STRANGE BUT TRUE
Q. In 1988, Xerox’s Mark Weiser coined the term “ubiquitous computing” to refer to the seamless integration of computing resources into most of the objects we use in daily living. What phrases are we more apt to use today?
A. Technically speaking, “pervasive computing” is everywhere, or “everyware,” as is “clamorous computing” to describe all those gadgets like smartphones and tablets that we routinely carry with us, writes columnist Paul McFedries in IEEE Spectrum magazine. True enough, it’s a sort of “jittery technology,” constantly bleeping at us and alerting us to new messages, posts, updates and news. Also consider the curious prevalence of “phantom vibration,” where we perceive a cellphone’s vibration in the absence of an incoming call. Even watching TV is no longer straightforward as people use their mobile tech for “second screening” (monitoring social media commentary about the show they’re watching) and “chatterboxing” (chatting online with people watching the same show).
In the midst of all this digital “hectivity,” we like to think of ourselves as “polyattentive,” though “continuous partial attention” is more like it, as we focus ostensibly on one task even as we wait for something more important to pop up. “It’s no wonder many of us suffer from ‘nomophobia,’ the fear of being without a mobile phone or a cellular signal,” McFedries says. “Thus have our phones and tablets become ‘weapons of mass distraction.’”
Q. Whether or not you know the Greek language, the word “ekadekapente” may be of interest to you. How many reasons can you give for thinking so?
A. Maybe not 115 but “115” is what the word means in Greek, which Gail D. suggested as the possible new name for “ununpentium” (Uup), the striking new element in the periodic table, atomic number 115, confirmed last year, as reported in Discover magazine. It was thought that volunteer observers could do better at the naming game, hence “ekadekapente” (”eka” meaning “one”, “deka” for “ten,” “pente” meaning “five”).
Other reader suggestions for the element included “euphorium,” which “like euphoria, lasts just a brief time, needs a very special situation to trigger it and is remembered long after it is gone” (Kris S.); “pentium” — “The two un’s cancel each other out” (Anthony N.); “UFOonium” — “UFO expert Bob Lazer claims it powers the antigravity warp drives of UFOs” (Chris C.); and “pandemonium” — “after all the discussion it's created.” (Ivan W.)
Stay tuned for the next element, my dear Watson.
Q. Compared with our nearest primate relative, we upright humans are able to stand and walk tall with our hands free. But these advantages come at a price. Can you get to “the bottom” of this one?
A. As a result, we not only experience problems with our back and joints, but the whole business of evacuating our waste is more difficult, writes Christine Warman of North Yorkshire, U.K., in New Scientist magazine. “The fundamental problem is that the area used for releasing urine and feces is compressed between thighs and buttocks, so we’re more likely than other animals to foul ourselves.
“Also, unlike other animals, we tend to regard our waste with disgust so living together in settlements means we need to learn when and where it is socially acceptable to excrete. Of course, civilization itself would be impossible without some system of sanitation for controlling threatening pathogens, plus we’ve so house-trained ourselves that thorough cleaning has become a necessity for social reasons as well. Comments Warman: “Human ingenuity has now gone far beyond toilet paper and wet wipes. In Japan there are toilets which will wash and blow-dry your most delicate areas without any effort on your part.”
Yet even in 16th-century France, writer Francois Rabelais recommended “using the softly feathered neck of a live goose for the ultimate in cleanliness and comfort.”
Send questions to brothers Bill and Rich Sones at email@example.com.