As the about section explains, the Time Hack was a year-long experiment aimed at exploring whether our perception of time is influenced by our actions.
Throughout the experiment, which I carried out during the whole of 2011, I participated in a new and unusual activity each day in an effort to alter my perception of time. Click here to learn more about the parameters of the project.
Research suggests a person’s perception of how much time has passed between two points and how well memories are recorded onto an individual’s brain are partially dependent on the amount of new experiences that person has during any given day. The Time Hack aimed to explore this idea.
With this in mind, I timed each of the experiences on a stopwatch and pit those recorded times against my estimation of how long I perceived each experience to have lasted for. For a complete list of these activities and a comparison between the times, see this spreadsheet.
Breakdown and final totals
The following information and graphs represent an analysis of the actual times and perceived times of each activity, which I recorded throughout the project.
In total, I engaged in 344 activities throughout the year, which I had never participated in prior to the project, over the course of 365 days.
Twenty-one days worth of data was compromised and/or lost, which is why there were 344 activities analyzed here as opposed to 365.
During those 344 days, I spent 305 hours, 13 minutes and 42 seconds (or 18,313 minutes and 42 seconds) engaging in activities I have never before experienced.
According to the total sum of my perceived times during those 344 days, however, I believed those activities to have lasted for 319 hours, 57 minutes and 11 seconds. This difference in time alludes to the idea that I experienced an extra 14 hours, 43 minutes and 29 seconds during 2011.
Put another way, I squeezed 4.6% more time out of my year through these activities. And put yet another way, that’s about 2 minutes and 34 seconds of new life each day, while engaging in the activities for 53 minutes and 15 seconds on average.
I spent a hefty chunk of December contemplating a perfect Day 365 of The Time Hack: the final day in the year-long time perception experiment that began January 1, 2011. It had to be big and embody the spirit of the project — a representation of the venture that would sit front-and-center on the site’s homepage for all Internet eternity.
Skydive? Too expected. Get shot out of a canon? Too difficult to arrange.
Two nights before the project would end, I sat down with friends and mapped a route across the continental United States. I’d attempt to roll through four U.S. time zones in 24 hours — a feasible task if one doesn’t urinate and drives about 90 mph through the middle of the country. The task seemed a solid, octane-fueled finale.
Hours before I was to hop in a car and skirt westward, however, I realized that capping the project off with such a bang would mark the entire experiment as a 365-day exercise in entertainment. While from the beginning, many of the time hacks ended up being quite funny (e.g., Day 17: Recite the alphabet in public), the project was not entertainment at its core.
It was intended to be a tool.
TRY EVERYTHING Over in the “About" section, I point to research that suggests that both a person’s perception of how time passes and the sharpness of that person’s memories are dependent, in part, on the number of new experiences he or she has during a given day.
So if new experiences slow a person’s perception of time, The Time Hack was the tool by which I’d attempt to make 2011 the longest year of my life.
But more importantly, it was a tool to demonstrate how one can positively apply scientific data to daily life.
DO MORE For generations, mothers have told their children not sit around and let life pass them by. The Time Hack was an effort to confront the time-honored adage and demonstrate the science-backed benefits of making the most out of life.
In short: Do more and your perception of life will change for the better.
But it can also be simpler than that. If you typically walk down 1st Street on the way home from work each day, then tomorrow ride a bicycle down 2nd.
Why? Because participating in new and dynamic activities could significantly extend your time on this planet — or at least your perception of it.
DIYTH And that’s precisely why I wanted to end the project here: jumping into a body of water during winter. It is an experience that shows you, the person reading this right now, the feasibility of doing this project yourself.
As with any bit of scientific research, however, you take what you’ve learned and move forward with a new perspective on the world. So the Time Hack will live on. Case in point: I write this while researching a trip to Texas, where I hope to join in on my first rodeo.
Thanks for all of your ideas, Time Hack fans, and may you keep the Time Hack spirit truckin’.
Special thanks to science journalist Dave Mosher and interaction designer Liz Danzico for countless hours and even days of help on this project. Additional thanks goes to neurologist and time perception guru David Eagleman for helping to design the project.
[Note: In the coming weeks I’ll sort through my data, show off some highlights and post a link to the project’s complete set.]
For future projects and updates, I can be found on Twitter @mattdanzico.
I believe I yelled “Day 365” while running toward the the ocean in Coney Island, New York.
I took three steps into the ocean and then dove, falling into the water on my left side.
After my first dive, I jumped up and raised my hands and let out a “whoo”, echoing a passerby who was cheering me on back on land.
I dove in two more times, once to my left (completely submerged) and the second to my right (leaving my head above water).
I ran back up the beach holding my arms over my chest and told the camera “that was an interesting year”.
I first put my hands on my knees out to catch my breath and then sat down with a towel to get warm.
The man I took a fencing lesson from was named Acky, a longtime fencer who competed in the 2000 Olympics.
During the portion of the lesson that I filmed, I recall Acky showing me three different forms of blocking.
We first form of blocking we went over involved holding the sabre up to block above my head. Acky attempted to hit me six times on the head. Each time I blocked and was directed to hit him atop his head.
Next we went over blocking on my left (his right). He came in with his sabre to hit my left arm. Each of the seven times we did this form of blocking, I stopped him and was directly to hit him on his right arm.
We then went over blocking on my right side. We did this a total of five times.
Following the lessons in blocking, Acky then attempted to hit me from different angles, without letting me know where he was going to try to strike. He came in toward my head first. The following represents the order in which I believe he tried to hit me following his first attempt: left arm, head, left arm, right arm, right arm, head, left arm, left arm, head, right arm, left arm, right arm, left arm.
I then remember battling Acky, winning and being invited to the 2012 Olympics. (Okay, maybe that one didn’t happen.)
What was odd about this activity is that my perception of time sped and slowed depending on the individuals I asked to allow me to coat them in Silly String.
A total of four sets of people were approached on a Thursday evening at roughly 10:00pm in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The first was a man walking with a woman whom I would assume was his partner. I very awkwardly asked if he’d be willing to allow me to coat him in the aerosol string, citing a “scavenger hunt-like project”. He declined, mentioning various understandable reasons. Any reason one would give to avoid being covered in Silly String by a stranger is understandable, to be honest. But I digress.
During this experiment, I felt my emotions being dictated by the reactions of the people I approached very early on in this experiment. If those I asked laughed and seemed engaged, despite their willingness to be “stringed”, I felt more comfortable and time passed slowly during our exchange. But if they declined without a smile, time slipped by. And this reaction apparently mirrors new research done on the topic of time perception.
According to Annett Schirmer, a researcher in the department of psychology at the National University of Singapore, evidence suggests that “emotions can both speed up and slow down the internal clock”.
Schirmer states: “Speeding up has been observed for to-be-timed emotional stimuli that have the capacity to sustain attention, whereas slowing down has been observed for to-be-timed neutral stimuli that are presented in the context of emotional distractors.”
That’s nerd talk for ‘if something sustains your attention - like a person who reacts positively and shows attention - time will slow. Whereas, awkwardness can make time slip by.’
Schirmer states that research performed in both non-humans and humans points to the idea that bodily arousal affects time perception. In his research, rats injected with a drug that enhances the amount of dopamine produced in the brain treated a “given duration as longer” than rats injected with simple saline. Dopamine, mind you, produces the brain’s feel-good state following stimulants ranging from candy to cocaine. Whereas, rats in the study injected with drugs that block the amount of dopamine production have had the opposite effect.
Schirmer found that in humans “changes in physiological arousal as assessed by self-report” showed similar results.
Whether the amount of dopamine being produced in my brain had anything to do with the reactions of those asked to be stringed, I am not certain. But one thing is for sure - the man who finally allowed me to cover him in the pink aerosol string surely saw increased amounts of dopamine produced in his brain as well. No question there. Silly String is, after all, completely awesome.
On day 361 of The Time Hack, I threw a message in a bottle into the East River, off the coast of Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
Why exactly? Well, if it worked for an 11-year-old… (Story below from the BBC.)
An 11-year-old US boy was stunned to get a reply to his message in a bottle from Portugal’s Azores Islands - via the more surefire medium of email.
Curtis Kipple wrote a letter about himself and his hometown in New York state, and put it in a bottle which was dropped into the Atlantic in March.
The message was found last week by Ana Ponte, 25, from the fishing village of Terceira, on the Azores archipelago.
The fifth-grader’s bottle had travelled 2,600 miles (4,190km).
"My brother and my father wake up earlier today and went to sea to catch a seafood very common here, and found a bottle with a message from a boy Curtis Kipple," said Ms Ponte’s email - written in both English and Portuguese - to Curtis’s school.
I recall explaining in the note that I wanted whomever found the bottle to email me at my private email address.
I explained that I was a journalist and created the bottled note for The Time Hack. I then said that I threw the bottle into off the coast of Brooklyn in New York.
The piece of paper was torn from a graph paper notebook with a green cover. I wrote on both sides of the folded paper “Message in a bottle. Please read!”.
The bottle used in the experiment was a blue Powerade, purchased from a Texaco gas station in New Jersey.
I explained before throwing the bottle from a pier in Greenpoint, Brooklyn that I was throwing the bottle into the East River.
I threw it with my right hand, while leaning over the pier railing. The throw didn’t go off as planned and was at far more of a downward angle then expected. This could have been due to the wind, which was ferocious that night.
Day 359: Investigate an abandoned, "haunted" sanitorium
Exploration and curiosity are ingrained in everything that makes us human. The benefits of seeking the unknown have been many and have ranged from discovering new trade routes to swapping secrets on crop irrigation with indigenous populations. And to a certain degree, we are all the ancestors of explorers.
On the plains of Africa, for instance, those who moved to new lands in search of food were sometimes the ones who survived. And in modern times in the US, those who escaped their home countries to come to America to find work were the ones who were prosperous enough to raise a strong family.
But researchers still do not know precisely where this human sense of curiosity comes from.
Some experts think curiosity is an internal drive, something that makes us explore a dark cave or abandoned tuberculosis sanitarium, in this case. They believe it to be similar to hunger or thirst, an urge we must answer to be healthy and survive. This belief is called the drive theory of curiosity.
Other researchers believe in incongruity theory - the belief that our environment triggers curiosity. These experts believe that individuals only become curious when prompted with an environment or occurence that challenges our sense of the world. Magicians, for instance, play off this curiosity theory. Make a rabbit disappear in a top hat, and wham.. you’ll have hooked your audiences’ attention for hours.
During a trip to my hometown for the holidays, I was compelled to explore an abandoned sanitarium, a complex established in 1903 for those suffering from tuberculosis. It was a trip I had been thinking about making since I was a child, growing up in the region.
Upon returning from the trip, which was made on Christmas night, my mother informed me that the song “White Christmas” had actually been written by someone who was treated at the sanitarium.
Day 358: Buy and deliver presents to a family in need
Though a 2005 report showed that four out of five Americans believe the holidays to be too materialistic, psychologists have argued that gift giving is an important ritual in maintaining a healthy, balanced lifestyle. But experts claim giving presents is more beneficial for the givers than for the receivers.
“If I don’t let you give me a gift, then I’m not encouraging you to think about me and think about things I like. I am preventing you from experiencing the joy of engaging in all those activities. You do people a disservice by not giving them the gift of giving,” Harvard psychology professor Ellen Langer told The New York Times in 2007.
According to the article, researchers believe that evolution played a large role in why humans give gifts today.
Men who were the most generous may have had the most reproductive success with women. (Notably, the use of food in exchange for sexual access and grooming has been documented in our closest ape relative, the chimpanzee.) Women who were skilled at giving — be it extra food or a well-fitted pelt — helped sustain the family provider as well as her children.
Further researcher was released in 2008 by the Virginia Commonwealth University showing that the benefits of gift giving may ultimately fall on the shoulders of the giver, not the receiver.
In the VCU report, experts studied the gift giving habits of pet owners, concluding that their gifts stemmed from an effort to make pets happy. Though the research may seem frivolous, the report points to the self-serving nature of gift giving - since, after all, pets are unable to give gifts in return.
For day 358 of The Time Hack, I purchased a Wal-Mart gift card and a book set for a family whose house burned down the night before Christmas Eve. Though the presents were utlimately delivered to a mother and her young daughter, I’m still not sure who benefited the most from the gifts - myself or the family.
Day 357: Reconstruct an animal skeleton using bones found in owl vomit
Girlfriend: “So I have the perfect present for your sister for Christmas.”
GF: “I met a woman who has a passion for finding bones located inside owl vomit and bottling them up in glass vials.”
M: “Wait. What?”
GF: “I should buy it for you - so you could give it to your sister. Essentially, there is a woman who runs a shop here in Greenpoint (Brooklyn) who will go out into the wilderness in search of owl vomit, which she calls owl pellets, and dig through the vomit there were any bones regurgitated in the throw up. She then takes those bones, puts them into cute glass vials and sells them.”
M: “Yep, sounds perfect. She’d love it.”
For day 357 of The Time Hack, I took sea urchin bones found in owl vomit and attempted to reconstruct the animal with the help of sticky tack.
I believe 31 bones were used to recreate the sea urchin.
The majority of each bone was white in color, with a dash of brown around each end.
The ball of gum was green in color and attached to a clear pushpin.
The other vials in the box included a rodent backbone and a bee. The box said there was supposed to be a fourth vial containing the bones of a seahorse. That container was missing.
On the desk, where I was working there was a pair of tweezers, the box in which the bones came, sticky tack and a camera.
I rotated the camera in a counter-clockwise motion around the recreated sea urchin.
Hm. Well. What to say about this Time Hack… I am surprised at how easy and quick the entire process was. I was expecting an ordeal, to say the least. But really - in the end, it was a short and sweet painless Time Hack.
From what I can tell without having looked at the recorded times of each event this past year, the more awkward and uncomfortable the experience, the longer each event seems to have lasted. That said, this Time Hack seemed to have lasted a lifetime.
I stood on my hands and knees and administered the medicine with my right hand.
Stopping only moments after I began, I slammed the bottle on the ground and rethought why exactly I was doing this to myself. Not coming up with a solid motive, I hesitantly proceeded, hanging my head between my arms on the floor of my bathroom.
The bottle was once again slammed to the ground with only about one quarter of the fluid used. The bottle filled up with air.
I made the unfortunate mistake of injecting the bottle back in and squeezing the air threw the nozzle.
I stopped the process after the second round and spent the following ten or so minutes waiting for the medicine to take effect.
What happened on day 355? Although for obvious reasons, I did not film the process of giving myself an enema, I did capture my thoughts before the process. Find a quick clip here.
I believe it took 23 minutes and 58 seconds to deliver the enema.
Ze Frank, web entrepreneur, online performer and general crazy internet guy, created a project in 2008 ago called Young Me Now Me, a campaign asking people on the web to recreate childhood photographs of themselves.
On day 349 of The Time Hack, I visited a family who fled Iraq after a bomb exploded in front of their home in 2009 - gifts of a drawn out war graciously provided by Al-Qaeda, the father told me.
I gulped down large portions of well-prepared pot roast at a worn brown table in the family’s kitchen, while listening to stories from Amir Ahmed (not his real name). He was excited for someone to hear his story, and I was happy to be there.
His wife tiptoed around the kitchen preparing side dishes for our meal, his young daughter sat at the end of the table doing her homework on a pink laptop.
Ahmed, a warm-hearted, former university professor and father of four, has been dealing with unbearable bouts of depression as a result of the attack, he said. He had worked as a translator for the US military and feels a hit was taken out on his head and those of his family members because of his work.
While I was there, I could sense a deep sadness ricocheting off the pale white walls of the Ahmed’s home - a despair that the father caught and carried for his family. Two of his young children died in the bombing, and one of his daughters was still in the broken country, desperately trying to get out.
His daughter’s appeal to the US to allow her and Amhed’s grandchildren into the United States is one of many currently pending because of new security measures put in place in 2010 that require new intensive background checks.
Late last year, a group of lawmakers argued that more intensive background checks were needed in order to enter the US for those fleeing the Iraq war.
The security procedures were and are a direct reflection of continued threats from within the US by small sects of extremists hailing from the Middle East. But the new measures are forcing many who have worked with the US military to risk their lives by staying in the country.
"Do you think what I did was wrong?" Ahmed asked me, referring to his work with the US military.
I told him I could not answer that question but could say that I thought what he did was brave.
"But my daughters are dead," he whispered.
The audio of the interview with Ahmed was turned into a BBC World Service piece by Marc Adams. To read more about Ahmed, see the text and link below.
The last American soldiers have left Iraq, and many Iraqis with a connection to them, however distant, remain vulnerable to attack by extremists seeking retribution. Thousands hope to resettle in the US, but new security procedures have delayed admission for all but a fraction, leaving them stuck in dangerous limbo.
"Sometimes when you wait for something, that process will kill you day by day. I’m kept waiting," says Amir Ahmed, an Iraqi refugee in the US and father of four.
Desperation consumes his voice as he talks about his daughter still in Iraq, waiting to be resettled in the US and reunited with the rest of her family.
"She is part of my body," he says. "She is a part of me and I am unable to live without her."
For security reasons, Mr Ahmed asked to keep his real name hidden. Every day he is gripped with fear his daughter and her family will be killed in retaliation for the work he did for the Americans.
"The situation is going to get worse," he says. "I am 100% sure of it."
Just after the US invasion in 2003, Mr Ahmed left his job as a university professor to work as an interpreter for the US Army. Seven months later, a bomb exploded in front of his house, placed by al-Qaeda, he says. He was severely injured and two of his daughters were killed.
After recovering, he fled with his family to Syria. In 2009, they came to the US.
But his daughter’s husband was determined to start a business in the new Iraq, and the couple stayed behind with their three young children.
They quickly came to regret their decision.
To continue reading “Family of Iraqis who worked with the US left in danger”, click here.
During the fall of 2007, I traveled around the US via the kindness of strangers through a web project called Around America in 2.0. It was a time in the internet’s youth when YouTube was just beginning to get its bearings and news reports were coming out almost daily about crimes that were committed through people connecting on Craigslist.
So I created AA2.0 as a way to prove the web community that it was entirely possible to trust strangers they met through the internet. For the project, I posted a video on YouTube and on the project’s website asking people to drive, house and feed me around the United States for 80 days as a test of web connectivity and trust. I essentially acted as a human baton being passed from one stranger to the next. I filmed the entire 80 day project and created a rather unimpressive web series out of the footage (as I was cutting on the road and had no formal training in video journalism at the time).
But I digress. I stayed with and was driven around the US by 56 strangers and web junkies during the trip. To this day, I’m not really sure what to make of the entire endeavor. But I’ve always regretted passing hitchhikers on the side of the road since. So for day 348 of The Time Hack, I picked one up while en route at night back from a snowboarding trip to Mt Hood in Oregon.
Ironically, a friend was in the car at the time whom was one of the then strangers who picked me up during the Around America in 2.0 trip.
She later seemed surprised that I would be so bold as to pick up a hitchhiker. The irony.
Jake was a ski patrolman working in Oregon. He was originally from Idaho, just north of Boise.
He said he hadn’t been waiting long for a ride.
He had a brown beard and wore a bright red jacket with a black hat.
He sat directly behind the passenger to my right while I was driving.
I continually attempted to make my rented Ford sedan play music through my iPhone as I was recording the audio of the conversation.
We offered him carrots from a bag we had with us on our snowboarding trip.
Jake asked to be dropped off at a small motel that was painted yellow at the bottom of Mt Hood mountain. He commented as he was getting out of the car that it isn’t often that people pick up hitchhikers in Oregon. I replied that it is not often that I pick them up.
What happened on day 348? Without listening to the audio (which I recorded while the hitchhiker was in the car), I get the impression that the file may be corrupted or not all there - as vimeo is telling me it is significantly shorter than I remember recording for. But for better or worse - here’s at least an attempt at some audio from the short drive with the hitchhiker. Check it out here.
I estimate the hitchhiker was in the car for 11 minutes and 13 seconds.
The experiment on day 344 of The Time Hack was supposed to be “Object at a wedding”, though I only admit this because the friend whose wedding I had been intending to object at is a self-admitted luddite.
That said, a chain a peculiar events led me to crushing grapes instead.
I had been sleeping on a curiously smelling Murphy bed for several nights in the bedroom of an old college friend while reporting several stories in San Francisco. Equally confused by a gross lack of sleep as well as by the number of frog calendars my friend has collected since our days in academia, I stumbled into San Francisco International at 7:30am on Saturday morning for a flight to Los Angeles, where the wedding was being held.
Unsuccessfully jamming my card into the self-checkout kiosk a number of times, a United Airlines attendant informed me that my flight had been booked for the previous day. But “my wedding was in five hours” and “I must jump on the next flight”. Tossing her permed hair, she informed me that if I wished to get on the next flight to LA, a charge of $600 would be applied to the original price of my ticket ($49).
A quick spat took place, and I stepped outside to spit the remaining four letters words from my mouth. Calmed, I called my sister, an internet-obsessed Brooklynite who is my go-to source for all matters “help me”.
No answer. She texted back, “Driving south in California. What’s up?” I rang back immediately.
"You’re where, she said?" "Oh, no, no. I’m not reversing. I just passed SFO and am headed to Big Sur. I’m already in Palo Alto (15 minutes away)," she said, engine sputtering in the background.
"You must be joking. Don’t you think this is too big of a coincidence that we’re both in San Fran and headed south? You’ve got to pick me up."
I coughed out the new chain of four letter words from my mouth, high-stepped it up to the car rental office and picked up the car I had dropped off only an hour prior.
I now had only five and a half hours to make it to my friend’s wedding in Los Angeles in order to object to her marriage, a task that has been on my Time Hack list since day one.
"But Los Angeles is seven hours away, you’re never going to make it," the Alamo employee repeated several times. "Don’t speed, sir."
Going 101 down the 101, I fought off puckered lips and an itchy throat from the night before, refusing to stop the entire way to Los Angeles.
Five hours, 30 minutes and one pee bottle later, I slammed on the car’s brakes in a parking lot that reminded me of the church parking lot in the Graduate.
I quickly brushed my teeth and changed my pants in plain view of a couple attempting to change their baby’s diaper on the trunk of their car.
Pants on, shirt buttoned, the doors opened just as my friend pronounced “I do”.
Gasping for breath and collapsed, hands on my knees, next to what I would assume to be the bride’s cousin, a six foot five inch tall half Japanese Chuck Norris-lookalike. I’d made it. But only minutes too late.
I took my seat, defeated and bemused by the day’s events.
Later that night, to take out my aggression - a friend and I crushed grapes with my feet in a small Los Angeles condo.
Seems random, but really, nothing beats pretending to stomp on the heads of United employees after a missed flight.
For Day 342 of The Time Hack, I attend the exhumation of two skeletons in Ukiah, California, a town where the bodies of two children were found in 1979. The children were never identified and the case has yet to be solved, which is why I attended the exhumation as part of an upcoming story by the BBC News.
At different points throughout the day, I had the opportunity to speak with a forensic scientist about how experts date human bones, found both at archeological digs and crime scenes.
The scientist told me he was trained at the Forensic Anthropology Research Center in Tennessee, where death expert Bill Brass secured a large plot of land several decades ago to study human skeletons in various states of decay.
In 2007, the then 79-year-old scientist spoke with Wired News. Below is an excerpt of that conversation.
I will post a link [here] when our story on the unidentified bodies in California is released.
Wired News: What is at the Body Farm?
Bill Bass: We have clothed and unclothed bodies, in the sun and the shade, in water. They’re in automobiles, trunks of cars, houses. What we’ve tried to do is reconstruct as many situations in which police find skeletal remains as possible.
WN: How good could forensic scientists get at estimating time of death?
Bass: I’d hope that we could get to the stage that after looking at everything in the body, we could tell you within a half-day how long that individual has been dead.
The further out you get, the range gets wider and wider. If you find an individual that’s been dead a year, you might be able now to say, well, that individual has been dead between six months and a year-and-a-half. What we’re trying to do is narrow those ranges so we get it down to where it is more specific.
WN: How did you get the idea to create the Body Farm?
Bass: I taught at the University of Kansas for 11 years and identified skeletal remains, but I don’t remember ever getting a maggot-covered body. They were always bones.
Then in 1971, I came to the University of Tennessee, and instead of just skeletal remains, about half the first 10 cases were maggot-covered bodies. In those cases, the police don’t ask, ‘Who is that?’ They ask, ‘How long have they been there?’”
I didn’t know anything about maggots and thought if I’ll be talking to police about how long somebody has been dead, I’d better know something about it. So in the fall of 1971 I went to the dean and said I needed some land to put dead bodies on. That was the beginning of the Body Farm.
WN: Will the Body Farm grow in the future?
Bass: It’s greatly overused. We have about 150 bodies out there right now, and we need land that has not been contaminated by other burials, by other decays. We need more land, and talked to the university a while back. They’ve given us another 12 to 15 acres. It’s going to be about a half-mile away from where the 2.5 acres is now.
WN: Are you learning about topics besides time of death?
Bass: We are doing a long-term project dealing with the compounds given off by bodies if they’re buried. Today if someone is missing, they call out a dog. But as you and I talk today, we don’t know what the dogs are smelling.
We’ve found that there are more than 400 compounds given off by dead bodies. We can chemically reconstruct each of those 400 compounds, and we’re at the stage where we can bring in the dogs and say, ‘Do you smell A or B?’”
WN: You also have one of the country’s largest and most modern collections of skeletons, correct?
Bass: The ultimate goal of the Body Farm originally was not only to learn what happens in the decay of a body and how long does it take, but also to build up a collection of modern skeletal remains.
The problem with anatomical collections — up until now, there have been three, done by anatomists starting in the early 1900s — is that they’re notorious for having people in the older age ranges.
Most (specimens) were in their 60s or 70s or 80s (when they died). Let’s say you were 80 years old, you died in 1920 and you were in one of these collections. You were born in 1840, 20 years before the Civil War. What you’re looking at are individuals that are older and were born over 100 years ago.
We know there have been changes in population through time. I wanted to build up a collection of known materials, known by age, race and sex.
We have a little over 700 skeletons in our collection, and we’re building a $2 million building (to house them). It’s something that the university is committed to. I would like to see it get to the stage where we really have a population big enough to do (more extensive research).
Read more from the Wired interview here. Or click the link below to review the data from The Time Hack experiment.
My grey-haired public relations professor was standing at the front of the room during the first class of my third year of college. ”Basics of public relations” was a required course for my major, and with great hesitation and venom, I found myself that day awaiting instruction on how best to write a press release.
"If I want to be a journalist, why am I required to take a class on public relations?" The connection seemed lose and arbitrary - an apparent failure on the part of the media studies department to properly assign relavant classes to students. Public relations specialists were on the other team, the other side of the field even, and I did not wish to participate in their peculiar craft.
But my professor was animated and quickly enveloped her students through enthusiasm and interesting stats. During those 45 minutes, my attitude toward the class was transformed from one of sourness to one of optimism simply through a series of high fives and smiles from our prof.
My second media-related class of the semester was my first journalism course, taught by an aging, former Washington Post reporter. He was sharp-tongued and cynical, byproducts of years in a fast-paced newsroom, I’m sure. I had been excited by the idea of taking my first journalism class, but the droopy-eyed professor was bland. It was apparent that he had simply been looking to make a few extra bucks by teaching the course.
At the time, I recall questioning whether the professors attitudes would later have an impact on my perception of their crafts. And sure enough, they did. Directly after college, I chose to pursue other avenues instead of entering directly into journalism, an industry I had been interested in prior to the classes in question.
A study conducted for Pennsylvania schools found that teachers make up 10% of the reason students choose the professions that they do. More specifically, teacher attitude dramatically affects student perception towards certain career paths.
"Teachers reinforce in young people an academic aptitude, tie a specific subject to future careers, and are strong role models for teaching or subject related career choices," the study said.
The study also reported that student perceptions of careers made up a whopping 33% of the reason students pursue the fields they do. And these perceptions are heavily influenced by lessons they learn about each industry in school.
To this day, I still feel a curiously warm connection to the public relations field, an industry in which I have no interest in participating. I suppose at the end of the day, it was a simple case of classical conditioning.
And though I spent a year working outside of journalism after college partly because of my academic experience, I am glad those feelings faded.
But, you know, if journalism doesn’t work out.. I can always get a job in public relationsacademia.
I let myself into the Associated Press room using an ID provided to me by my own company, the BBC.
I passed seven journalists in a off-white hallway while poking my head in and out of the various rooms in the office.
One woman dressed in black asked if I needed help finding someone or something.
I physically bumped into a man wearing a black dress shirt in the main newsroom area.
I saw three separate editing booths in the AP office, all of which were empty.
What happened on day 336? No video was recorded during this experiment.
I believe I walked around the Associated Press office for 23 minutes and 19 seconds.
My experience with cancer was, until the summer of 2010, one of ignorance. I had only distantly known those impacted by it. Both of my father’s parents died from it before I was born, so had an acquaintance’s mother, a not-so-friendly movie star, etc. It seemed like a deadly tornado sweeping across Kansas but I was protected by the mountains on the coast, safely receiving headlines and second-hand accounts of destruction.
That ended abruptly in August of last year with a call from my mother.
She told me the white, horse-like dog I had raised from puppyhood had fallen terminally ill with throat cancer. He was on the floor in his usual spot below the piano gasping for air and had only a few hours to live. I sat motionless on a plastic bench at one of Apple’s Genius Bars in Washington DC. She had caught me in the middle of a computer repair.
Even though I’m a stone-cold journalist, I teared up. The genius helping me stared back confused, waiving my MacBook Pro battery and saying, “It’s okay. You have Applecare.”
"Would you come home to say goodbye?" my mother whispered in my ear.
I did, and with much confusion and sadness, I saw him off.
Several weeks later, back in Washington, a friend called and asked if I would attend her “chemo party”.
"A chemo party?" I asked. "Yeah! Wait, didn’t Nate or someone tell you?"
"Oh… I was diagnosed with breast cancer about three weeks ago. But it’s totally cool. I’ll be fine. So I’m having a chemo party before I go in for chemotherapy."
I had apparently missed my friend’s Facebook invite to the party as well as the online flyer - permanent, digital examples of the pervasiveness of the disease in the information age.
My mind went to future generations, those who will read about cancer in a similar fashion to the way we read about the black plague. How odd it will be for them to see cached websites displaying flyers and online invites from our time. “September 28th - ChaCha Lounge Happy Hour - Jennifer’s Chemo Party - Come on out before I start losing my hair!”
How confusing that will be.
"Sure. Of course, I’ll come," I said.
About one month after that - a close friend’s father was diagnosed with skin cancer - adding the third link to a larger chain I’ve seen forming in the past year.
Maybe this is what happens during adulthood. Or maybe it’s just bad luck. Regardless, cancer struck in 2011 with tornado-like force - and with that, my cancer virginity was no more.
Once again, cancer has popped it’s frightening little head into my life, this time affecting an internet entrepreneur named Amit Gupta, a friend of a friend, who was recently diagnosed with leukemia.
For day 335 of The Time Hack, I attended a swabbing party in New York City, a get-together aimed at registering individuals to the national bone marrow registry in the hopes of finding Mr. Gupta a match.
Although this was my first effort to help combat cancer in any way shape or form, I made a promise at the swabbing party to one day host a bone marrow drive myself.
One year after basking in ignorance, my eyes are now wide to the venomous enemy that is cancer. After all, the bastard took my dog.
Inspired by an art exhibit at the Cororan Gallery of Art, I crawled to the grocery store across the street from my friend’s house. I believe it took 07 minutes and 14 seconds. Currently awaiting a photo from a friend…
On day 328 of The Time Hack, I hosted my first Thanksgiving dinner, which consisted of vegetarian lasagna, cranberry sauce, beans, brussel sprouts and other comestibles. I believe the whole ordeal lasted 5 hours and 17 minutes.
I believe the BBC’s Jason Palmer and I rode San Francisco trolleys for 34 minutes and 15 seconds, asking individuals: “If you could send one message to alien life, what would it be?” Why? Good question. Report to come…
I estimate the flash dance party at Occupy San Francisco lasted 41 minutes and 19 seconds. I was covering the event when it broke out in front of me. Though I did not dance, I still felt very much involved - whether I wanted to be or not.