Translating teenage grunts

Linguistics of adolescent phonetics

If you don’t get it, then I just have one thing to say and it’s: “A voiced alveolar stop and breathy-voiced low-back unrounded vowel, with advanced tongue root” – duuuuh…

(That latter words is described by James Harbeck in his accompanying article as aiming to sound as stupid as possible. Of course, the stupidity being communicated is not that of the articulator but of you, dear listener, or did you not get that either? Meh.)

SIDS, cot death absolute risks

The tabloids were screaming at new parents this week desperately yelling at them not to share a bed with their newborn because it could be lethal, causing sudden infant death syndrome, or cot death. The research said so. SIDS is tragic, of course, but a little composure, please.

As NHS Choices explains: “The researchers estimate that the absolute risk of SIDS for room-sharing infants was 0.00008 (eight per 100,000) when neither parent smoked and the baby was less than three months old, breastfed, and had no other risk factors.”

That’s for babies sleeping in the same room, not the same bed as their parent(s). The research showed that bed-sharing increased this death rate risk to 0.00023 (that’s 23 per 100,000). Both tiny proportions of the total number of deaths. There is a world of difference between absolute and relative risk. The tabloids said a fivefold increase in risk (actually looks like it’s less than threefold), but the risk is tiny either way. Absolutely tiny. Of every 100,000 babies that die, the “cause” is referred to as SIDS is just 0.023%.

Exactly what SIDS is and what causes it are yet to be determined. Two of the bullet points given in the article hint at the specific risks: “do not share a bed with your baby, particularly if you have been drinking or have taken drugs”, do not let your baby get too hot and keep your baby’s head uncovered.

NHS Choices alludes to the fact that smoking, alcohol and drug use are also risk factors and that the risk of SIDS decreases as baby gets older. Like I say, tragic for the parents and families affected, I’m not belittling the tragedy, just trying to point out that the risks are small and while parents should listen to advice from their healthcare workers, they shouldn’t become neurotic about the safety of their child on the back of tabloid headlines.

Sharing a bed with your baby ups risk of cot death – Health News – NHS Choices:

A design for life

As the average age of the population goes up with people surviving many years more than their allegorical three score years and ten, the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of senile dementia will rise too. Many people can suffer symptoms for many years and yet live independent lives or at least with minimal care intervention, so it is critical for designers and manufacturers to take this into account if their products are to have usability in this group and help not hinder users.

Elderly cake baker image via Shutterstock

Adam Glasgow and Peter Higgins of Swinburne University of Technology, in Hawthorn, Australia recently offered seven general design points for appliances – ovens, washing machines, dishwashers etc – for older people with some form of dementia:

  • The use of spatial relationships in an appliance interface is not problematic
  • Make use of the lexical abilities of older persons
  • As older persons scan within a smaller useful field of view, and at a slower rate, than younger adults, interfaces that require monitoring across multiple objects confine them within limited field of view
  • Make graphical display and control objects distinctly different from each other and the background
  • To evoke an appropriate mental model of its operation, the characteristic features of graphical objects should reflect, where possible, equivalent objects in similar products
  • Make the objects in a display immediately accessible and limit information needed for the task at hand
  • Use perceptual training to ameliorate prolonged response times for comprehending complex interfaces, e.g., deciphering integrated features

They add that for appliances with several functions, the information display should adapt to the specific and immediate needs of the user to avoid distractions. The ultimate aim of this new approach to appliance design would be to extend the person’s independence at home and maintain or even restore their self-efficacy.

Research Blogging IconGlasgow A. (2013). The use of domestic appliances by cognitively impaired users, Int. J. Cognitive Performance Support, 1 (1) 40-53. DOI:

How did feathers evolve?

Carl Zimmer offered some insights at TED-Ed into how dinosaurs got their plumage and evolved into the flying birds, excellent birds, we see today. This is witty animation plucks up the courage to fill in the gaps.

On an entirely unrelated note, I wrote a song about flight, which you can hear on my SoundCloud page or via my Songs, Snaps and Science site.

Win #DeceivedWisdom in our 10k competition

My publisher just added up all the sales of my book Deceived Wisdom including hardback sales since November, Kindle and ePub downloads and the Audible editions. The grand total so far…drum roll please…is 10,000 copies, which ain’t bad for a popular science book (although it was #1 on amazon for a while ahead of Sir David and ProfBrianCox) and my publisher E&T Book‘s first foray into science. Many thanks to everyone who took the book to heart and once again to my good friend Tim Lihoreau for inspiration, discussions and setting the ball rolling.

Anyway, to mark this wee milestone, follow @sciencebase on twitter and RT (retweet) this blog post update, you could be in with a chance to win a free electronic copy of the book in ePub, mobi or PDF format (your choice). You must be following me so that I can direct message you details if you win. First 10 RTs will be in with a chance of a copy.


Meanwhile, early adopters can still be winners. If you bought the hardback as a gift or even for yourself and would like an e-copy, follow me on twitter, drop me a line with proof of purchase or comment below and I can let you have an electronic copy to keep yourself.