Electric current

Scientists Use Brain Stimulation to Boost Creativity

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Consider this. It’s time to do that creative thing you do, be it music, art, writing, whatever. You strap on a cap and it stimulates your brain in such a way, as to ramp up your creative juices. According to researchers at Queen Mary and Goldsmith’s Universities, both of London, such a device could, someday, become a reality.

They caution too that there are already a lot of hucksters out there, who are leveraging public interest and ignorance, in order to make a buck. We’re not there yet. But we are making headway. The results of this study were published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Really creative types are known to be mavericks. They don’t like to follow rules or society’s conventions. This plays out on the neurological level as well. A part of the brain called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) is the stickler of the human mind. This part of the frontal brain is responsible for most of our thinking and reasoning. It’s the rule maker of the brain, and the reminder of the rules.

Electrical brain stimulation.

Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). Queen Mary University of London.

Dr. Caroline Di Bernardi Luft was the study’s first author. She hails from Queen Mary’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences. Dr. Luft said, “We solve problems by applying rules we learn from experience, and the DLPFC plays a key role in automating this process.”

She added, “It works fine most of the time, but fails spectacularly when we encounter new problems which require a new style of thinking – our past experience can indeed block our creativity. To break this mental fixation, we need to loosen up our learned rules.”

Dr. Luft teamed up with…

Want Fast Charging? Don’t Use Your Car’s USB Ports

If you have a relatively new car, it probably has a USB port in the dashboard, glove box, or center console. So naturally, you should just use them to charge your devices, right? Not so fast: if you want speedy charging, those built-in ports just don’t cut it.

Unfortunately, the built-in ports in your car are pretty anemic when it comes to amperage. As we discussed in detail in our guide to choosing a USB charging station for your home, amperage is king. The lower the amperage, the longer it takes to charge a device (and the more difficult it is to maintain a charge if the device is in use). The higher the amperage, the faster you can charge your device (and keep it topped off while using it).

The problem with built-in automotive ports is that they don’t deliver enough juice to keep modern power-hungry phones, tablets, and other devices on and charging. We measured multiple vehicles with a USB voltage/amperage meter and found that the data port in the dash (commonly used to hook up a USB drive or phone to play music) offered a very weak 0.5A output. While that’s enough to power up your USB drive full of MP3s, it’s barely enough to trickle charge an iPhone and maintain the current battery level—if you’re using the phone for navigation, a notorious battery hog, it’s…

What Kind of Extension Cord Should I Use?

Extension cords are one of the most common household items, but there are many different kinds of extension cords built for different purposes. Here’s what you should know about extension cords and when they can and can’t be used.

The Different Gauges (aka AWG)

The wires inside an extension cord come in all different thicknesses, which is denoted as “gauge”. It’s also sometimes referred to as “AWG”, which stands for American Wire Gauge. However, don’t get this confused with the actual thickness of the cord itself (though the thicker the gauge, the thicker the cable, to an extent). Instead, gauge refers to the thickness of the wires inside the extension cord.

Extension cords range anywhere from 18 gauge to 10 gauge, with 10 gauge being the thickest. Lower gauge (aka thicker) wires allow more electrical current to flow through the extension cord, making lower-gauge cords better for larger appliances and tools that need a lot of juice.

Most higher-gauge extension cords are pretty thin and compact (like this one), and made to be used with electronics that don’t need a lot of power, like lamps, alarm clocks, fans, and more. These are also known as “light duty” extension cords.

Thicker-gauge extension cords in the range of 10-14 gauge are known as “medium duty” or “heavy duty” extension cords (like this one) and usually look like a really-thick ethernet cable of sorts. They also usually have bulkier connectors at the ends to protect the components on the inside. However, you can sometimes find light-duty extension cords that look like heavy-duty ones (like this one), so be sure to double check the gauge, which can sometimes be found printed on the cord itself.

Thicker-gauge extension cords are suited for more demanding appliances and tools, like space heaters, refrigerators, and more. There’s a lot of controversy about using extension cords with demanding appliances, so we’ll talk more about that in a moment.

Grounded vs. Ungrounded

The moment you set eyes on different extension cords, you’ll notice one glaring difference: the plug will either have two or three prongs. The third prong is a ground connection, which provides a return path for excess electrical current to prevent damage to the appliance, or even…

Young eels use magnetic ‘sixth sense’ to navigate

juvenile European eel
EEL GPS Juvenile European eels may use Earth’s magnetic field to help them cross the Atlantic Ocean to reach freshwater rivers in Europe, including these seen in the U.K.’s Bristol Channel.

Earth’s magnetic field helps eels go with the flow.

The Gulf Stream fast-tracks young European eels from their birthplace in the Sargasso Sea to the European rivers where they grow up. Eels can sense changes in Earth’s magnetic field to find those highways in a featureless expanse of ocean — even if it means swimming away from their ultimate destination at first, researchers report in the April 13 Current Biology.

European eels (Anguilla anguilla) mate and lay eggs in the salty waters of the Sargasso Sea, a seaweed-rich region in the North Atlantic Ocean. But the fish spend most of their adult lives living in freshwater rivers and estuaries in Europe and North Africa.

Exactly how eels make their journey from seawater to freshwater has baffled scientists for more than a century, says Nathan Putman, a biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Miami.

The critters are hard to track. “They’re elusive,” says study coauthor Lewis Naisbett-Jones, a biologist now at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “They migrate at night and at depth. The only reason we know they spawn in the Sargasso Sea is because that’s where the smallest larvae have been collected.”

Some other marine animals, like sea turtles and salmon, tune in to subtle changes in Earth’s magnetic field to help them migrate long distances. To test whether eels might have the same ability, Putman and his colleagues placed young European eels in a 3,000-liter tank of saltwater surrounded by copper wires. Running electric current through the wires simulated the magnetic…

What Is Coil Whine, and Can I Get Rid of It on My PC?

What Is Coil Whine?

On a pure technical level, coil whine refers to an undesirable noise emitted by an electronic component vibrating as power runs through an electrical cable. Just about anything with a power source can create coil whine to some degree, but it’s usually caused by an electrical current going through a power-regulating component like a transformer or inductor, causing its electrical wiring to vibrate at a variable frequency. This happens in almost all electrical devices, usually at a frequency and volume that’s inaudible to humans, especially inside a metal or plastic PC case.

An old-fashioned electromagnetic inductor in a radio. As the electrical current causes the coil to vibrate against the ring, an audible pitch may be heard.

But when you’re dealing with high-powered components in modern gaming PCs, especially the graphics card and power supply, these vibrations can be audible. This is especially true for anyone who’s sensitive to high-frequency noises. In bad cases, you can actually hear the pitch of the coil whine change as the GPU draws more or less power, and the electrical frequency across various components shifts. It might be particularly noticeable when running a 3D game or high-intensity graphics application. Coil whine can be especially noticeable—not to mention frustrating!—on otherwise “silent” PCs, like low-power home theater PCs or gaming PCs with a liquid cooling system.

Coil whine is really nothing to be concerned about. It can be annoying, of course, but it isn’t like a rattling engine or a squeaking wheel—the noise is a byproduct of your PC and graphics card’s normal operation. Your system isn’t losing any performance or longevity because of coil whine.

(Note: if you hear a distinct hissing or high-pitched whistling instead of a buzz or scratch, that might be the altogether different phenomenon known as “capacitor squeal.” This is something to be concerned about, since it indicates a failing component.)

What Can I Do About It?

Sadly, there isn’t an easy fix for coil whine, like an updated driver…