Old dogs and new tricks: web use good for the elderly brain

Paul Raven @ 23-10-2009

A silver surferYounger readers (or those with spousal units prone to nagging about excessive time spent in front of a computer) may wish to arm themselves with the news that internet use appears to restore and strengthen brain function, particularly in the elderly. In other words, surfing the web is keeping your brain young and fit. [via The End Of Cyberspace; image by mhofstrand]

For the research, 24 neurologically normal adults, aged 55 to 78, were asked to surf the Internet while hooked up to an MRI machine. Before the study began, half the participants had used the Internet daily, and the other half had little experience with it.

After an initial MRI scan, the participants were instructed to do Internet searches for an hour on each of seven days in the next two weeks. They then returned to the clinic for more brain scans.

“At baseline, those with prior Internet experience showed a much greater extent of brain activation,” Small said.

After at-home practice, however, those who had just been introduced to the Internet were catching up to those who were old hands, the study found.

Of course, this doesn’t take into account the theory that the structure of the web means we only ever get exposed to ideas that we already find agreeable, but I remain unconvinced of that notion, anyway. A brief glance at history shows that people were always perfectly capable of ignoring information that they found unpalatable, long before the internet (or even the printing press) existed…

But while you’re advising grandma to fire up Firefox, be sure to remind her that it’s an aid to learning, not a replacement for it. Recent research shows that we learn much more quickly if we take a chance to answer incorrectly before looking up the correct response… so try guessing before you Google it, in other words.


Kickstart your writing with One-Two-Fiver

Paul Raven @ 05-01-2009

Struggling with that new year’s resolution to write more every day? Sat staring at a blank screen that mocks you with its existential emptiness?

Maybe One-Two-Fiver can help; it’s designed as a warm-up exercise to get the writing muscles stretched up and ready to run. The instructions are pretty simple:

Start with a single word.

Type it like you mean it.

Now write two words.

Move on to five…

Keep typing until you are writing.

One-Two-Fiver can even email your output back to you! No ads, no gimmicks; give it a spin. [via MetaFilter]


A bracing walk will charge your phone

Paul Raven @ 07-02-2008

Power-generator-knee-brace File under “gimme one of those” – a Canadian university team has developed a knee brace device that harnesses the movement of the leg while walking to produce 5 Watts of power. [Image from linked NewScientist article]

That’s enough to run ten mobile phones at once, apparently (though why you’d ever need more than one isn’t clear … I kid, I kid). From the article:

“The generator does not significantly increase the effort required for walking, says Max Donelan of Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, Canada, who led its development.

“Muscles spend about the same amount of time working as brakes as they do working as motors,” he explains. The device is designed so it only generates electricity during the “braking” phase of each step. This is when the leg is being unbent and is decelerating, just before the foot touches the ground.

The device works similarly to hybrid and electric cars, Donelan points out. They boost efficiency by generating electricity from energy expended during braking – known as regenerative braking.”

A device that saves on my electricity bill and encourages me to exercise? It’s the ultimate accessory for the self-sufficient cyberpunk-around-town – where do I sign?