Category Archives: Science

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!

Thanks to our blogger pals over at The Daley Gator for the link!

In our ever-increasingly technological age, want to know what’s coming next?  Smart toilets.  Yes, really.  Excerpt:

AI that screens out spam and recognizes your mom’s face is so 2017. Get ready for smart toilets that’ll scan your poop using artificial intelligence to save you a trip to the doctor.

That’s what Sanjay Mehrotra, chief executive of memory chipmaker Micron Technology, expects as AI spreads to yet another corner of our lives.

“Medicine is going toward precision medicine and precision health,” Mehrotra said at the Techonomy 2018 conference in Half Moon Bay on the Pacific coastline south of San Francisco. “Imagine smart toilets in the future that will be analyzing human waste in real time every day. You don’t need to be going to visit a physician every six months. If any sign of disease starts showing up, you’ll be able to catch it much faster because of urine analysis and stool analysis.”

OK, I have a question:  How long do you suppose it will be before some statist fuckwit gets the bright idea to propose that all smart-toilets be networked into a monitoring system?  Say you don’t eat enough fiber one week, or the potty informs Nanny that you binged on an entire gallon of ice cream last Friday night.  What then?  Will the health police start monitoring your output, the better to control your intake?

Well, that’s probably pretty unlikely.  But this really seems like a solution in search of a problem.  Instead of messing with smart toilets, how about just lifting the damn one-gallon flush regulation so we can get a loo that will actually flush with some force?  Back in the day we had toilets that would flush a cinder block.  Those damn things flushed with some force.

Ah, those were the days.

Animal’s Daily Sky Rat News

Urban Sky Rats

Plenty of urban, suburban and rural residents have wondered this; why the hell are there so many pigeons?  Excerpt:

By the 1600s, rock doves — non-native to the United States — had reached North America, transported by ships in the thousands. Rather than being a food source, it’s most likely that the birds were brought across from Europe to satiate the growing pigeon-breeding trend among hobbyists, said Michael Habib, a paleontologist in the Dinosaur Institute at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, and the University of Southern California.

Inevitably, birds escaped captivity, and began to breed freely in American cities. “We created this novel [urban] habitat and then we basically engineered an animal that does very well in that novel habitat,” Habib told Live Science. “They were successful in cities because we engineered them to be comfortable living around humans.” [Do Birds Really Abandon Their Chicks If Humans Touch Them?]

Cities became the perfect backdrop for the pioneering pigeons’ success. “Pigeons are naturally cliff-dwellers and tall buildings do a pretty great job at mimicking cliffs,” Carlen told Live Science. “Ornate facing, window sills and air-conditioning units provide fantastic perches for pigeons, similar to the crevices found on the side of a cliff.”

Another trait that makes pigeons more adaptable is their appetite. While other bird species have to rely on supplies of berries, seeds and insects, pigeons can eat just about anything that humans toss in the trash. “Other species are specialists and pigeons are the ultimate generalists,” Portugal said. “And the food is endless: I don’t think too many pigeons go to bed hungry!”

The pigeon’s unusual breeding biology seals the deal: Both parents rear their chicks on a diet of special protein- and fat-rich milk produced in a throat pouch called the crop. So, instead of having to rely on insects, worms and seeds to keep their young alive — resources that would be scarcer in cities — pigeons can provide for their offspring no matter what, Portugal says: “As long as the adults can eat, they can feed their babies, too.”

I actually kind of admire pigeons, in the same way that I kind of admire rats and cockroaches – they’re all great survivors.  But pigeons, unlike those others, can be good eating.  When I was a kid back in Iowa, we routinely shot clean farm pigeons and tossed them in the crock-pot with onions, carrots and potatoes, making for some fine eating.

Some animals find humans troubling; we cut their forests, encroach on their habitats, interfere with their migrations.  But plenty of other animals do very well around humans, not only the aforementioned rats, pigeons and roaches but also white-tailed deer, black bears, raccoons, coyotes, squirrels, and many more.  Pigeons are just one of those lucky species, albeit one with a long, long history of co-cohabiting with humanity.

There are so many pigeons because they are adaptable.  Adaptability is a great survival strategy.  Our own ancestors learned that once.

Animal’s Daily Doggone News

Thanks to our pals over at The Daley Gator for the linkback!  If you don’t look at that site daily (or Daley) you should.

Moving right along:  Apparently folks in China have cloned twenty different breeds of dogs, and they claim humans are next.  Excerpt:

A 12-year-old schnauzer has become the latest canine to undergo the process, which involves taking a skin sample from the animal.

Wang Yinqing, who is the dog’s owner, showed off the puppy to its “father clone” name Doudou in a recently-released snap.

However, despite the dogs having the identical DNA, scientists have said they may have a different temperament as this is shaped by its upbringing.

According to Chinese news, there have now been 200 different types of dog cloned in the country.

And last month, the world came closer to carrying out mass human cloning.

Japanese experts revealed they made human egg cells from blood using a cutting-edge stem cell testing technique.

Although these eggs cannot be grown into babies as they are too immature, the research is paving the way for this type of experiment.

Now I will confess when I saw this article, my first thought was “Is there suddenly some shortage of people in China?”  It doesn’t seem like they’re desperate enough for population to start cloning, although I seem to remember that Russia has a pretty significant demographic problem; maybe China could sell them some cloning clinics.

Gypsy in her favorite surroundings.

Back to dogs.

I had a dog in a million once.  Gypsy was an English Springer Spaniel of the field strain, a long-legged, rangy, fast, tough dog, small enough to share a pickup cab easily with her owner (45 pounds or so) but big enough to retrieve big pheasants and mountain grouse.

She died in 1999.  I cut my elk hunt short that year to rush home and spend Gyp’s last few hours with her.  I loved that dog.

Would I have cloned her, had the technology existed then?  No.

I know this is becoming a vanity thing, cloning a beloved pet, but as even the article above notes, the cloned animal won’t be a duplicate.  You can’t step into the same river twice, and you can’t exactly reproduce a good gun dog by cloning; the unique combination of genetics and environment will never be exactly the same.

I’d rather remember Gyp the way she was, and when the time comes when I can give up my semi-nomadic existence and have another gun dog, I’ll get another dog entirely.

China can keep their clones.

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!

I’m not saying it was aliens – but it may have been aliens.  Excerpt:

In August 2017, the Breakthrough Listen team discovered 21 fast radio bursts from FRB 121102 during five hours of observations made by a radio telescope in Green Bank, West Virginia. In their latest study, which will be published in an upcoming issue of the Astrophysical Journal, the researchers deployed a specialized AI technique known as deep learning to see if any signals had been overlooked in their initial research.

Siemion gave Yunfan “Gerry” Zhang, a doctoral student at Berkeley, the job of training a deep learning algorithm to hunt for the additional bursts. The trained AI was turned loose to sort through 400 terabytes of observational data — a huge trove containing about as much data as is contained in 40,000 hours of 4K video.

After a month of work, Zhang strolled into Siemion’s office and told his stunned mentor that he had discovered about 100 previously undetected bursts. To be sure Zhang was right, the researchers used standard computer software to clean up the messy signals — and confirmed the existence of at least 72 additional bursts.

The same AI approach could help astronomers find new repeating sources of fast radio bursts closer to Earth than FRB 121102. If closer repeater sources do exist, astronomers might be able to get a better look at them using optical and X-ray telescopes, says Harvard astrophysicist Avi Loeb, the science theory director for all initiatives funded by the Breakthrough Prize Foundation.

Here’s the catch:  The FRB’s they have detected left their points of origin millions of years ago.  So if these are somehow signals from an alien civilization, then it’s highly probable that the civilization that produced them has either died out or grown to become so advanced as to be beyond our comprehension.

I suspect that there will be some natural explanation uncovered for fast radio bursts.  But if they do turn out to be produced by some alien intelligence, one that lived a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away – I wonder what they’ll be saying?  It would be disappointing to have the first message from an alien intelligence be their equivalent of a cat meme.

Animal’s Daily Friend Zone News

Suffering from a shortage of good friends?  Turns out folks may like you more than you think.

Or do they?  Excerpt:

Erica Boothby of Cornell University, and her colleagues Gus Cooney, Gilliam Sandstrom, and Margaret Clark, of Harvard University, University if Essex, and Yale University, conducted a series of studies to find out what our conversation partners really think of us. In doing so, they discovered a new cognitive illusion they call “the liking gap:” our failure to realize how much strangers appreciate our company after a bit of conversation.

The researchers observed the disconnect in a variety of situations: strangers getting acquainted in the research laboratory, first-year college students getting to know their dorm mates over the course of many months, and community members meeting fellow participants in personal development workshops. In each scenario, people consistently underestimated how much others liked them.

The discrepancy in perspectives happened for conversations that spanned from 2 minutes to 45 minutes, and was long-lasting. For much of the academic year, as dorm mates got to know each other and even started to develop enduring friendships, the liking gap persisted. 

The data also revealed some of the potential reasons for the divide: we are often harsher with ourselves than with others, and our inner critic prevents us from appreciating how positively other people evaluate us. Not knowing what our conversation partners really think of us, we use our own thoughts as a proxy—a mistake, because our thoughts tend to be more negative than reality.

We’re social animals, that’s for sure and for certain.  And reading this was interesting for me, a peripatetic consultant, a guy who has been happily self-employed for over fifteen years and who has been pretty good at it.  In the course of this I’ve learned a few things, not least of which was how to talk with folks.  Why is this important?

Because people like to do business with people they like.

Social discourse is important to almost everyone, and for a variety of reasons.  But for those of us who make their livings as independent contractors, it’s essential.  I’m apparently lucky to have been outfitted since my youth with what Mrs. Animal describes as “farm-boy charm” but the main thing in such matters is to be open, honest and forthright.

People like to do business with people they like.  And, as we are social animals – and political animals – people who engage are usually seen as more likable.

If these Ivy League researchers had’a asked me, I could’a told ’em.

Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday!

Thanks as always to Pirate’s Cove and The Other McCain for the Rule Five links!

Moving along:  It seems beer has been with us for a lot longer than many folks suspected.  Excerpt:

A new study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports suggests beer brewing practices existed in the Eastern Mediterranean over five millennia before the earliest known evidence, discovered in northern China. In an archaeological collaboration project between Stanford University in the United States, and University of Haifa, Israel, archeologists analyzed three stone mortars from a 13,000-year old Natufian burial cave site in Israel. Their analysis confirmed that these mortars were used for brewing of wheat/barley, as well as for food storage.

“Alcohol making and food storage were among the major technological innovations that eventually led to the development of civilizations in the world, and archaeological science is a powerful means to help reveal their origins and decode their contents,” said Li Liu, PhD, Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, Stanford University, USA. “We are excited to have the opportunity to present our findings, which shed new light on a deeper history of human society.”

The earliest archaeological evidence for cereal-based beer brewing even before the advent of agriculture comes from the Natufians, semi-sedentary, foraging people, living in the Eastern Mediterranean between the Paleolithic and the Neolithic periods, following the last Ice Age. The Natufians at Raqefet Cave collected locally available plants, stored malted seeds, and made beer as a part of their rituals.

The only ritual I generally use beer for is the normal Friday night beer-and-pizza blowing off steam that is part of the normal routine at the Casa del Animal, wherever that Casa happens to be at the moment.

But it’s interesting to see how far back that highly enjoyable mug o’ suds goes.  One suspects that today’s aficionados would have a hard time recognizing what those long-ago folks called beer, but that doesn’t mean it might not be enjoyable.

And, of course, as with other alcoholic beverages (like wine, another adult beverage with a long history), in those long-ago times many folks quaffed beer because it was safe to drink.  That couldn’t always be said for the water.

Hell, it can’t be said for the water in plenty of places now.  Were I for some unknown reason having a meal today in, say, Flint, Michigan, I think I’d rather have some of Alley-Oop’s beer than the local water.

So, here’s to the suds!  May they long be with us.

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!

Ever click through on a story because the wording of the link made you curious, then were presented with a photo that made you go NO NO NO NO KILL IT KILL IT WITH FIRE?

Well, have a look here.  Excerpt:

While recovering in hospital after a serious car accident, a 55-year-old woman from Missouri began to complain of nausea and a bad taste in her mouth. A subsequent oral examination revealed an alarming sight—the patient’s tongue had turned black and was covered in hair-like structures. But while this rare condition looks serious, it’s actually harmless.

A new case report published today in the New England Journal of Medicine chronicles a rare case of black hairy tongue, a condition otherwise known as lingua villosa nigra.

After a severe injury in which both of her legs were crushed, an unnamed woman was sent to hospital, according to the case study. While recuperating, an infection developed in one of her injuries. The medical team put her on an antibiotic regimen consisting of meropenem, which she received intravenously, and minocycline, which was administered orally.

A week later, the patient’s tongue began to take on a brownish-black hue. She complained of feeling nauseous, and said she had a bad taste in her mouth. The patient’s medical team diagnosed her as having black hairy tongue, with a reaction to the minocycline being the likely cause.

Yes, there are photos.

Any halfway competent stand-up comic could probably talk for fifteen minutes on this topic, but I confess to being a bit at a loss for words.  I mean – who knew that “black hairy tongue” was even a thing?

Yesterday’s post showed us an article which described how some syndromes can turn folks all kind of interesting hues, and it’s well known that in times past all manners of diseases and maladies could cause many kinds of disfigurements.  Nowadays we don’t see so much of that, so perhaps we aren’t as inured as we once were…

…Because black hairy tongue?  Eww.  Just…  Eww.

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!

One of the most successful human species to ever walk the planet, longevity-wise, was Homo erectus; they were around for about a million and a half years, with almost no changes in their physical form or toolkit.  And, it may have been that failure to change that resulted in their extinction.  Excerpt:

New archaeological research from The Australian National University (ANU) has found that Homo erectus, an extinct species of primitive humans, went extinct in part because they were ‘lazy’.

An archaeological excavation of ancient human populations in the Arabian Peninsula during the Early Stone Age, found that Homo erectus used ‘least-effort strategies’ for making and collecting resources.

This ‘laziness’ paired with an inability to adapt to a changing climate likely played a role in the species going extinct, according to lead researcher Dr. Ceri Shipton of the ANU School of Culture, History and Language.

“They really don’t seem to have been pushing themselves,” Dr. Shipton said.

“I don’t get the sense they were explorers looking over the horizon. They didn’t have that same sense of wonder that we have.”

Dr. Shipton said this was evident in the way the species made their and collected resources.

“To make their stone tools they would use whatever rocks they could find lying around their camp, which were mostly of comparatively low quality to what later stone tool makers used,” he said.

“At the site we looked at there was a big rocky outcrop of quality stone just a short distance away up a small hill.

“But rather than walk up the hill they would just use whatever bits had rolled down and were lying at the bottom.

“When we looked at the rocky outcrop there were no signs of any activity, no artefacts and no quarrying of the stone.

“They knew it was there, but because they had enough adequate resources they seem to have thought, ‘why bother?'”.

A more adaptable human.

This is in contrast to the stone tool makers of later periods, including early Homo sapiens and Neanderthals, who were climbing mountains to find good quality and transporting it over long distances.

Here’s the catch; it’s not really a good idea to look at primitive humans like H. erectus and evaluate their behavior by our standards.  Most paleoanthropologists agree, due to analysis of skulls and brain cases, that erectus lacked much, if any, capacity for analytical or symbolic reasoning.  As noted, they were around for a million and half years with no real changes to their tool kit; it’s presumed that they made their one real tool, a simple hand-axe, much like a bird builds a nest.  They couldn’t change how they made their basic tool any more than a bird can decide to put a roof on its nest.  Their brains just didn’t work like that.

So, “laziness” isn’t really the term to use here.  H. erectus‘s lack was one of capacity, not motivation.

Rule Five Field-Dressing Whales Friday

On my last foray in Japan, I was able to partake in one of the Sendai area’s culinary specialties – whale.  Now I didn’t have to harvest and process the whale myself, and while eating whale was on my Japan bucket list, I have no interest in obtaining whale meat for myself.

However, I have had occasion over the last forty-odd years to field-dress a bunch of big-game critters, from javelina and antelope to elk.  It’s a messy process.  So, imagine doing the same with a whale.  Ugh.  Excerpt:

“First, we opened the whale to expose the lungs, intestines, and liver,” (marine biologist Aymara) Zegers explains. Fluids gushed from the incisions, forced out by the immense weight of overlying flesh. The team sampled the fluids, as well as tissues and stomach contents. “These can help determine the possible cause of death, for example as a result of heavy metals or microplastics or red tide organisms,” says Zegers.

The team also took skin for DNA testing and examined the whale’s ovaries. Although the ovaries were small, another indication that the whale was not yet fully mature, she was starting to ovulate—a sign that the young whale was moving into her reproductive phase and therefore of generally good health.

Now, with the necropsy complete, the defleshing team can get to work. Whale strandings are unpredictable events that cannot be programmed into schedules or budgets. Most of the workers are friends of the museum crew, volunteering time and muscle to this stinkiest of tasks in exchange for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The museum does not have access to flensing knives, the best tools for the job, so instead the volunteers use cheap kitchen knives that Zegers purchased on her way out of town.

The goal over the coming days is to remove as much of the flesh as possible. Then they will carve the skeleton into parcels of manageable size for transport to the museum. Some bones, such as the jawbones, parts of the skull, and the ribs, will separate from one another naturally. Other sections, such as the vertebrae, will be cut up by hand.

Have a read, examine the photos and video, and imagine that.  Now bear in mind that this is a reasonably fresh carcass; imagine one that has been fermenting a while, which I suppose cetacean biologists probably also have to deal with from time to time.  I imagine “ew” just doesn’t quite cover it.

I sure don’t envy these folks.

Now the whale I ate in Japan (OK, I didn’t eat the whole thing) was caught and processed by a “research” vessel that had, I feel certain, powered hoists, power tools and experienced staff.  Also the whales taken by Japanese fisheries are minkes, which are unlike blue whales in being smaller and much, much more plentiful.  I wouldn’t be have eaten blue whale; my personal preference is to eschew endangered species.  Minkes aren’t.  They are basically the cows of the sea.

But no matter what tools you have to hand, this is a huge, bloody job.  I admire the dedication of these cetacean biologists who undertook this enormous task.  My Stetson’s off to them.

Animal’s Daily Martian News

Mars probably doesn’t really have a Princess.

This is actually kind of a big deal, if it proves true; there may be a lake of liquid water on Mars, under the south polar cap.  Excerpt:

A lake of liquid water has been detected by radar beneath the southern polar ice cap of Mars, according to a new study by Italian researchers from the Italian Space Agency, published Wednesday in the journal Science.

Evidence was gathered by the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding instrument, also known as MARSIS, on the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft.

Between May 2012 and December 2015, MARSIS was used to survey the Planum Australe region, which is in the southern ice cap of Mars. It sent radar pulses through the surface and polar ice caps and measured how the radio waves reflected back to Mars Express.

Those pulses reflected 29 sets of radar samples that created a map of drastic change in signal almost a mile below the surface. It stretched about 12.5 miles across and looked very similar to lakes that are found beneath Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets on Earth. The radar reflected the feature’s brightness, signaling that it’s water.

“We interpret this feature as a stable body of liquid water on Mars,” the authors wrote in the study.

The study authors ruled out any other causes for this brightness.

Not that I’d mind if there were gals like this on Mars.

No word on thoats, Tharks, or beautiful Martian princesses clad only in jewels.

So, why is this a big deal?  Two reasons:  The possibility of life, and the possibility of human colonization.

As I’ve said before, the discovery of any life outside of Earth, even microbes, would be the biggest scientific discovery of the modern era.  There are other places where it’s possible; some folks think the Venusian atmosphere could harbor extremophile microbes, as could the oceans of Titan, Enceladus and Europa.  Of course, the amount of evidence for such life remains as it was – zero.  But liquid water is a prerequisite for life as we know it, and there it is.

Of more likely import is the establishment of a human colony on Mars.  Liquid water makes that easier; water can provide fuel and oxygen in addition to its traditional uses.

Of course, there are still massive engineering challenges to overcome before people could live on Mars, and the lighter Martian gravity would result in some pretty odd-looking specimens of humanity after a generation or two.

Still, it’s an interesting find.