Xenophilia (True Strange Stuff)

Blog of the real Xenophilius Lovegood, a slightly mad scientist

Archive for March 16th, 2012

Who wouldn’t pay a penny for a sports car?

Posted by Anonymous on March 16, 2012

The right strategy doesn’t guarantee advantage in auctions, real estate or stock market

Who wouldn’t pay a penny for a sports car? That’s the mentality some popular online auctions take advantage of — the opportunity to get an expensive item for very little money.

In a study of hundreds of lowest unique bid auctions, Northwestern University researchers asked a different question: Who wins these auctions, the strategic gambler or the lucky one? The answer is the lucky. But, ironically, it’s a lucky person using a winning strategy.

The researchers found that all players intuitively use the right strategy, and that turns the auction into a game of pure chance. The findings, published by the journal PLoS One, provide insight into playing the stock market, real estate market and other gambles.

“There are many contexts in which we think we are smart and at an advantage, such as buying real estate as prices start moving up,” said Luís Amaral, an author of the paper. “But we don’t realize we are competing against people doing the same thing. The advantage is gone, and it becomes a game of chance. So you better enjoy the process.”

Amaral is a professor of chemical and biological engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science and an Early Career Scientist with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

He and colleagues Filippo Radicchi and Andrea Baronchelli studied public data on 600 online auctions in Australia and Europe, played by 10,000 different auction participants with a total of 200,000 individual bids. (Lowest unique bid auctions occur all around the world, including in the U.S.) The data allowed the researchers to analyze in a systematic way what is going on in each auction.

The work of Nobel Laureate John Nash on game theory is very relevant to these auctions, Amaral said. An online auction is a classic game — you have some information and you try to guess what other people are doing, and, based on that guess, you try to define your best strategy.

In a lowest unique bid auction, participants place bids for a relatively valuable item, such as a car or boat, in an attempt to have the lowest unmatched bid at the time the auction ends. The lowest bid is one cent, and the participant pays a fee, often a dollar, for each bid. After placing a bid, the participant is told if his or her bid currently is winning. If not, many bid again. Hundreds of times. On average, the auctioneer earns double the cost of the item being auctioned while participants can pay hundreds of dollars to lose.

The researchers conducted a computer simulation and identified what the optimal strategy is in lowest unique bid auctions. They found the strategy is a “bursty” one: consecutive bid values initially are close to each other, and then there is a “long jump” to another area of the bid space where more bid values are placed close to each other. And the pattern is repeated.

For example, an auction participant might place a bid, say of 8 cents. Then he places a number of nearby bids, 5, 6 and 7 cents, as well as 9, 10 and 11 cents. Then he makes a large leap to a different area, placing a bid of 47 cents and also placing several bids around that number. (Remember, every time he places a bid, he pays a fee.)

This mixed strategy combines exploitation (taking small steps in one area) and exploration (taking a big step to a new area). It is a smart strategy that gives you a better chance of winning, but the researchers discovered all the other participants have figured it out, too, wiping out any advantage to individuals.

“We couldn’t identify a single person who was not using this strategy,” Amaral said.

The “bursty” optimal strategy, he said, is similar to what an animal foraging for scarce food employs. An albatross, for example, has a vast ocean to explore, so it focuses its fishing in a small area for a time and then moves a great distance to try another area. Then it repeats this pattern.

In lowest unique bid auctions, people like to win and become overly optimistic about the amount of money they will lose. They rationally enter the auction to try to win a valuable item for a low price, but then they go on to irrationally stay in the auction — which is just a game of chance — and bid too much.

“At some point people will stop playing these online auctions,” Amaral said. “Humans are smart about recognizing the deck is stacked against them.”

The title of the PLoS One paper authored by Amaral, Radicchi and Baronchelli is “Rationality, Irrationality and Escalating Behavior in Lowest Unique Bid Auctions.” Radicchi is a former postdoctoral fellow in Amaral’s lab who now is at the University Rovira i Virgili, Tarragona, Spain. Baronchelli is with the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, Spain. …

via Who wouldn’t pay a penny for a sports car?.

Posted in Mind, Money | Leave a Comment »

Giant squid eyes are sperm whale defence

Posted by Anonymous on March 16, 2012

http://news.bbcimg.co.uk/media/images/59102000/gif/_59102891_colossal_squid_464.gifThe world’s biggest squid species have developed huge eyes to give early warning of approaching sperm whales.

Colossal and giant squid both have eyes that can measure 27cm (11in) across – much bigger than any fish.

Scientists found that huge eyes offer no advantages in the murky ocean depths other than making it easier to spot enormous shapes – such as sperm whales.

Writing in Current Biology journal, they say this could explain the equally huge eyes of fossil ichthyosaurs.

Lead scientist Dan Nilsson from Lund University in Sweden was present at the unique dissection of a colossal squid performed four years ago in New Zealand.

There, he examined and handled the eyes – in particular, the hard parts of the lens.

These alone are bigger than an entire human eye.

“We were puzzled initially, because there were no other eyes in the same size range,” Prof Nilsson told BBC News.

“You can find everything up to the size of an orange, which are in large swordfish.

“So you find every small size, then there’s a huge gap, then there are these two species where the eye is three times as big – even though squid are not the largest animals.”

In general, other squid species also have eyes that are smaller in proportion to their body size.

The streamlined giant squid (various species of Architeuthis) and the much chunkier colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni) can both grow to more than 10m long, as measured from the tip of the body to the end of their tentacles.

The colossal squid especially is equipped with a fearsome arsenal of weapons, including barbed swivelling hooks.

Scars on the bodies of sperm whales indicate that they regularly do battle with the colossal squid, at least in the Southern Hemisphere waters where it lives.

And the number of colossal squid beaks found in the stomachs of sperm whales indicate that the latter often win.

Though colossal squid are encountered remarkably rarely by people, they are thought to make up about three-quarters of sperm whales’ diet in the Southern Ocean.

Whereas the whales can spot squid using sonar, the squid can deploy nothing except vision – which suggests there would be a powerful evolutionary pressure towards developing effective eyes. …

via BBC News – Giant squid eyes are sperm whale defence.

Posted in Biology, Survival | Leave a Comment »

Strange Exits: Chinese schoolgirls commit suicide in attempt to travel back in time

Posted by Anonymous on March 16, 2012

http://assets.nydailynews.com/polopoly_fs/1.1038430.1331724506%21/img/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_635/image.jpg” alt=”
A scene from the Chinese  television series Gong, also known as Palace, Gong Suo Xin Yu, or Palace: The Locked Heart Jade.
” width=”368″ height=”245″ />Two schoolgirls committed suicide in an attempt to travel through time, possibly inspired by popular TV shows, according to state-owned newspaper China Daily.

The case brings the issue of time travel-centered television shows back into the spotlight in China, which recently implemented a ban on these types of shows during primetime hours, between 7 and 9 p.m., according to the paper.

China Daily reported that the girls, both fifth-graders at East China’s Fujian province, drowned themselves in a pool, and left behind a suicide note that suggests they were hoping to become time travelers after death.

One of the girls allegedly wrote that she had dreams of traveling back to the Qing Dynasty, and of visiting outer space. The other may have had another motive: She was worried about telling her parents that she had lost the remote control to the garage at their home, the paper reported.

China Daily didn’t name the TV series that may have influenced the girls to commit suicide, but notes that popular shows in the country often incorporate time travel into their storylines. The plot typically involves the death of a character, who then goes on to travel to ancient times.

According to an informal survey by a newspaper in Southeast China, 14 out of 16 elementary school students think time travel is possible, the Wall Street Journal reported. The survey reportedly did not ask if students believed time travel was only possible after death.

According to Sun Yunxaio, deputy director of China Youth and Children Research Center, young viewers reading too much into what they watch on TV is still a problem, she told China Daily.

“Schoolchildren are rich in curiosity but poor in judgment, so this kind of tragedy happens in every era,” Yunxaio said.

“I have heard of children jumping from high buildings after watching an actor flying in a magic show. This kind of imitative behavior is in the nature of young children, but it’s very dangerous. So we should give some sort of warning for children on TV programs.”

via Chinese schoolgirls commit suicide in attempt to travel back in time: report – NY Daily News.

How do we know it didn’t work? Just kidding. Very sad.

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Why moon did not always look like it does now

Posted by Anonymous on March 16, 2012

Scientists have released two new videos, which takes viewers through the moon’s evolutionary history, and reveals how it came to appear the way it does today.

Another video gives viewers a guided tour of prominent locations on the moon’s surface, compiled by the spacecraft’s observations of the moon.

NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) team at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt Md. released the videos in honour of 1,000 days in orbit..

“Evolution of the Moon” explains why the moon did not always look like it does now.

The moon likely started as a giant ball of magma formed from the remains of a collision by a Mars sized object with the Earth about four and a half billion years ago.

After the magma cooled, the moon’s crust formed. Then between 4.5 and 4.3 billion years ago, a giant object hit near the moon’s South Pole, forming the South Pole-Aitken Basin, one of the two largest proven impact basins in the solar system.

This marked the beginning of collisions that would cause large-scale changes to the moon’s surface, such as the formation of large basins.

Because the moon had not entirely cooled on the inside, magma began to seep through cracks caused by impacts. Around one billion years ago, it’s thought that volcanic activity ended on the near side of the moon as the last of the large impacts made their mark on the surface.

The moon continued to be battered by smaller impacts. Some of the best-known impacts from this period include the Tycho, Copernicus, and Aristarchus craters. So, while the moon today may seem to be an unchanging world, its appearance is the result of billions of years of violent activity. …

via Why moon did not always look like it does now.

Awesome. The Earth must have been hammered like that as well.

Posted in Space | Leave a Comment »

Near-miss asteroid to return even closer next year

Posted by Anonymous on March 16, 2012

An amateur team spotted the unusual asteroid, named 2012 DA14, on February 22.

Its small size and orbit meant that it was observed only after it had flown past Earth at about seven times the distance of the Moon.

However, current predictions indicate that on its next flyby, due on 15 February 2013, it will pass Earth at just 24 000 km – closer than many commercial satellites.

“This is a safe distance, but it is still close enough to make the asteroid visible in normal binoculars,” said Detlef Koschny, responsible for near-earth objects in ESA’s Space Situational Awareness (SSA) office.

The asteroid was discovered by the La Sagra Sky Survey observatory, in the southeast of Spain, near Granada, at an altitude of 1700 m, one of the darkest, least light-polluted locations on the European mainland.

“Considering its path in the morning sky, its rather fast angular motion, the quite faint and fading brightness and its orbit high above the plane of Earth’s orbit, it was a slippery target – and easily could have escaped undetected during this Earth visit,” said Jaime Nomen, one of the discoverers.

“A preliminary orbit calculation shows that 2012 DA14 has a very Earth-like orbit with a period of 366.24 days, just one more day than our terrestrial year, and it ‘jumps’ inside and outside of the path of Earth two times per year.”

While an impact with Earth has been ruled out on the asteroid’s next visit, astronomers will use that close approach for more studies and calculate the Earth and Moon’s gravitational effects on it.

“We will also be keen to see the asteroid’s resulting orbit after the next close approach in order to compute any future risk of impact,” said Koschny. …

via Near-miss asteroid to return even closer next year.

Posted in Earth, Space | Leave a Comment »

Berndnaut Smilde creates a raincloud in a room, as art

Posted by Anonymous on March 16, 2012

You might think it would be bad luck for a raincloud to follow you around, and avoid being in one’s vicinity.

But not for Dutch artist Berndnaut Smilde, who actively seeks to create them.

As the saying goes, every cloud has a silver lining and Smilde’s have made him famous, quite literally taking the art world by storm.

He uses a smoke machine, combined with moisture and dramatic lighting to create an indoor cloud effect.

Smilde, who lived in Amsterdam, said he wanted to make the image of a typical Dutch rain cloud, inside of a space. ‘I imagined walking into a classical museum hall with just empty walls,’ he said. ‘There was nothing to see except for a rain cloud hanging around in the room.

‘I wanted to make a very clear image, an almost cliche and cartoon-like visualization of having bad luck. “Indeed there’s nothing here and bullocks, it’s starting to rain!”‘

But the few people who have seen the clouds in person would consider themselves very lucky. Each cloud only exists for a moment before dissipating. The photograph, Smilde says, is a ‘document’, the only proof of its existence if a viewer misses it.

The first exhibit featuring indoor clouds, called Nimbus, was created by Smilde in 2010. …

via Berndnaut Smilde: Meet the man who can control the weather | Mail Online.

Posted in Art, Strange | Leave a Comment »

Five Legged Frog Saved From Cooking Pot In China

Posted by Anonymous on March 16, 2012

A five-legged bull frog’s extra appendage has saved him from the cooking pot in China, after a chef spotted the amphibian’s weird protrusion.

The oily black leg, which stuck out at an angle from the bull frog’s body, wasn’t spotted by his first owner, as he was part of a wholesale batch crammed together at a local food market.

Eating frogs is common in China, and frog leg soup is considered to strengthen one’s bones. However now the unusual looking frog has been handed into a zoo in Zhuzhou China.

Five-legged frogs have been discovered before, in streams closer to home. A deformed frog was found in a river in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire in2007.

Experts thought that either a parasite or pollution attacking frogspawncould have caused the abnormality. However the mystery of the five-legged frog largely remained unsolved.

via Five Legged Frog: Weird Amphibian Saved From Cooking Pot In China.

Posted in Biology, Strange | Leave a Comment »

Judge rejects UC Davis pepper-spray report secrecy

Posted by Anonymous on March 16, 2012

Image: “Police State Graphic on a UC Davis building, Friday March 16, 2012″

The report on the November pepper-spraying of students and protesters at UC Davis likely will be ordered released today, although a potential court appeal may delay public release until at least April 2.

In a tentative ruling issued late Thursday, an Alameda Superior Court judge indicated he was not swayed by arguments from an attorney for the campus police involved in the incident that releasing the report with officers’ names is illegal under state law.

Instead, Judge Evelio Grillo said in his 16-page tentative ruling that the report does not contain any confidential information regarding campus officers and that it does not recommend disciplinary action against any of the officials involved in the Nov. 18 incident.

“The report is a compilation of public information that would have been available to an investigative journalist or member of the public who took the time and expended the effort to make a Public Records Act request, review videos posted on YouTube and elsewhere, and locate and interview witnesses,” the judge wrote.

He added that the university system “will suffer substantial harm if they cannot disclose and discuss information and recommendations regarding the incident … .”

The judge, who read a copy of the report that was provided to him under seal, also gave the first hints at its contents, including indications that both university police and administrators can expect to face criticism over the pepper-spray incident.

The investigative report is “extensive and detailed,” the judge wrote. And the subsequent task force report based on that investigation “assigns responsibility to the UC Davis administration and to members of the (campus police).” “The report considers various decision points in the incident and describes how and why those decisions were made by specific individuals,” the judge wrote. “The report then assigns responsibility to specific individuals, including police officers, for various specific decisions.”

The judge’s tentative ruling, which is expected to be issued formally today at a hearing in Oakland, stems from a legal feud over a months-long investigation of the pepper-spray incident.

The episode played out after students and supporters set up a tent encampment on the campus quad, part of a multi-day protest of rising college costs. After demonstrators refused orders to remove the tents and disperse, campus police moved in and, in videos that the judge noted have since become an “Internet meme,” Lt. John Pike began spraying a group of protesters who had linked arms and were sitting on the ground.

The videos sparked worldwide controversy, and amid the uproar that followed, UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi maintained that she never would have approved police moving on the students if she had known force would be used.

Three campus officers were put on paid leave following the incident: Pike, Chief Annette Spicuzza and a third whose name has not been made public. In addition, Katehi commissioned an independent investigation, which gave rise to a task force led by former state Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso.

The task force report relies on an investigation carried out by Kroll, a security consulting firm led by former Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton. The task force planned to make the report public earlier this month, but the union representing the campus officers sought a court order halting release.

Union attorney John Bakhit argued that releasing the report with officers’ names and potentially damaging information about their conduct is illegal under state laws and court rulings that afford California peace officers strong privacy protections….

via Judge rejects UC Davis pepper-spray report secrecy – Yolo County News – The Sacramento Bee.

Posted in Crime, Education, Money, Politics | Leave a Comment »

White rice increases risk of Type 2 diabetes

Posted by Anonymous on March 16, 2012

Stephanie Burns – The risk of type 2 diabetes is significantly increased if white rice is eaten regularly, claims a study published today on bmj.com.

The authors from the Harvard School of Public Health look at previous studies and evidence of the association between eating white rice and the risk of type 2 diabetes. Their study seeks to determine whether this risk is dependent on the amount of rice consumed and if the association is stronger for the Asian population, who tend to eat more white rice than the Western world.

The authors analysed the results of four studies: two in Asian countries (China and Japan) and two in Western countries (USA and Australia). All participants were diabetes free at study baseline.

White rice is the predominant type of rice eaten worldwide and has high GI values. High GI diets are associated with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The average amount of rice eaten varies widely between Western and Asian countries, with the Chinese population eating an average of four portions a day while those in the Western world eat less than five portions a week.

A significant trend was found in both Asian and Western countries with a stronger association found amongst women than men. The results also show that the more white rice eaten, the higher the risk of type 2 diabetes: the authors estimate that the risk of type 2 diabetes is increased by 10% with each increased serving of white rice (assuming 158g per serving).

White rice has a lower content of nutrients than brown rice including fibre, magnesium and vitamins, some of which are associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. The authors report, therefore, that a high consumption of white rice may lead to increased risk because of the low intake of these nutrients.

In conclusion, the authors state that “higher white rice intake is associated with a significantly elevated risk of type 2 diabetes”. This applies for both Asian and Western cultures, although due to findings suggesting that the more rice eaten the higher the risk, it is thought that Asian countries are at a higher risk. The authors recommend eating whole grains instead of refined carbohydrates such as white rice, which they hope will help slow down the global diabetes epidemic.

In an accompanying editorial, Dr Bruce Neal from the University of Sydney suggests that more, bigger studies are needed to substantiate the research hypothesis that white rice increases the chances of getting type 2 diabetes.

via White rice increases risk of Type 2 diabetes.

Is brown rice better? Usually, if you have a source of protein with it.

It is a great source of manganese, essential for energy production, antioxidant activity, and sex hormone production. … The protein in white rice has also been shown to be more available. This is important in parts of the world where rice is the main source of calories, particularly since rice is not a high protein food to begin with.

According to daveywaveyfitness.com:

The germ contains essential oils which otherwise cause brown rice to go bad after 6 – 8 months. Because this germ is removed in white rice, it can last up to 10 years before spoiling. It is the longer shelf life of white rice has made it extremely popular. Unfortunately, the heavy milling process also removes the rice’s fiber, vitamins and nutrients.

When comparing white rice to brown, consider the follow statistics. Brown rice has:

  • About 7x more fiber
  • Fewer carbs
  • A lower glycemic index (doesn’t result in blood sugar spikes)
  • 2.5x more iron
  • 3x more vitamin B3
  • 4x more vitamin B1
  • 4x more magnesium
  • 10x more vitamin B6
  • Fewer calories

White rice has also been linked to increased risk of type 2 diabetes. According to researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health, eating two or more servings of brown rice weekly lowers the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Eating five or more servings of white rice weekly increases that risk. In fact, researchers concluded that replacing 50 grams of white rice daily with brown rice would lower the overall type 2 diabetes risk in an individual by 16%.

My nutritionist recommends I give up white rice. Sure, I gave up sugar, so I guess I should switch to brown rice… but I don’t like brown rice. I like white rice. Then again, I am getting a bit of a gut….

Posted in Food, Health | Leave a Comment »

A wandering mind reveals mental processes and priorities

Posted by Anonymous on March 16, 2012

Odds are, you’re not going to make it all the way through this article without thinking about something else.

In fact, studies have found that our minds are wandering half the time, drifting off to thoughts unrelated to what we’re doing – did I remember to turn off the light? What should I have for dinner?

A new study investigating the mental processes underlying a wandering mind reports a role for working memory, a sort of a mental workspace that allows you to juggle multiple thoughts simultaneously.

Imagine you see your neighbor upon arriving home one day and schedule a lunch date. On your way to add it to your calendar, you stop to turn off the drippy faucet, feed the cat, and add milk to your grocery list. The capacity that allows you to retain the lunch information through those unrelated tasks is working memory.

The new study, published online March 14 in the journal Psychological Science by Daniel Levinson and Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and Jonathan Smallwood at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Science, reports that a person’s working memory capacity relates to the tendency of their mind to wander during a routine assignment. Lead author Levinson is a graduate student with Davidson, a professor of psychology and psychiatry, in the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the UW–Madison Waisman Center.

The researchers asked volunteers to perform one of two simple tasks – either pressing a button in response to the appearance of a certain letter on a screen, or simply tapping in time with one’s breath – and compared people’s propensity to drift off.

“We intentionally use tasks that will never use all of their attention,” Smallwood explains, “and then we ask, how do people use their idle resources?”

Throughout the tasks, the researchers checked in periodically with the participants to ask if their minds were on task or wandering. At the end, they measured each participant’s working memory capacity, scored by their ability to remember a series of letters given to them interspersed with easy math questions.

In both tasks, there was a clear correlation. “People with higher working memory capacity reported more mind wandering during these simple tasks,” says Levinson, though their performance on the test was not compromised.

The result is the first positive correlation found between working memory and mind wandering and suggests that working memory may actually enable off-topic thoughts.

“What this study seems to suggest is that, when circumstances for the task aren’t very difficult, people who have additional working memory resources deploy them to think about things other than what they’re doing,” Smallwood says.

Interestingly, when people were given a comparably simple task but filled with sensory distractors (such as lots of other similarly shaped letters), the link between working memory and mind wandering disappeared.

“Giving your full attention to your perceptual experience actually equalized people, as though it cut off mind wandering at the pass,” Levinson says.

Working memory capacity has previously been correlated with general measures of intelligence, such as reading comprehension and IQ score. The current study underscores how important it is in everyday situations and offers a window into the ubiquitous – but not well-understood – realm of internally driven thoughts.

“Our results suggest that the sorts of planning that people do quite often in daily life – when they’re on the bus, when they’re cycling to work, when they’re in the shower – are probably supported by working memory,” says Smallwood. “Their brains are trying to allocate resources to the most pressing problems.”

In essence, working memory can help you stay focused, but if your mind starts to wander those resources get misdirected and you can lose track of your goal. Many people have had the experience of arriving at home with no recollection of the actual trip to get there, or of suddenly realizing that they’ve turned several pages in a book without comprehending any of the words.

“It’s almost like your attention was so absorbed in the mind wandering that there wasn’t any left over to remember your goal to read,” Levinson says.

Where your mind wanders may be an indication of underlying priorities being held in your working memory, whether conscious or not, he says. But it doesn’t mean that people with high working memory capacity are doomed to a straying mind. The bottom line is that working memory is a resource and it’s all about how you use it, he says. “If your priority is to keep attention on task, you can use working memory to do that, too.”

Levinson is now studying how attentional training to increase working memory will affect wandering thoughts, to better understand the connection and how people can control it. “Mind wandering isn’t free – it takes resources,” he says. “You get to decide how you want to use your resources.” …

via A wandering mind reveals mental processes and priorities.

Posted in Mind | Leave a Comment »


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