Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Waterfall Ethics

I've been continuing to push the boundaries of Science today. Perhaps rather unwittingly, and with minor adverse consequences.

A bunch of undergraduate students I supervise are running an experiment into the Motion After or Waterfall effect (see an explanation and QuickTime demonstration here). An ambitious group, they've set up a 5 foot by 6 foot screen displaying a mammoth spiraling graphic of swirls, and here today's story begins.

I arrived to find them all eagerly gathered round, all on time. My suspicions should have kicked in here.

"Huw..." they chorused sweetly, "can we pilot something on you?"
"Sure," I said, grateful that I wasn't being asked anything about statistics.
"Kay, well," they said, "What we want you to do is stare at the centre of the screen. For fifteen minutes."
"Crickey! Fifteen minutes?" I repeated, looking to each of them for confirmation. Then I remembered that that was fifteen minutes no-one would be asking me about 3-way ANOVAs.
"Let's go!"

Now, I knew that on such a large screen and for such a period of time, there was a chance that the effect would be magnified somewhat. Still, I was slightly taken aback at quite how effective it was. I turned to the students, whose warping faces were examining me closely, and attempting to grip a desk for stability (but missing) I addressed them.

"Okay: that works. How have other people got on with this?"
"Well, erm... we haven't actually tried it out for that long on anyone else."
"Is it part of your design?" I asked, clasping my temples.
"Er... no. Not really. We just wanted to see what would happen..."
"So you thought you'd ask me?" My brain was whipping up a storm across my visual field.
"Well you know, we wanted to see what the upper limit people could take was. And you seemed like the kind of guy who would be up to the challenge."
"Even naively?" Despite myself I was slightly chuffed: I really am that shallow and easy to flatter. "Well, how long did it take for it to wear off on your previous upper limit person?"
"Well, someone who looked at it just for four minutes took four minutes to recover."
"The longest you've previously done is four minutes? Didn't you think about making the increase slightly more gradual? Hey, hang on! Recover? As in..? Did they fit or something?"
"Oh no. just until they could see normally...."
"Ah good. So no fits?"
"... and walk."

In truth, I was a little proud of the evil bastards, and they got me pretty good. And I made sure to take a copy of their graphic display: it's kinda fun and a cheap way to spend a Tuesday night in. And it sure beats amyl nitrate.

Day Trippers: If you want a copy of said graphic for your own visual mind warp purposes, email me! It'll be effective enough off your monitor. But fifteen minutes really is going a little overboard.


y-vonne said...

and to think I was so mild-mannered and respectful for my stats profs...

emaleejayne said...

Is it normal that after I paused the waterfall video I continued to see the movement but from bottom to top? My waterfall was in reverse!

Huw said...

Perfectly normal: The Waterfall Effect in fact.

Monica said...

Now, just going by my own (v. limited) memory here: you're a sex teacher, a stats expert and a lab rat. Just what kind of a course have you got these kids on??

Chris Cope said...

It could be worse -- Newton once shoved a needle into his eye socket.

Curly said...

That's brilliant! Always devious those students...

Shane said...

Great writing. Laughed out loud. Nouveau Bean.