Xenophilia (True Strange Stuff)

Blog of the real Xenophilius Lovegood, a slightly mad scientist

Archive for August 22nd, 2011

How birds of a feather flock together

Posted by Anonymous on August 22, 2011

Starlings flock over Brighton’s derelict west pier at sunset… a Dutch scientist, Charlotte Hemelrijk, of Groningen University, in an article in the online journal PLoS ONE, has proposed… that this seemingly sophisticated behaviour [starlings swirling and swooping aerial ballets that appear to be synchronised] can be explained using only a few simple behavioural rules. And not only are these rules true for starlings, she says, they are also true for other creatures such as fish.

In the case of starlings, Hemelrijk and her colleagues simply assumed that the birds are attracted to each other; that they move in the same direction as they return home to roosts after feeding; that they try to avoid colliding with each other; that they fly at the same speeds and that they bank when turning in the sky.

The scientists then created computer simulations of starlings that behaved by these rules and found that these shifts in the shape of flocks that have been observed in starlings could be shown to arise from relatively simple manoeuvres. For example, a flock that is flat and wide almost instantly becomes long and narrow merely by executing a basic 90-degree turn – perhaps as the result of an approach by a predator – because birds that were once flying abreast were now flying behind each other. In other words, these ballets in the sky are the automatic expression of simple acts of self-organisation.

Other factors, such as wind speed, were not included in the team’s calculations, Hemelrijk admits, and will have to be addressed in future studies. …

via Why birds of a feather flock together | Environment | The Observer.

Posted in Biology | Leave a Comment »

Turning people into puppets

Posted by Anonymous on August 22, 2011

One person’s expressions (top row) are mapped to another person’s face (bottom row) by real-time matching to an image database. In this case, the input is a video of Cameron Diaz, and the database is formed from a video (John Malkovich, bottom-left 4 images) or an unstructured set of photographs downloaded from the Internet (George W. Bush, bottom-right 4 images).

Given a photo of person A, we seek a photo of person B with similar pose and expression. Solving this problem enables a form of puppetry, in which one person appears to control the face of another. When deployed on a webcam-equipped computer, our approach enables a user to control another person’s face in real-time. This image-retrieval inspired approach employs a fully-automated pipeline of face analysis techniques, and is extremely general—we can puppet anyone directly from their photo collection or videos in which they appear. We show several examples using images and videos of celebrities from the Internet.


via Being John Malkovich – ECCV 2010 on Vimeo.

Posted in Technology | Leave a Comment »

Elephant Makes a Stool—First Known Aha Moment for Species

Posted by Anonymous on August 22, 2011

An elephant uses a cube as a stool.In an apparent flash of insight, a young Asian elephant in a zoo turned a plastic cube into a stool—and a tool—a new study says.

That eureka moment is the first evidence that pachyderms can run problem-solving scenarios in their heads, then mentally map out an effective solution, and finally, put the plan into action, researchers say. …

During the study seven-year-old Kandula was eager to reach a cluster of fruit attached to a branch that was suspended from a wire, just out of reach. After some apparent thought, the young male rolled a large plastic cube under the branch and stepped up to snatch the treat with his trunk—a feat he repeated several times over multiple days with the cube and with a tractor tire.

The youngest elephant at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., Kandula had never before been seen moving an object and standing on it to obtain items, and he didn’t arrive at his solution by trial and error, said study co-author Diana Reiss, who studies animal intelligence in elephants and dolphins at Hunter College at City University in New York.

Only a few species—such as humans, crows, and chimpanzees—have demonstrated spontaneous insight, the ability to suddenly, mentally figure out the solution to a physical problem, Reiss said. …

Researchers gave Kandula various objects that could have been used to reach the fruit, including sticks that he could have grasped with his trunk to knock the snacks down.

That Kandula didn’t do this initially puzzled the scientists, until they realized that using sticks in this way would be unnatural for elephants.

Elephants are known to use sticks as tools—as back scratchers, for example—but not when foraging. That’s because the mammals rely heavily on the trunks’ sense of smell and touch when seeking out food. Holding anything in their trunks would prevent them from effectively feeling and sniffing out dinner, the researchers say.

“It’s as if your eyes were in the palm of your hand and I said, Pick up this tool and go get that thing. As soon as you did that, you’d lose your primary sense,” explained study co-author Preston Foerder of the City University of New York.

via Elephant Makes a Stool—First Known Aha Moment for Species.

Posted in Biology | Leave a Comment »

Chineese Spacecraft To Save Earth From Asteroid Apophis In 2036?

Posted by Anonymous on August 22, 2011


Shengping Gong, Junfeng Li, and Xiangyuan Zeng of Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, have published an article in Research in Astronomy and Astrophysics (RAA), proposing to place a small spacecraft with a solar sail into a retrograde orbit to prevent an asteroid from colliding with the Earth in 2036.

Near Earth Asteroids have a possibility of impacting with the Earth and always have a thread on the Earth.

The asteroid Apophis – which is 270 meters in diameter – will approach Earth at a distance of 37,000 to 38,000 km in 2029. In 2036, Apophis may come back and collide with Earth on April 13, 2036.

Using a solar sail in a H-reversal trajectory (retrograde orbit), the team proposes a way of changing the trajectory of the asteroid to avoid the impaction.

The impact velocity depends on two important parameters: the minimum solar distance along the trajectory and lightness number. A larger lightness number and a smaller solar distance lead to a higher impact velocity.

The results show that a 10 kg solar sail with a lead-time of one year will give the spacecraft an impact velocity of 90 km per second which – if done well enough in advance – can move Apophis out of a 600-m keyhole area in 2029 to prevent its return to Earth in 2036.

However, the spacecraft could go wildly off course, with variations in solar wind patterns, according to Technologyreview.com.

The asteroid, discovered in 2004, is considered the largest threat to our planet, although NASA scientists say the 2036 strike is unlikely, and the asteroid would likely disintegrate into smaller parts and make smaller collisions with Earth. …

via Scientists Propose Spacecraft To Save Earth From Asteroid Apophis In 2036.

Posted in Space, Survival | Leave a Comment »

The Archaeology News Network: Homo Erectus travelled the high seas

Posted by Anonymous on August 22, 2011

Early manlike creatures may have been smarter than we think. Recent archaeological finds from the Mediterranean show that human ancestors traveled the high seas. A team of researchers that included an N.C. State University geologist found evidence that our ancestors were crossing open water at least 130,000 years ago. That’s more than 100,000 years earlier than scientists had previously thought.

Their evidence is based on stone tools from the island of Crete. Because Crete has been an island for eons, any prehistoric people who left tools behind would have had to cross open water to get there.

The tools the team found are so old that they predate the human species, said Thomas Strasser, an archaeologist from Providence College who led the team. Instead of being made by our species, Homo sapiens, the tools were made by our ancestors, Homo erectus.

The tools are very different from any others found on Crete, Strasser said. They’re most similar to early Stone Age tools from Africa that are about 700,000 years old, he said. …

Once they know the age of lower terraces, geologists can calculate the age of higher terraces just by measuring the difference in the beaches’ elevation. 

If geologists know how much farther the older terrace traveled upward from the newer, and they know how fast it was going, they can figure out how long it took to get there.

“The thing to me that really makes this unique and exciting is … these other sister species maybe weren’t entirely stupid like we portray them,” Wegmann said. “They were capable of really complex things.” …

via The Archaeology News Network: Homo Erectus travelled the high seas.

Posted in Archaeology | Leave a Comment »

Police officer killed in ‘grease devil’ riot

Posted by Anonymous on August 22, 2011

Angry Sri Lankans killed a police officer in the latest outbreak of violence sparked by a fear of nocturnal prowlers known popularly as “grease devils” that has gripped rural areas in the island nation over the past two weeks.

Another officer and five other people were hurt in two separate incidents in the north-western town of Puttalam after residents gave chase to a suspected grease devil, police and witnesses said.

Traditionally, a grease devil was a thief who wore only underwear and covered his body in grease to make himself hard to grab, but the modern iteration has a far more sinister reputation as a prowling attacker of women.

Five people have died in outbreaks of violence related to the grease devil panic so far, including Sunday’s incident.

More than 30 incidents of violence and vigilantism have been reported in eight districts of the country, primarily in areas inhabited by minority Muslim or Tamil people as the government and opposition trade blame over the phenomenon.

“Some people had attacked a policeman on traffic duty in Puttalam town and he died after being admitted to the hospital,” police spokesman Prashantha Jayakody said.

Mr Jayakody said that in a separate incident in Puttalam, people assaulted a police constable who went to the village. He declined to say what prompted the attacks.

Residents said people had spotted an unidentified man and given chase, but policemen on duty fired in the air and later toward the crowd.

“At least five people were injured including a 13-year-old child,” said an area resident by phone, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of angering the authorities.

The government has said grease devils are merely criminals taking advantage of traditional beliefs in spirits and devils in Sri Lanka’s rural areas, and have vowed to punish those responsible for spreading panic about them.

On Saturday, in the nearby town of Kalpitiya, a government hospital refused treatment to a suspected grease devil who was brought by the navy after area residents attacked him. …

via Police officer killed in ‘grease devil’ riot – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation).

Posted in Strange | Leave a Comment »

Air Force Pilots Have Anti-Freeze in Their Blood, Air Force Doesn’t Know Why

Posted by Anonymous on August 22, 2011

The Air Force recently noticed that some of their F-22 Raptor fighter pilots were acting erratically, specifically, they were acting drunk. But sozzled they weren’t, instead it’s been revealed that anti-freeze, oil fumes and propane invaded their blood. Whaaaat?

It’s amazing, some of the pilots forgot simple things like how to operate the radio because of all the toxins that’ve contaminated their body. Obviously concerned, the Air Force promptly launched a three-month investigation and this week revealed their reports which are, um, inconclusive. They still don’t know a damn thing about how it happened. All they know the pilots in six of the seven F-22 bases suffered ‘hypoxia-like symptoms’ (oxygen deprivation). A former F-22 pilot said:

There is a lot of nasty stuff getting pumped into the pilots’ bloodstream through what they’re breathing from that OBOGS [On-Board Oxygen Generation System]. That’s fact. How bad it is, what type it is, exactly how much of it, how long – all these things have not been answered.”

This confusing saga adds to a list of F-22 troubles. Hopefully, they figure it out soon cause the Air Force fleet of F-22 fighter jets have been grounded since May 3rd.

via Air Force Pilots Have Anti-Freeze in Their Blood and the Air Force Doesn’t Know Why.

Posted in Health, Technology, War | Leave a Comment »

Bid to rename Homo sapiens called unwise

Posted by Anonymous on August 22, 2011

Given the havoc humans are wreaking on natural systems, putting ourselves and so many other living things in peril, we don’t deserve this name, contends Julian Cribb, an Australian science writer and book author. In a letter published in the Aug. 18 issue of the journal Nature, Cribb makes a proposal.

“Changing our species name might risk infringing some of the hallowed rules of nomenclature, but it would send an important signal about our present collective behavior,” he writes.

Cribb has no suggestion for a new name, “because I want humanity at large to discuss this issue — not just scientists,” he said in an email to LiveScience.com.

Meanwhile, some scientists have a name for Cribb’s suggestion. They call it silly.

“It’s not a matter of changing names, it is a matter of changing actions,” said Ken Caldeira, a climate scientist with the Carnegie Institution of Washington.

Cribb’s brief proposal cites a study published in Nature in 2009 that suggests humans must avoid crossing “planetary boundaries” — thresholds set within arenas such as climate change, biodiversity loss and chemical pollution — to avoid catastrophic consequences. The authors of the study suggested that of the 10 systems represented, humans had already gone too far in three.

One of the authors of this research, Sander van der Leeuw, a professor of anthropology and sustainability at Arizona State University, called the proposal to change our species name unproductive.

“My feeling is that we have much more serious issues to deal with than to start worrying about things like this,” van der Leeuw said. “We have a huge task ahead, and so let’s focus on the future rather than start dealing with these kinds of issues of the past.”

Humanity was named Homo sapiens by Carl Linnaeus, the father of the modern system for classifying organisms, in 1758. …

via The Archaeology News Network: Bid to rename Homo sapiens called unwise.

Posted in Biology, Politics | Leave a Comment »

‘New Vasa’ shipwreck found on Baltic seabed

Posted by Anonymous on August 22, 2011

'New Vasa' shipwreck found on Baltic seabedSwedish divers have uncovered what they believe to be the legendary Swedish warship Mars, lost in a sea battle with the Danish-Lübeckian navy in 1564, near the coast of the Baltic island of Öland.“The ship is lying port-side up and the site is virtually littered with cannons,” said diver Richard Lundgren to The Local.Mars was one of the largest ships of its time with 107 guns and a crew of 800 men, both out-sizing and outgunning the famous warship Vasa, which has been on show in Stockholm since it was lifted from city’s harbour in the 1960s.Divers have been searching for the legendary Mars for decades. And on Friday it was announced that it might have been found.“We certainly don’t know of any other ships sinking near those coordinates,” said Andreas Olsson, head archaeologist at the Royal Swedish Maritime museum Sjöhistoriska muséet.The shipwreck was discovered at a depth of 75 metres, near the northern promontory of the Baltic island of Öland off of Sweden’s east coast. The wreckage is reportedly solid oak and the seabed is strewn with bronze cannons.The Mars was the largest ship in the Baltic in its heyday and was sunk, only a year after its maiden voyage, during a sea battle with the Danish-Lübeckian navy in 1564.After two days of ferocious fighting, Mars was hit by cannon fire and went up in smoke. …

via ‘New Vasa’ shipwreck found on Baltic seabed – The Local.

Posted in Archaeology | Leave a Comment »

Aliens may destroy humans to save the Earth

Posted by Anonymous on August 22, 2011

Aliens may destroy EarthNASA-affiliated scientists have suggested that aliens may seek to wipe out the human race because of how we have treated planet Earth.

In a new report by the Nasa Planetary Science Division at Pennsylvania State University, researchers suggest that alien races could see us as a long-term threat to the environment.

“A preemptive strike would be particular likely in the early phases of our expansion because a civilisation may become increasingly difficult to destroy as it continues to expand,” the researchers suggest, according to The Guardian.

“Humanity may just now be entering the period in which its rapid civilisational expansion could be detected by an [alien race] because our expansion is changing the composition of Earth’s atmosphere, via greenhouse gas emissions.

“‘Green’ aliens might object to the environmental damage humans have caused on Earth and wipe us out to save the planet,” the report continues. “These scenarios give us reason to limit our growth and reduce out impact on global ecosystems.” …

via Aliens may destroy Earth | Pakistan | News | Newspaper | Daily | English | Online.

Posted in Aliens, Earth | 3 Comments »


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