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Month April 2010

Insensitive? Help is Here: ‘Cuddle Hormone’ Makes Men More Empathetic

Via BBC:

A nasal spray can make men more in tune with other people’s feelings, say a team of German and UK researchers.

They found that inhaling the “cuddle hormone” oxytocin made men just as empathetic as women.

The study in 48 volunteers also showed that the spray boosted the ability to learn from positive feedback.

Writing in the Journal of Neuroscience, the researchers said the spray may be useful for boosting behaviour therapy in conditions such as schizophrenia.

Oxytocin is a naturally produced hormone, most well-known for triggering labour pains and promoting bonding between mother and baby.

But it has also been shown to play a role in social relations, sex and trust.

Study leader Professor Keith Kendrick, a neuroscientist at Cambridge University, said by giving the hormone nasally, it quickly reaches the brain.

In the first part of the study, half the men received a nose spray containing oxytocin (not to be confused with oxycontin) and half were given a dummy spray.

They were then shown photos of emotionally charged situations including a crying child, a girl hugging her cat, and a grieving man, and were asked questions about the depth of feeling they had towards the subjects.

Those who had the hormone spray had markedly higher levels of empathy – of a similar magnitude to those only usually seen in women who are naturally more sensitive to the feelings of others.

Neither group were able to accurately guess whether they had received the oxytocin or the dummy spray.

Positive feedback

In a second experiment, the researchers measured “socially motivated learning” where the volunteers were asked to do a difficult observation test and were shown an approving face if they got the answer right and an unhappy face if they got it wrong.

In these types of experiments, people generally learn faster if they get positive feedback but those who had taken the oxytocin spray responded even better to facial feedback than those in the placebo group.

Professor Kendrick said the oxytocin spray may prove to be useful in people with conditions associated with reduced social approachability and social withdrawal, such as schizophrenia.

And other researchers are already looking at its potential use in autism.

“The bottom line is it improved the ability of people to learn when they had positive feedback and that is pretty important because this might help improve the effectiveness of behavioural therapy or even be useful in people with learning difficulties.”

Professor Gareth Leng from Edinburgh University said the research used some cleverly-designed tests.

He added there has been a lot of interest recently on oxytocin and social behaviour.

“This study is the latest of several that suggest that intranasal oxytocin seems to ‘sensitise’ people to become more aware of social cues from other individuals – and more likely to be sympathetic to them.”

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French Pavilion at Shanghai Expo 2010

Via Dezeen:

Shanghai Expo 2010: photographer Montse Zamorano has photographed the completed French Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo 2010, designed by Jacques Ferrier Architectures.

The structure as a whole is “wrapped into” a huge wire mesh that is made of a new type concrete material, while featuring the plant walls, and water pools internal and external.

Highlight 3: Sights, Smells, Tastes, Sounds and Feel of France

In “the Sensual City,” visitors will see, smell, taste, hear, and touch the glamour of France.

Highlight 4: Alain Delon

As the spokesman of France Pavilion, Alain Delon will tell you his close ties with China at the “France Pavilion Channel” specifically set up for the pavilion exhibition.

Read the rest, here.

Deepwater Horizon: Species Under Threat

From Guardian:

Louisiana has declared a state of emergency as oil starts to come ashore on its beaches.

Gulf Oil Spill

From National Geographic, by Marianne Lavelle, photograph by Chris Graythen, Getty Images.

A boat makes its way through crude oil on the water’s surface on Wednesday, about a week after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig sank into the Gulf of Mexico. Even now authorities can only guess at the size of the spill, because the ongoing leak is deep underwater.

Most large oil spills in history stemmed from tanker accidents, and their sizes could be reckoned based on the holding capacity of the wrecked vessels.

Oil company BP, which owns the leaking well, provided the original estimate of a thousand barrels a day, based on underwater cameras that recorded the flow from leaks 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) below water. (See oil rig pictures.)

But the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, which has also been monitoring the disaster on the scene and from the air, now says evidence points to the spill being five times worse—about 5,000 barrels a day. BP says it has identified a potentially new leak in the damaged pipes on the sea floor, which it had not seen before.

Oil Spill Nears the Coast

Image courtesy ESA

The European Space Agency’s Envisat orbiter snapped this picture of the Gulf oil spill last Thursday, seen as a dark swirl not far from the Louisiana coast.

Winds from the south have been driving the oil spill closer to land all week. The federal-industry joint response team projects that the leading edge of the oil plume will reach the Mississippi River Delta and the barrier islands of Louisiana by Friday night.

The area includes the Delta National Wildlife Refuge, where lush, marshy vegetation provides a winter stopover for hundreds of thousands of migrating snow geese, coots, and ducks. The wetlands refuge is also home to numerous endangered species, including American alligators, brown pelicans, peregrine falcons, and piping plovers.

Wildlife protection officials are trying the strategy of “hazing,” or using loud propane-fired cannons, to chase birds from the water’s edge.

In relation, see this.

The Truffle

Via ArchDaily, by Nico Saieh:

Architects: Ensamble Estudio / Antón García-Abril
Location: Costa da Morte, Spain
Collaborator: Ricardo Sanz
Quantity Surveyor: Javier Cuesta
Collaborator Companies: Tongadas & Zuncho Dolorido, SL. / Galicorte / Macías Derribos / Suministros Zurich / Ganadería Paulina
Project Area: 25 sqm
Project Year: 2006-2010
Photographs: Roland Halbe & Ensamble Estudio

The Truffle is a piece of nature built with earth, full of air. A space within a stone that sits on the ground and blends with the territory. It camouflages, by emulating the processes of mineral formation in its structure, and integrates with the natural environment, complying with its laws.

Read the rest, here.

Suck My Left One

By Bikini Kill, from halfsquirrel.

Coney Island Dream

By Joshua Brown:

A subdued Coney Island as a winter storm approaches. Music Mr. Gaunt Pt 1000 by Soap & Skin.

Trail House

From ArchDaily, by Karen Cilento:

Anne Holtrop’s Trail House follows a series of trails in the ground that were created by the daily circulation of pedestrians. The house becomes the path and transforms the inside into a “walking home.” As the house branches along the series of paths, it becomes narrower and then wider to provide ever-changing views of the site. In this way, Holtrop makes a specific link with the environment by showing the house as a product of the site.

As long as the house is situated on the site, there can be no new, natural walking trails created. The house is seen as “an obstacle, an intruder” where each new path is a result of the house.

The mirrored version, of a wood project

More, here.

Fears About the Demise of Arabic are Misplaced

From The Economist print edition, Apr 22nd 2010:

The Arabic language: A God-given way to communicate.

THE Arabic language is dying. Its disloyal children are ditching their mother tongue for English and French. It is stagnating in classrooms, mosques and the dusty corridors of government. Even such leaders as the Lebanese prime minister, Saad Hariri, and Jordan’s foreign-educated King Abdullah struggle with its complicated grammar. Worse still, no one cares. Arabic no longer has any cachet. Among supposedly sophisticated Arabs, being bad at Arabic has become fashionable.

That, at least, is an opinion prominently aired in the National, an English-language newspaper in Abu Dhabi. It reflects a perennial worry in the Arab world about the state of the language. Classical Arabic, the language of the Koran, and its modern version, Modern Standard Arabic, known in academia as MSA, are a world apart from the dialects that people use every day. Spoken and written in the media and on stuffy occasions, this kind of Arabic is no one’s mother tongue. It is painfully acquired through hours of poring over grammar textbooks and memorising the Koran. Could it one day become obsolete?

Arabic certainly faces competition. Clive Holes, a professor of Arabic at Oxford University, concedes that learning formal Arabic tends to be undervalued by students in the Middle East, many of whom increasingly see it as divorced from success in the real world, especially in the international sphere, where English prevails. A lack of investment in education by Arab governments means it is often badly taught. In the Gulf countries Westerners and Asians, neither with much Arabic, far outnumber native speakers.

But that hardly means the language is dying. Arabic is the essence of Arab identity. Arabs are inordinately proud of their linguistic heritage. Handed down by Allah, many believe the Koran must be read only in the classical mode in which it was written. Even non-Arabic speaking Muslims force themselves to learn enough of it to read it. Stumble though they may, Arabs from different countries are enabled by MSA to communicate.

The popularity of a recent television programme beamed from Abu Dhabi in which people competed to see who could best recite traditional Bedouin poetry suggests there is plenty of appetite for Arabic in all its forms. In the absence of an authentic Arabic word, people may instead use an English word like “zip”, as the writer in the National laments. But such changes and borrowings are inevitable and may be quite healthy. Arabic will evolve from the prescriptions of the grammar book, taking in new words and discarding obsolete ones. But as Mr Holes points out, this is a sign of dynamism rather than demise.

National Laboratory of Genomics

Via ArchDaily, by Nico Saieh:

Architect: TEN Arquitectos/Enrique Norten
Location: Irapuato, Guanajuato. Mexico
Project Team: Enrique Norten, Salvador Arroyo, Victoria Grossi, Verónica Chávez, Carlos Marin, Mateo Riestra, Ernesto Orrante, Ricardo Orozco, Alejandro Mantecón, Gabriela Puente, Dionisio Arras, Uvaldo Arenas
Structure: Colinas de Buen, SA de CV, Ing. Óscar de Buen
MEP: DIIN, SA de CV. Ing. Alejandro Borboa
Client: National Laboratory of Genomics for Biodiversity
Year of Design: 2005-2007
Year of Construction: 2007-2010
Photographs: Luis Gordoa

Located in the Bajio, Mexico’s breadbasket, the National Laboratory of Genomics is an extension of the Institute of Agricultural Studies. The location and geology of the site—an empty field with a fault line deep below—gave rise to the metaphor that defines the form of the building: an inscribed line divides the program in half, with the laboratories on one side and the administrative and auditorium spaces on the other, and also delineates the public areas. This constructed fault line forms an intimate civic space that connects the different programs.

The project is nestled into a built-up artificial topography, a new terrain that manifests the nature of the work inside the institution. The laboratories are absorbed into the site, evident predominantly as a series of terraces that modulate transitions between interior and exterior, lab and field. Voids cut into the landscape create secluded patios, bringing light into the building. The embedded laboratories provide private and isolated spaces for research and also insulated and easily controlled environments for testing. In contrast, the administrative and auditorium spaces assert the presence of the technical and the social.

Read the rest, here.