Hug It Out, Monkey

From Science:

Monkey_3 We all do it: Give friends and family a peck on the cheek, a quick hug, or maybe even a nose rub to say hello. It’s a way of assuring each other that we have no hostile intent, anthropologists say. Now, primatologists report that spider monkeys embrace intensely after a period of separation for exactly the same reason.

Like humans and chimpanzees, spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi) live in small groups that split apart to feed or hunt (or shop at Saks) and then rejoin later in the day. For years, researchers have noticed that these monkey reunions are often accompanied by public displays of hugging. “They give a quick call and look intensely at each other, and then briefly wrap each other in their long arms in what’s almost a passionate embrace,” says Filippo Aureli, a primatologist at Liverpool John Moores University in the U.K. In some cases, the monkeys even curl their tails around one other.

More here.

Why a physicist dropped everything for paper folding

Susan Orlean in The New Yorker:

DragonorigamiOne of the few Americans to see action during the Bug Wars of the nineteen-nineties was Robert J. Lang, a lanky Californian who was on the front lines throughout, from the battle of the Kabutomushi Beetle to the battle of the Menacing Mantis and the battle of the Long-Legged Wasp. Most combatants in the Bug Wars—which were, in fact, origami contests—were members of the Origami Detectives, a group of artists in Japan who liked to try outdoing one another with extreme designs of assigned subjects. They engaged in the Bug Wars after one of the Detectives displayed what the group’s Web site calls “an incredible secret weapon”—a horned beetle with outspread wings, which he had folded from a single sheet of paper. “Then the origami insect war got full-scale,” the English translation of the Web site continues. “They compared their confident models with others at their monthly meetings, and losers left with chagrin.” During the Bug Wars, Lang was not yet a professional origami artist; he was a research scientist at Spectra Diode Labs, in San Jose, who did some paper folding on the side. He was busy at work—in 1993, the year of the Menacing Mantis, for instance, he patented a self-collimated resonator laser and worked on fibre-optic networks for space satellites—so he usually wasn’t able to travel to Japan to hand-deliver his bug of the month. Instead, he would e-mail his design to an ally in Tokyo, who would fold it and present it to the Detectives on Lang’s behalf.

More here.

Macaulay Library Sound and Video Catalogue

From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website:

Screenhunter_04_feb_21_1705For more than 80 years we have prided ourselves on maintaining and distributing recordings of the highest quality. Our collection of natural sounds includes more than 160,000 recordings, comprising 67 percent of the world’s birds, and rapidly increasing holdings of insects, fish, frogs, and mammals. The video collection includes more than 3,000 species and we are rapidly increasing the breadth of our holdings by adding assets filmed in high definition.

Recordings play a key role in learning animal identification as well as for survey work using playback protocols. Our engineers turn raw field recordings into high-quality sounds for our audio field guides. We often engineer sounds for conservation and commercial projects based on regional specifications. In addition to expertise in selecting, engineering, and mastering these recordings, we have significant experience in the technical process involved in making animal vocalizations sound as pure as possible, whether they are on a microchip or a surround sound system.

More here.

Build Me A Tapeworm

Carl Zimmer in his excellent blog, The Loom:

Shark20tapewormDarwin gave a lot of thought to the strangest creatures on this planet, wondering how they had evolved from less strange ancestors. Whales today might be fish-like warm-blooded beasts with blowholes and flukes, but long ago, Darwin argued, their ancestors were ordinary mammals that walked on land with legs. His suggestion was greeted with shock and disbelief; neverthless, scientists have found bones from ancient walking whales. Humans, Darwin argued, evolved from apes, most likely in Africa where chimpanzees and gorillas are found today. And today scientists have found about twenty different species of hominids, from chimp-like creatures that lived six million years ago to not-quite humans that lived alongside our own species. Darwin also pondered the origins of barnacles, orchids, and many other strange creatures. But for some reason–perhaps thanks to his famously weak stomach–Darwin didn’t write a single word about tapeworms. It’s a pity, because tapeworms are as strange as animals can get…

These flat, ribbon-like creatures live inside the digestive tracts of vertebrates. The tapeworms that live in humans can get up to sixty feet long…

More here.

Designer Majors

Robert K. Elder in the Chicago Tribune:

Northwestern University had everything Nick Shultz wanted — except the right degree.

So he designed his own.

Now, the 20-year-old junior is on his way to graduating with a degree in “Criminalistics,” a curriculum he mapped out to study law, political science, physical chemistry and psychology.

What does he propose to do with his one-of-a-kind degree?

“I want to do investigative fieldwork for national-security purposes, high-profile crime cases, especially at the FBI,” he says. “They investigate all the national crimes such as serial killers.”

Shultz is among a growing number of students who design degrees that stretch convention and by turn predict emerging cultural trends.

More here.

A New Journey into Douglas Hofstadter’s Mind

George Johnson reviews I am a Strange Loop by Douglas R. Hofstadter, in Scientific American:

Dughof“You make decisions, take actions, affect the world, receive feedback from the world, incorporate it into yourself, then the updated ‘you’ makes more decisions, and so forth, round and round,” Hofstadter writes. What blossoms from the Gödelian vortex–this symbol system with the power to represent itself–is the “anatomically invisible, terribly murky thing called I.” A self, or, to use the name he favors, a soul.

It need know nothing of neurons. Sealed off from the biological substrate, the actors in the internal drama are not things like “serotonin” or “synapse” or even “cerebrum,” “hippocampus” or “cerebellum” but abstractions with names like “love,” “jealousy,” “hope” and “regret.”

And that is what leads to the grand illusion. “In the soft, ethereal, neurology-free world of these players,” the author writes, “the typical human brain perceives its very own ‘I’ as a pusher and a mover, never entertaining for a moment the idea that its star player might merely be a useful shorthand standing for a myriad infinitesimal entities and the invisible chemical transactions taking place among them.”

More here.

yojimbo

Summersamurai

It wouldn’t work without Toshiro Mifune. In this role he remains perfectly Japanese but also manages to look like a mixture of Clark Gable and Gary Cooper – the sly, amused Gable of screwball comedy and the weathered Cooper of the Western. And then he looks a little like, actually prefigures, someone else, whom I’ll get to in a minute.

Mifune sometimes ambles, sometimes strides, scratches himself, shrugs one shoulder. There are lots of shots of him from the back. He seems tired without seeming done in; vaguely disreputable without being seedy. Is he dangerous? He is certainly crafty, but does he make his living by his craftiness or by his sword? He is that recurring figure in Japanese movies, the dismissed, masterless samurai. The time is 1860, pretty late for samurai in general, and the film is Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961).

more from the LRB here.

more auden

Auden

He was silly like us. Some say smelly too. There was lots to deplore about his behaviour, such as the drinking, the domineering manner and the name-dropping, and much to criticise about his life, above all the emigration to America in 1939, just as the nation stood alone. In politics, the left of his generation always mourned his renunciation of his engaged past, while contemporaries on the right deplored his homosexuality and desertion of his country.

Few writers mutilated their own work more often – for many years he deleted one of his most justly remembered lines, “We must love one another or die”, from the poem in which it occurs. Yet Wystan Hugh Auden (as he gleefully pointed out, his name was an anagram of “hug a shady wet nun”), who was born in York a century ago today, an anniversary scandalously under-recognised by a culture that thrives on less worthy commemorations, now stands as England’s greatest poet of the 20th century.

more from The Guardian here.

Auden at 100

We’ve been quietly obsessed here at 3QD as today, Wystan Hugh Auden’s centenary, approached. In the NY Sun:

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For most writers, their 100th anniversary looms like a final exam proctored by posterity. A writer who is still being read 100 years after he was born, which usually means at least 50 years after he wrote his major works, will probably keep being read into the future. But for W.H. Auden, who was born 100 years ago today, the century mark feels less like a trial than a celebration. (In fact, it is being celebrated with readings around the country, including one at the 92nd Street Y on March 5.) For when Auden died, in 1973, his immortality was already secure.

Maybe even his friends at Oxford, reading the manuscripts of his very first poems in the late 1920s, guessed that the world would not, could not, forget Auden’s voice:

Go home, now, stranger, proud of your young stock,

Stranger, turn back again, frustrate and vexed:

This land, cut off, will not communicate,

Be no accessory content to one

Aimless for faces rather there than here

In these lines — written in August 1927, when the poet was just 20 years old — we can already hear the tones and strategies of Auden’s first major poems. Here are the confidently mysterious addresses; the anxiety of a generation grown up between two wars; the circumambient blight that seems to attack society, industry, and the soil; even the knotted grammar, which seems to withhold its meanings like a message in a dream, or a secret code. No poet ever sounded like the early Auden, though he spawned a school of imitators. The mere fact that Stephen Spender and Cecil Day-Lewis knew Auden, and presumably were in on the secret of his sibylline verse, helped to cement their places in literary history.

The extraordinary public interest in Auden that marked his career from the beginning, and helped make him an icon of the 1930s, was more than simply admiration for a greatly talented poet. Rather, there was a general impression, in England and then in America, that Auden had been chosen by History to receive its secret messages. If his verse was obscure, with its bent grammar and dropped pronouns and private allegories, that very obscurity made it sound exceptionally urgent. He was a radio playing bulletins from the future, and if the language of those bulletins was foreign, their accent was unmistakably dire. Most of his unforgettable lines, in the first six or seven years of his career, take the form of threats and rumors: “It is time for the destruction of error”; “Hearing of harvests rotting in the valleys”; “The bridges were unbuilt and trouble coming.”

All of these lines were written before the Great Depression and the rise of Nazism. But they show that the 1930s — which Auden was later to name “a low, dishonest decade” — had already found their best interpreter.

This modest, wartime Auden poem seems fitting for the occassion (in Edward Mendelson, ed., The English Auden):

He watched the stars and noted birds in flight

The rivers flooded or the Empire fell:

He made predictions and was sometimes right;

His lucky guesses were rewarded well.

And fell in love with Truth before he knew her,

And rode into imaginary lands,

With solitude and fasting hoped to woo her,

And mocked those who served her with their hands.

But her he never wanted to despise,

But listened always for her voice; and when

She beckoned to him, he obeyed in meekness,

And followed her and looked into her eyes;

Saw there reflected every human weakness,

And saw himself as one of many.

Roy returns

From The Guardian:Roy_1

Bringing up Arundhati Roy in certain Indian circles is a matter that requires great delicacy. The responses evoked are usually extreme: cat claws and meows on the one hand, or unabashed hero-worship on the other.

It wasn’t always this way. When Roy won the Booker in 1997 she was the can-do-no-wrong darling of the Indian media. Her beauty, brains and brassiness catapulted her into supersonic stardom, and the entire country, whether or not they’d read The God of Small Things, waited to see what she would come up with next.

But Roy had no immediate plans for further fiction, and turned instead to non-fiction and grassroots activism. Yet after a decade of active campaigning, Roy recently announced that she’ll be returning to fiction. Apparently, she’s tired of being “imprisoned by facts” and “having to get it right,” so she’s going back to what fiction writers do best – giving us a piece of the world the way they see it. Love it or lump it, it’s up to you.

More here.

The Revolt of the Housekeepers

From Time:

Maids_protest0219 In Hong Kong, finding yourself lost in an impenetrable, moving mass of people is hardly rare. That’s why, in search of a subway stop on a recent Sunday, I failed to notice that I’d joined a protest march. It wasn’t until the woman next to me offered a sweet bean cake and a petition to sign that I realized that I was surrounded by Filipina women. Some 6,000 angry Filipinas, I was later to learn.

I’d only moved to Hong Kong a couple of weeks before, but already I recognized my fellow marchers. Six days a week, these migrant workers are the city’s “domestic helpers” — amahs in Cantonese — earning about $450 a month as maids, nannies and cooks in nearly 200,000 Hong Kong households. On Sundays, thousands of Filipinas take over the commercial hub, the Central district. They swarm sidewalks and elevated walkways to spend their sole day off picnicking, playing cards, singing and swapping gossip. If you linger long enough, as I did my first week, you’re sure to be offered tea and snacks.

For a couple of past Sundays, however, the amahs have also marched. They’re protesting new legislation in the Philippines that requires maids who work overseas to undergo two weeks of official training and tests. The $300 associated cost comes out of the amah’s pocket, which is what has Hong Kong’s Filipinas up in arms. They’re quick to note that they already pay the government placement fees while, at the same time, Hong Kong officials cut their minimum wage by $50 a month two years ago. “How will we afford this on our small salaries?” asks Dolores Balladares, the march’s organizer. “Our government just wants to make our lives more burdened and more miserable.”

More here.

Computing with locomotives and box cars takes a one-track mind

Brian Hayes in American Scientist:

Fullimage_20072291055_866Guided by an unseen hand, a grimy railroad tank car negotiates a series of switch points in the tracks, veering right, then right again, then left. Next comes a lime-green box car, which makes two lefts. I observe these events from the control tower of a railroad facility called a hump yard, where freight cars sort themselves into trains bound for various destinations. It is an eerie scene. The cars glide silently downhill through the maze of tracks, seeming to steer themselves, as if each car knows just where it wants to go. This is an illusion; a computer two floors below me is making all the decisions, setting the switches a moment before each car arrives. But I can’t shake the impression that the hump yard itself is a kind of computer—that the railroad cars are executing some secret algorithm.

It’s not such a far-fetched notion. In 1994 Adam Chalcraft and Michael Greene, who were then at the University of Cambridge, and later Maurice Margenstern of the University of Metz, designed railroad layouts that simulate the operation of a computer. The machine is programmed by setting switch points in a specific initial pattern; then a locomotive running over the tracks resets some of the switches as it passes; the result of the computation is read from the final configuration of the switches.

More here.

Tire reef off Florida proves a disaster

Brian Skoloff of the AP in USA Today:

Screenhunter_03_feb_20_1753A mile offshore from this city’s high-rise condos and spring-break bars lie as many as 2 million old tires, strewn across the ocean floor — a white-walled, steel-belted monument to good intentions gone awry.

The tires were unloaded there in 1972 to create an artificial reef that could attract a rich variety of marine life, and to free up space in clogged landfills. But decades later, the idea has proved a huge ecological blunder.

Little sea life has formed on the tires. Some of the tires that were bundled together with nylon and steel have broken loose and are scouring the ocean floor across a swath the size of 31 football fields. Tires are washing up on beaches. Thousands have wedged up against a nearby natural reef, blocking coral growth and devastating marine life.

More here.

The Qinghai-Tibet Railway

In Geotimes:

China made history on July 1, 2006, when the Qinghai-Tibet Railway opened for passenger service. The railway is the highest-elevation passenger train in the world and the first to connect central China with Tibet, providing a controversial but arguably economically significant link between Tibet and the rest of China. Stretching about 1,142 kilometers, the railway runs from Golmud in China’s Qinghai province to Lhasa, Tibet’s capital. Most of its length is above 4,000 meters in elevation, and 50 kilometers is above 5,000 meters.

The railway traverses the spectacular topography of the Tibetan Plateau, cutting across four mountain chains — Kunlun, Fenghuo, Tanggula and Nianqintanggula — where elevations of the trackbed are all above 4,600 meters. It also crosses five major rivers — the Yellow, Yangtse, Mekong (Lancang), Nujiang and Lhasa-Brahmaputra — and passes through the Three Rivers National Natural Protection Region, an area known for its biological diversity, geological and landscape variety, and scenic beauty in southwestern China.

At 4,650 meters elevation on the Tibetan Plateau, with atmospheric pressure and oxygen 45 percent lower than at sea level, an annual average air temperature of 5 degrees below zero Celsius, and extremes including low temperatures of negative 47.8 degrees Celsius and wind speeds above 30 meters per second, this is a harsh climate. Add in solar and ultraviolet radiation 1.5 to 2.5 times what it is at sea level, and not only is preconstruction research and fieldwork a challenge, but so is the construction itself.