Archive | August 2007

Baby Geniuses

Secret to Toddler Vocabulary Explosion Revealed
by: Jerry Liao

“Goo-Goo Gaa-Gaa” – just some of the words uttered by our babies when they’re still young. Whatever that means, it surely brings a smile to every parents. Parents even mimics this so-called “Baby Talk” just to communicate with their angels. How about the hidden competition whether the baby will first utter the word “mama” or “papa”?

But when the baby reaches the age of 1 or so, his or her ability to talk suddenly doubles or triples. They will no longer say “mum-mum” if they’re thirsty. They will say “tubig (water)” or “gatas (milk)”. Finally, a research was conducted to determine the reasons behind this and here’s the explanation:

Researchers have long known that at about 18 months children experience a vocabulary explosion, suddenly learning words at a much faster rate. They have theorized that complex mechanisms are behind the phenomenon. But new research by a University of Iowa professor suggests far simpler mechanisms may be at play: word repetition, variations in the difficulty of words and the fact that children are learning multiple words at once.

“The field of developmental psychology and language development has always assumed that something happens at that point to account for this word spurt: kids discover things have names, they switch to using more efficient mechanisms and they use their first words to help discover new ones,” said Bob McMurray, assistant professor of psychology in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “Many such mechanisms have been proposed.”

McMurray writes that children may still engage those specialized mechanisms. But a series of computational simulations that he conducted suggest that simpler explanations – such as the repetition of words over time, the fact that children learn many words at the same time and the fact that words vary in difficulty – are sufficient to account for the vocabulary explosion.

“Children are going to get that word spurt guaranteed, mathematically, as long as a couple of conditions hold,” McMurray said. “They have to be learning more than one word at a time, and they must be learning a greater number of difficult or moderate words than easy words. Using computer simulations and mathematical analysis, I found that if those two conditions are true, you always get a vocabulary explosion.”

McMurray’s simulations are analogous to a series of jars of different sizes, each representing a word, with more difficult words represented by larger jars. As individual units of time passed, a chip is dropped into each jar. Once the jar is filled, the word is learned.

McMurray’s mathematical analysis suggests that the word spurt is largely driven by the number of small jars (easy words) relative to large jars (difficult words). As long as there are more difficult words than easy ones, the vocabulary explosion is guaranteed.

Few words in any language are used an overwhelming number of times in ordinary speech. So, if frequency of use is considered as a measure of degree of difficulty, languages have many more difficult than easy words, McMurray said.

Experts have long thought that once a child learns a word, it is easier for him or her to learn more words. Or in the case of McMurray’s simulation, the jars become smaller. But McMurray also simulated a model in which the jars became larger once a word was learned and found that the vocabulary explosion still occurred.

“If we see the same word spurt when we model the inverse of accepted thinking, then clearly the specialized mechanisms aren’t necessary,” he said. “Our general abilities can take us a lot farther than we thought.”




Laser Printer Particles as Dangerous as Smoking
by: Jerry Liao

No doubt technology has helped most of us do our job more effectively. Technology has allowed us to create shortcuts in working and can make tasks easier for most of us. Technology can make doing certain things a more pleasurable experience and takes less time. But despite the advantages brought about by technology, there are certain disadvantages as well.

It was reported that certain laser printers used in offices and homes release tiny particles of toner-like material into the air that people can inhale deep into lungs where they may pose a health hazard, scientists are reporting. Their study is scheduled for the August 1 online issue of the American Chemical Society’s Environmental Science & Technology (ES&T), a semi-monthly journal.

Lidia Morawska, Ph.D., and colleagues in Australia classified 17 out of 62 printers in the study as “high particle emitters” because they released such elevated quantities of particles, which the researchers believe to be toner, the ultrafine powder used in laser printers instead of ink to form text and images. One of the printers released particles into an experimental chamber at a rate comparable to the particle emissions from cigarette smoking, the report stated.

Thirty-seven of the 62 printers, on the other hand, released no particles that diminished air quality. Six released only low levels, and 2 medium levels. All printers were monitored in an open office, and the researchers recorded data on three laser printers in an experimental chamber. The study included popular models in the U. S. and Australia sold internationally under the Canon, HP Color Laserjet, Ricoh and Toshiba brand names.

Most of the printer-generated particles detected were ultrafine, Morawska said, explaining that such contaminants are easily inhaled into the smallest passageways of the lungs where they could pose “a significant health threat.” Previous studies have focused on emissions of volatile organic compounds, ozone, and toner particles from office printers and copiers. However, the research left broad gaps in scientific understanding of particle emissions and airborne concentrations of particles, the report noted.

Morawska and colleagues, who are with the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, initially were not trying to close that knowledge gap. “It wasn’t an area that we consciously decided to study,” Morawska said in an interview. “We came across it by chance. Initially we were studying the efficiency of ventilation systems to protect office settings from outdoor air pollutants. We soon realized that we were seeing air pollution originating indoors, from laser printers.”

The study found that indoor particle levels in the office air increased fivefold during work hours due to printer use. Printers emitted more particles when operating with new toner cartridges, and when printing graphics and images that require greater quantities of toner.

Funded by Queensland Department of Public Works and The Cooperative Research Centre for Construction Innovation, the ES&T report includes a list of the brands and models in the study classified by amount of particles emitted. As a result of the study, the scientists are calling on government officials to consider regulating emission levels from laser printers. “By all means, this is an important indoor source of pollution,” Morawska said. “There should be regulations.”

The health effects from inhaled ultrafine particles depend on particle composition, but the results can range from respiratory irritation to more severe illnesses, such as cardiovascular problems or cancer, Morawska said. “Even very small concentrations can be related to health hazards,” she said. “Where the concentrations are significantly elevated means there is potentially a considerable hazard.”

Larger particles also could be unhealthy without reaching the deepest parts of the lung. “Because they are larger,” Morawska added, “they contain more mass and can carry more toxins into the body. No matter how you look at it, there could be problems.”

Morawska said that more research on the health effects of inhaling printer-generated particles is needed. As a first step to lower risk, people should ensure that rooms in offices or houses are well ventilated to allow airborne particles to disperse.

The American Chemical Society-the world’s largest scientific society-is a non-profit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

All I can say is that the advantages technology has given us outweigh the disadvantages. If indeed laser printers poses dangers to our health, then perhaps what we should do is to relocate the printers into a place where it can do no harm. Install air purifiers or exhaust fans maybe. Printer manufacturers may want to look at this report and come up with innovations that will eliminate this problem. At the end of the day, printers will and should stay – unless you want to write, write and write your documents.