Watching the World
Garbage in the Sea
A glass bottle thrown into the sea will take a thousand years to decompose and disappear. Paper tissues take three months to decompose, and matchsticks, six months. Cigarette butts will pollute the sea for from one to 5 years; plastic bags, 10 to 20 years; nylon articles, 30 to 40 years; cans, 500 years; and polystyrene, 1,000 years. These estimates are just some of the information provided by Legambiente, an Italian environmental association, to encourage bathers to be ecologically-minded when they go to the beach. “Aren’t these recommendations superfluous?” asks the newspaper Corriere della Sera. It replies: “The 605 tons of garbage collected by the Clean Beaches volunteers along Italian coasts from 1990 until today say no.”
Children and the Occult
“Children are at risk from Satanic and occult material posted on the internet,” states a teacher’s union, according to The Independent newspaper of London. A British survey for the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) revealed that over half the children between 11 and 16 years of age “were interested in the occult and the supernatural,” nearly one quarter were “very interested,” and 1 in 6 claimed to have been “spooked” when looking into the occult. Peter Smith, general secretary of the ATL, warns: “Youngsters can easily visit a choice of hundreds of websites on witchcraft, casting hexes and bloodletting techniques, without any adults having control as to what they read. . . . This represents an extremely worrying trend among young people. Parents and teachers will want to educate children and young people about the dangers of dabbling in the occult before they become too deeply involved.”
Don’t Wait to Refrigerate Hot Food
It’s a mistake to leave hot foods out on the counter to cool before refrigerating them, says Bessie Berry, manager of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Meat and Poultry Hotline. “Even foods right out of the oven or off the range” should be refrigerated immediately if they will not be eaten. As explained in Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter, “the sooner you get cooked foods into the cold fridge, the sooner any harmful bacteria they may harbor will stop multiplying.” But won’t this harm the refrigerator or overtax the motor? Ms. Berry says no. Modern refrigerators are designed to handle hot foods. The idea that they can’t may be a carryover from the days of iceboxes, when heat would cause the ice to melt. However, two precautions need to be taken: If you are refrigerating a large item—such as a whole chicken, a pot of soup, or a deep-dish casserole—it should be divided into shallower containers first, or it won’t cool down quickly enough inside to stop the growth of bacteria. And space should be allowed between hot foods and other foods in the refrigerator so that the air can circulate and cool the item quickly.
Emotional Computer Voices
In an effort to make computer voices sound friendlier, scientists have been seeking ways to add emotions to the voices. According to the German newspaper Gießener Allgemeine, a research team at the Technical University of Berlin analyzed how voices change with different emotions. Playactors read sentences of neutral content in different moods—angry, sad, bored, joyful, fearful, or disgusted. The sentences were then analyzed—syllable by syllable—for pitch, speed, basic frequency, volume, and clarity of articulation. The results showed that a joyful mood or an angry mood increased the pace and volume. Syllables were stressed, and articulation remained good. With boredom, fear, or sadness, speech was slower and slurred and the pitch changed. Fear caused the voice to increase by about one octave. With grief, the vocal cords vibrated softly and the voice became hoarse and lower in pitch. The characteristics were applied to artificial voices so that they could be checked to see if listeners could “recognize the correct emotional state.” Interest in the venture has particularly been shown by those who deal with speech synthesis and automatic speech recognition.
500 Years of Devastation
Brazil has lost 37 percent of three of its principal ecosystems since colonization began approximately 500 years ago. So reveals a recent World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) survey. To date, “93 percent of the Atlantic forest, 50 percent of the savanna and 15 percent of the Amazon region have been destroyed,” notes the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo. Says Garo Batmanian, executive director of WWF Brazil: “When the Portuguese arrived here, they found lush forest and more water than they had ever seen before. That gave rise to the myth that everything planted here flourishes and that there is no need to adapt European technology to the local reality.” This, he said, sparked the devastation of Brazil’s Atlantic forest.
Clean Transport for the Future
“Fuel-cell technology that promises to revolutionise the global car business is now coming to market,” reports the newspaper The Australian. Fuel-cell technology is particularly suitable for city buses because it offers much lower noise levels and has no polluting emissions. The buses will have a range of 200 miles [300 km], a top speed of 50 miles [80 km] per hour, and the capacity to carry 70 passengers. The buses will be offered to transport companies throughout Europe at a starting price of over $1 million each, and they are expected to be in service by the end of 2002. Fuel cells may also be the way of the future for cars, but at present they have not reached the production stage. “We have to reduce the cost, volume and weight of the fuel-cell systems in order to become competitive with internal combustion engines,” says Professor Ferdinand Panik.
“Vanity stamps, the latest product for an ego-centered age, made their debut in Canada,” reports The New York Times. Individuals can now personalize their postage “with a photo of the new baby, the new graduate, the happy couple or the loyal dog.” Applicants mail in a form along with a photo and payment. In return they receive a sheet of 25 self-sticking, printed gilt frames marked with the word “Canada” and the postage and a second sheet with reproductions of the photo, which can be placed within the gilt frames. The cost, however, is more than double the cost of regular stamps. In addition, greeting stickers are being offered that “will allow customers to customize their correspondence according to mood or message,” said Micheline Montreuil, director of stamp products for Canada Post. Not to be outdone, Australia, Britain, Singapore, and Switzerland have also come up with their version of vanity stamps. The endless variations can pose a challenge for stamp collectors.
Diseases Versus Disasters
Although disasters, such as floods and earthquakes, get the greatest publicity, infectious diseases claim far more lives, says a Red Cross report. Commenting on it, The New York Times states: “The death toll last year from infectious diseases like AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria is 160 times greater than the number of people killed in last year’s earthquakes in Turkey, cyclones in India and floods in Venezuela . . . An estimated 150 million people have died from those three diseases alone since 1945 compared with 23 million in wars during the same period.” According to Peter Walker, author of the report, poor public health is at the root of the problem. “In almost every country, there is a facade of a health system, but away from the city centers, there is nothing,” he said. The 13 million deaths last year from infectious diseases could have been prevented by an outlay of just five dollars per person in health care. The article concludes: “Money spent on changing people’s behavior saves more lives than money for expensive facilities like hospitals and high-tech equipment.”