Friday, March 09, 2007

Gesturing with your voice?

Scientists are unearthing "verbal gestures"-- changes in pitch, speed that help convey emotion and also movement. Also, a deep voice helps with for male hierarchy stuff, like dominance. If you sound big, you probably ARE big.

Also, vision and sound may work together very closely. Although, after reading this article, I must comment that anybody who can't find rhythm in dancing even with the sound off probably is so tone-deaf they can't keep time.

The subject of sound playing a role in animal communication is a fascinating subject, and I recommend "Animal Talk" by Tim Friend which covers sound, vision, electric signals, touch, smell, etc. It is a wonderful effort to condense the research for the lay public. I had so many questions after reading about acoustic communication.
For instance, the clicker is promoted as a "neutral" sound for dog training but I always doubted this, just from watching how my mom reacted to my playing with a cricket-type clicker once (she nearly strangled me). The information Tim Friend covers about short, sharp and abrupt sounds strongly supports my doubts that the clicker is that "neutral" to the ears.

I'm now reading Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks and I'm finding it really interesting reading; Oliver Sacks is a neurologist and he covers all the facets of music, including hearing music, hallucinating music, so he also covers a lot about deafness (and not just Beethoven). It seems many late-deafened deaf people often hallucinate music as their hearing goes. He also covers how partial hearing loss can affect enjoyment of music. And for the normal-eared folks, an overview of tune cooties or earworms is interesting, although perhaps not quite what some readers were expecting.
Oliver Sacks tends to think this is primarily music-oriented although he mentions poetry can sometimes do the same effect. This research indicates though, that the lyrics are often the focus of why the tune cootie sticks in the mind. I know myself I can wake up with a silly phrase I read somewhere stuck in my head; often poetic or just unusual in its phrasing.

Oliver Sacks talks about how music seems unreleated to the real world.

Ah, Tim Friend would disagree; he writes at length in his "Animal Talk" about how animals in dense forest use sound to communicate, find food, and even orient themselves-- every inch of forest can sound uniquely different because of the different mix of plants, and he points out that orchestral music may mimic the complex chorus of the rainforest. If you want to know the true origins of music's appeal, Tim Friend's book is it.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Jet man soarin' over the Alps

Apparently manned, winged flight without the use of wheels, tails, and body has been accomplished by the Swiss Jet Man.

If you don't understand French, then instead just look at this video at YouTube. Here is a news release on this flight in Bex, Switzerland .

Some of us would think more of the Jetsons with these cartoon jetpacks, rather than Icarus. Jet packs to propel humans have been worked on since WWII. But these lacked wings.

First off, I'm pretty impressed by this man's guts, and I'm also very glad I don't have to see those guts splattered on video as well. But then, Yves Rossy has had Top Gun military pilot training in Switzerland. Given how small Switzerland is, it's tough work flying inside their air space, so you know he has to be GOOD.

Let's analyze all the factors in why he's not a smear on the ground or plastered on a mountainside like Wiley E. Coyote. It's not just having "The Right Stuff" and good aerodynamics. Remember, the human body is NOT designed for flight.

The most important thing: the landing. For his first flight, he plays it smart. He launches off an airplane so he has time to get everything working. Second, he wears a parachute in case things go wrong. Very sensible. He uses it to help brake for a safe landing without dropping like a rock. You can still see that he has to bend his legs considerably on the landing.

That must take skydiving practice. However this still looks like a good way to bust a leg if you don't extend your landing gear correctly; although who knows, properly designed crutches may turn out to be great landing gear after all.

Right now, most of us plebian fliers would have to make do with barf bags as parachutes in case of engine malfunction, so I'm somewhat jealous. Shoot, I want a 'chute next time I fly.

One downside that I see-- those wings are like chopped red toy airplane wings from an airplane ride, they wouldn't give even a fifth of the lift of a hang glider, no way. So, the jets are what keep him in the sky. That means a lot of acceleration. And speed. In fact, his cruising speed was 115 MPH-- very respectable. Small airplanes have a maximum cruising speed of roughly 120-200 MPH to my knowledge.

So, just thinking about that speed, you want to be wearing an overall, not any kind of clothing held up by waistbands or belts alone. In fact, he's wearing a flight outfit with gloves and all.

As you may know, air gets colder the further you go up-- adibatic cooling. In the video, you can see the Alps have scanty snow, suggesting it might be close to the freezing point. Now, add a 115 MPH (or so) wind chill to that, and you definitely would not want to streak across the sky like a streaking nude.

Clouds, being icy water vapor and dust also make very chilly clothing for the accidental aeronautic ecdysiast. There will never be a Mile-High Club on winged jet packs, then. For which we must be grateful.

I will also add that ice easily forms on wings, which can lead to crashing. For this reason, he probably also made the decision to avoid flying through clouds.

Yves aborted his flight shortly after encountering turbulence. Now, imagine turbulence on the unprotected human body. Turbulence is basically felt as irregular forces, experienced as a "bumpy ride" on a plane. Even if the "bumps" weren't hard enough to cause bruises, they can cause blood pressure changes in different parts of the body. Combine that with the vibration from the jet packs, and you could have a bad case of airsick even for the toughest pilots.

And who wants to be airsick in a helmet and splatter your visor when you're the only one flying the blasted thing? Or worse, knock yourself upside down or sideways before or AFTER you throw up?

Studies have shown that even the best pilots can't really judge if they're completely right way up by feel alone or their vestibular system without being able to see the horizon or use instruments-- and that's before any airsickness going on.

An experienced pilot always knows his limits. We hope.

After all, common sense says this has to be more dangerous than hang gliding.

Other than that, it appears he has two ways to control this jet pack: One, he can change his center of gravity by moving his legs and body up and down, and two, he can manipulate the the flaps on his wings to create drag and turn the aircraft, That must be really cool. It's much more like what a bird can do, but not quite-- more wing control and flexibility is called for.

Yves Rossy has done an amazing thing in doing what he did. However, I hope he will go back to the drawing board for his wings and perhaps add aerodynamic body armor of some sorts. But he's probably happy he got it done on whatever budget he had. And lived with both legs intact.

I admit, I hope the next model will be painted black and yellow and called "The Bumblebee" in French.

- Wilbrod the Gnome.