones.
The only downside I found was not with the product itself, but how to get it! Neither the home site nor those available on Amazon.co.uk currently ship to Ireland, meaning that alternative arrangements need to be made (such as using one of the many alternative parcel delivery services).
Disclosure: We were sent one CozyPhones headband headphones for review purposes. I have not received any payment for this review; all opinions expressed here are my own (and my son’s).
Earlier this week I wrote about laughter in my Appliance of Science column in the Irish Examiner. I really enjoyed researching this fascinating topic; there are so many different avenues of study to explore but one that really caught my attention in the investigation into laughter and humour in Artificial Intelligence (AI). Some refer to it as the final frontier. I couldn’t squeeze everything into the column so I thought I’d share it here instead.
What is the difference between laughter and humour?
The research is still scant on laughter and humour and the differences between them. It is hard to analyse and quantitate such subtle, human things. What might make us laugh one minute, may not the next.
Laughter is used as a communication aid; from the gentle chuckle to the full on belly laugh, it helps us to convey our response to various social situations. We don’t just laugh at something funny, we can use it to build rapport, show trust and acceptance and to fill in the blanks in conversation.
Humour could be defined as the art of being funny, or the ability to find something funny; it is a two way thing. It is full of subtle nuances and relies on correct social interpretation and interaction – and it is innately human.
There’s no joke in delivering a joke
Comic timing and humour are difficult enough for humans so the challenge is great when attempting to transfer these abilities to robots.
Comic timing is a very subtle thing, and can be very difficult to pull off. Engaging in any form of humour requires a lot of real-time thinking, identifying and reacting to social nuances and a certain degree of empathy in order to understand when to deliver the line and to predict how it will be received.
How will robots detect these very human, and very subtle cues?
That is the next step in AI, programming robots with the ability to get in on the joke, detect puns and sarcasm and throw a quick quip back! There is a whole branch of science dedicated to research and development in this area. Scientists in this field are known as Computational humourists. And they have come a long way; these are just some of the algorithms they have created so far.
Acronyms and Algorithms
The hope is that robots will use computational intelligence to process conversation. Here are just of a few of the algorithms that have been created (you’d have to love them for the acronyms alone)…
SASI – Semi-supervised Algorithm for Sarcasm Identification … this machine algorithm, developed by an Israeli research team, was designed to assist AI with the recognition of sarcasm. They current report a 77% success rate and see no reasons why they cannot improve upon these results.
Scientists are discovering that the detection of sarcasm is a very important and useful tool for humans and would certainly be a great advancement in AI technology.
STAND-UP – System To Augment Non-speaking Dialogue Using Puns; This program was created by a team of researchers in Scotland to assist children that use computerised speech aids to help them with certain communication challenges.
DEviaNT – Double Endendre via Noun Structure … the software that tells dirty jokes. Developed by two computer scientists in Washington University to determine appropriate word triggers or phrases that can be followed with ‘That’s what she said’ lines and apparently working with 70% accuracy.
How far has AI come with laughter and humour?
Things have developed further than you might think. Any sci-fi enthusiasts will be aware how much humour has been added to the robots of the future.
It may have been nothing more than fiction when data got his sense of humour in Star Trek: Generations* (1994) but it was becoming a reality by the time we were watching Interstellar, twenty years later.
On a lighter note, many of these developments are focused on detecting facial muscle movements in humans as triggers for laughter. They are well on their way to detecting different types of human laughter too (which is something that many of us humans still find difficult).
Software has even developed to determine the correct pause time in response to laughter cues, and in detecting hidden laughter.
Robots on the comedy scene
Robots are pitching themselves against stand-up comedians to test their abilities. Although it is early days yet, some, like Robothespian are certainly holding their own.
My favourite is the Nao robot. Nao is only 58 cm in height and I think, firstly, this is one of the elements that I find so appealing; this robot does not try to look like me. Nao has learned to interpret human laughter with a 65% success rate, and, when he laughs in response, he does so with his whole body.
He is also doing well in his comic abilities, scoring very close to a human rival in a recent stand up challenge against a human.
How do humans respond to robots telling jokes?
So it seems humans are well able to laugh at a pun delivered by a machine. In comedy stand up situation it may put the audience at ease as they are not worried about hurting someone’s feeling or letting them down if they don’t laugh. The stress of creating rapport is removed.
It appears that people will also take rude jokes better from a robot than a human.
It’s all in the data
A lot of these developments are achieved because of the amount of data available in the world today. From what coffee we drink, to what TV programmes we watch, everything is recorded. Every time we like a Facebook post or make an on-line purchase we add to this growing mass of information that is used to determine and code how humans work!
This’ll stop you in your tracks
A robot has been doing the TV circuit of late and recently stole the show on Good Morning Britain; I found the clip fascinating and unnerving in equal measures. The Robot in question is called Sophia; it may not help that she reminds me of a movie I watched recently on Netlfix*, called Ex-Machina (I’d recommend watching it, but maybe wait a while after reading this post).
The facial expressions and minute muscle movements in Sophia’s face is amazing; she is programmed with 62 facial expressions.
Take a look…
Is any of this really necessary?
I think it is fair to say that there is much progress still to be made in the advancement of humour and laughter in AI but it is still remarkable how much has already been achieved.
The question is, is this a good thing? Do we need or want our robots to develop such human qualities?
Computational humourist Vinith Misra suggests that these advances could be the way to “make healthy relationships between us and our machines “and may, in the processes even make better connections between us humans.
But is it necessary for machines to be fully integrated into human lives?
Those in the business believe that these advances can reduce human stress and ultimately strengthen human bonds. Maybe we can learn from AI about how to laugh and make others laugh?
Laughter certainly has a lot of benefits to us humans; does it really matter if it is a machine that is makes us laugh?
What do you think?
*Disclosure: As a member of the Netflix Stream Team I have received a years subscription to Netflix, free of charge, and an Apple TV, for streaming purposes.
The simple science twins are back to answer more of your questions; this one is all about hailstones and it comes in from five year old Matthew who can sometimes be found over on Office Mum’s blog. Matthew would like to know…
What are hailstones and how are they made?
What are hailstones?
Hailstones are small lumps of ice that form in the clouds and fall to the ground when their size reaches 5 mm in diameter, or larger.
They begin as water droplets that freeze in the clouds.
How are they made?
Hailstones are made in certain kinds of clouds, called CULUMONIMBUS. These are thunder clouds and if the cloud is large enough and the winds are strong enough, hailstones can be formed.
Firstly, the cloud contains tiny droplets of water. Under the right conditions, these droplets are blow to the top of the cloud by strong winds, called UP-DRAFTS. The temperatures at the top of the cloud are a lot lower than at the bottom so the water droplets freeze rapidly. Then they can be caught by winds, called DOWN-DRAFTS that carry the frozen droplet back down to the lower part of the cloud. It gets lifted again, by another up-draft and combines with another droplet of water, which freezes, forming a larger lump of ice.
Every time it travels up to the top of the cloud it merges with more droplets and gets larger, freezing in layers, until eventually it is too big and heavy to stay in the cloud and it falls to the ground as hail.
Hailstones usually fall once they are larger than 5 mm in diameter.
The size of the hailstones depends on the up-drafts and down-drafts and the general weather conditions. When the up-drafts become stronger the thunder clouds grow taller, allowing the droplets to be carried higher into colder temperatures. This usually leads to larger hailstones.
What is the difference between snow and hailstones?
Hailstones are made up of layers of frozen ice whereas snow is a symmetrical crystal of ice, usually a snowflake.
Hailstones are much heavier than snowflakes and fall at a greater speed.
Snow is usually formed during the colder months of the year, in Winter or Spring whereas hailstones can be made at any time of the year. That is why we sometimes get them in the Summer months.
Thanks so much to Matthew for sending in this great question. If you have a question that you’d like the simple science twins to answer, send it in to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave it in the comments below.
We’re heading to the deep blue sea for this month’s Mystery Creature. Not the prettiest looking animal, and it certainly has some very unusual features; it’s a bit of a living fossil, do you know what it is?
Image credit:By Peter Southwood (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
As usual, feel free to ask questions, look for clues or leave comments below. Remember to check back at the end of the month for the big reveal.
Here are five more facts about these amazing birds
1. These beautiful birds are found in mountainous rainforests of Central America. Their habitat stretches from Southern Mexico to Western Panama. They are particularly partial to cloud forests, hanging out near the top of the tall forest canopies, blending in with all the natural colour around them.
2. Resplendent Quetzal are not strong flyers. They prefer to take short flights or hop among the branches. They have an interesting toe configurations, with two toes facing forwards, two facing backwards. This facilitates good gripping in the branches in the forest canopies they prefer. They are not so good for walking though, which is why they are very rarely spotted down on the ground.
3. Resplendent Quetzal were much revered by ancient civilisations such as the Aztecs and the Mayans; They were considered sacred birds, not surprisingly, as they really do have a beautiful plumage of iridescent green/blue feathers with a red breasted front. Males tend to be a little more colourful than females. The males grow two very long tail feathers on reaching sexual maturity. These feathers can grow up to a metre in length and often featured in royal costume among the Aztecs and the Mayan people.
4. It is the national bird of Guatemala, visible on their flag and coat of arms. In fact their currency is called Quetzal too.
Image source: wiki commons
5. Male Resplendent Quetzal are not thought to reach sexual maturity for many years. This is when they grow those two impressive tail features, hoping to show themselves off and attract a mate. Males will also perform fairly lavish displays and dances, which an interested female may mimic. Mating pairs dig a nest out of rotten tree stumps or branches and both parents are involved in incubating the brood of two to three pale blue eggs that the female lays. The chicks are often ready to fly within three weeks of hatching but it can take a few months before they fully fly the nest. The mother will then be finished with her duty of care but it has been reported that the father will still supplement their diets for a year or more.
I’m sure you will agree, a very interesting and beautiful bird. Check back tomorrow for this month’s Mystery Creature, see if you can guess what it is.
How is your singing voice? I’d love to tell you how good mine is but my kids would be on that like a shot; they are only too happy to tell anyone willing to listen how bad their mum is at singing. So I reserve it for the shower, solo trips in the car… or for tormenting my children.
Regardless of how good your singing skills are, there is still a great benefit to opening your mouth and belting out a song, more than you might think. And as usual, science has plenty of facts to back this up. Some of these might surprise you.
Image source: Pixabay.com
Some benefits to singing – with a dash of science
Singing can improve our mood
This one probably isn’t of any big surprise; all of us have experienced singing in our lives, whether we are willing participants or coerced into it; but we all feel better afterwards. Why is that? It seems that singing releases a cocktail of chemicals that can both calm and invigorate at the same time.
When we sing we light up the right temporal lobe of the brain, causing the release of endorphins. These chemicals can literally lift our mood and give us a sense of euphoria.
Studies have shown that singing can also cause the release of oxytocin, the feel-good hormone that can reduce stress levels and help calm the body and mind. Oxytocin is also connected with strengthening bonds and friendships between people which is interesting as many studies have reported that people that sing together in choirs reap more benefits than singing solo. One of the observations is that people who sing together will literally synchronise their heart beats.
Singing can improve our health
The benefits mentioned above can not only make us feel happier but also reduce blood pressure and feelings of depression and isolation.
Singing can alter our brain’s chemical and physical make up. it can help us exercise specific parts of the brain and can even enhance our learning. In particular, singing can help us learn a new language. Apparently singing phrases in a foreign language can help us remember them more easily and for longer.
Whatever benefit you are after, it seems that singing really might be what you need. And if you are just too shy to try it, then you can simply listen, which has lots of benefits too, but that’s a blog post for another day.
My youngest child is seven; he is a boy of many questions. Lately he has turned his attention to speed, specifically the speed of light, and what would happen if you travelled that fast.
The first question came at bed time (why is it always bed time??). He wanted to know what would happen if he travelled at the speed of light and would it change time. I answered as best I could (while trying to back out the door and turn off the light) and left it at that but the question has resurfaced and I know this little guy will not let it rest until he is sure he has full understanding of the answer. So, to satisfy my own son’s curiosity, and in case anyone else out there wanted to know… here is a quick low down on high speed.
Let’s start with the basics
Firstly, the speed of light is a staggering 299,792,458 metres per second (or approximately 299 792 kilometres per second). Albert Einstein may not have calculated this, but he was the one that recognised it as the fasted thing in our Universe, a cosmic speed limit.
This is the speed of light in a vacuum and is commonly denoted as c. Light travelling at different speeds depending on what it is travelling through, so for light to travel through anything other than a vacuum, it will travel a little slower. For example, light travels about 90,000 m/s slower in air (that’s about 0.03% slower).
In water light travels at 75% the speed it would in a vacuum.
It’s all relative
Einstein’s work on this cosmic speed limit led him to develop a little theory, calling it the Theory of Relativity.
Einstein’s Theory of Relativity…
E = mc2
E stands for energy, m is the mass of the object and c is the speed of light. But it still looks pretty confusing, right? Keeping it simple, this equation says two interesting things…
it ties mass and energy together
it says that nothing with mass can travel as fast as, or faster than the speed of light
You might like a refresher on what mass is… mass is basically a measure of how much matter (atoms) something is made up of, or how densely packed those atoms are. We usually talk about mass in terms of weight (kilograms) but when we do so, we are typically saying how much it weighs here on Earth.
Applying Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, the closer an object (with mass) gets to the speed of light, the more energy is required to keep it moving, until eventually the object would have an infinite mass and require and infinite amount of energy to move it… and that’s just not possible.
So nothing with mass, including us, or a big rocket, can move faster than the speed of light.
The fastest speed of a manned spacecraft to date was achieved by the Apollo 10 lunar module, on May 26, 1969 when it reached speeds of 39,897 km/h (about 11 km/s) before re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere.
Take your time
Where does time come into all this? Well, you might remember that the c in E=mc2 is a unit with distance and time in it, so time is part of the equation too.
What happens to time when we start to travel at close to the speed of light? The answer to that depends on where you are standing, in other words, it depends on where you are observing from.
Let’s take an example, and remember, this is all hypothetical… you are in a rocket travelling through space and you manage to travel at speeds approaching the speed of light. So for you, time slows down and you reach your destination in a relatively short space of time. You arrive, do whatever it is you went there to do and then head back to Earth (again at speeds close to the speed of light).
The main thing you would notice when you get back home is how old everyone is! People who were the same age as you when you left would be a lot older than you when you come back. Remember, as Einstein said, it’s all relative! It depends on where you are observing from; if you are on Earth then time continues as normal. But if you head off into space and travel at speeds that slow down time, then a little time for you will equal a lot of time back on Earth.
Scientists like to call this the twin paradox; if you took a set of identical twins and sent one travelling off in space at speeds close to the speed of light and left the other here on Earth, when the first twin returned from his cosmic travels he would be younger than his twin who remained on Earth.
In summary… we can’t actually travel at the speed of light, but if we could travel close to the speed of light then yes, time would slow down (for us anyway) but by the time we got back to Earth, everyone else would have aged more than us!
What did my son think of my explanation? I read this post to him last night and broke some of the theories down into seven year-old sized chunks of information and he was happy enough with the answer, he especially liked the twin paradox 🙂
Then he added some theories of his own… I’m not sure what Einstein would make of these but this guy certainly has some interesting ideas; Have a listen to a seven year-old’s theories on what else would happen if you travelled close to the speed of sound!
Image sources: Rocket, time and light images were sourced on Pixabay.com
Check out this beautiful bird as this month’s mystery creature; Do you know what it is?
Photo credit:D. Hatcher; Photo source: Wiki commons
This bird was thought of as a symbol of liberty and wealth by the ancient Mayans. It appears on a flag and inspires a currency; I think that’s enough clues for the moment… over to you now!
Remember, as always, you are free to ask me any questions, or make guesses. This could make a great research project for a classroom environment. I will reveal its name at the end of the month, along with some interesting facts about this stunning bird.
Want to know what it was? Check out the ‘reveal’ post here.
The Velella velella is the only known species in its genus, therefore it is often referred to as just velella. It goes by other names too, the most common one is ‘by the wind sailor’ but it is sometimes also called the ‘purple sail’ or ‘little sail’. I think we can agree that sailing is a common theme here! And it is no wonder, it looks quite like a mini sail boat. It is deep blue/purple in colour with a translucent stiff, ridged sail along the mid line.
Looks like a jellyfish but…
It is not a jellyfish – it is actually a hydroid colony; it is made up of hundreds of small organisms, each with their own different function. Each colony is considered all male or all female. They are only about 7cm in diameter.
At the mercy of the winds
There is no way for the velella to propel itself around in the open oceans in which it is found. Instead it is at the mercy of the winds, moving in whatever direction the prevailing wind takes it. This is why, under certain weather conditions, large numbers of these are washed ashore, particularly after stormy conditions and high winds.
Valella can be found all over the world but mostly in tropical or subtropical waters. They are pleuston – organisms that live partly in and partly above water.
Eat or be eaten
Velella are typically eaten by specialized gastropods (mollusks) such as certain nudibranches. They are carnivorous themselves, feeding on plankton. The short tentacles that reach into the water contain toxins to stun their prey.
Although that are not considered a threat to humans, these toxins could possibly cause some mild skin or eye irritation, if handled.
Division of labour
The various life forms that make up the colony have specialised functions; some are involved in defence, some feeding, others reproduction etc. Any nutrients ingested from feeding are distributed among all the life forms of the colony.
Reproduction is by asexual budding (meaning that tiny new organisms , called medusa, are formed from little nodes that bud from the adult; these buds grown and eventually break away. This process of reproduction can produce thousands of these tiny medusa, each only 1mm in diameter.
Check back tomorrow for another mystery creature for you to solve!
Another great question this week, this time sent in by seven year old Daniel, who lives in Singapore; Daniel would really like to be a scientist when he grows up, but I reckon he already is one as he loves asking questions and finding out lots of facts about science and nature. In fact, Daniel is a regular to this blog, he often is the first to work out the Mystery Creature of the month!
Daniel’s question is…
How and why do freckles appear?
Many of us have freckles, Daniel has them too, in fact he appears IN the video as the freckle model 🙂 If you would like to know a little more about freckles (I bet you do!) just watch this video below!
Freckles are pretty common, especially in people with fair complexions, but before we look at how and why they appear, let’s take a closer look at what they are?
What are freckles?
Freckles are small spots on the skin, they are usually tan or light brown in colour. Unlike moles or some birth marks, freckles are flat on our skin. They are completely natural and harmless.
We are used to seeing them on peoples’ faces but they can be found all over the body.
They often become more obvious or more abundant when we expose our skin to the sun and that gives us the first clue as to why they appear.
Freckles are the result of a natural colour (or pigment) called melanin produced by the body to protect the skin against the harmful rays of the Sun.
This process is called photoprotection and this is how it works…
When UV rays of light from the Sun hit our skin they trigger certain cells in our body to make more melanin.
The cells that make the melanin are called melanocytes.
The melanin is sent to the outer layer of our skin where it absorbs these harmful UV rays, protecting the skin cells (and the cells’ DNA) from their damage.
Usually melanin is distributed evenly around the parts of the skin that are exposed to the sun, causing our skin to tan.
When melanin is distributed evenly we tan
Sometimes though the melanin clumps together in areas, forming little dark spots that we call freckles.
When melanin comes together in small areas of skin we get freckle spots
So basically, melanin is a little like our bodies’ natural sun screen… which kind of makes freckles like natural sun screen spots I guess.
Who gets freckles?
So do only fair skinned people get them? No, that’s not so. There are probably a lot more people with fair complexions with freckles, and freckles tend to be more noticeable on fair skinned people, but people with all types of skin tones can get them too.
Freckles can develop on all skin tones
Freckles tend to run in families, so if your parents have them there is a good chance you do too. The tendency to get freckles is genetics… and is connected to a gene called MC1R.
So remember, freckles are natural and harmless. They are just a sign that our body is taking care of us and keeping us safe.
A big thanks to Daniel for sending in this question; if you have a question you would like me to answer just leave it in the comments below or sent it to me by email (email@example.com).