Edward Willett

Archives

Sing, sing a song…

I’ve sung all my life, in church, in choirs, and on-stage, both just for fun and professionally. And through all those years, I’ve heard music teachers say anyone can learn to sing...and the occasional person who counterclaims (and through their singing seems to support the statement) that, well, no, they can’t. So...who’s right? In “Singing proficiency in the general population,” a study conducted by psychologists Simone Dalla Bella of the University of Finance and Management in Warsaw, and Jean-François Giguère and Isabelle Peretz of the University of Montreal, and published in the February 2007 Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, the researchers point out that “singing abilities emerge spontaneously and precociously,” ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 12:30, October 7th, 2012 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »

The QWERTY effect

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/uploads//2012/04/The-QWERTY-effect.mp3[/podcast]I took to typing like...well, like a writer to a keyboard. In high school I was always the fastest typist in typing class. Possibly it was genetic: my mother, who worked as a secretary, was a very fast typist. Possibly it was because I was highly motivated: my handwriting was (and is) atrocious. Anyone who has learned to touch type has probably wondered about the peculiar arrangement of the standard keyboard, usually called QWERTY. Why aren’t the letters in, say, alphabetical order? The fact is, some of the earliest typewriters did have keyboards in alphabetical order. But they had a problem: alphabetical order put some frequently used letter pairs too close together ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 10:13, April 12th, 2012 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | 1 Comment »

Willpower

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/uploads//2012/01/Willpower.mp3[/podcast] The New Year may already be a little long in the tooth for a column on New Year’s Resolutions, since many of them have already been broken, but, hey, maybe you’re one of those still clinging to the hope that this year will be different than all the rest: in which case, this column’s for you. The key to keeping a resolution is willpower, obviously. But what is willpower? Is it some mysterious quality that some people have and others don’t? Is it a virtue we can build in ourselves with practice? Is it what separates saints from sinners? None of the above, say some scientists. According to Roy F. ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 14:42, January 12th, 2012 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »

Weight-loss through writing?

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/uploads//2012/01/Losing-Weight-Through-Writing.mp3[/podcast] One of the risks of being a writer is a tendency to fall into sedentarianism (which isn’t a word, but ought to be; clearly, it refers to a religious belief that the best way to avoid sin is to do as little as possible). Aside from those keeners who have set up combination desks/treadmills (Arthur Slade, I’m looking at you), a poor choice for those of us who cannot walk and chew gum at the same time, much less walk and type at the same time, most writers do little but sit on their rear ends and tap on a keyboard. It was therefore with great interest that I read a ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 15:38, January 5th, 2012 under Blog, Science Columns | Comment now »

The annual alcohol column

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/uploads//2011/12/Annual-Alcohol-Column-2011.mp3[/podcast] Every Christmas/New Year’s holiday season brings with it a spate of articles about alcohol—you know, like this one. Alcohol is a very odd thing for us to imbibe, when you come right down to it. It is, after all, the waste product of another life-form: namely, yeast. There are very few other life forms whose waste products we willingly take into our body. So why do we do it? The answer, of course, is that this particular waste product produces interesting side-effects when ingested: side-effects that humans discovered very, very early on (beer and wine-making were already well-established in the Middle East by 1500 B.C.). Although alcohol, like barbiturates, tranquilizers and anesthetics, is ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 11:18, December 28th, 2011 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »

Creative cheaters

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/uploads//2011/11/Creative-Cheaters.mp3[/podcast] I like to think I’m a fairly creative guy. It’s hard to write a bunch of science fiction and fantasy novels without having at least a modicum of creativity. I also like to think I’m an honest guy. Tell the truth, keep your word, don’t cheat: that’s how I was brought up, and I do my best to live up to my upbringing. According to a new study, though, that may make me a mite unusual. Research just published by the American Psychological Association (APA)  indicates that creative people are more likely to cheat than less creative people. The research, conducted by Francesca Gino of Harvard University and Dan Ariely of Duke University, ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 22:48, November 29th, 2011 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »

The doorway to forgetfulness

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/uploads//2011/11/Doorways-to-Forgetfulness.mp3[/podcast] It’s been a staple gag of TV sitcoms for years: an older character walks into a room and says, “Now, what did I come in here for?” But gags like that are funny because they have a grain of truth in them, and increasingly, I’m finding that grain of truth sticking in my own aging gullet. Of course, when an oyster finds an irritant in its gullet, it turns that oyster into a pearl. My equivalent is turning it into a science column. (Albeit obviously not one focusing on the biology of the oysters, since even if they have gullets, I’m pretty sure that’s not where they make pearls.) As it ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 8:14, November 24th, 2011 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »

Just-below pricing

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/upLoads//2011/09/Just-Below-Pricing.mp3[/podcast] I’ve been toying with the idea of getting a MacBook Air (my old Samsung netbook has just about had the life pounded out of it after churning out half a million words or so, including all of my upcoming book Magebane), and I noticed that the 11-inch MacBook Air is listed on Apple’s Canadian site as starting at $999. Well, at least it’s not $1,000! We’re used to seeing these kinds of pricing games. You almost never see a product priced at an even, say, $23; no, it will be $22.99 or $22.98.  I’ve put a couple of my old young adult science fiction books on Kindle. You can currently buy ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 15:50, September 8th, 2011 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »

The Shatner effect

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/upLoads//2011/05/The-Shatner-Effect.mp3[/podcast] We’d like to think that we’re extremely rational beings who, when listening to someone trying to convince us of something, cannot be influenced by such superficial things as the person’s appearance or the way he or she talks. We’d like to think that, but we’d be wrong, as any number of studies have shown over the years. Case in point: new research conducted at the University of Michigan that found that the speed at which someone talks, the number of pauses they use, and, to a certain extent, even the pitch of his or her voice, influence how willing we are to do what they say. The study, presented May 14 at the ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 12:13, May 17th, 2011 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »

The foundation of psychohistory?

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/upLoads//2011/05/Psychohistory.mp3[/podcast] In his famous Foundation series (published six decades ago now), science fiction writer Isaac Asimov postulated a fictional branch of mathematics, discovered by scientist Hari Seldon, known as "psychohistory," which could predict the future. Psychohistory was based on the principle that the behavior of a mass of people is predictable if the quantity of the mass is very large. Psychohistory came to mind when I read a recent article by Robert Lee Holtz in the Wall Street Journal outlining the research being conducted using the vast amounts of data collected by mobile phones. According to Holtz, scientists are finding that, using the data collected through these ubiquitous communications devices (now in ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 14:08, May 2nd, 2011 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »