When a federal panel asked two journals last week to withhold details on bird flu experiments, it was only the latest example of an ages-old conflict often rooted in issues of war and advanced weaponry.
The rise of “mompreneurs” 媽媽興業家 has been helped by the rise of Internet and social media, which allow child-raising women to exchange ideas without having to leave the house.
BY KAZUMASA NISHIOKA STAFF WRITER
Silver-colored waves were reproduced through computer graphics after an analysis of crystals on the painting. (Provided by Izumi Nakai, professor of analytical chemistry at the Tokyo University of Science)
Ogata Korin's "Red and White Plum Blossoms," a folding screen with a painting from the 18th century (MOA Museum of Art)
After fading over time, the dazzling silvery waves of a dark river originally depicted in a national treasure screen painting from the 18th century have been reproduced via computer by a team of researchers, giving testament to the brilliance of the original masterpiece.
Dec 14th 2011 | from the print edition
WELL, they’ve found it. Possibly. Maybe. Pinning down physicists about whether they have actually discovered the Higgs boson is almost as hard as tracking down the elusive subatomic beast itself. Leon Lederman, a leading researcher in the field, once dubbed it the “goddamn” particle, because it has proved so hard to isolate. That name was changed by a sniffy editor to the “God” particle, and a legend was born. Headline writers loved it. Physicists loved the publicity. CERN, the world’s biggest particle-physics laboratory, and the centre of the hunt for the Higgs, used that publicity to help keep the money flowing.
And this week it may all have paid off. On December 13th two of the researchers at CERN’s headquarters in Geneva announced to a breathless world something that looks encouragingly Higgsy.
The Higgs boson, for those who have not been paying attention to the minutiae of particle physics over the past few years, is a theoretical construct dreamed up in 1964 by a British researcher, Peter Higgs (pictured above), and five other, less famous individuals. It is the last unobserved piece of the Standard Model, the most convincing explanation available for the way the universe works in all of its aspects except gravity (which is dealt with by the general theory of relativity).
The Standard Model (see table) includes familiar particles such as electrons and photons, and esoteric ones like the W and Z bosons, which carry something called the weak nuclear force. Most bosons are messenger particles that cement the others, known as fermions, together. They do so via electromagnetism and the weak and strong nuclear forces. The purpose of the Higgs boson, however, is different. It is to inculcate mass into those particles which weigh something. Without it, or something like it, some of the Standard Model’s particles that actually do have mass (particularly the W and Z bosons) would be predicted to be massless. Without it, in other words, the Standard Model would not work.
The announcement, by Fabiola Gianotti and Guido Tonelli—the heads, respectively, of two experiments at CERN known as ATLAS and CMS—was that both of their machines have seen phenomena which look like traces of the Higgs. They are traces, rather than actual bosons, because no Higgs will ever be seen directly. The best that can be hoped for are patterns of breakdown particles from Higgses that are, themselves, the results of head-on collisions between protons travelling in opposite directions around CERN’s giant accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Heavy objects like Higgs bosons can break down in several different ways, but each of these ways is predictable. Both ATLAS and CMS have seen a number of these predicted patterns often enough to pique interest, but not (yet) often enough to constitute proof that they came from Higgses, rather than being random fluctuations in the background of non-Higgs decays.
The crucial point, and the reason for the excitement, is that both ATLAS and CMS (which are located in different parts of the ring-shaped accelerator tunnel of the LHC) have come up with the same results. Both indicate that, if what they have seen really are Higgses, then the boson has a mass of about 125 giga-electron-volts (GeV), in the esoteric units which are used to measure how heavy subatomic particles are. That coincidence bolsters the suggestion that this is the real thing, rather than a few chance fluctuations.
Photo by Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images.
Physicists haven't found the so-called "God particle" (known to the less sensational among us as the Higgs boson) just yet, but two teams have found "intriguing hints" pointing to the existence of the elusive particle that is thought to be a basic building block of the universe.
So what’s the big deal? And what’s with the haughty name?
The Washington Post explains: "[T]his particle—spotted—would all but complete the fundamental theory of particle physics, known as the Standard Model. Confirmation of the Higgs would solve the mystery of why matter has the property that physicists call mass—the resistance to being shoved around."
British physicist Peter Higgs and others theorized the particle’s existence over 40 years ago. Scientists haven’t had the tools or expertise to conclude whether or not it exists until now, and a pair of separate teams have sparked excitement among experts and laymen with early results—the latest of which were unveiled Tuesday—that show small but significant progress toward finally answering the question once and for all.
"The excitement is higher than anything I've seen in high-energy physics in the past 20 years," Joe Lykken, a physicist at the Energy Department’s Fermilab in Illinois, told the Post.
Two separate teams are using the European Organization for Nuclear Research's Large Hadron Collider—a 17-mile circular tunnel underneath the Swiss-French border that is so powerful that it can create conditions that mirror those that followed the theoretical Big Bang—to crash proton beams into each other at incredibly high speeds in hopes of finding the Higgs boson.
The Associated Press explains that scientists believe that only under these conditions can it be created, and only a fraction of the time. Both teams have concluded with some confidence the likely mass of the particle. They hope to reach an ultimate conclusion about whether or not the particle exists by next year.
"But be careful—it's intriguing hints," said Rolf Heuer, director of CERN. "We have not found it yet; we have not excluded it yet."
If scientists prove the Higgs boson exists, and at the mass they predict, it will support other physics theories related to the Big Bang Theory and the general makeup of the universe, says BBC. Those theories, in turn, would predict the existence of other particles that shape our universe.
《爐邊談話》(趙越等譯，台北：福隆，2010) 。其實從此書可以知道，小羅斯福總統相當善於講故事，譬如他說的一些戰爭時空軍英雄的艱難任務等，相當有戲劇性。其實，總統利用收音機與人民拉近感情的做法，始於1930年代初*。在美國1929年股市大崩盤的時候，有人就說，胡佛總統在廣播中如此親切，讓大家誤以為是太平盛世呢。 (進一步可參`考John Kenneth Galbraith《1929大崩盤》( The Great Crash 1929) 台北:經濟新潮，2009。)
*On Dec. 6, 1923, a presidential address was broadcast on radio for the first time as President Calvin Coolidge spoke to a joint session of Congress.
A Finnish research team says it's slashed smart phone energy use by more than 70 percent - a finding that may help people in developing countries get better Internet access.
Smartphones - mobile phones that can run applications and use the Web easily - are on the rise worldwide. Recent industry analysis from Gartner shows that 115 million smartphones were sold worldwide in the third quarter of 2011 alone.
The key behind these new energy savings is a network proxy, which better organizes the flow of data between a mobile phone and the network, explained Jukka Manner, the lead scientist for the study at Aalto University, outside of Helsinki.
The team hopes to use a combination of new software on the phone and network proxy hardware to use the phone's cellular radio in a much more energy-efficient manner.
The team presented initial findings at the Africomm Conference in Tanzania last week. Manner told Deutsche Welle that the research has been peer-reviewed, and that in-depth findings would be published early next year.
Internet for developing countries
The researchers looked at use cases in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya, hoping to develop solutions for times when access to electricity was difficult.
Aalto University researchers want to add another layer to existing mobile infrastructure"In Finland, it's annoying when you're to not be able to charge your phone. But in many places around the world, it's not just annoying, but impossible," Manner said.
Only about 11 percent of Africa's population has Internet access. Yet more than half of the people on the continent have mobile phones.
And according to the Finnish team's research, 90 percent Africans live in areas with mobile phone coverage.
Manner emphasized that though the team looked at cases in Africa, "the technology is not tied to any network or country," and can theoretically be implemented anywhere.
A proxy is a device that gathers data requests from the phone, then sends them on to the network. Communication goes the other way as well, with the proxy receiving "answers" from the Internet to pass along to the mobile phone.
115 million smartphones were sold worldwide in the third quarter of 2011The we content proxy involves a "client application that talks to a dedicated server," Manner said, which organizes the flow of data.
Manner said the Web browser Opera works in a similar fashion.
The device can increase efficiency by, for example, sending bursts of data packets at one time rather than continuously. This results in more "sleep" time for the cell phone, saving battery use.
"It seems a fairly complex and sophisticated piece of technology they've developed," said Steve Furber, a professor at the School of Computer Science at the University of Manchester, in an interview with Deutsche Welle. Furber is also one of the designers behind the energy efficient ARM microprocessor, which is in use in many smartphones, including the iPhone.
The Aalto University researchers say they managed to cut power use from smart phones by up to 74 percent.
Although the proxy accounted for the bulk of saved energy, the researchers also utilized websites optimized for mobile phones, Web compression and better data caching to increase efficiency.
Manner noted that they didn't lower the data quality or use any sort of compression.
"We can probably go over 80 percent savings," Manner said.
Author: Sonya Angelica Diehn
Editor: Cyrus Farivar
作家吳淡如最近在廣播節目，請醫師答覆call in電話，為了不讓醫師背上「隔空問診」的違法問題，請工作人員代接電話，轉述回答。 吳淡如上午接受台視獨家訪問表示，節目中特別提醒民眾一定要去看醫師，還說衛生署如果真要查，應該先查地下電台。 藝人吳淡如主持廣播節目，請來醫師回答Call in，只是這樣的節目現在卻疑似被盯上，就因為涉嫌醫師親自隔空問診的內容。 斬釘截鐵地說，就是過敏性鼻炎，到底是衛教宣傳，還是問診，醫師說他們心中也有一把尺，怎麼可能傻到跟著遊走法律邊緣。 衛生署表示，其實call in宣傳衛教問題都可以，只是一旦有診斷，就會違反醫事法。 節目企圖透過工讀生轉述規避罰則，但衛生署表示，根本就無效，重點在於醫師尺度拿捏，只能建議，不能斷定，否則依舊是違反醫事法。
| November 16, 2011 -- 3:00 p.m. EST |
Nov 5th 2011 | from the print edition
NOW that digital devices are fashion items, it is easy to forget what really accounts for their near-magical properties. Without the operating systems which tell their different physical bits what to do, and without the languages in which these commands are couched, the latest iSomething would be a pretty but empty receptacle. The gizmos of the digital age owe a part of their numeric souls to Dennis Ritchie and John McCarthy.
As was normal in the unformed days of computer science in the 1950s and 1960s, both men came to the discipline through maths. They were rather good with numbers. As a teenager Mr McCarthy taught himself calculus from textbooks found at the California Institute of Technology in balmy Pasadena, where his family had moved to from Boston because of his delicate health. Mr Ritchie was not quite as precocious. He breezed through school in New Jersey, of course, and went on to Harvard to study physics. After receiving a bachelor’s degree, however, he decided, with typical modesty, that he was “not smart enough to be a physicist”.
When Mr McCarthy and Mr Ritchie first developed an urge to talk to machines, people still regarded the word “digital” as part of the jargon of anatomy. If they no longer do, that is because of the new vernaculars invented to cajole automatons into doing man’s bidding. In 1958 Mr McCarthy came up with the list-processing language, or LISP. It is the second-oldest high-level programming language still in use today—one whose grammar and vocabulary were more perspicuous and versatile than the machine code early programmers had to use. A little over a decade later Mr Ritchie created C.
C fundamentally changed the way computer programs were written. For the first time it enabled the same programs to work, without too much tweaking, on different machines; before, they had to be tailored to particular models. Much of modern software is written using one of C’s more evolved dialects. These include objective C (which Apple favours), C# (espoused by rival Microsoft) and Java (the choice for a host of internet applications). Mr Ritchie and his life-long collaborator, Ken Thompson, then used C to write UNIX, an operating system whose powerful simplicity endeared it to the operators of the minicomputers which were starting to proliferate in universities and companies in the 1970s. Nowadays its iterations undergird the entire internet and breathe life into most mobile devices, whether based on Google’s Android or Apple’s iOS.
Mr McCarthy has had less direct impact. That is partly because he believed, wrongly, that minicomputers were a passing fad. In the early 1950s, while at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), he pioneered “time-sharing”, by which multiple users could work on a single mainframe simultaneously. Mr Ritchie, who moonlighted as a mainframe operator at MIT while a graduate student at nearby Harvard, also dabbled in time-sharing. Yet unlike his younger colleague, whose UNIX spurred the development of mini- and later microcomputers, Mr McCarthy always argued that the future lay in simple terminals hooked up remotely to a powerful mainframe which would both store and process data: a notion vindicated only recently, as cloud computing has spread.
Needed: 1.8 Einsteins
As for LISP, Mr McCarthy created it with an altogether different goal in mind—one that was, in a way, even more ambitious than Mr Ritchie’s. Whereas Mr Ritchie was happy giving machines orders, Mr McCarthy wanted them—perhaps because he had never suffered human fools gladly—to talk back. Intelligently. LISP was designed to spark this conversation, and with it “artificial intelligence”, a term Mr McCarthy coined hoping it would attract money for the first conference on the subject at Dartmouth in 1956.
In 1962 Mr McCarthy left MIT for Stanford, where he created the new Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. He set himself the goal of building a thinking machine in ten years. He would later admit this was hubristic. Not that technology wasn’t up to it. The problem lay elsewhere: in the fact that “we understand human mental processes only slightly better than a fish understands swimming.” An intelligent computer, he quipped, would require “1.8 Einsteins and one-tenth of the resources of the Manhattan Project” to construct.
Neither was forthcoming, though the Department of Defence did take an interest in Mr McCarthy’s work at Stanford from the start. Mr Ritchie, too, was briefly on the Pentagon’s payroll, at Sandia National Laboratory. He did not stay long, though. “It was nearly 1968,” he later recalled, “and somehow making A-bombs for the government didn’t seem in tune with the times.” So in 1967 he moved to AT&T’s Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey, where his father had worked for many years, and where both C and UNIX were born. He never left.
For his part, Mr McCarthy continued to tinker away at a truly thinking machine at Stanford. He never quite saw his dream realised. Mr Ritchie had more luck. “It’s not the actual programming that’s interesting,” he once remarked. “It’s what you can accomplish with the end results.” Amen to that, Mr McCarthy would have said.
〔編 譯林翠儀／綜合報導〕日本汽車大廠豐田汽車（Toyota），1日發表4款新型照護及醫療用「夥伴機器人」（Partner Robot），包括可協助癱瘓者自行上廁所、協助下肢麻痺者上下樓梯的照護機器人，以及可供練習步行的機器輔助腿、利用電玩遊戲練習平衡感的助理機器人 等，預定2013年在日本上市。
When Richard Shine, a biologist at the University of Sydney in Australia, first heard the mystery of the missing eggs, he feared it was another case of what might be called invasive toadkill. He and his colleagues were studying the cane toad, Rhinella marina, a big, warty, sludge-colored Latin American amphibian that was brought to the continent years ago in an ill-fated effort at beetle control.
The researchers already knew that many large Australian carnivores like freshwater crocodiles and marsupial quolls had died after naïvely feasting on the highly toxic adult toads. Now it seemed that smaller predators were going after the toad’s equally poisonous eggs, and Dr. Shine worried that they too would be doomed.
Follow-up field studies soon revealed the identity of the caviar thieves. To the researchers’ astonishment, Dr. Shine said, it was cane toads themselves — or rather their tadpoles, which would swim over to each fresh batch of Rhinella eggs and “desperately consume” every slick black spherelet they could find.
Significantly, the tadpoles weren’t simply hungry for a generic omelette. Reporting in the journal Animal Behaviour, Dr. Shine and his co-workers showed that when given a choice between cane toad eggs and the similar-looking egg masses of other frog species, Rhinella tadpoles overwhelmingly picked the cannibal option. Oh, little cane toads lacking legs, how greedily you snack on pre-toads packed in eggs!
Life after metamorphosis brought scant relief from fraternal threats. The scientists also demonstrated that midsize cane toads wriggle digits on their hind feet to lure younger cane toads, which the bigger toads then swallow whole. “A cane toad’s biggest enemy is another cane toad,” Dr. Shine said. “It’s a toad-eat-toad world out there.”
Rhinella’s brutal appetite is among a string of recent revelations of what might be called extreme or uncanny cannibalism, when one animal’s determination to feed on its fellows takes such a florid or subversive turn that scientists are left, as Mark Wilkinson of the Natural History Museum in London put it, “gobsmacked” by the sight.
There are males that demand to be cannibalized by their lovers and males that seek to avoid that fate by stopping midcourtship and hammily feigning rigor mortis. There are mother monkeys that act like hipster zombies, greeting unwanted offspring with a ghoulish demand for brains; and there are infant caecilians — limbless, soil-dwelling amphibians — that grow fat by repeatedly skinning their mother alive.
In the past, animal cannibalism was considered accidental or pathological: Walk in on a mother rabbit giving birth, and the shock will prod her to eat her bunnies. Now scientists realize that cannibalism can sometimes make good evolutionary sense, and for each new example they seek to trace the selective forces behind it.
Why do cane toad tadpoles cannibalize eggs? Researchers propose three motives. The practice speeds up maturation; it eliminates future rivals who, given a mother toad’s reproductive cycle, are almost certainly unrelated to you; and it means exploiting an abundant resource that others find toxic but to which you are immune.
“We’re talking about a tropical animal that was relocated to one of the driest places on earth,” Dr. Shine said. “Cannibalism is one of those clever tricks that makes it such a superb colonizer and a survival machine.”
Maydianne Andrade, a biologist at the University of Toronto Scarborough in Ontario, has studied the redback spider, a type of black widow in which males willingly fling themselves onto the fangs of their much bigger mates. Dr. Andrade has found that the self-sacrificial act is simply the grand finale of an elaborate Ringling Brothers courtship performance that can last hours.
The suitor leaps around the web to vibrate its silken strands just so. He vaults up and over the female, back to front, side to side, again and again. He somersaults tantalizingly close to her mouth and then flips himself clear.
Is she ready to mate? She allows the male to mount her and fill one of her paired sperm storage organs, but then, hold on buster, it’s time for more jitterbugging, more lordly leaping. The male dances around her jaws again, she lets him fill sperm receptacle No. 2, his genitals break off to help seal the deal, and that’s it. He somersaults toward her fangs for real, she makes a quick meal of him, and he dies in arachnirvana, his gametes well positioned to sire thousands of next-generation redbacks.
But woe to any suitor that lacks a daredevil stripe. The female will cut short his wan routine, cannibalize him prematurely and then instantly mate with a rival, as if out of spite.
Dr. Andrade said the male redback’s suicidal efforts made sense. Males are the size of rice grains and blown about by the wind, females are spottily distributed and hard to find, and a vast majority of males never encounter a single female. For the lucky few who do, there’s no time to waste: This is their one shot at legacy, and they throw their hearts and parts in her hands.
“It’s what we call a terminal investment,” Dr. Andrade said.
For males with better dating prospects than the redback, the idea of connubial cannibalism may not seem so sexy, and the males do what they can to keep peckish females at bay. Among some species of widow spiders, males are preferentially drawn to females that smell as if they’ve just finished dinner, and hence are less likely to view approaching mate as a meal.
Studying Pisaura mirabilis, a slender, half-inch-long brown garden spider found in Denmark, Trine Bilde of Aarhus University and her colleagues have discovered that the males sometimes resort to a particularly melodramatic anticannibalism gambit. A male woos a female with a nuptial gift, a fresh-caught insect neatly bundled in silk and held aloft in his fangs. The female latches onto the gift with her fangs, and if she starts eating it calmly, the male slowly positions himself around her and starts transferring sperm.
If, however, the female grabs the parcel a little too hungrily, the male counters the predatory threat by playing spider possum. “He’s still holding onto the gift, but he stretches himself out into a deathlike pose, completely motionless, with his legs lagging behind,” Dr. Bilde said.
The female starts running around with the gift, the limp male dangling from it. Only when she finally grows tranquil enough to treat her present with care will the male dare to rouse himself back to life and lovemaking.
“This sort of death-feigning behavior has never been observed before in a sexual context,” Dr. Bilde said. “It’s very spectacular to see.”
Another skin-tingling spectacle is the kind of living cannibalism recently identified in two species of caecilians. These limbless tropical amphibians may live in soil and look like worms, but the mothers act like saints. For some three months after her young have hatched, the mother stays by their side, and repeatedly, literally feeds them herself.
Over a three-day period, the outer layer of the female’s skin gradually swells with lipids and turns pale and glisteny. When moment and maternal epidermis are ripe, a half-dozen famished young caecilians surround her, and using rows of temporary, specialized teeth that look like slotted spoons or grappling hooks, they peel her, potato-style, from top to tail. They tug and yank. They fight over hanks.
“Within 10 minutes of fairly frenzied activity, they have peeled all the mother’s skin off,” said Dr. Wilkinson of the Natural History Museum, who with his colleagues reported on skin-feeding behavior in the journals Nature and Biology Letters. Mother Caecilia doesn’t seem to mind. Like a lactating Madonna, “she remains placid the whole time,” Dr. Wilkinson said.
Not all mothers are martyrs, of course, and even the good ones may have their monstrous moments. Tamarin monkeys are normally famed for extravagant devotion to their offspring, but in a recent issue of the journal Primates, Laurence Culot, now of São Paulo State University in Brazil, and her colleagues described witnessing a rare case of maternal cannibalism among wild mustached tamarins of Peru.
A mother tamarin holding her infant son was foraging for fruit with her adult daughter. One moment the charming tableau looked fine, baby monkey clinging adorably to mother’s fur. The next, the researchers watched as the mother bit through the baby’s skull and ate out its brain. And once the mother had polished off the entire head, her adult daughter partook of some shoulder.
“I was really, really surprised — it was a totally unexpected thing to see among wild tamarins,” Dr. Culot said. “I couldn’t help thinking, ‘Oh, my God, I forgot my camera!’ ”
The researchers propose that, in a way, the grisly act was an expression of maternal love. The adult daughter turned out to be pregnant at the time. Tamarin infants are so demanding that rearing them is a group affair, and if the mother’s infant survived, the daughter’s wouldn’t have a chance. Through a shared act of cannibalism, mother and daughter made their pact.
LOS ALTOS, Calif. — The chief technology officer of eBay sends his children to a nine-classroom school here. So do employees of Silicon Valley giants like Google, Apple, Yahoo and Hewlett-Packard.
Blackboards, Not Laptops
Articles in this series are looking at the intersection of education, technology and business as schools embrace digital learning.
Readers shared their thoughts on this article.
But the school’s chief teaching tools are anything but high-tech: pens and paper, knitting needles and, occasionally, mud. Not a computer to be found. No screens at all. They are not allowed in the classroom, and the school even frowns on their use at home.
Schools nationwide have rushed to supply their classrooms with computers, and many policy makers say it is foolish to do otherwise. But the contrarian point of view can be found at the epicenter of the tech economy, where some parents and educators have a message: computers and schools don’t mix.
This is the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, one of around 160 Waldorf schools in the country that subscribe to a teaching philosophy focused on physical activity and learning through creative, hands-on tasks. Those who endorse this approach say computers inhibit creative thinking, movement, human interaction and attention spans.
The Waldorf method is nearly a century old, but its foothold here among the digerati puts into sharp relief an intensifying debate about the role of computers in education.
“I fundamentally reject the notion you need technology aids in grammar school,” said Alan Eagle, 50, whose daughter, Andie, is one of the 196 children at the Waldorf elementary school; his son William, 13, is at the nearby middle school. “The idea that an app on an iPad can better teach my kids to read or do arithmetic, that’s ridiculous.”
Mr. Eagle knows a bit about technology. He holds a computer science degree from Dartmouth and works in executive communications at Google, where he has written speeches for the chairman, Eric E. Schmidt. He uses an iPad and a smartphone. But he says his daughter, a fifth grader, “doesn’t know how to use Google,” and his son is just learning. (Starting in eighth grade, the school endorses the limited use of gadgets.)
Three-quarters of the students here have parents with a strong high-tech connection. Mr. Eagle, like other parents, sees no contradiction. Technology, he says, has its time and place: “If I worked at Miramax and made good, artsy, rated R movies, I wouldn’t want my kids to see them until they were 17.”
While other schools in the region brag about their wired classrooms, the Waldorf school embraces a simple, retro look — blackboards with colorful chalk, bookshelves with encyclopedias, wooden desks filled with workbooks and No. 2 pencils.
On a recent Tuesday, Andie Eagle and her fifth-grade classmates refreshed their knitting skills, crisscrossing wooden needles around balls of yarn, making fabric swatches. It’s an activity the school says helps develop problem-solving, patterning, math skills and coordination. The long-term goal: make socks.
Down the hall, a teacher drilled third-graders on multiplication by asking them to pretend to turn their bodies into lightning bolts. She asked them a math problem — four times five — and, in unison, they shouted “20” and zapped their fingers at the number on the blackboard. A roomful of human calculators.
In second grade, students standing in a circle learned language skills by repeating verses after the teacher, while simultaneously playing catch with bean bags. It’s an exercise aimed at synchronizing body and brain. Here, as in other classes, the day can start with a recitation or verse about God that reflects a nondenominational emphasis on the divine.
Andie’s teacher, Cathy Waheed, who is a former computer engineer, tries to make learning both irresistible and highly tactile. Last year she taught fractions by having the children cut up food — apples, quesadillas, cake — into quarters, halves and sixteenths.
“For three weeks, we ate our way through fractions,” she said. “When I made enough fractional pieces of cake to feed everyone, do you think I had their attention?”
Some education experts say that the push to equip classrooms with computers is unwarranted because studies do not clearly show that this leads to better test scores or other measurable gains.
Is learning through cake fractions and knitting any better? The Waldorf advocates make it tough to compare, partly because as private schools they administer no standardized tests in elementary grades. And they would be the first to admit that their early-grade students may not score well on such tests because, they say, they don’t drill them on a standardized math and reading curriculum.
When asked for evidence of the schools’ effectiveness, the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America points to research by an affiliated group showing that 94 percent of students graduating from Waldorf high schools in the United States between 1994 and 2004 attended college, with many heading to prestigious institutions like Oberlin, Berkeley and Vassar.
Of course, that figure may not be surprising, given that these are students from families that value education highly enough to seek out a selective private school, and usually have the means to pay for it. And it is difficult to separate the effects of the low-tech instructional methods from other factors. For example, parents of students at the Los Altos school say it attracts great teachers who go through extensive training in the Waldorf approach, creating a strong sense of mission that can be lacking in other schools.
Absent clear evidence, the debate comes down to subjectivity, parental choice and a difference of opinion over a single world: engagement. Advocates for equipping schools with technology say computers can hold students’ attention and, in fact, that young people who have been weaned on electronic devices will not tune in without them.
Ann Flynn, director of education technology for the National School Boards Association, which represents school boards nationwide, said computers were essential. “If schools have access to the tools and can afford them, but are not using the tools, they are cheating our children,” Ms. Flynn said.
Paul Thomas, a former teacher and an associate professor of education at Furman University, who has written 12 books about public educational methods, disagreed, saying that “a spare approach to technology in the classroom will always benefit learning.”
“Teaching is a human experience,” he said. “Technology is a distraction when we need literacy, numeracy and critical thinking.”
And Waldorf parents argue that real engagement comes from great teachers with interesting lesson plans.
“Engagement is about human contact, the contact with the teacher, the contact with their peers,” said Pierre Laurent, 50, who works at a high-tech start-up and formerly worked at Intel and Microsoft. He has three children in Waldorf schools, which so impressed the family that his wife, Monica, joined one as a teacher in 2006.
And where advocates for stocking classrooms with technology say children need computer time to compete in the modern world, Waldorf parents counter: what’s the rush, given how easy it is to pick up those skills?
“It’s supereasy. It’s like learning to use toothpaste,” Mr. Eagle said. “At Google and all these places, we make technology as brain-dead easy to use as possible. There’s no reason why kids can’t figure it out when they get older.”
There are also plenty of high-tech parents at a Waldorf school in San Francisco and just north of it at the Greenwood School in Mill Valley, which doesn’t have Waldorf accreditation but is inspired by its principles.
California has some 40 Waldorf schools, giving it a disproportionate share — perhaps because the movement is growing roots here, said Lucy Wurtz, who, along with her husband, Brad, helped found the Waldorf high school in Los Altos in 2007. Mr. Wurtz is chief executive of Power Assure, which helps computer data centers reduce their energy load.
The Waldorf experience does not come cheap: annual tuition at the Silicon Valley schools is $17,750 for kindergarten through eighth grade and $24,400 for high school, though Ms. Wurtz said financial assistance was available. She says the typical Waldorf parent, who has a range of elite private and public schools to choose from, tends to be liberal and highly educated, with strong views about education; they also have a knowledge that when they are ready to teach their children about technology they have ample access and expertise at home.
The students, meanwhile, say they don’t pine for technology, nor have they gone completely cold turkey. Andie Eagle and her fifth-grade classmates say they occasionally watch movies. One girl, whose father works as an Apple engineer, says he sometimes asks her to test games he is debugging. One boy plays with flight-simulator programs on weekends.
The students say they can become frustrated when their parents and relatives get so wrapped up in phones and other devices. Aurad Kamkar, 11, said he recently went to visit cousins and found himself sitting around with five of them playing with their gadgets, not paying attention to him or each other. He started waving his arms at them: “I said: ‘Hello guys, I’m here.’ ”
Finn Heilig, 10, whose father works at Google, says he liked learning with pen and paper — rather than on a computer — because he could monitor his progress over the years.
“You can look back and see how sloppy your handwriting was in first grade. You can’t do that with computers ’cause all the letters are the same,” Finn said. “Besides, if you learn to write on paper, you can still write if water spills on the computer or the power goes out.”
TOKYO — Unlike Major League Baseball, for whom Rawlings has been the official supplier of baseballs since 1977, Japan’s top league has long used multiple manufacturers.
In any given season, as many as nine manufacturers had supplied baseballs to Japan’s 12 teams. Many clubs, in fact, contracted with multiple suppliers and freely switched the balls they used in their home games depending on the series, the month or some other variable that had to be revealed in advance to the commissioner’s office.
Citing rising costs and declining domestic production, Commissioner Ryozo Kato began the tedious and touchy process of unifying Japan’s ball last year. Mizuno emerged as the lone supplier.
But old customs are hard to break, and in tradition-bound Japan, the move to a unified ball comes with a twist: it is required only for official games played between major league teams. Individual clubs can continue choosing their own baseballs for minor league games, spring training games and practices. According to the commissioner’s office, at least two teams that contracted with multiple baseball makers last year, the Hanshin Tigers and the Yakult Swallows, continue to use those balls in unsanctioned events.
In Japanese baseball, power has traditionally rested with the teams. Franchises have operated independently on a variety of issues, including deciding which ball manufacturers to contract with, much as players in the United States and Japan decide which manufacturers’ bats, gloves and spikes they use.
In Japan, a culture evolved in which sporting goods makers, especially smaller regional ones, became dependent on their relationships with local clubs to supply thousands of balls each year.
“In order to build relationships that stand the test of time, you have to be willing to endure lots of hardships on your customers’ behalf,” Katsuhisa Matsuzaki, a spokesman for N.P.B, said in Japanese, describing the traditional arrangement. “For a team to then turn around and say to a supplier that persevered, ‘Sorry, we don’t you need anymore,’ is not the Japanese way.”
So instead of trying to undo longstanding relationships, Japan’s commissioner’s office established standards over the years to attain a degree of uniformity among the game balls being produced by multiple manufacturers.
That began as far back as 1950, when the Central and Pacific Leagues came under one governing umbrella. Over the years, standards pertaining to the balls were gradually tightened. This happened, for example, in 1981, after a game was delayed by 20 minutes as one team accused another of using a suspicious ball with extra zip. But until this year, teams could use any ball that adhered to the standards.
The new Mizuno ball for this season has been called the noncarrying ball, a reference to the effect of the lower-elasticity rubber that encases the cork center. Not surprisingly, pitchers like the new ball for that and other subtle changes they can use to their advantage.
“It breaks better, moves more advantageously for the pitcher,” Hisashi Iwakuma of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, speaking in Japanese, said of the new ball. “Whether you throw a fork or a curve or a slider, the break is bigger. Even your fastball doesn’t have to be perfectly straight; you can make it miss the sweet spot of the bat.”
Iwakuma said pitchers could manipulate the slightly lower height of the red stitches and their slightly wider spread.
Japan’s regular season was extended until this week because of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in March and unusually heavy rain. But the ball is believed to be responsible for an abundance of curiosities.
Through Friday’s games, seven pitchers among the 12 clubs had earned run averages below 2.00 while throwing more than 170 innings. By comparison, despite his dominant performance of 24 wins in 29 decisions, Detroit’s Justin Verlander, the major league leader in E.R.A. among starters at 2.40, would not crack Japan’s top 10.
Among those Japanese pitchers is Yu Darvish, 25, who many believe will be made available to American teams this winter by the Nippon Ham Fighters. But Darvish’s 1.44 E.R.A. was only second best in the Pacific League. As a testament to his acumen, though, he had a 1.78 E.R.A. last season.
In another oddity, Darvish’s team tied a Japanese record with five consecutive shutout victories during a stretch in May. That was part of nine shutouts in 11 games by the Fighters’ staff, three of them complete-game shutouts by Darvish.
Robust pitching has turned the batting races into rather pedestrian competitions. Worry abounds that the race in at least one league could produce the lowest average for a batting champion in Japanese history. The Hiroshima Carp’s Katsuya Morinaga holds that distinction, capturing the Central League’s 1962 title with a .307 average. This season’s race has come down to the Yomiuri Giants’ Hisayoshi Chono (.315) and Hanshin’s Matt Murton (.312), with three others teetering around .300. Last year, 14 players in the league hit .300 or better, with .358 taking the title. In the Pacific League, five players were hitting over .300, with the leader at .339.
Most noticeable of all, home runs were down. With three players totaling 40 or more homers last year, the overall title was claimed with 49. This season, only the Seibu Lions’ Takeya Nakamura and the Yakult Swallows’ Wladimir Balentien will finish with more than 30.
Although Japan’s new ball is not meant to replicate the American major league ball, a conscious effort was made to make it much more similar than before. That is a crucial point in Japan, where performance in international competitions like the quadrennial World Baseball Classic, which uses the American ball, weighs on the national conscience. Kato, the commissioner, said as much at a news conference when he unveiled the new ball before the season.
“Certainly, an impetus for the uniform ball was seeing with my own eyes the difficulties Japanese pitchers had with the different ball at the W.B.C.,” he said of the 2009 tournament, which Japan won. “By unifying our approach to the domestic game, we can lessen such discomforts that arise for our players on the international stage.”
That could pave the way for Mizuno to bid on the contract to supply the American major leagues. The leagues’ contract with Rawlings, which replaced Spalding after a century as the sole ball supplier, expires in 2013.
At the preseason news conference, Kato was seemingly focused on something larger than his own league when he proclaimed Japan’s new ball to be “of a higher quality than the one used in the American major leagues.”
Who travelled faster than light (110)
Arctic sea ice is melting far faster than climate models predict. Why? (238)
A trove of fossils sheds light on the evolution of feathers (24)
Stem cells offer hope for men facing life without hair (42)
The revolution that Steve Jobs led is only just beginning
America’s attacks on suspected terrorists should be more closely monitored
Our science and technology blog hails the Google bus, plumbs the internet's depths and admires precision engineering
In our weekly Babbage podcast we discuss the latest iteration of the iPhone, how IBM has outmuscled Microsoft and why Yahoo! has become the potential target of a Chinese takeover
Our weekly column ponders how technology affects our lives
Follow The Economist's science and technology coverage on Twitter @EconSciTech
Antineutrino detectors can spot the destruction of weapons-grade plutonium
The ethics of whole-genome sequencing
How human brains evolved to deal with doubt
The astonishing career of the world’s most revered chief executive
The rapid rise of newspaper paywalls
The mounting human costs of Japan’s nuclear disaster—and the problems it causes—are changing
Why the future of air power belongs to unmanned systems soup
If only more of Latin America's higher-education institutions were like the University of São Paulo
A history of greater and greater accuracy
Mobile digital gadgets are overshadowing the personal computer, says Martin Giles. Their impact will be far-reaching