The Blog (archived)

Category: Discoveries

One Thing At A Time, Please

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

You may have heard it said that men can only do one thing at a time, whereas women can do several things at once (if you have, it was probably a woman that said it). Even if it’s true that doesn’t mean men are inferior. On the contrary, an article in the Wall Street Journal executive career site suggests that doing one thing at a time is more efficient.

The article, titled “Juggling Too Many Tasks Could Make You Stupid“, reports on scientific research which shows that doing several things at once - multitasking - can be less efficient than doing one task at a time, and comes with a cost. Here are some pertinent quotes from the article:

  • “People who multitask are actually less efficient than those who focus on one project at a time, according to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. The time lost switching among tasks increases with the complexity of the tasks, according to the research by Dr Meyer and others.”
  • “Managing two mental tasks at once reduces the brainpower available for either task, even when these activities engage two different parts of the brain.”
  • “If the tasks require the same parts of the brain, such as two assignments that both draw on language skills, it’s going to be extremely hard to succeed efficiently”
  • “Chronic high-stress multitasking also is linked to short-term memory loss”
  • “It doesn’t mean you can’t do several things at the same time,” says Dr Just, co-director of the university’s Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging. “But we’re kidding ourselves if we think we can do so without cost.”

I’ve often felt that I can work more effectively by doing one thing at a time, and doing it well, rather than trying to do several things at once and doing none of them well. Finding research that supports my belief is gratifying. Now if I hear a woman complaining that “men can only do one thing at a time” I’ll view it as a compliment … a sign that we men are just working more efficiently!


If You’re Fat with Heart Problems

Sunday, January 21, 2007

An American researcher has found that patients hospitalised with heart failure were less likely to die during their hospital stay if they were fat! This is according to a New Scientist article yesterday, which concluded:

“Fonarow suggests that fat people may cope better with heart failure because they have more metabolic reserves to draw on when the heart isn’t pumping blood fast enough to meet the body’s needs.”

Of course, being overweight can lead to heart problems and so is best avoided. But if you already have a heart problem due to other causes (like my faulty valves) it’s nice to think that being a little overweight may not be entirely bad news.


Recycling old calendars

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Are you thinking of getting a calendar for 2007? Are you an environmentally sensitive, pro-recycling person (or just a cheapskate)?

If so, you may be pleased to know that dates and days of the week for 2007 are identical to 2001. Other matching years are 1990, 1979, 1973, 1962, 1951, 1945, 1934, 1923, 1917, 1906, 1900, 1894. I found this on time and, along with calendars for any year which can be customised and printed, and other useful info.

So if you have an old calendar for any of these years, it can be re-used next year, although giving one as a gift may not go down too well.


The sweating-shivering cycle of fevers

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Am currently at home with a virus, one symptom of which is alternating hot sweats and shivering caused by a fever. I’ve had fevers before, but this time I’ve noticed a remarkably regular cycle to it.

At one extreme, I’ll be shivering uncontrollably while in bed wearing warm clothes and covered by all available blankets. Two hours later, I’ll be hot and sweating profusely while laying on top of the bed and wearing little. Two hours later I’ll be back to shivering. So far this cycle has been almost as regular as clockwork, which sparked my interest in the physiology behind it.

In a temperate part of the cycle I browsed the net and found this good explanation of fevers. I won’t attempt to summarise it, but it does explain the cycling back and forth between shivering and sweating. This cycle is normal - I just hadn’t noticed it being so regular and predictable before.


What is the short end of the stick?

Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Recently I read the phrase “get the short end of the stick”, and wondered where this expression came from. It means to suffer the bad effects of a situation, or to get a raw deal, or the worst outcome … but how this relates to sticks didn’t appear at all obvious.

At first I thought about it literally. How is the end of a stick defined? How far up the stick does the “end” extend? If the ends of a stick are its furthest extremeties, then that would make them points, which have no size and therefore can’t be short or long. If not, then what would make the short end worse than the long end? Some Googling was required.

Thankfully I came across The Phrase Finder website and the light dawned. This post contained an explanation:

I am quite confident that the phrase “short end of the stick” refers to an old fashioned method for carrying heavy objects (this can be visualized using a bale of hay). A long stick is inserted through ropes or cords wrapped around the object and two (or more) people carry the object together. If the load is off-center a disproportionate burden is placed on the person(s) on the “short end of the stick”

So now I know, and can once again sleep at night!