Archive for: October, 2007

Animal intelligence news, with videos!

Oct 17 2007 Published by under Animals, Science news

I've been meaning to write a post on animal intelligence for a couple of weeks, but have been sidetracked by work (and life). A few recent stories kicked off the motivation to write it, first and foremost this story on feline memories: "Feline memories found to be fleeting" (h/t babs67), which was originally linked to through Yahoo news.

It's an interesting scientific study. The researchers wanted to know how a cat coordinates motion of front legs with back legs. The researchers first let a cat step over an obstacle with its front legs, then distracted it with food and determined how long they could distract a cat before it would forget to lift its back legs to clear the obstacle. It turns out that the magic number is somewhere around ten minutes, i.e. cats have a muscle memory of about ten minutes.  However, when they distracted the cat before it had cleared the obstacle, so that it only had its visual memory to remind it of the barrier, "The main surprise was how short lasting the visual memory on its own was—just a few seconds when animals were stopped before their forelegs stepped over the obstacle."

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Put your keyboard where your mouth is!

Oct 15 2007 Published by under Fiction

No, I'm not referring to some sort of act which would get you arrested in the South. I'm referring to National Novel Writing Month, which is coming up in November. "Personal Demon" reminded me of its impending arrival.

The idea, for those not familiar, is to vow to write a 50,000 word novella within the confines of the month of November. This means you'd have to write a lot of words (2000/day) over an extended period of time, and the quality won't be the best. But quality isn't the point: the point is to force you to sit down and actually write a novel, and not just talk about it (hence the post title).

I'm still deciding whether to do it or not this year. I wrote a novel last March at PD's suggestion, and managed to finish something I was quite happy with (even though I later noticed that I managed to use the word "funds" three times in the first paragraph, and used the phrase "on foot" twice in the second sentence). If I do it, I may just post the daily results on this blog, for kicks. I'll let people know what I decide...

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Breathing a huge, sad, sigh of relief

Oct 15 2007 Published by under [Politics]

One of the most useful and moving sources of information for understanding the impact of the Iraq war on the civilian population has been Baghdad Burning, a blog by an Iraqi woman and apparently former computer programmer.  The last I had read on the blog was back in April of this year, when Riverbend announced that her family was leaving the country.  I've been checking the blog every few weeks since then, and the silence made me fear the worst.

Fortunately, there's a new post.  It's dated September 6, though I'm pretty sure I've checked the site since then and seen nothing.  Apparently Riverbend's family has made it to Syria.

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Kitty in da water!

Oct 13 2007 Published by under Animals

I've been planning to do a post about animal intelligence, with videos, but that's taking a while to put together. (Kinda like putting together my physics Nobel post.) In the meantime, I present two cute animal videos I took in 2004 and posted today on YouTube.

While I was living in Amsterdam, I lived only two block from the Artis Zoo, and I spent a lot of weekends wandering the zoo and taking pictures and videos of the animals. If you go often enough to a zoo, you inevitably run into some really cute pictures and some surprising behavior. In this case of these videos, it was a really hot day, apparently too hot for even one of the jaguars.

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And the Nobel Peace Prize goes to...

Oct 12 2007 Published by under [Politics], Science news

Al Gore and the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  The award was won for their efforts to raise awareness about global warming.

There's a few interesting things to note about this award.  First, it was barely a day ago that a British court ruled that Gore's film, though it contains some 'alarmism', is 'substantially founded upon scientific research and fact'.   This is a ruling in favor of Gore, as the original complaint by a part-time school official argued that the film shouldn't be shown at all, but will instead be allowed, albeit with a disclaimer.  It's interesting to note that the CNN headline mentions the alarmism but doesn't mention that An Inconvenient Truth essentially won the case: our 'liberal media' at work again.  I do wonder how the judge reached these conclusions, since a majority of climate scientists, as I understand it, endorsed the film.

As Steve Benen notes, the Nobel win has fueled once again rampant media speculation that Gore will run for president.  There's no evidence from Gore himself that he's interested in the job (ironically, a true sign that he's perfect for the job).  Personally, I think he'd be a great president, but taking on that role would distract attention from the issue of climate change.

Perhaps the best result of all this was predicted by Kevin Drum.

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And the Physics Nobel Prize goes to...

Oct 11 2007 Published by under Science news

Albert Fert and Peter Gruenberg, for the discovery of giant magnetoresistance. This is one of those prizes that's pretty well-deserved, because giant magnetoresistance is now applied for data readout on pretty much every magnetic hard drive being produced, such as those in one's iPod. It's not really my field of study, but let me take a stab at explaining what giant magnetoresistance is. I'll do that by first discussing the application: reading and writing to computer/iPod hard drives. Odds are I'm going to screw up the field directions in all the pictures, but hopefully the arguments will be sound...

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Happy birthday to another horror giant

Oct 09 2007 Published by under Entertainment, Horror

Several weeks ago was Roddy McDowell's birthday; today is the birthday of another great actor of horror films. Happy birthday to Jodelle Ferland! If you haven't heard of her, I'm not surprised; she's only 13 years old today.

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'Old Europe' vs. the United States

Oct 07 2007 Published by under [Politics], Travel

There was a nice article in the Washington Post today (h/t to Americablog) about the conventional wisdom view that 'Old Europe', i.e. the European Union, is stagnant and decadent. One hears this most from conservatives, who tout the transcendence of the free market system over those 'socialist' systems. The article, by Steven Hill, points out that many of these views are unjustified myth:

The European economy was never as bad as the Europessimists made it out to be. From 2000 to 2005, when the much-heralded U.S. economic recovery was being fueled by easy credit and a speculative housing market, the 15 core nations of the European Union had per capita economic growth rates equal to that of the United States. In late 2006, they surpassed us. Europe added jobs at a faster rate, had a much lower budget deficit than the United States and is now posting higher productivity gains and a $3 billion trade surplus.

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Why I love iTunes

Oct 04 2007 Published by under Entertainment, Fantasy fiction

I've been waiting for well over a year for Season 3 of Avatar: The Last Airbender to appear on Nickelodeon.  The season premiere date was shrouded in mystery until practically only a week before it actually appeared.

Of course, I missed it -- Nick's web page has been ridiculously out of date and never seems to show proper schedules (until a few days ago, the official Avatar web page didn't even mention season 3, even though it was already playing).

Enter iTunes!  For $1.99 per episode, I was able to download the first two episodes of season 3 and watch them on my laptop!

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The link between horror and comedy and the best horror/comedy films

Oct 03 2007 Published by under Entertainment, Horror

Those who read and watch enough in the horror genre know that there's an odd, difficult to quantify, connection between the genres of comedy and horror.

This connection is what attracted me to horror in the first place several decades ago. I used to be the most sensitive child, who couldn't even watch Day of the Triffids without being greatly upset and perhaps suffering nightmares. One day in my early teens, though, I decided to brave an episode of Tales From the Darkside. It was an episode about a woman and her lover, a plot to murder the woman's husband, and a malevolent spirit who had the last laugh. And it was funny! That episode convinced me that there was more to the horror genre than 'demented madmen running around in ski masks, hacking up young virgins!'

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