Monday, February 27, 2012

How to Be a Good Listener in a Lecture and One on One: The Success of Active Listening

We have done it every day of our lives, ever since early childhood. It is something we rarely think about when we’re doing it, but it is just as important as sharing our thoughts to with others. It is a form of communication just as much as talking is. Listening is an art which we all, including the author, can improve on. Studies show that people remember only 25 percent of what they hear. That means that we are only truly listening to a quarter of the information, thoughts, or feelings being told us. Good listening skills are important for success in college, in business meetings, in careers, and in relationships.
Many marriages can be repaired when couples listen to each other. John Gottman, psychology professor of the University of Washington, learned after 25 years of studying marriages that “active listening” is highly important in solving conflicts2. We will be looking at two types of listening: listening one on one and listening in an audience. Actively listening to a lecture or speech can be very rewarding as opposed to merely hearing a speech. The difference between listening and hearings is that hearing is just letting sound enter your ear, while listening is paying close attention to what is being said.

We will focus first on listening in an audience. Listening to a speaker, such as a professor, is highly important if you want to succeed at your class or job. Companies lose thousands of dollars each year due to poor communication. According to a study by SIS International Research, roughly 70 percent of the employees of a business waste an average of 17.5 hours each week dealing with problems caused by poor communication1. That’s a huge chunk of time and money lost! So, how can we improve our listening skills? A study conducted by Larry Vandergrift, a University of Ottawa researcher, revealed some interesting facts about how to improve listening skills in the auditorium.

The following seven points will help you be a better listener of a lecture1:

1. Have goals for what you want to learn from the lecture or speech. Before you go to the lecture, predict what you think the speaker is going to say and think about what you would like to learn from the speech.

2. Before going to the speech, mentally review what you know about the topic of the speech. Your knowledge is a foundation which you can then build on. When you review your knowledge on the subject before the speech, you’ll be more aware of how the new information from the speech fits in with what you already know. This makes it easier to learn. Learning based on past knowledge is important for progress.

3. When you listen to the speech, listen for what is important or relevant to you and take notes. The things that stand out to you are important, and writing them down is a must. Often, we can’t easily remember everything we’ve heard.

4. Don’t get distracted. The people around you text messaging, the speaker’s resemblance to someone you know, the people standing up and leaving the lecture, and your own thoughts can cause you to get easily sidetracked. Don’t let them. Keep your eyes on the speaker and your thoughts on what is being said and what it means.

5. Don’t get thrown off by confusing or unfamiliar ideas, words, or details. Many professors and some speakers use words that are unfamiliar. Or, they may talk about things that go over your head. The key is to not be distracted from the points the speaker is trying to make.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Amazing Biblical Artifacts Unearthed and the Discovery of a Lifetime

A truck carrying half a dozen German soldiers rumbles down a dusty, desert road. Hanging onto the underside of the truck and slowly moving toward the front, he grits his teeth, knowing that what he is about to do could cost him his life. Working his way toward the front of the truck, the adventurer reaches for the truck grill and pulls himself up onto the hood of the truck. Sometime later, having lost the escorting vehicles and soldiers, he reaches a dock where the truck is unloaded, and a box containing an ancient artifact is hoisted up onto a ship. The artifact is no ordinary artifact. It happens to be the one and only Ark of the Covenant.

Millions of people around the world have watched Indiana Jones: The Raiders of the Lost Ark and the sequels. The Ark of the Covenant, a mysterious, gold-covered box which contained the Ten Commandments, among other things, has been searched for by many for thousands of years, but never found. However, there are many other artifacts of biblical significance uncovered in recent years and in the past century. While they are not nearly as spectacular as a discovery of Ark of the Covenant would be, they are, nevertheless, eye-opening and deserving of attention.

Shishak (Shoshenq I) Relief

Artifacts depicting images of biblical events have been discovered all over the Middle East. One insightful depiction can be found in the south wall of the Great Temple of Amon at Karnak, in Egypt (5). A huge sunken-relief of Pharaoh Shishak (or Shoshenq I), with a number of small depictions of ancient Hebrews surrounding it, catches one’s attention while walking through the temple. Commissioned by Shoshenq I, the relief of the pharaoh also contains writing describing a campaign in Israel where he sacked a number of cities and took the plunder back to Egypt with him (5). The Bible records Shishak’s campaign in 2 Chronicles 12:1-9* and in 1 Kings 14:25. Rehoboam the king of Judah “forsook the law of the LORD, and all Israel with him” (2 Chron. 12:1). Then, “in the fifth year of king Rehoboam Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem, because they had transgressed against the LORD…and the people were without number that came with him out of Egypt…. And he took the fenced cities which pertained to Judah, and came to Jerusalem” (2 Chron. 12:2-4).

According to the Bible, the people in Jerusalem turned back to God and humbled themselves after hearing from a prophet called Shemaiah that because they had forsaken God, God would leave them in the hand of Shishak (2 Chron. 12:5). From reading 2 Chronicles 12, we learn that when the Israelites turned back to God, God did not allow Shishak to destroy them. But, God allowed Shishak to plunder King Rehoboam and the Temple of Solomon, in Jerusalem. The Jews would be Shishak’s servants for a time.

The Victory Relief of Shoshenq I records that he attacked various cities in the northern kingdom of Israel in addition to cities in the southern kingdom of Judah (11). Further confirmation that this event recorded in the Bible and in the Temple of Amon actually occurred is found in Israel, at the site of Megiddo. At Megiddo, a section of a stela (an upright stone slab) was discovered in 1926 during some excavations (11). On this stela, commemorating Shishak’s victory, his name can clearly be seen carved into the stone (11).

Sennacherib Palace Relief

Depictions of events described in the Bible are not limited to Egypt. Located in northern Iraq in the ruins of ancient Nineveh is the Palace of Sennacherib. All that is left of the magnificent home of the Assyrian king, King Sennacherib, is the palace foundation and some of its walls. One particular wall is still mostly intact. On it are numerous bas-reliefs depicting Sennacherib’s successful siege of Lachish, an ancient Israeli city. The main scene is of the Assyrian attack on the wall of Lachish (12). Battering rams built into four-wheeled vehicles are slamming into the wall, under battlements. The Israeli soldiers defending the city are fighting fiercely, as are the besiegers (12). An epigraph states: “Sennacherib, king of the world, king of Assyria, sat upon a nimedu- throne and passed in review the booty (taken) from Lachish (La-ki-su)” (Pritchard 201, parentheses in orig.).

Friday, February 10, 2012

Medicine of the Future: The Amazing Developments in Medical Technology

"An engineer, a mathematician, and a computer programmer are driving down the road when the car they are in gets a flat tire. The engineer says that they should buy a new car. The mathematician says they should sell the old tire and buy a new one. The computer programmer says they should drive the car around the block and see if the tire fixes itself."

We have entered the second decade of the twenty-first century. Today, affordable smart phones are widespread, computer game graphics look almost life-like, computer animation is almost indistinguishable from actual footage, remote-controlled drones patrol the skies, and Google maps provide street views of practically any city on Earth. What’s more, every year, the storage capacity of the average computer hard drive increases along with the computing power. We are living on the threshold of what could be a highly advanced future.

Along with the computer technology, medical technology is also advancing rapidly. Micro-computers, bionic limbs, artificial organs, nanotechnology, and lab-grown organs can potentially improve the quality of human life and change modern medicine. Such changes may take some time to be fully realized, but they are in their infancy today.

Micro-Computers and Nanotechnology

Micro-computers are a fascinating concept, and, until fairly recent years, they were only just a concept. But, today, the concept has become a reality. The phrase “worth your weight in salt” does not apply to micro-computers. One such computer that has actually been manufactured is smaller than a grain of salt (4). Professors Dennis Sylvester and David Blaauw, from the University of Michigan, have created a tiny, millimeter-long computer that contains a battery, a central processing unit (CPU), sensors, a tiny radio emitter, and electronics for powering the chip (4). The tiny computer is powered by light, requiring 10 hours of indoor lighting or 1.5 hours of sunlight exposure (4). The device is designed for being inserted into the eyeballs of glaucoma victims. It collects data with sensors and transmits the data through a radio wave (4). If there is too much internal pressure, the chip will transmit the data to medical professionals who will know what to do with the patient. Regarding this incredible technology, Sylvester said, “This is the first true millimeter-scale complete computing system. Our work is unique in the sense that we're thinking about complete systems in which all the components are low-power and fit on the chip. We can collect data, store it and transmit it. The applications for systems of this size are endless” (5).

Another kind of micro-computer is in the process of being developed. Unlike Sylvester and Blaauw’s micro-computer, this one would use DNA for its electrical components. At the Hebrew University of Jerusalem a team of scientists has created the first DNA logic gates (3). Like their non-biological counterparts, the DNA logic gates represent one of two possible states, such as the zeros or ones of binary code (3). When one of two inputs was present at a DNA logic gate, the gate fluoresced, giving off light. And, when both of the two inputs or neither were present, the gate ceased fluorescing. This is similar to how a computer logic gate works. The DNA logic gates, when connected together and injected under the skin, may be able to form a biological-based computing system that can detect, diagnose, and treat common sicknesses or medical conditions (3).

Speaking of computers, a fairly new technology field has been gaining ground in recent years. Ever since Don Eigler of IBM spelled out “IBM” with 35 individual xenon atoms in 1989 (13), nanotechnology has been making many breakthroughs. Unlike most technology, which is easily visible to the unaided eye, nanotechnology deals with components much smaller than the head of a pin. Instead of being measured in meters, these components are measured in nanometers. To get a picture of how small this is, a billion nanometers can fit in one meter. Some examples of nanotechnology already in use would include carbon nanotubes (made out of billions of individual carbon atoms). These are currently being used to give extra strength to mountain bikes, golf club, and other high-end sporting equipment (7). Because they are composed entirely of carbon atoms, carbon nanotubes are used in water purification systems. Carbon, which is found in filters and diamonds, is good at attracting impurities and has a strong bonding arrangement.

Carbon Nanotube

Nanotechnology also has great promise for the future of medicine. One application of nanotechnology to the medical field is through the use of nanobots--microscopic machines made out of molecules--for fighting infection. Researchers at the Southwest UK Paediatric Burns Centre at Frenchay Hospital in Bristol have teamed up with scientists at the University of Bath to develop a “dressing” that kills pathogens (such as bacteria) by releasing antibiotics from “nanocapsules” (12). The harmful bacteria produce toxins which eat through the “nanocapsules”, releasing antibiotics (12). If this is perfected, the way doctors treat diseases may change. A patient may find that all he or she needs to do to recover from an illness is to simply swallow a pill: a pill filled with “nanocapsules”. Some other possibilities for nanotechnology in medicine might include nanobots for repairing damaged cells, nanobots for accelerating bone repair, and nanobots for killing cancer cells (14). Yes, you read it correctly, nanotechnology is thought to be a possible cure for cancer.


The i-LIMB

Nanotechnology also has another application in the developing area of medical technology called bionics. Imagine that you lose both your hands. Now, you are unable to work or do a lot of the things you enjoy. But, there is no need to worry. All you have to do is purchase an i-LIMB and have it installed. It sounds like it could be something made by Apple along the same lines of an iphone or ipod, but the i-LIMB is not another phone or portable computer. It is a prosthetic, robotic hand, created by Touch Bionics, that allows users to pick up a variety of objects, including glasses, playing cards, and suitcases. It works by detecting tiny electrical signals from arm muscles to control the movements of its individual, robotic fingers, wrist, and thumb (11). Bionic legs that work in a similar way to the i-LIMB are also on the market.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Amazing Eye

Nearly everyone is born with it. It is more sensitive than the best scientific equipment we possess today, being capable of detecting a particle smaller than an atom. Without it, we would have no idea what the difference would be between a blue mustang and a yellow mustang of the same model, or the difference between white and black. What are we talking about? You guessed it: the eye. Without it, we would not have vision.

Vision is important to most people. We would have difficulty navigating our surroundings and writing articles, like this one, if we did not have it. Millions of people around the world do all they can to improve their sight. Some get contact lenses and glasses, spending hundreds of dollars, while others receive laser-eye-surgery, spending thousands. This question should be of interest to those who want to have good vision: “How do we see images?”

To answer this question, we must first take a quick look at the basic components of the human eye. The human eye is a complex organ, more sensitive than any device created by scientists or engineers. The components of the eye that are visible from the outside include the sclera, the cornea, the iris, the pupil, the lens, and the anterior and posterior chambers. Just like a digital camera, the eye has a dark interior, a diaphragm for contro lling light levels, a sensor for capturing the images projected on it, and a lens that automatically focuses (8). The sclera is the white part of the eye. Like a camera’s interior, the sclera is brown, or dark, on the inside. This allows it to absorb light to keep the images received by the brain from being washed out. Connecting to the sclera and covering the iris is a transparent membrane called the cornea. The cornea is a crystal-clear membrane which consists of five layers, totaling half a millimeter thick (2). It alone accounts for two-thirds of the eye’s focusing power (2).

Lying directly underneath the cornea is the iris, which contains the pigment melanin. Melanin in the iris can produce varying shades of blue, green, and brown, depending on the amount and distribution of the melanin. The iris encircles a hole called the pupil. As the iris sphincter muscle contracts or expands, the iris changes size, causing the pupil diameter to expand to a maximum of 7 millimeters or contract to a minimum of 3 millimeters (6).