What Makes Screams So Bone-Chilling?

No two screams sound alike. They can swing in pitch, like the The Wilhelm; blare cacophonous, like The Donald Sutherland; or fire off spasmodically, like (my favorite) The Shelley Duvall. Few vocalizations are as nuanced as the fearful shriek. And yet, no matter the cry in question, you always know a scream when you hear one.

So, then. Whence does the scream derive its unmistakeability? “If you ask someone on the street, they’ll tell you a scream is loud and high-pitched,” says David Poeppel, a neuroscientist at New York University and the Max Planck Institute in Frankfurt. “Turns out it’s neither.”

Poeppel would know. In 2015, he and his colleagues set out to distinguish cries of fear from other noises. They began by compiling a database of screams. “We spent many joyful hours scanning the interwebs for weird material from YouTube and movies,” Poeppel says, “but then we also brought people into the lab and had them scream.”

Then read more

Best-Ever Streaming Algorithm Found for Huge Amounts of Data

It’s hard to measure water from a fire hose while it’s hitting you in the face. In a sense, that’s the challenge of analyzing streaming data, which comes at us in a torrent and never lets up. If you’re on Twitter watching tweets go by, you might like to declare a brief pause, so you can figure out what’s trending. That’s not feasible, though, so instead you need to find a way to tally hashtags on the fly.

Quanta Magazine

author photo
Original story reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine, an editorially independent publication of the Simons Foundation whose mission is to enhance public understanding of science by covering research developments and trends in mathematics and the physical and life sciences.

Computer programs that perform these kinds of on-the-go calculations are called streaming algorithms. Because data comes at them continuously, and in such volume, they try to record the essence of what they’ve seen while strategically forgetting the rest. For more than 30 years computer scientists have worked to build a better streaming algorithm. Last fall a team of researchers invented one that is just about perfect.

“We developed a new algorithm that is simultaneously the best” on every performance dimension, said read more

After the Napa Fires, Toxic Ash Threatens Soil, Streams, and the San Francisco Bay

By any measure, the fires that tore through Northern California were a major disaster. Forty-two people are dead, and 100,000 are displaced. More than 8,400 homes and other buildings were destroyed, more than 160,000 acres burned—and the fires aren’t all out yet.

That devastation leaves behind another potential disaster: ash. No one knows how much. It’ll be full of heavy metals and toxins—no one knows exactly how much, and it depends on what burned and at what temperature. The ash will infiltrate soils, but no one’s really sure how or whether that’ll be a problem. And eventually some of it—maybe a lot—will flow into the regional aquatic ecosystem and ultimately the San Francisco Bay.

That’s the bomb. Here’s the timer: An old, grim joke about the California says that the state only has three seasons: summer, fire, and mudslides. Those mudslides happen because of rain; the Santa Ana (or Diablo, if you’d prefer) wind-driven wildfires of autumn give read more

Space Photos of the Week: These Are The Moons You’re Looking For

This humbling image, taken by the European Southern Observatory’s VLT Survey Telescope in Chile, shows off one of the largest galaxy clusters we know of. The Fornax Cluster is a group of countless galaxies, some with large bubbles of material that seem to curve out from their galactic centers. This rich cluster is still one of the main ways scientists study galaxy mergers. One galaxy, dubbed NGC 1316, is especially noticeable here with large wispy loops jutting out from its glowing center.

This elongated shadow was cast by one of Jupiter’s lesser known moons, Amalthea–and captured by the Juno spacecraft, currently orbiting the banded planet. The tiny satellite orbits just outside of Jupiter’s gossamer rings, and is the third closest moon to the planet.

Just when you thought Mars couldn’t get any weirder, a photo like this gets sent back from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. These strange squiggles live in a basin called Hellas Planitia. read more

Newfound Wormhole Allows Information to Escape Black Holes

In 1985, when Carl Sagan was writing the novel Contact, he needed to quickly transport his protagonist Dr. Ellie Arroway from Earth to the star Vega. He had her enter a black hole and exit light-years away, but he didn’t know if this made any sense. The Cornell University astrophysicist and television star consulted his friend Kip Thorne, a black hole expert at the California Institute of Technology (who won a Nobel Prize earlier this month). Thorne knew that Arroway couldn’t get to Vega via a black hole, which is thought to trap and destroy anything that falls in. But it occurred to him that she might make use of another kind of hole consistent with Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity: a tunnel or “wormhole” connecting distant locations in space-time.

Quanta Magazine

author photo
Original story reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine, an editorially independent publication of the Simons Foundation whose mission is to enhance public understanding of science by covering research developments and trends in mathematics and the physical and life sciences.

While the simplest theoretical wormholes immediately collapse and disappear before anything can get through, Thorne wondered whether it might be possible for an “infinitely advanced” sci-fi civilization read more

There’s Something Wrong With This *Iron Man 3* Scene

Late at night, I tend to flip through the channels just to see what’s up. If there’s a good movie on, I might watch part of it—and recently, I stumbled on Iron Man 3. I know what you’re gonna say—that’s a terrible superhero movie. But I disagree. Fantastic Four, now that’s a terrible superhero movie. Iron Man 3 wasn’t so bad. Especially not that part where Tony Stark has to go to the store and MacGyver his way into a temporary suit.

However, I did notice something annoying in a scene near the end. Iron Man needs to recharge his suit, and he improvises by connecting two cables (one red and one black) from a car battery to his suit. When he is mostly charged up, he pulls off the cables—one at a time. First he pulls the red cable off and it creates a slight sparking effect. Right after that he pulls off the black cable and it also makes a spark. See the mistake? One of the cables could easily make a spark, but not both.

But why? read more

A Look at Urban Food Waste, by the Numbers

This story originally appeared on Citylab and is part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Last winter, teams of researchers in three US cities donned goggles, gloves, and respirators, tore into bags of other people’s household garbage, and then pawed though the contents. Separating slimy banana peels from clumps of coffee grounds was dirty work, but it had a laudable goal: trying to get a handle on how much food waste could have been consumed or diverted before winding its way into the waste stream with a one-way ticket to the dump.

The problems associated with urban food waste are no mystery. Proof of the problem is everywhere, in overflowing garbage bins and grime-slicked compost caddies. Food scraps contribute to the already sizable piles of refuse that cities must haul to landfills; shuttling edible castoffs to people in need requires labyrinthine routes and read more

This Massive Health Study on Booze Is Funded by the Alcohol Industry

A little bit of booze, the conventional wisdom goes, can be good for you. But the evidence for that claim—beyond anecdotal accounts that a nip of whiskey can nip a cold in the bud—is surprisingly thin. Alcohol studies usually look backwards, comparing participants’ historical drinking habits with their health problems. But it’s hard to prove that alcohol caused those problems. The best alcohol study would randomly require people to either drink or abstain—but for many public health researchers, that’s always seemed like a bridge too far.

Today, though, the National Institutes of Health is planning just such an experiment. The Moderate Alcohol and Cardiovascular Health study, now in progress on four continents, is poised to be a breakthrough in public health: the first time that researchers have followed a group of people randomized to receive a daily drink or nothing at all. But it’s also the first time the NIH has offered the $1 trillion-plus alcoholic read more

Torn Between the iPhone X vs iPhone 8? Psychologists Have a Name for That

You know that feeling. TFW you’re in the market for a new phone, and you can’t decide which one to buy. For the past month, if you’re an Apple fan, chances are you’ve been feeling that feel a bit more than usual. This year, like every year, Apple released new phones—the iPhones 8 and 8 Plus. But they also released a newer phone. A “say hello to the future” phone. The iPhone X. It’s got an edge-to-edge display, more and better cameras, and a certain je ne sais pas that just—wait, no. Lol, no, you totally sais. It’s the fanciest phone Apple’s ever made. It goes on sale tonight. And lord help you, you want it. You want it so bad.

But heavens, that price: $999, to start. Can you afford it? No. But financing. No! You’re not falling for that again. You’ll go with the iPhone 8 Plus. It’s boring, but shut up, you will love it.

But then wait, you forgot: The iPhone X also has that sick OLED screen, and read more

Telemedicine Is Forcing Doctors to Learn ‘Webside’ Manner

No one knew exactly when the girl would die, but everyone knew it would be soon. A 12-year-old with end stage cancer, the child’s parents had recently moved her from the hospital to her home in the suburbs of Los Angeles. Some days later the girl’s breath quickened, and her father phoned the family’s hospice nurse. Please come, he said. He was worried about her breathing.

The nurse knew the visit would require more than four hours of her time: a two hour drive in each direction, plus her time with the girl. Why don’t we connect over FaceTime, she asked. The father agreed, and they connected.

The nurse asked the father to move his daughter gently to her side. Then to her back. To lift the child’s shirt. To show her the expansion and contraction of the girl’s ribcage. The nurse would ask: What do you see, what concerns you, and the father would explain. Then the nurse would do the same. In this fashion the pair examined the girl—the read more