Public Media Science & Technology Posts

Online Content From APM, PRI, and PRX

The latest stories from South Dakota Public Broadcasting's national media partners: American Public Media, Public Radio International, and Public Radio Exchange.

In praise of boredom: Researchers dish on the brain benefits of idle time

7 hours ago

When’s the last time you were really, truly bored?

In an age of smartphones, social media and a 24-hour news cycle, it might be tough to recall the last time you found yourself turning your attention to absolutely nothing. But that mental downtime, it turns out, is when a very important part of your brain gets to work.

What you need to know about modern nuclear war

Oct 21, 2017
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The Official CTBTO Photostream, via <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/ctbto/6476282811">Flickr</a>. Public Domain. Image cropped.&nbsp;

It’s been just over 70 years since two atomic bombs devastated the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the first and last time that nuclear weapons have been used in warfare. But around 22,000 nuclear weapons are in our world today, the United Nations reports, and as North Korea and the United States continue to trade threats, a nuclear attack is no complete impossibility.

Want to Easily Cut Your Carbon Footprint? Here's How

Oct 19, 2017

As a non-vegetarian and non-vegan with a lot of vegetarians and vegans in my life, I’ve heard many times that the benefits of plant-based eating go beyond personal health. But beyond what I’ve learned by watching “Food, Inc.” a few times, I never knew the full meaning of that, nor what a meat-eater like myself can do short of giving up animal products entirely.

Fixing Your Computer is Easier Than You Think 

Oct 18, 2017

The cliché “knowledge is power” exists for a reason. When something goes wrong with our computers, many of us don’t know enough to determine if they’re DOA or just need a little TLC to get back up and running. 

Tom Gilmore is in the business of fixing up computers that previous owners mistook for lost causes.  He revives donated computers for Free Geek, a non-profit organization based in Portland, Oregon, that connects people with free technology.

Why recycle computers?

Soon, You Can Lose Your Remote Control Forever

Oct 18, 2017

I have an uncanny knack for losing the remote. Even when I just had it in my hand a second ago, and when there’s seemingly no place it could have gone to—I can still manage it. And because Roku and DVD players are a thing, I have not one, not two, but three remotes to keep track of. I’ve even debated creating some kind of necklace to wear that dangles all three of the remotes like pendants.

But someone much more qualified than I has created a remote control technology called Matchpoint that turns you, and the stuff you’re holding, into remote controls. Even better.

How glow worms get their glow on

Oct 17, 2017
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Mnolf/<a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Arachnocampa_luminosa_larvae.jpg">Wikimedia Commons</a>

Visitors to certain New Zealand caves are treated to an amazing sight: Thousands of little lights twinkling on the cave walls, like Christmas lights. But the little lights aren’t bulbs or even fireflies — they’re glow worms.

“Technically, a glow worm is actually a glowing maggot, but that doesn't sound as romantic," says Miriam Sharpe, a biochemistry researcher at the University of Otago in New Zealand.

Don't Be Afraid of Your Emotions After Failure

Oct 16, 2017

We’re taught that getting upset after failing won’t do anything but prevent us from getting back up and trying again. But feeling your feelings after failure could actually be one of the best ways to do better next time.

From Hollywood to here: ‘Rememory’ and the future of memory

Oct 14, 2017
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<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/neilconway/3792906411/">Neil Conway</a>/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">CC BY 2.0</a>. Image cropped.

In the recent film “Rememory,” an inventor has built a device that can extract memories from the brain. There’s more to the story — a murder, for one, and an amateur sleuth played by Peter Dinklage — but let’s pause here. How close are we in real life to being able to record our memories, Hollywood-style?

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Raheb Homavandi/Reuters

In the US there's YouTube, Groupon and Uber. In Iran there's Aparat, Takhfifan and Snapp.

"A couple years ago the tech community in Tehran was just really a handful of [venture capitalists] and a [few] young entrepeneuers," said Aki Ito, Bloomberg's tech editor and co-host of the podcast Decrypted.

But the country's tech sector flourished after sanctions were lifted as part of the Barack Obama-era nuclear deal.

Sam Sinai was coming back to the US last month, after visiting family in Iran. When he got to Logan International Airport in Boston, US Customs and Border Protection agents told him he’d been selected for extra screening.

"I was asked for some information about what I did abroad and my address abroad and my address here," he says.

Nothing unusual, he thought. He’d been asked similar questions before. But then the agent said something that made him do a double take.

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Beck Diefenbach/Reuters

US-based tech companies are stepping up efforts to restore connectivity in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico.

Net Zero: The Future of Home Design?

Oct 12, 2017

Imagine a future where homes create as much energy as they consume, helping their owners save money on energy bills while also reducing the impact of their homes on the environment.  

That future might be here for some homeowners. Zero energy, or net zero, homes are a relatively new option in the housing market. This type of home produces as much energy as it consumes, with the help of solar panels and other kinds of energy generators.

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Nick Brown/Reuters

Close to 90 percent. That’s roughly how much of Puerto Rico is still without power three weeks after Hurricane Maria slammed into the island.

It’s a major crisis for the US territory, but perhaps an opportunity as well — for the island to start building a more resilient and cleaner power system.

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Nick Brown/Reuters

Close to 90 percent. That’s roughly how much of Puerto Rico is still without power three weeks after Hurricane Maria slammed into the island.

It’s a major crisis for the US territory, but perhaps an opportunity as well — for the island to start building a more resilient and cleaner power system.

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Edgard Garrido/Reuters

Migrants trying to slip across the border into the US jettison all sorts of things on their long and difficult trip. 

Photo frames, stuffed animals, bloody socks — at some point they all become too much to carry. 

The items might seem like refuse, but collecting, cataloging and studying them can tell us a lot about the immigrant experience.  So says the University of Michigan's Jason De León, who is using the tools of archaeology and anthropology to analyze the migrants' castoffs.  

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Edgard Garrido/Reuters

Migrants trying to slip across the border into the US jettison all sorts of things on their long and difficult trip. 

Photo frames, stuffed animals, bloody socks — at some point they all become too much to carry. 

The items might seem like refuse, but collecting, cataloging and studying them can tell us a lot about the immigrant experience.  So says the University of Michigan's Jason De León, who is using the tools of archaeology and anthropology to analyze the migrants' castoffs.  

Is Any Job Really Better Than No Job at All?

Oct 11, 2017

If you’ve ever been unemployed, you know how stressful it is. Being laid off can be emotionally devastating. And unemployment puts you at a higher risk for major depression, substance abuse and even suicide, according to reporting by CNN. When put in that situation, most of us would scramble to find a new job.

These College Students Have the Best Mental Health

Oct 10, 2017

College can be tough on your mental health. And more and more, students are taking to social media to talk about it.

Between 2011 and 2016, conversations surrounding mental health in subreddits dedicated to the top schools in the country increased 16 percent, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology, Delhi, found.

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Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters

Moscow-based antivirus and security software company Kaspersky Lab has long denied accusations that it has ties to the Kremlin. 

But there’s now evidence that hackers working for the Russian government used the software to steal highly classified US documents. 

Are You a Love-Bomber?

Oct 6, 2017

Have you ever found yourself dating someone you really like as a person—but their dating style just turns you off? Like, maybe they’re too aloof, or too needy, or too communicative, or leave you on read, or make a lot of grammar errors in Gchat.

One of these styles is the “love-bomber.” Love-bombers—a real subset of people that researchers have spent time studying—are known to inundate a new partner with communication via all the methods. They constantly text, send messages on Facebook and Instagram and Snapchat, send emails and even call.

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Ints Kalnins/Reuters

It probably comes as no surprise that even soldiers are attached to their cellphones.

For soldiers posted outside their countries, a phone can be a lifeline to loved ones and news from home. Nearly every enlisted service member carries one.

But smartphones are vulnerable to hacking — and that’s an avenue Russia is looking to exploit.

Overwhelmed? These Apps Will Calm You Down

Oct 5, 2017

We all get stressed. But in our society, chronic stress and anxiety is often normalized and even celebrated. In honor of Mental Illness Awareness Week, check in with yourself: Have you been stressed more often than not lately? If so, there are things you can do to help yourself.

At least 21 people associated with the US diplomatic corps in Cuba have been suffering from an array of mysterious symptoms ranging from hearing loss and dizziness to concussions and brain swelling.

After months of investigation, the US determined that a secret sonic weapon was to blame.

But Dr. Joseph Pompei, a former researcher and psychoacoustics expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says that’s impossible.

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Marco Werman

The Nobel committee honored a trio of physicists today for their work on gravitational waves.

But Rainer Weiss received top billing.  

The MIT professor emeritus and his colleagues dreamed up the idea behind the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO. It's a sort of massive antenna so sensitive it detected faint invisible ripples in space from 1.3 billion years ago, a discovery made secretly last fall and revealed in September.

Why Student Loans are a Smart Investment

Oct 3, 2017

It’s good to be cautious about money. But are you being too cautious?

People who are resistant to taking out loans to pay for college could be holding themselves back from higher education, and the higher salaries that come with a college degree, recent research suggests.

“Loan aversion” means avoiding taking out loans to pay for big-ticket items—like higher education, a car or a house. About 20 percent of the students and young adults researchers studied were loan averse.

Are New York Times Book Reviews Fair?

Oct 3, 2017

New York Times book reviews are a big deal. The paper’s Sunday Book Review publication is considered a stepping stone that can set career trajectories for fiction and non-fiction authors.

But a recent study from McGill University in Canada has raised questions on how the Times reviews books by women.

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<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/philip-ester/5216780198">StingrayPhil</a>/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">CC BY 2.0</a>&nbsp;(image cropped)

You may not envy what dung beetles and carrion beetles dine on, but you live in a world that they help keep clean. Think of the insects as “nature’s recyclers,” decomposing waste and returning all kinds of nutrients back into the ecosystem.

At a recent live show in Wichita, Kansas, Science Friday host Ira Flatow talked with Rachel Stone and Emmy Engasser, graduate researchers at Wichita State University’s biodiversity lab, about this powerful natural cleanup crew. Here are some surprising takeaways from their conversation:

How scientists are piecing together the story of ancient Americans

Oct 1, 2017
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<a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Clovis_Rummells_Maske.jpg">Bill Whittaker</a>/<a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0">CC BY-SA 3.0</a>&nbsp;(image cropped)&nbsp;

The Americas were one of the last areas of the world to be settled by modern humans, and we know that one of the first migrant groups, known as the Clovis people, lived here around 13,000 years ago.

The lab where aging aircraft are dissected for science — and safety

Sep 30, 2017
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<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/nickraider/37001496951">Oliver Holzbauer</a>/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/">CC BY-SA 2.0</a>.&nbsp;

Flying may be stressful for some people, but planes have it much harder: Every takeoff, landing and patch of turbulence adds wear to a plane’s airframe, or body.

Planes in the US undergo careful inspections and routine maintenance to combat this wear. But how do airplane mechanics know what needs inspecting or maintaining, especially when not every issue is visible from the surface?

Take two laughs and call me in the morning

Sep 28, 2017
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Rachel Jensen / Courtesy of The Northwestern Center for Bioethics &amp; Medical Humanities

Doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers have to deal daily with subjects considered taboo in polite company.

That’s why the medical field has always been a ripe subject for irreverent comedy on shows like “M*A*S*H,” “Scrubs” and “The Mindy Project.” But it’s one thing for Hugh Laurie, playing a sardonic surgeon on “House,” to joke about his patients. It would be very different if your real doctor made fun of your illness.

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