Tag Archives: science

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Incredible piece about the attempts of researchers to understand the migration and behavior of Great White sharks.  What do you do after spending years of your life and lots of money and your conclusion is:  ““There’s no frickin’ pattern at all,”

The Scandinavians have been producing quality crime fiction for years.  Who knew they also produced some of the more intriguing crime reality as well.  GQ puts together a lengthy piece about a man who may be a serial killer, cannibal, sadist, pedophile…or he might be a really disturbed guy who was almost a killer, sadist and pedophile who was (intentionally or not) set up to take the blame for 30 homicides by an incompetent and overzealous judicial system.

The Boston Globe has done an amazing piece of investigative reporting about the Tsarnaev brothers (of Boston Bombing infamy).  Really, you don’t want to miss this.

In the daily to and fro of putting out fires and addressing the next crisis, is anyone thinking about out long (and I mean long) term survival as a species?  After all, over 99% of all species that have lived are now extinct and we continue to learn new ways we might get snuffed out all the time.  Here’s a piece about a group of people thinking about what our existential threats might be and how we should think about them.

I was really shocked when I saw Supersize Me! back in 2004 but now research is indicating it might not be quite as cut and dried as that documentary looked.
I really thought I enjoyed the first season of House of Cards.  The plot kind of went off the rails and it was almost like the writers ultimately felt like they couldn’t commit to a straight up political drama and so had to get all John Grisham in there.  If you’re looking for a good political drama I highly recommend the Danish series Borgen.  Really quality acting and plotting.  Check it out.
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I don’t know what’s going on but the past few years have seen an explosion of quality TV and film from Scandinavia.

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I was never a devout Christian but when I was, as they say, ‘in the fold’ I always found the Book of Job weird.  How this story doesn’t undermine everything we’re told about god today is beyond me.  One can see how Nietzsche called it a ‘slave-religion’ if you cherry pick parts like this.  Joan Acocella from the New Yorker recounts the efforts scholars throughout the ages have attempted to reconcile that book with their understanding of their religions.

Does human evolution owe a debt to sabercats?  Amazing article about the diversity and impact of these creatures.

It’s been 500 years since Machiavelli wrote The Prince and to mark the anniversary, there have been a spate of articles about his impact.  Most have been derivative and phoned in but some have been interesting.  I found this article from The Diplomat to be in that category, particularly if you apply it to the intelligence community.

Now think about big institutions, bodies made up of — and led by — individuals prone to linear thinking. Institutions like governments, armed services, and companies tend to transcribe dramatic events — great victories or traumatic defeats — into bureaucratic routine. Structuring policies, doctrines, and career incentives on the assumption that past triumphs can be rerun or setbacks avoided strips flexibility out of decisions and actions.

Written with a slate and, I suspect, maybe some liberties with some details but both entertaining and disturbing in turn.  Vice’s ‘Year in Bad Cops‘ wrap up (be warned, there’s NSFW content on this site).  I am very concerned how our culture deifies authority figures who share a monopoly on the use of violence whether its law enforcement of the military.  They aren’t all brave, honorable, selfless, etc.  Some are.  And some are despicable, sadistic and parasitic.  Fetishizing them with a broad brush encourages abuse and exploitation.  They should be held to a higher standard than everyone else, not given a pass for their transgressions by saying ‘Well, they’ve got a tough job.’

This article feels about six years too late but I’m a sucker for ‘Lessons from the ancients’ stories.  What can Tacitus’ Agricola teach us about successful counterinsurgency campaigns?  Hmm…sounds remarkably like FM 3-24.

Cognition among humans and other animals

Researchers did an interesting experiment comparing how crows and children problem solve.

The main difference between the birds and the children, Gopnik says, is that members of the crow family “have sophisticated but specific knowledge about how physical causal relationships work in the world,” whereas children “seem to have broader and more wide-ranging causal learning abilities.”

Mountain gorillas demonstrate all sorts of advanced cognitive abilities through their ability to identify and disable snares.  The snares are set for smaller animals but can catch young gorillas and cause serious injury.  The way these gorillas act may be indicators of not just forethought and planning but also empathy.

Speaking of primates, Scientific American takes a stab at explaining gun violence through the lens of primate behavior.

However, social capital 1by itself, accounted for 82% of homicides and 61% of assaults. Other factors such as unemployment, poverty, or number of high school graduates were only weakly associated and alcohol consumption had no connection to violent crime at all.

In short, some primates have been identified to have groups of ‘high-reactors’.  These primates tend to be very aggressive and be hyper-aware to threats.  These primates can terrorize the primate groups they are a part of, ruling the group through violence.

In a unique natural experiment a group of baboons known as Forest Troop began feeding at the contaminated dump site of a Western safari lodge. As had occurred elsewhere, the largest and most aggressive males dominated the food source. But this time their despotic behavior resulted in untimely death after they all contracted tuberculosis. In the intervening years Forest Troop developed a culture in which cooperation was rewarded more than aggression and adolescent males who migrated into the troop adopted this culture themselves. Remarkably, the level of stress and stress-related behaviors in low-ranking males were dramatically reduced after the outbreak (and remained significantly lower than the nearby Talek Troop that retained its most aggressive males).

The author recommends embarking on a program of increasing social interaction through multiple means could be one way of strengthening bonds among people and thereby reducing violence.

I suppose, however, using the example of the Forest Troop the other way would be through identifying those ‘high reactor’ types and eliminating them.  How would we do that?  Well, John Carpenter had one idea

  1. interpersonal trust that promotes cooperation between citizens for mutual benefit

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Your weather forecast (h/t Geeks are Sexy).  ‘How about this to finish out the workweek?’

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Homeland Security Watch has a nice compare/contrast piece between the reactions of the CDC and the EPA to ridiculous rumors.

Really enjoy celery and lettuce but hate having to buy it? Well, here’s how you can have a never ending supply.  My understanding is that you can do the same with lettuce and other stuff.

Worried about deforestation?  Well, some scientists think that the African savannas are about to become huge tracts of forested land because of all the CO2 in the atmosphere.  I’m a bit dubious as I imagine any trees growing will be cut for firewood or timber before forests really get to take hold.  If it does happen that might not be bad for sequestering carbon dioxide but probably won’t be good for the flora and fauna that has adapted to life on the savanna.

Huh…pretty effective slideshow breaking down our current economic problems.

I hope I live long enough to see them build a time machine.  Then, I’m going back in time to punch a puritan (and his snooty work-ethic)  in the nose.  It’s time for a slacker revolution.  But, tomorrow…I’ve got some gaming to do right now.

Paul Greenberg is guest blogging on Mark Bittman’s NYTimes food blog about his fishing trip to Alaska.  Here’s his great description of Grizzly’s:

Here in the Alaska bush, as we see more and more signs of grizzly bears, all that quaintness vanishes and what you come to realize is that a grizzly bear is not omnivorous per se, but rather absolutely, desperately ravenous all the time. It’s as if a grizzly is a drunk or stoned guest barging into nature’s cupboard, ripping open the cabinetry and refrigerators and roaring, “ISN’T THERE ANYTHING TO EAT IN THIS PLACE?”

Ok, someone involved with minor league baseball is obviously taking some heavy duty drugs.  How else to explain the racing eyeballs and other kooky mascot races?

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The Exorcist was a pretty scary movie when I first saw at a far too young 12 (it’s still pretty creepy).  If you don’t like scary movies but want to get the highpoints of the film check out this claymation synopsis.

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Star Wars as Spanish soap opera. I’d probably watch this more than I have the original.

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What do you get when you combine a lot of free time, the internet and a banana?  This.

The LSE had a surprisingly good lecture on immortality and how the concept has effected human civilization.  It’s about an hour and a half but worth it.

Everything left to float in the North Sea ends up drifting to the small island of Texel.  Here’s a 15 minute documentary about some old guys on that island who take their beach-combing seriously.

How can you not read this article when it has a paragraph like this?

For a brief moment in the early ‘80s, it looked as if the brave new world of Alien studies was going to splinter irreconcilably on the issue of Officer Ripley’s panties—the anti-panty camp accusing the pro-panty wing of uncritical phallocentrism, the pro-panty caucus accusing the anti-panty wing of repressive and self-defeating assumptions about what constitutes sexism.

The DNA of dogs is so jumbled that it isn’t any help in figuring out when or where they were first domesticated.

Zoos are having to make increasingly difficult decisions about which animals to try to save and which to let go extinct.

…the burden feels less like Noah building an ark and more like Schindler making a list.

It’s not good news that World War Z is going through extensive reshoots and script edits.  I suspect this is due to the efforts or the producers to transform the book, which is a collection of anecdotes loosely held together by the concept of a zombie apocalypse, into a cohesive narrative that follows a small number of main characters.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  If you’re going to make this book into some sort of visual media, do it with a TV series where you can change the setting and characters every week.  Make it the Love Boat or Fantasy Island of the 2010s.

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I’m not sure if this is incredibly cool or sad.  Mammoths apparently roamed the earth (well, at least a little part of it) up until 1650BCE.

It’s truly remarkable just how recent 1650 BCE really is. By then, the Egyptian pharaohs were about halfway through their 3000-year reign, and the Great Pyramids of Giza were already 1000 years old. Sumer, the first great civilization of Mesopotamia, had been conquered some 500 years before. The Indus Valley Civilization was similarly five centuries past its peak, and Stonehenge was anywhere from 400 to 1500 years old.

Want a reason to be mad at Norwegians?  How about this…looks like when they were roaming around Western Europe burning and pillaging they didn’t just keep Europe firmly ensconced in the Dark Ages…they also brought us mice.

There is no credible evidence that learning styles exist.”  Whoa…I’ve had all sorts of preconceived notions blown to smithereens lately.

I like to think I’m fairly savvy with new technology.  For some reason, however, I’ve resisted all attempts to get me to buy a smartphone.  No amount of mocking from friends and co-workers has gotten me to budge.  I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one.

Check out this very cool (and a bit trippy) wind map of the US.  They update the data hourly so it’s pretty close to real time.  (h/t phronesisaical)

The NYTimes has a great view of the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, seven years after Katrina.  It’s a battle of mankind versus nature as flora and fauna attempt (pretty successfully) to take over properties that were abandoned.  There’s also a nice overview about the (lack of) discussion about what a post-Katrina New Orleans should look like.  It was a decision based on politics and emotions rather than any sort of rational process.

Ok…this is the coolest idea.  A two day cruise between Sweden and Finland with a half dozen heavy metal bands.  Ladies and gentlemen, the Sweden Rock Cruise!  I’d really like to mash this up with a training or conference on intelligence analysis.  I guess I can wait until I get into heaven for that…

Whaddya talkin’ bout?

This is, by far, the most interesting thing I read all day.  A linguist argues that American regional dialects are pulling away from each other.  Maybe because I’m an East Coast elitist I just figured that with geographic mobility and the prevalence of accent-free Mid-Altantic English on TV and in the movies you all would finally start speaking normal.

But, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

He talks about an area of 34 million people in a region called ‘Inland North‘ (roughly around the Great Lakes) where:

…it all started in the early 1800′s when the linguistic ancestors of this new dialect began to pronounce “a” in a distinct way: the pronunciation of “man” began to lean towards “mee-an”, at least some of the time. But it wasn’t until the 1960s that this sound change began to trigger a real domino effect.

What kind of effect?

This rearrangement, called the Northern Cities Vowel Shift, is the result of a chain reaction of vowel changes on an epic scale similar to the process that transformed vowels from Middle English to Modern English between 1400 and 1600.

Really fascinating article well worth your time.  I won’t spoil the surprise ending of why they suspect this polarization is occurring.

You can take a test of what some of these words sound like here (and be warned the whole site can be a time sink if you find this stuff interesting).  For the record I only got 1 out of 5 correct.


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Photographer Jon Tonks has a project in which he travels to the few remaining British overseas territories and (as you’ve probably guessed) takes pictures.

A history of body snatchers.

For nearly a week in early December, black smoke billowed from the French Embassy in Iran. Years of diplomatic archives were being burned in the swimming pool of the embassy, initiated by French officials. The measure was intended as preventive, two days after the raiding of British diplomatic sites in Tehran.

I’ve always thought that my experience in the military (particularly the early years when I just got out of high school) were invaluable in making me a mature, responsible adult (*ahem*. eds). Some researchers wanted to see what, if any, effect military service has on young men and maturity and so compared German conscripts and those who didn’t serve.  Their findings are a bit disappointing.

The groups differed in one way only: the effect of increasing agreeableness was one third larger for the civilian than the military group.* This suggests that military training attenuates the upward trajectory of agreeableness seen in early adulthood.

Now, I’m not sure how applicable this study is across the board.  Conscripts are different from an all volunteer force.  Different armies treat their soldiers differently both in terms of care but also in terms of responsibility and development.  I still think my military service did more to make me a well rounded individual than if I only went to university.

The definition of a bad day.  A dinosaur catches a fish and then a fish catches the dinosaur.  The latter fish chokes on the dinosaur and everyone dies.  It’s like a Jurassic Shakespearean tragedy.

For Mrs. TwShiloh:

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We’ll start with a short zombie film.  ‘Rest’ is about a soldier from WWI that rises from the grave.

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What appears to be a pretty comprehensive look at the battles between Norway and Sweden in 1808.

Alright, I’m calling bullshit on this story (at least as it’s being reported).

A middle-aged Swedish man has been found alive after having sat snowed under in his car for the past two months, with only ice and snow to keep him alive.

I just have trouble believe that the human body can survive without food for two months while having to maintain sufficient body temperature to stay alive.

See the horror! Hear the terrifying howl of the killer…uh….mouse

Speaking of horror, the Horror Etc. podcast has an episode devoted to Nordic Horror films.  It’s a lot of fun and I recommend subscribing very highly.


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Absolutely amazing story about a tragic expedition in Antarctica and just how much people can endure.

What’s with all the stories about pythons in the Everglades?  It seems I’ve been bombarded with them in all my normal information outlets.

We’ve had numerous cases from around the world where top-apex predators have been removed or severely reduced. But here we have a case where a top predator has been added to an ecosystem, and it’s certainly not unreasonable to assume that the ecosystem is going to respond in dramatic ways. But it is a really unique situation; there are really few cases like this.

These posts are getting science-heavy…not sure why other than there’s so much interesting stuff and I don’t have enough to add to them to justify their own posts.  But how…how, dear reader, could I possibly pass up the opportunity to tell you about the recent archeological find that revealed only the third guinea pig skeleton in Europe!  No, it wasn’t Fluffy (well, maybe it was) but this comes from the 16th century!

Want to save gas in your car? Well, stop using the heater!  Instead just do what this Switz Switzer Swissite guy from Switzerland did, install a wood burning stove in your car.

Finally, let’s wrap up with a bit of history. Abraham Lincoln…the rail splitter! Kept the Union together AND kept the world from being overrun by vampires…

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