Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Intelligent crabs that live in bromeliad pools

From Olivia Judson — New York Times Blog
[The] typical bromeliad has, as a pineapple does, a central cone of leaves that collects rain water. At the base of the cone, other leaves open outward; the leaf stems are deep, and rain collects there, too, giving each plant cascading tiers of pools. The biggest bromeliads hold as much as two liters (just over two quarts) of water. …

The female [Metopaulias depressus, a reddish-brown crab from the bromeliads of Jamaica with a shell just 2 centimeters (three quarters of an inch) across] lavishes attention on her young. She chooses her plant carefully — she prefers plants with larger volumes of water — and then prepares the pool that will be the nursery. She fishes out any dead leaves that may have fallen in, and drops them onto the ground. (If a sneaky experimenter puts leaves back in, she’ll remove them.) And she drops empty snail shells into the water, often after capturing and feasting on the owners.

These behaviors have two effects. Removing the leaves increases the amount of oxygen in the water; crab larvae need high levels of oxygen in order to breathe. The added snail shells increase the levels of calcium, a mineral without which baby crabs can’t make shells of their own. Unimproved pools can’t sustain baby crabs.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Cat means sensitivity

In response to a challenge by Sancha, from
A cat on duty at a New England nursing home has the job of providing comfort and companionship. But it turns out the cat also has an uncanny ability to read people in a very strange way. NBC's Lee Cowan reports.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Robot and dogs equally cut loneliness in elderly

From The Dallas Morning News | News
A study by Saint Louis University found that a lovable pooch named Sparky and a robotic dog, AIBO, were about equally effective at relieving the loneliness of nursing home residents and fostering attachments. …

Most of the elderly used Sparky, a 9-year-old, reddish-brown mutt with a white muzzle and floppy ears, as a confidant, telling him "their life story," [according to investigator] Marian Banks. …

"He listened attentively, wagged his tail, and allowed them to pet him," said Banks, who adopted and trained Sparky after finding him in an alley behind her home seven years ago.

Those who visited with AIBO took a little longer – about a week – to warm up to the metallic creature. Over time, they grew more comfortable with AIBO, and petted and talked to him. He responded by wagging his tail, vocalizing and blinking his lights.

"AIBO is charismatic if you start to interact with him," said the study's author, Dr. William Banks, a professor of geriatric medicine at Saint Louis University. "He's an engaging sort of guy." …

Sara Kiesler, professor of computer science and human-computer interaction at Carnegie Mellon University who was not involved in the study, said the results of the study are encouraging but not completely convincing.

The problem is inferring it was the robotic dog that reduced the loneliness, and not the human who brought him into the room, she said. She said another study could compare a visit from AIBO with someone stopping by with a stuffed animal or even just a candy bar.

Peak oil

Whether we are there or not (according to these two divergent views) we should be moving away from oil. But we're not.


A couple of short interviews about interrogation techniques.
How do you make a terrorist talk? Veteran FBI interrogator Jack Cloonan has broken some of al Qaeda’s toughest operatives. In this special interview with FP, he shares some of his methods for making a terrorist tell all.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

It's the right brain

Here's a standard bit of Buddhist writing from Tricycle.
The Dharma of the Buddha is not found in books. If you want to really see for yourself what the Buddha was talking about you don't need to bother with books. Watch your own mind. Examine to see how feelings come and go, how thoughts come and go. Don't be attached to anything, just be mindful of whatever there is to see. This is the way to the truths of the Buddha. Be natural. Everything you do in your life is a chance to practice. It is all Dharma. When you do your chores try to be mindful. If you are emptying a spittoon or cleaning a toilet don't feel you are doing it as a favor for anyone else. There is Dharma in emptying spittoons. Don't feel you are practicing only when sitting still cross-legged. Some of you have complained that there is not enough time to meditate. Is there enough time to breathe? This is your meditation: mindfulness, naturalness in whatever you do.
I note this because I just saw an amazing video from this year's TED.
Neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor had an opportunity few brain scientists would wish for: One morning, she realized she was having a massive stroke. As it happened — as she felt her brain functions slip away one by one, speech, movement, understanding — she studied and remembered every moment. This is a powerful story about how our brains define us and connect us to the world and to one another.
(She even shows an actual human brain.)
Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor is a Harvard-trained and published neuroanatomist who teaches at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Bloomington, Indiana.
The formal content of her presentation is essentially that the right brain is the site of Buddhist enlightment — although she doesn't say so directly. Emotionally, her telling the story of her stroke and her moment-by-moment memory of it—she really watched her mind!—is quite powerful and remarkable. It's less than 19 minutes. I recommend it to everyone.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Good for Nora Ephron

From The Huffington Post
Spitzer, who a year ago had a shot at national office, is today a laughingstock because of his reckless involvement in ... what? Let's just say this right out: in nothing. He arranged for a date with a hooker and she crossed a state line. This violates something called the Mann Act, which was passed in 1910, before women could vote. It's the legal equivalent of an old chestnut, it seems barely constitutional, and no one with half a brain could possibly think of it as anything worth prosecuting anyone for. Although Eliot Spitzer might. This is the problem these guys get into: they're so morally rigid and puritanical in real life (and on some level, so responsible for this priggish world we now live in) that when they get caught committing victimless crimes, everyone thinks they should be punished for sheer hypocrisy.

But they shouldn't really.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The rich get richer, etc.

From The Wealth Report
A new report by the IRS on America’s top 400 income-tax payers ... shows that the Fortunate 400 now control 1.15% of the nation’s income — twice the share they controlled in 1995. Over the same period, however, the average income tax paid by this same group has fallen from 30% to 18%. That’s due mainly to the Bush tax cuts.