For a look at some practical applications of everyone’s favorite irrational number, check out a previous post in Wise Words.
It’s hard not to like pi!
For a look at some practical applications of everyone’s favorite irrational number, check out a previous post in Wise Words.
It’s hard not to like pi!
Those of us “of a certain age” can probably recall our English teachers – at least one stickler on proper grammar – telling us not to end a sentence with a preposition. Similarly, split infinitives – a verb phrase in which the word “to” is separated from the action word – were to be avoided at all costs.
Sure, you might be able to get away with breaking the rules a bit in a science report. Even a social studies teacher might let it slide. But the following sentences in an English class would likely merit you with some “red ink” on your essay.
• Nobody knew where the marchers were from.
• That is what it was all about.
• We are planning to gradually improve our grades.
• They decided to fully implement the system.
As students, we were inclined to accept these rules as “grammatical gospel.” But do you know who established those rules? And why can’t we end a sentence with a preposition or use a split infinitive?
Dina Brun, an adjunct faculty member at Southern in the Department of World Languages and Literatures and who teaches Introduction to Linguistics, says the history of these rules dates back to the 17th century. She says Joshua Poole, a grammarian and rhetorician, and John Dryden, a literary writer and poet, have largely been credited with the preposition rule. Dryden was also associated with the split infinitive rule.
“These two individuals, and others, wanted to make English more like Latin,” Brun says. “In Latin, an infinitive is a single word, so there is no split.”
For example, she points to the Latin word, “clamare,” which means to claim, and “habere,” which means to have. The “re” part of the word is the English equivalent of “to.”
Brun says the rules have been getting much more relaxed in recent years. “It’s been a gradual process throughout the 20th century to the point where today, ending a sentence with a preposition is pretty much accepted,” she says. “The same is true of the split infinitive.”
And Brun said that is not necessarily a bad thing. She points out that when sentences are constructed intentionally to avoid ending in a preposition, it can lead to some awkward constructions.
For example: This is the book I told you about. To comply with the old rule, it would need to be changed to something like: This is the book about which I told you.
The same is true with the “no split infinitives” rule. For example: “We need your help to fully implement the process” would have to be changed to: “We need your help to implement fully the process.” The latter just doesn’t sound right.
Brun says that before the 17th century, there really was no such rule. She notes that even great literary geniuses, such as Shakespeare, ended sentences with prepositions.
Other language rules also are beginning to change. Brun notes that the differentiation between “who” and “whom” is beginning to wane. She says that people are beginning to drop “whom” and replace it with “who.”
Before long, we may be writing letters “To Who it May Concern.”
English teachers and writing coaches, what do you think? Is this progress or regression?
It’s a question that may be the ultimate brain teaser – how much of our brains do we actually use?
You’ve probably heard – even from presumably good sources – that human beings only use a small percentage of our brains. Some will say 5 percent. Others say 10, or perhaps 15 percent.
Is it any wonder, then, that we have heard that the human mind can be greatly enhanced and has the potential to develop ESP, or even mental telepathy? After all, if we are only using 5 percent of our minds, it could be inferred that we could improve the power of our brains to an almost unbelievable level. (Those of you who saw the 1970 film “Beneath the Planet of the Apes” might remember the telekinetic, mutant humans who were able to read minds, create mirages and inflict searing pain on their perceived enemies telepathically.)
But the truth is that none of those tiny percentages that are espoused in terms of how much of our brains we actually use are even remotely close to the truth.
“How much of your brain do you really use? All of it!” says Kelly Bordner, assistant professor of psychology at Southern.
Today, Wise Words looks at the myth that people use only a small portion of their brain. In Part I of this 2-part series, we examined the myth that opposites attract in romantic relationships, at least in the long run. Both subjects were among the psychological and behavioral myths explored in a course offered last fall at Southern.
Just like muscle mass can be increased, so can the strength of our brain – just not to super human levels. For example, Bordner says that when we challenge ourselves with new material or learning a new skill, we create new neuronal connections.
“If we only used 10 percent in the first place, there certainly wouldn’t be the need to build new brain mass,” Bordner says. In other words, why bother challenging yourself with complex ideas if you could just tap into the “unused 90 percent of the brain.” And would stroke victims really need therapy to create new pathways in the brain to compensate for the damage sustained in the episode? At the very least, rehabilitation would seem to be a much easier process if you had all that “surplus brain” to work with in generating those new connections.
So, where did this myth originate? Bordner says no conclusive answer has yet been found. Some say it might have started with an interpretation of a quote from William James, who is often credited with being the father of American psychology.
In his book “The Energies of Men,” James wrote: “We are making use of only a small part of our possible mental and physical resources.” But he never used a percentage, and could have been talking generically about the benefits of reaching our mental and physical potential.
Others say the myth could have stemmed from taking comments from other philosophers and scientists out of context. Even Albert Einstein has been attributed with having made statements supporting the myth.
But Bordner says there is no evidence in modern science to support the myth.
So, the next time you hear someone say that people only use 10 percent of their brains, you might want to tell them that isn’t the case with anyone you know.
They say opposites attract.
And that is absolutely true when you are dealing with…say…magnets. Who doesn’t remember their elementary school science classes when you would watch the “north pole” of one magnet gravitate toward the “south pole” of another. Conversely, two north poles or two south poles would repel each other.
The axiom of opposites attracting might even apply to initial attraction among humans. But when it comes to successful, long-term relationships, the opposite is more likely to be true, according to Kelly Bordner, assistant professor of psychology at Southern.
“It’s likely that the initial difference in personality and temperament leads to interest, excitation and perhaps, attraction,” she says. “But in the long run, despite what people say, opposites don’t attract, they attack.”
Bordner explored this topic, as well as other psychological and behavioral myths, during a course last semester. Her students also examined the roots of the myths, separating fact from fiction, and looking at the implications of what would life be like if the myths were actually true.
In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, Wise Words examines the “do opposites attract” subject today in the first of a 2-part series. The second part will look at the popular notion that we humans only use a small percentage of our brains.
The media culture is full of examples of opposites attracting. Fans of the “Big Bang Theory” have watched the on-again, off-again romance between nerdy scientist Leonard Hofstadter and the attractive but more superficial Penny. Yet, if the sit com were real life – granted that’s a reach — Sheldon Cooper and Amy Farrah Fowler would have a better chance of success.
“So, where did this myth originate? Well, no one really knows,” Bordner says. “But if you’re in it for the long haul, look for someone similar to yourself. After all, could you imagine spending the rest of your life bickering with your partner about whether to go out or stay in; whether to save money or spend it; whether to be neat or messy?”
Granted, sometimes a person’s “real personality” may not be evident right away. For example, a persona of bravado may merely be a cover for a deep-seeded insecurity. Some perceptive individuals can see through such a facade right away, but others are initially fooled and that can alter how someone views another, particularly a potential love interest.
“The reality is that these, and countless other quips and familiar ‘facts,’ are far from being true. Through examination of published scientific works and thoughtful discussion, we’ve asked ourselves: How and why did this myth originate? What evidence do we have that it’s (true or) false? What other falsities do I hold onto as a result of this?”
Bordner notes that not everyone shares her belief that deep down, most people seek mates with similar values and characteristics. In fact, most people say they prefer someone with opposite characteristics, according to a recent study published in the journal, Evolutionary Psychology. Yet, that study also shows the opposite is true: people generally prefer those who are similar in personality.
Other research — including a 2003 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences — shows that people generally reflect a “likes-attract,” rather than an “opposites- attract” approach to decision making in finding a spouse.
Bordner also points out that the compatibility algorithms used by online dating sites usually use similar values and traits as key indicators.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Coming soon: Do people use only a small part of their brains in everyday life?
Those of you who have read Part I and Part II of this 3-part series on cybersecurity may be tempted never to turn your computer on again.
But take heart. While there are villains out there who seek to take control of your machine — and they may even be successful – you are not defenseless against hackers.
Lisa Lancor, chairwoman of Southern’s Computer Science Department, says several steps can be taken to protect your machine. “Unfortunately, no single solution exists to protect your computer from all of the risks that are out there,” she says. “But securing your computer and your digital transactions should be thought about in layers.”
Here are her suggestions:
“The key is to be smart when surfing the Internet and always think like a hacker so that you can protect yourself from having your machine taken over,” Lancor says.
Happy and safe surfing!
Note: Lisa was interviewed Tuesday on WTIC’s (1080 AM) “Mornings with Ray Dunaway” about some of the latest hacking incidents and what people can do to protect their computers.
In Part I of our 3-part series, Wise Words focused on the myth that hackers have no interest in the computers of everyday individuals who do not store sensitive information on them. As you may have read, nothing could be further from the truth. Hackers can use the storage or processing power of your computer for multiple nefarious functions, even if you keep only the most innocuous of information on your machine.
Today, we look at some other popular misconceptions.
Myth: Using and updating antivirus software is enough to prevent my computer from becoming vulnerable to security incidents.
Reality: The use of antivirus software certainly is one step you can take to help protect your system. And it is helpful against known malware (malicious software), according to Lisa Lancor, chairwoman of Southern’s Computer Science Department. (Southern recently restructured its M.S. in computer science degree to focus on cybersecurity and software development.)
“Unfortunately, antivirus software does not protect you from malware that it does not know about,” Lancor says. “Malware that exploits a brand new vulnerability is referred to as a ‘zero-day attack’ because the security community has known about the vulnerability for zero days.”
Fair enough. But what are the chances of being hit with a “zero-day attack?”
It’s not that rare, according to Lancor. “A recent report by McAfee Labs indicates that its researchers find and catalog close to 100,000 new samples of malware per day,” she says. “That equates to 69 new, zero-day malware samples per minute. Are you keeping up with antivirus updates every minute?”
Even more disturbing, malware developers can sell their code on the black market of the Internet, Lancor says. They can sell for tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of dollars. “Clearly, creating zero-day malware is big business for hackers these days.”
Myth: Mac users are safe from malware.
Reality: It is true that at one time, Mac users were relatively safe from malware, though there are always exceptions. But because the number of Mac users has increased significantly during the last decade, virus writers have set their sights on Apple, according to Lancor. Just recently, a malware called IceFog was discovered that attacks both Windows and Macs and provides a backdoor into your system. “It can accept instructions from a command-and-control infrastructure to have your system do whatever hackers want,” she says.
Lancor points to the FlashBack virus that infected more than 600,000 Macs and included them into one of the first significant Mac-based botnets. Apple has been continuously adding security features, including its own anti-malware applications, into its operating system. Mac users are advised to follow safe security practices, just like PC users.
Myth: As long as you don’t click on ridiculous email links from people you don’t know, you should be pretty safe.
Reality: These aren’t the spam attacks of your grandparents’ day…er, in your parents’ day…um, in your older siblings’ day. It’s not just the Nigerian banker who wants to deposit money into your banking account, or the Viagra link, or an announcement that you’ve won the lottery of a foreign country for which you never bought a ticket. “Hackers are fully aware of the security education and training that you have been receiving about not clicking on links in emails from people you don’t know or trust,” Lancor says.
She points out that “smart phishing attacks,” also known as “spear (very targeted) phishing attacks now come from people you do know, or from hackers acting as someone you do know. “Hackers go so far as to study the content of previous email exchanges that you have had with someone and then they mimic the language and styling in an attempt to let your guard down and click on a malicious link,” she says. “The malicious link will look legitimate and quite benign.” Examples might include “annual sales report” or “a properly formed UPS tracking number. “If you click on the link, it will take you to an exploit site that is set up to blast your browser and operating system with every vulnerability that it knows about in an attempt to gain access to your machine.
“And to make matters worse, while it used to be the case that you always needed to click on something to get infected, now there are drive-by-downloads that require you to do nothing. Just visit a website that is compromised and without you noticing, it will redirect you to a site that will fire everything it has at you (to take over your computer).”
Part III — Protecting yourself against hackers, malware
Caution: What you’re about to read may make you want to turn off your computer, bury it, sprinkle it with holy water and return to a pre-1990s lifestyle that was devoid of all things cyber.
De-bunking popular misconceptions about cybersecurity can be a wake-up call for casual computer users that your machine is quite vulnerable to those with bad intentions. Spammers, phishers and those who like to spread viruses for the “sport” of it are just some of the individuals that your unit needs to be protected from in cyberspace. The recent hacking of the Target computer network – which has led to the breach of credit and debit card information for an estimated 40 million of the company’s customers and other personal data (email addresses, phone numbers, etc.) of up to 70 million others – has sparked concern and outrage from the public.
But what kind of risk do people face with their home computers? Do hackers have any interest in your computer? The answer is yes.
Today, Wise Words launches a 3-part series devoted to the topic of cybersecurity. Part I focuses on the myth that hackers are not interested in your personal computer because you don’t have any top secret information on it. In Part II, we will explore other common misconceptions of cybersecurity.
But don’t worry. In Part III, Wise Words, through the insight of Lisa Lancor, chairwoman of Southern’s Computer Science Department, will offer steps that the average computer user can take to minimize their exposure to hackers. Southern recently revamped its M.S. degree program in computer science to place increased emphasis on cybersecurity and software development.
Many people believe that because their machine is only for personal use, hackers have little or no interest in trying to compromise their unit. After all, we frequently hear about incidents involving hacking into computers belonging to government agencies, businesses, large institutions and political entities. Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, trade secrets, candidate strategies and classified documents can be at stake.
But what would anyone want with a computer filled with pictures of someone’s family dog, Little League schedules and the latest standings of their Fantasy Football league?
“Hackers value your computer for its resources, regardless of whether it has valuable information or not” says Lisa Lancor, chairwoman of Southern’s Computer Science Department.
“In fact, they will secure your computer after they have compromised it so that no other hacker can own your machine. It’s a sad state of affairs when hackers start patching and securing your system for you.”
Lancor points to several purposes:
Oink, oink. It’s baaaaack!
The H1N1 flu virus — commonly known as the “Swine Flu” — put a scare into U.S. public health and medical professionals starting in the spring of 2009. Public health specialists, fearing the potential for one of the worst flu outbreaks in memory, had raced against the clock that year to develop a vaccine for that form of the flu so that it could be ready for the fall. The general flu vaccines that had been prepared did not include H1N1 because it was not predicted to be a widespread threat until after those vaccines were produced.
And while there was a pandemic, it was not as widespread or as virulent as many had feared.
Fast forward 4 years. After a brief “hiatus,” H1N1 has returned. And this time it has gone “mainstream,” generating relatively little media attention compared with 2009. Yet, it has been the dominant strain during this flu season. When people talk about the flu this season, they are almost certainly talking about H1N1. The reduced media visibility may be due, in part, to the fact that this year’s general flu vaccines offer some protection against the Swine Flu. Thus, there is no panic within the public health community.
The symptoms are largely the same as the other, garden-variety versions of the flu of years past. It usually involves a sore throat, cough, fever, chills and fatigue that can be extreme. Vomiting and nausea are sometimes associated with it.
But what distinguishes the Swine Flu from other flu bugs is the target audience. While the very young and the elderly are generally more vulnerable to the flu, the Swine Flu seems to target teens and young adults more heavily than older people. Experts believe this may be because many individuals born before 1950 were exposed to Swine Flu-like viruses early in their lives, and therefore have developed some immunity to the H1N1 strain.
So, how can you avoid catching the Swine Flu? Although there are no guarantees, there are some steps you can take to reduce your chances, according to Dr. Diane Morgenthaler, director of Southern’s health and wellness center.
She strongly recommends consulting with your doctor about getting a flu vaccine. While there are some people who should not get it for health reasons, most individuals probably should, Morgenthaler says. College students often have the option of checking with their campus health services.
“It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to take full effect,” she says. “But we haven’t reached the peak of flu season yet, so there is still time.”
Morgenthaler’s suggestions also include:
And what if you suspect you might already have caught the flu?
“Antiviral medication may be helpful, especially in the first 48 hours,” Morgenthaler says.
“Most people are better within 1 to 2 weeks using over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, cough drops, antihistamines, salt water gargles and by drinking lots of fluids. But don’t spread the virus around. If you are sick, stay home if at all possible. Most bosses, professors and teachers will understand.”
Happy New Year, everyone!
It’s hard to believe a year has passed since we launched Wise Words. Throughout the year, we explored a wide variety of topics that we hope have proven to be both interesting and informative. During that time, the blog has received more than 6,000 views. Thank you for your stopping by!
We look forward to continue sharing insightful posts with you in the coming year. Whether you’re a student, a parent or a member of the general public, we invite you to check us out in 2014. We strive to make the blog an even better resource for the community.
Our Jan. 4, 2013 post (our very first) talked about keeping New Year’s resolutions. If you never read it, or even if you have, we thought it might be worth checking out.
We wish all of our readers a happy, healthy and productive new year!
If you’re a college student, chances are you’re busy this week studying for final exams. In fact, some of you may have taken at least one exam already.
And high school students, your first-semester (or second-marking period) is probably about to close after the first of the year. And you know what that means. It won’t be long after the holidays that the Exam Grinch comes knocking at your classroom door.
There is no way, of course, to avoid some anxiety of exams. And frankly, a little bit of stress can actually enhance your success on the exams. But high school and college students run the risk of “stress overload,” which can detract from your optimal performance.
For some suggestions on how to cope with pre-exam stress, check out our May 21 post.
Good luck on your exams!