The Ideas Factory: From pink water to pronoun politics– five concepts we spotted this week

1. Crowd control: Quelling dissent with a spray of pink paint

While commentators in Britain were calling for water canons – among other tactics to be used on protesters in Britain, Ugandan police were using original – if worrying – methods of clamping down on protest. During a demonstration outside Kampala on Wednesday – one intended to mourn fellow opposition members killed earlier this year – anti-riot police fired pink water to disperse crowds (pictured above) and, thus, to make later identification of the protesters easier. A good method of crowd control perhaps, but one with some serious ethical implications.

Source: MSNBC Photo Blog

2. Computing: Time to turn off turning on?

As computers have increased in processing speed exponentially since the birth of the home PC, the boot-up has gone from Godot-esque wait to play Minesweeper, to an average 90 seconds of thumb-twiddling. But does a world run by superfast laptops (the new MacBook Air takes 16 seconds to get going) and always-on tablets signal the end of the tedious wait to get going. Slate's Farhad Manjoo reckons so, citing the influence of phones and tablets as "one of the many signs that we've entered the twilight of the PC era".

Source: Slate

3. Post: Goodbye snail mail, hello

An opposition minister in Australia has told a digital summit that he intends, if in government, to offer Aussie citizens the option to stop receiving post from government agencies through the mail in exchange for a email address. Malcolm Turnbull told reporters that: "[The] government could save hundreds of millions — if not over time, billions — of dollars by saying to any Australian who wanted it: we will give you a lifetime address, a lifetime pigeon-hole." It's a good point. One for Downing Street's blue-sky thinkers to mull over too?

Source: Pop Science/Computerwold

4. Language: The difference between me and you – the science behind the use of pronouns

You or I might not know this, but the way in which pronouns are used by us and them can offer clues into people's health, ranking in organisation, gender, age, personality and more. That's the conclusion drawn by James Pennebaker, chair of the department of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, who's spent years creating methods of analysing text to work out what our "I's" and "yous" really mean. He can even tell the difference between a suicidal and non-suicidal poet. Read Gareth Cook's fascinating interview with Pennebaker here:

Source: Scientific American

5. Prosthetics: The next generation artificial leg

Oscar Pistorius's possibly Olympian blades might dominate discussion of artificial limbs. But a seven-year research project at Vanderbilt Center for Intelligent Mechatronics has resulted in a device that requires less energy from its users and thus allows people to walk 25 per cent faster. It also makes sitting, standing and going up and down stairs much easier. One of the most intriguing capabilities is an anti-stumble routine, which senses if its user is starting to falter. It will lift up the leg to clear any obstruction and plant the foot on the floor.


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