Personal Response: Focus Feb 2012 – The Science of Deduction

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    To be frank, I was immediately most dismayed to consider this month’s publication of Focus Magazine. Why does Robert Downey Jr feature on the front cover? Don’t get me wrong – he’s an awesome actor, and has come a long way from when he was arrested driving naked down the freeway in his convertible Porsche trying to expel imaginary chickens from the vehicle, but I strongly and subsequently suspect the biggest contribution to science he could ever hope to present would be the toxicology report conducted at his autopsy.
    So what does this poster-boy have to do with “the cutting edge methods” of deduction? Obviously, the face of RDJr is there for only one reason: big names fronting the cover of a magazine mean better sales. The big names on the cover may have very little to do with the actual contents inside, and the better sales supposedly mean that the magazine is able to employ more or better reporters and researchers. Yet I reckon what unfortunately happens instead is that more money is simply spent on more big names to grab the attention of readers, whilst the number of writers are pared and their actual journalistic efforts go unrewarded.

    My immediate fear was that this populist facade heralded commercial content, and consequently I would want to be wary within to watch for any “public relations” pieces. This issue of Focus would very much be evaluated on its actual content, rather than on its appeal (although I love the appeal!).

    New discoveries 9/10
    • 4 degrees of separation, not 6 any more
    • Swearing reduces pain
    • Two examples of increased automation
    • Telepathy? See “Conciousness”
    ! “Power to the People” – the “bright” future?!?!
    Useful articles 7/10
    • What species should we save?
    • Feature article on “Deduction” failed to impress
    • “Big Space Balloon” article was comprehensive
    • Q&A section is engaging
    Unwanted content (ads!) Reasonable/acceptable
    • Ads are rarely hidden, or masked as articles or PR
    • p.87-109 “The Guide” for consumers
    Features of presentation 8/10
    • “MegaPixel” is beautiful
    • Needs a glossary!
    • is good!

    Focus delves deeply into the worlds of science, technology and the future. I really enjoyed the pieces produced by the expert columnists in “Update”, as well as the opinions offered by members of the public in “The Big Debate”. Yet the feature articles in this issue didn’t really sustain my attention: they were very new in their contents and didn’t really connect with my established knowledge about the matters presented – I know that I will continue to learn and understand more in time, or with study. Still, the magazine is crammed with short informative bursts of knowledge to inspire the curious. For the sections of “MegaPixel”, “Update”, “Q&A”, even the strongly commercial “Guide”, the format is excellent, engaging and highly informative.

    There were two matters from the feature articles that particularly piqued my interest and/or surprise. The first appeared in “Power to the People” – a feature that explored the possibilities for “distributed generation” of power to homes. At first I was interested to consider how fuel cells – which are basically big batteries – have captured $400 million in investment, and are being used by more than 120 “high-profile customers” in the US. The technology is expensive and therefore not competitive, but it does seem to be a future option for certain small-scale situations and would take such communities (business or domestic) off the grid. Avoiding the losses and inefficiencies of long-distance transfers from suppliers to users would be good 🙂 However, the article then explored the other method for distributed generation in “micro-nuclear” energy. Hmmmm… I don’t know if I’d hope for that or not, for many reasons!

    The second matter appeared in “The Search for Consciousness”. Apparently researchers are able to recreate experiences, for they have mapped the brain to a degree that matches activity to perceptions. Does this approach telepathy? Can we simulate reality? The article definitely raises many very challenging and important questions!
    Overall, it’s great magazine that’s very informative and beautifully composed, and Feb 2012 presents a good issue. Not for the faint of mind!

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