Edward Willett

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Circadian desynchrony and the blue light special

[podcast]https://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/uploads//2012/12/Circadian-Deosynchrony-and-the-Blue-Light-Special.mp3[/podcast] We’re coming up on the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere: at the latitude I live at, in Regina, Saskatchewan, that means that today the sun rose at 8:49 a.m. and will set at 4:54 p.m. We’ll lose a few more minutes yet before the winter solstice. That’s not a lot of daylight: we spend two-thirds of our day in darkness this time of the year, and of course further north it’s even worse, until you get to the Arctic and twenty-four hours of sunlessness. Thank goodness for artificial light! It means we can live pretty much as we want without being a slave to the natural ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 15:09, December 10th, 2012 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »

The case for coffee consumption

[podcast]https://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/uploads//2012/12/The-Case-for-Coffee-Consumption_01.mp3[/podcast]I first wrote about coffee in a science column back in the dawn of time, so long ago that it began, “Let’s get one thing straight.  I don’t drink coffee...” Since as I type this I am on my second...or maybe third... good-sized cup (oh, all right, mug) of the stuff, something has clearly changed in the intervening years. And guess what? Apparently that’s all to the good of my health. Oh, I know, anyone of adult years remembers news stories about coffee drinking being bad for you, but as more research is done, quite the contrary has emerged as the scientific consensus: drinking coffee is good for you. To the extent that ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 15:02, December 3rd, 2012 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »

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 »

Throwing like a girl

[podcast]https://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/uploads//2012/09/Throwing-Like-a-Girl.mp3[/podcast] There’s a scene in Huckleberry Finn where Huck is attempting to pass himself off as a girl, but is betrayed, in part, by the way he throws a lump of lead at a rat: “And when you throw at a rat or anything, hitch yourself up a tiptoe and fetch your hand up over your head as awkward as you can, and miss your rat about six or seven foot. Throw stiff-armed from the shoulder, like there was a pivot there for it to turn on, like a girl; not from the wrist and elbow, with your arm out to one side, like a boy.” There’s a reason “You ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 11:38, September 19th, 2012 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »

Usain Bolt? He’s not so fast

OK, admittedly the title of this column is a bit tongue in cheek. Compared to, well, any other human being on the planet, Usain Bolt is, of course, insanely fast. (I have not personally compared my speed in the 100-metre dash with his, of course, but since I’d have to stop halfway to be loaded onto an ambulance I suspect I’d have little hope of matching him.) But compared to the rest of the animal kingdom, Usain Bolt...or any other human...is small potatoes. In an article entitled “Animal athletes: a performance view,” the July 28 issue of Veterinary Record did the comparison, finding Bolt would trail greyhounds, cheetahs and pronghorn antelopes, ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 13:00, August 24th, 2012 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »

Let’s go to the tape

While I was browsing for another Olympic-themed column idea (as promised last week) one story particularly caught my eye: a Reuters piece by Kate Kelland headlined (in the Regina LeaderPost, at least)  “Scientists skeptical as Olympic athletes get all taped up.” It caught my eye, not because it had a picture of female beach volleyball players in bikinis attached to it (honest!), but because I had seen, on the backs of some of the synchronized divers a few days ago, these weird ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 10:02, August 4th, 2012 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »

The SpeechJammer

[podcast]https://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/uploads//2012/04/The-SpeechJammer.mp3[/podcast] As a writer, freedom of speech is near and dear to my heart. It’s one of the basic principles of the democratic form of government. And yet it seems to be constantly under attack, for one simple reason: it’s easy to say you believe in free speech when people are saying what you agree with. It’s a lot harder when they start saying things you vehemently disagree with. “He/she/they shouldn’t be allowed to say that!” is perhaps a natural human response, but it’s still one that must be overcome if free speech is to flourish. Which is why I find a recent technological development rather disturbing. Imagine if, instead of shouting down ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 16:02, April 24th, 2012 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »

Segmented sleep

[podcast]https://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/uploads//2012/02/Segmented-Sleep.mp3[/podcast] It’s happened to all of us at one time or another: we wake up in the middle of the night, have trouble going back to sleep, start worrying about the fact we’re having trouble going back to sleep, start worrying about the fact we’re worrying about the fact we’re having trouble going back to sleep...and then the alarm goes off and we spend the rest of the day yawning. Well, a February 22 news article by Stephanie Hegarty of the BBC World Service claims that both science and history suggest we should quit worrying and embrace our midnight wakefulness: that in fact, sleeping without waking for eight hours is an ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 14:36, February 24th, 2012 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »

The annual alcohol column

[podcast]https://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 »

Of mice and man-flu

[podcast]https://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/uploads//2011/10/Of-Mice-and-Man-Flu.mp3[/podcast] As any wife will tell you, men are lousy at being sick. They swear they’re on death’s door when it is quite apparent to their long-suffering significant other that in fact they are suffering from nothing more than a cold, nowhere near as bad as the one she had the week before when she not only went to work every day, she cleaned the house, did the grocery shopping, and took the kids to school, dance and piano lessons and hockey practice—which, come to think of it, she’s doing again this week. So, really, so what if he’s sick, since who can tell the difference? Well, the difference ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 16:10, October 17th, 2011 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »