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The Humble Political Ant

We humans are political beings. We associate ourselves with people we believe we can trust, and people who do the same things as us. We also create laws to establish order within our society. But can we say the same for ants? Are they political beings as well? According to this study, they most likely are.

Ants may be tiny critters with tiny brains, but these social insects are capable of collectively organizing themselves into a highly efficient community to ensure the colony survives. And it seems that the social dynamics of how division of labor emerges in an ant colony is similar to how political polarization develops in human social networks, according to a recent paper in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.
"Our findings suggest that division of labor and political polarization—two social phenomena not typically considered together—may actually be driven by the same process," said co-author Chris Tokita, a graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton University. "Division of labor is seen as a benefit to societies, while political polarization usually isn't, but we found that the same dynamics could theoretically give rise to them both."

Check out the study over at Ars Technica.

(Image Credit: Tworkowsky/ Pixabay)


The Cost of Making External Memory Aids Too Often

Have you ever had something important that you should not forget about it? What do you do to always remember it? Do you engrave it in your mind? Or do you make a note about it? Most likely you’ll do the latter. After all, we are forgetful beings, and so we make external memory aids to help us remember important things. For Art Markman, however, this kind of practice comes at a cost.

It takes time to write out a note (or to put my keys in the refrigerator). It takes organization to make sure that notes you keep are available when you need them.
An interesting question is whether people are good at determining when they should use an external memory aid. That is, do they weigh the costs of using an aid against the benefits in a way that takes into account their actual likelihood of being wrong?

Check out more details about the study over at Psychology Today.

(Image Credit: RitaE/ Pixabay)


The Tree Of Death

1999. It was radiologist Nicola Strickland’s first day at the Carribean island of Tobago. It was her first morning on the peaceful island, and she went foraging for shells and corals in the white sand. What she thought was a beautiful day, however, turned out to be really ugly because of this fruit.

Scattered amongst the coconuts and mangoes on the beach, Strickland and her friend found some sweet-smelling green fruit that looked much like small crabapples.

Sounds harmless, doesn’t it? But as the two women took a bite of the strange fruit they just found, they went through a situation that they most likely won’t forget. Thankfully, they lived to tell the tale.

Within moments the pleasantly sweet flavour was overwhelmed by a peppery, burning feeling and an excruciating tightness in the throat that gradually got so bad, the women could barely swallow.

What seemed to be a sweet-smelling fruit turned out to be the fruit of the manchineel tree, also known as “beach apple” or “poison guava”, and arbol de la muerte — “the tree of death” — in Spanish. The Guinness World Records lists it as the most dangerous tree in the world.

As explained by the Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, all parts of manchineel are extremely poisonous, and "interaction with and ingestion of any part of this tree may be lethal".

Know more details about this deadly tree over at Science Alert.

(Image Credit: Dick Culbert/ Flickr)


AI: Does It Hinder Enlightenment?

A robot named Scribit sketches out a lotus with designs on each petal on a wall. It does this beautiful masterpiece for six hours. As soon as it is completed, however, the robot does the unthinkable: it erases the image it just made, leaving no trace of the artwork behind.

In reality, however, the practice of drawing something and erasing it does exist in real life. This practice is called mandala.

These complex patterns are meant to reflect the visions that monks see while meditating about virtues such as compassion, wisdom, and more, says Tenzin Priyadarshi, a Buddhist monk and the CEO of the Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values at MIT...
Traditional mandalas are sketched out by hand and then painstakingly filled with colored sand. Once the mandala is complete, it is destroyed, symbolizing the transience of beauty and existence. Scribit, however, isn’t so delicate, and relies on pre-programmed images. There is no sand, no meticulous sketching, no fear that the mandala could be destroyed any second. There’s also the physical relief. “It was easier on my back than creating these intricate mandalas,” Priyadarshi says of the traditional 50-hour process.
But getting a robot to sketch a design on the wall seems counterproductive. Isn’t it cheating?

Priyadarshi states that this is not cheating. Find out why over at Technology Review.

What are your thoughts about this one?

(Video Credit: Scribit-design/ YouTube)


The Unique Himalayan Wolf

They stand tall and proud in the high grasslands of the Earth, across northern India, China, and Nepal. They are known for their long snouts and low-pitched calls. They are the Himalayan wolves. But what makes them an interesting subject of study? It is their genes which are very distinct from gray wolves — genes that help them breathe through thin air above 4000 meters.

Himalayan wolves live at higher altitudes than grays, which range across eastern China, Mongolia, and Kyrgyzstan, and their habits are different, too. Whereas gray wolves primarily eat rodents, Himalayan wolves add the occasional Tibetan gazelle to the mix. And Himalayans howl their own tune, with cries of a shorter duration and lower frequency than those of grays.
… Analysis showed that, unlike gray wolves, Himalayans carry specialized genes that help them overcome a lack of oxygen, including ones that strengthen the heart and boost the delivery of oxygen through the blood.

Calls to recognize the Himalayan wolf as a different species have been made in the past, and now this finding supports that call.

(Image Credit: Geraldine Werhahn/ Himalayan Wolves Project)


The Jacket That Doubles As A Portable Shelter For Homeless People

Bas Timmer is a 29-year old fashion designer from the Netherlands who created the Sheltersuit, a warm, water and windproof jacket for homeless people. The Sheltersuit also doubles as a sleeping bag, and can be easily carried around. Timmer is now in America to convince the fashion industry to donate to homeless people, as Mashable details: 

For the past three weeks, Timmer has been in America in an effort to expand his organization (called Sheltersuit Foundation in the Netherlands) here. He wants the fashion industry to take notice and intentionally handed out suits in New York City to homeless people during New York's Fashion Week from Feb. 6 to 13. Timmer hopes this will push clothing companies to donate their materials waste to Sheltersuit and other like-minded organizations, given that about 30 percent of clothes are never sold and end up in landfills.
Since Sheltersuit started in 2014, companies have been donating Timmer materials, like sleeping bags and tent fabrics that would have been thrown away because of production mistakes like a misplaced logo. Some companies reached out to Sheltersuit after seeing the organization in the media. The suit is made entirely out of these upcycled materials, from the belts that act as the backpack's straps to the large hood that can block out glaring lights homeless people often have to contend with while sleeping on the street.  

image via Mashable


The New Explosive Theory About What Doomed the Crew of the Hunley

The Confederate submarine known as the H.L. Hunley delivered a torpedo bomb to the underside of the Union ship Housatonic in 1864, sinking the ship and killing five. But the Hunley also sank, and all eight crew members died. No one knew where the submarine was until 1970, and it took another 30 years to raise it to the surface.   

One hundred and thirty-six years later, in 2000, in a massive custom-built water tank, archaeologists clad in protective coveralls and wearing respirators sorted patiently through the muck and silt that had slowly filled the hull of the submarine as it lay on the bottom of the ocean floor. Accounts of the Hunley’s sinking had assumed horrific scenes of the men trying to claw their way through the thick iron hatches, or huddled in the fetal position beneath the crew bench in their agony. Sinkings of modern submarines have always resulted in the discovery of the dead clustered near the exits, the result of desperate efforts to escape the cold metal coffins; to sit silently and await one’s own demise simply defies human nature.

The crew of the Hunley, however, looked quite different. Each man was still seated peacefully at his station.

What killed the eight men of the Hunley? Rising water or lack of oxygen would have induced a mad dash to escape. Damage from the torpedo would have scattered the bodies and left evidence on the submarine itself. Biomedical engineer and blast-injury specialist Rachel Lance modeled the remains of the submarine and recreated the torpedo incident in a pond (assisted by a bomb-demolition expert and the ATF) to test a new theory on what killed the crew of the Hunley. Read a fascinating excerpt from her book on the subject at Smithsonian.

(Image credit: Conrad Wise Chapman)


8-Year Old Girl Loves Target So Much That She Had Her Birthday Party There

The girl who is third from the left is Brayden Lawrence. She loves to shop at Target. In fact, she loves it so much that when it was time for her birthday party, she asked for one at a Target store with a Target theme.

Brayden and her friends got employee uniforms, walkie-talkies, name badges, and a cake decorated with the retail chain's colors. CBS News (warning: auto-start video) talked to Brayden's aunt, Rikki Jackson:

The attendees then went on a scavenger hunt to find items in the store, but had to put everything back after, "since that's what employees do," said Jackson. The family even gave the pint-sized "employees" gift cards to spend on an "item of their choice." [...]
"She had the time of her life," said Jackson. "She hasn't stopped talking about it since! All she kept saying to my sister Jessica yesterday was 'Momma, you did that!'"
While Target doesn't normally host children's parties, Jackson said in a tweet that the store's manager gave the family "special permission" for the bash. The manager's kindness clearly made an impression on Lawrence.

-via Super Punch | Photo: Rikki Jackson


Hungry Seagulls

We love food, and so do seagulls. But our food is sure to be leagues greater than theirs, and so it is not surprising that they want a taste of our food.

Sad And Useless compiles these photos of seagulls snatching food from unsuspecting people. Check them out over at the site.

If there’s one thing I can say about these photos, it is this: seagulls love ice cream.

(Image Credit: Sad and Useless)


Starbucks Japan Goes Full Cherry Blossom

Earlier this month, Starbucks Japan announced their first cherry blossom frappuccino for the cherry blossom season of this year. But if you are not yet satisfied with the cherry blossom-themed drink, Starbucks Japan has some more things in store for you, and those are cherry blossom-themed drinkware. The photo above is, already, Starbucks’s second drinkware range for this year.

However, it doesn’t seem that we’d be able to get our hands on these new merchandise; I guess it’s exclusive in Japan. Would you buy one if you could?

(Image Credit: Starbucks Japan Press Release/ SoraNews24)


This Salamander Can Mostly Sit Still For Seven Years

If you think you’re good at being a couch potato, I’m sorry to tell you that these blind, foot-long aquatic salamanders would beat you at your own game.

In order to survive inside caverns that have very little food, these creatures, called olms, don’t move much in order to conserve energy. One such olm was reported to not have moved from the same spot for seven years!

In addition to the one extremely sedentary olm, most of the others didn’t seem to move more than 10 meters from their original spots over several years, the scientists found.
Olms could be considered extreme couch potatoes. A slow pace of life — punctuated roughly every 12 years by the need to reproduce — helps to conserve energy over a life span that can last for roughly 100 years, the researchers say. Energy conservation is paramount in these caves. With little to go around of the crustaceans and snails that olms eat, the salamanders can go 10 years without eating.


(Image Credit: Balázs Lerner and Gergely Balázs/ Proteus Project/ ScienceNews)


The Terrible Truth About Star Trek's Transporters

In 1966, the idea of a transporter, the way Star Trek characters beamed down to various planets, was amazing. The explanation was that the device disassembled all the atoms of one's body, converted them to energy, zapped that energy to a destination, and then re-assembled them in precise order. And the person traveling didn't even lose consciousness! We later learned that the special effect was invented because it was so much cheaper and faster than sending people off in a shuttle. But how plausible is the concept, anyway?

A team of fourth-year physics students at the University of Leicester crunched the numbers on how long it would take to transmit the necessary information to build a person, and the news isn't good. They even took a shortcut.

Instead of capturing all of the information down to the atomic level, they suggested transmitting just the DNA information of a person, along with a brain state. If you had that information, you could presumably clone a person and then implant them with the mental state of their previous self. It's not exactly teleportation, but it gets the job done.

Only, even that fraction of what makes up a person comes in at 2.6 tredecillion bits. Which is, in scientific vernacular, several boatloads.

The estimated time to transmit, using the standard 30 GHz microwave band used by communications satellites, would take 350,000 times longer than the age of the universe.

That's only the actual transit time. The hard part would be putting all that information back together in the same order. Just ask Seth Brundle. Read more about the real-world aspects of Star Trek's transporter at SyFy Wire. -via Real Clear Science


What Makes Something Ironic?

People win the internet love to argue about proper word usage. The word "irony" has fueled such arguments since at least 1996, when Alanis Morisette released the song "Ironic." The lyrics are a list of examples of irony, each one subject to debate as to whether it is true irony, situational irony, or not irony at all. Psychology professor Roger J. Kreuz defines irony as a clash between expectations and outcomes, but it's not always that simple. Sometimes it's just sarcasm.  

Some cases, however, are relatively straightforward. Consider situational irony, in which two things become odd or humorous when juxtaposed. A photo of a sign in front of a school with a misspelled word – “We are committed to excellense” – went viral. And the January 2020 rescheduling of an annual snowball fight at the University of British Columbia was correctly described as ironic because of the reason for the cancelation: too much snow.

In other cases, however, a situation may lack an essential element that irony seems to require. It’s not ironic when someone’s home is burglarized, but it is if the owner had just installed an elaborate security system and had failed to activate it. It’s not ironic when a magician cancels a show due to “unforeseen circumstances,” but it is when a psychic’s performance is canceled for the same reason.

It's gotten to the point that many writers just avoid the word "ironic" in order to fend off the inevitable derail about whether it was used correctly. Is that in itself ironic? Read about irony at the Conversation. -via Damn Interesting


An 82-Year-Old Message In A Bottle Was Found On A Beach

Nigel Hill found a glass bottle on the beach that contained a letter dated Sept. 5, 1938. Hill was walking his dog when he found the bottle that had been drifting in water for nearly 82 years! Hill found an address and a name on the letter, and aims to reach out to the family of the person who signed the letter, as UPI detailed: 

The letter, which was signed John Stapleford, included an address in Hertfordshire, England, and asked that the person who finds the bottle get into contact with its author.
Hill said he managed to get into contact with the current resident of the listed address, but they were not related to the former resident and didn't know how to contact his family.
Hill said he thinks it's unlikely that Stapleford is still alive, but he would like to find the man's family and present them with the message in a bottle.

image via wikimedia commons


McDonald's Offers Scented Candles

The six scents are sesame seed bun, ketchup, onion, ground "beef", pickles, and cheese. If you light them all, you have simulated the experience of eating a McDonald's Quarter Pounder hamburger. Fox News reports that this is one of many products on sale from McDonald's to promote its lifestyle.

Our own company, Neatorama, really should do the same thing by selling a line of candles, each of which smells like a particular author. Burn them together for the supreme Neatorama olfactory experience.

-via Aelfred the Great | Photo: McDonald's

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