Tag: The Smithsonian

Still in the month of May!

Figurative and literal cracks!

My rather cryptic sub-heading will make sense very soon.

Just ten days ago I published a post The Month of May. It explained why May had always been a special month in my life and then went on to introduce an article published by The Smithsonian Using a New Roadmap to Democratize Climate Change.

That article featured the former president of Iceland, Olafur Grimsson, and how he was encouraging new solutions to climate change. Primarily via a new organisation called RoadMap. (Did you sign up??)

There is change in the air. People are starting to make a better future. Cities across the USA (and elsewhere undoubtedly) are pledging to go 100 percent renewable. Here’s what Grist published on May 4th.

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Cities all over the U.S. are pledging to go 100 percent renewable.

Atlanta, Georgia (Shutterstock)

On Monday, Atlanta lawmakers voted unanimously to power the city entirely with clean energy sources by 2035.

Atlanta is the 27th city to make the pledge, according to the Sierra Club. These kinds of municipal promises have been popping up nationwide over the past few months. Here’s a recap:

“We know that moving to clean energy will create good jobs, clean up our air and water, and lower our residents’ utility bills,” said Kwanza Hall, an Atlanta City Council member and mayoral candidate, in a statement. “We have to set an ambitious goal or we’re never going to get there.”

A round of applause for local climate progress!

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Lovely to see the city of Portland on that list.

Keep it coming. For we need to see cracks of change; cracks of hope.

Cracks to counter literal cracks.

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The crack that’s redrawing the world’s map.

(From the BBC Culture Newsletter 5th May.)

The shape of the world is hanging by a thread – or rather, according to experts, by a 110 mile-long (177km) rift. That’s the extent of a rapidly expanding crack in an enormous ice shelf in Antarctica. When the Larsen C shelf finally splits, the largest iceberg ever recorded (bigger than the US state of Rhode Island and a third the size of Wales) will snap off into the ocean. Widening each day by 3 ft (1 m), the groaning cleft is on the verge of dramatically redrawing the southern-most cartography of our planet and is likely to lead, climatologists predict, to an acceleration in the rise of sea levels globally.

 An aerial photo of the frigid fissure, taken late last year when it was discovered that the pace of the icy tear was quickening, was suddenly back in the news this week with the announcement that a second rift in the shelf had been detected. The fracture leads our eye along a zig-zagging path – from the backward gaze of the plane’s right engines to the pristine polar blue of the horizon in the distance. The jaggedness of the cleft, which takes our vision on a journey whose ultimate destination is unfathomable, seems at once monumental and terrifyingly fragile. The photo intensifies our helplessness in the face of cataclysmic change. It freezes the potential destruction in the blink of a camera’s shutter, while at the same time hinting at a catastrophe that we can witness unfolding but are utterly powerless to stop.

A second rift was recently discovered in the Larsen C ice shelf on the Antarctic peninsula (Credit: NASA/John Sonntag)

As a visual statement, the aerial photo of the Larsen C crack is, by definition, incomparable; never before has the world marked the glacial advance of such a sublime and fearsome fracture in its very fabric. Yet the reemergence of the image in the news anticipates the ten-year anniversary of one of the most intriguing and innovative large-scale works in contemporary art – a work whose power relies for its thought-provoking effect on the peculiar poetry of ruinous rifts. In October 2007, the Colombian-born artist Doris Salcedo unveiled in London an ambitious installation in the cavernous space of Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall – a piece that split reaction down the middle.

Inviting gallery-goers into the otherwise empty and austere interior of the former Bankside Power Station, Salcedo subverted expectations. Rather than offering visitors a hall of temporarily installed sculptures, she orchestrated the contemplation instead of a ragged subterranean breach that appeared to rip open the concrete floor of the structure – a crevice that extended from one end of the yawning space to the other.

For the Colombian artist Doris Salcedo’s 2007 work, Shibboleth, a giant crack was made in the concrete floor of Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall (Credit: Alamy)

Salcedo deepened the mystery of her bold and experimental conceptual work by giving to it the curious title Shibboleth – a biblical word which, when mispronounced, was said to have exposed the outsider status of individuals. Complicating matters still further, the artist insisted that her work was a comment not on the folly of material ambitions, but on racism – that deep cultural scar that tears at the foundations of humanity. Placed side-by-side, this week’s photo from Antarctica and the image captured a decade ago of Doris Salcedo’s challenging Shibboleth share both a brutal beauty and a common theme: the brittleness of being.

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And if you liked this story, sign up for the weekly bbc.com features newsletter, called “If You Only Read 6 Things This Week”. A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Earth, Culture, Capital and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday.

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“the brittleness of being.”

Please, all of us, let’s make a positive difference so that we can soften the edges of that brittleness.

The Month of May!

For all my life this has felt like a very special month.

And, dear friends, at the risk of repeating myself to many of you, this is why the month of May is special for me.

Simply that I was born in London during the closing months of the Second World War. Inevitably, I was unaware of the number of German bombs that were falling on London during those last few months. But there were thousands.

On May 8th. 1945, the day that WWII ended and six months to the day from when I was born, my mother looked down at me and said aloud to me: “You are going to live”. Despite the fact that I don’t recall my mother saying that, it was verified many times later when I was growing up.

Now here we are approaching May 8th. 2017 and in a very real sense it seems that we are in another war.

A war of consequence.

A war that we have been engaged in for many, many years.

A war where we are inadvertently fighting on a global battlefield.

A war where 99.99% of us don’t consciously identify the weapons we are using. Weapons that are incredibly effective. So much so that we are in sight of winning the last battle; winning the war.

Yet a war where winning is no win at all. Indeed, where winning this war, this global war, spells the end. The end of life for 99.99% of us humans (and much else besides).

Now what on earth has got me so fired up?

Two things have:

The first is that I am living in my 73rd year of life. I have no idea of when my life comes to an end. But that death is a guarantee. Indeed, if one takes note of the average life expectancy of a male today in the USA (75.6 years) , it may not be that far away.

The second thing is that before my death I truly want to know that humankind has laid down its weapons of war against our planet and that there really is an unstoppable mission, a united wave of passion, to live in peace on this planet. Perhaps better put to live in peace with this planet.

Or in the words of an organization that I now want to introduce:

A mission which will require the hard work and dedication of each and every one of us as we do everything in our power as individuals, but also as we galvanize businesses, entrepreneurs, innovators, city planners, communities, people and politicians—all those who share our purpose.

OK! Thank you if you are still reading this! (Someone give Fred in that soft arm-chair over there a nudge; I can hear his snores from here!)

In the last Smithsonian electronic newsletter that I was reading yesterday morning there was a reference to an organization that I hadn’t previously come across. Here is the link to that item on The Smithsonian website. I am republishing it in full in this place. As you read it you will understand why I am republishing it.

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Using a New Roadmap to Democratize Climate Change

A new tool aims to bypass governments and put the power of climate action in the people’s hands

By Anne Glusker    Smithsonian.com     April 28, 2017

Olafur Grimsson, who was president of Iceland from 1996 to 2016 and saw his country through the worst economic crisis in its history, making headlines all over the world as banks collapsed and the country fell into a depression, is the very picture of an urbane statesman. Collected and poised, with a striking full head of white hair, as comfortable in English as in his native Icelandic, he seems an unlikely revolutionary, not the sort of person you’d look at and immediately find yourself thinking: “Power to the People.”

 But Grimsson is one of the primary architects of a quietly radical new idea whose aim is to facilitate action on climate change without any of the usual suspects—governments, countries, international bodies, negotiating parties.

He and several other veterans of the historic 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change were in Washington, D.C., last year, just before COP22, the climate meeting held in Marrakesh in 2016. They were pondering next steps when the conversation took a new and interesting turn, Grimsson says, addressing the question: “Was it possible to have the success of Paris without governments necessarily being in the leading role?”

The group included movers and shakers such as Peter Seligmann, the chairman of Conservation International; Laurene Powell Jobs, president of the philanthropic organization the Emerson Collective; and Andy Karsner, an assistant energy secretary during the administration of George W. Bush. Galvanized by their own query, they decided to try to answer it—to set about creating a new tool to aid in achieving the goals of the Paris accord.

At the Smithsonian’s Earth Optimism Summit, a gathering this past weekend of conservation-minded citizens, scientists and activists, Grimsson explained: “You get governments that are opposed or even hostile to climate action. We decided to bring together in Marrakesh a gathering of thinkers and scientists and innovators and policymakers from different countries in order to discuss a new model of securing the success of the future of the climate movement.”

At the Smithsonian’s Earth Optimism Summit, the former president of Iceland Olafur Grimsson encouraged new solutions to climate change, awarding cash prizes to the winners of the “Make for the Planet” challenge. (The Roadmap)

Grimsson’s group felt that due to changes in information technology and social transformations, the large organizations and structures that used to be necessary to effect change were now not needed. And thus was born Roadmap, a new crowdsourcing tool for anyone and everyone interested in climate action. Still in its very early stages, Roadmap’s founders envision it as a platform for those working on climate issues—from scientist and policymaker to farmer and fisherman—to facilitate the sharing of knowledge and ideas, methods and techniques.

“A new political model is possible—where everyone can be a doer, where you no longer need big government or big enterprises to bring about success,” Grimsson says.

This new model for social change that skips the usual cumbersome channels and processes has been seen everywhere from public health, where the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has redefined the sector, to the hospitality industry, which is working to combat the human trafficking that plagues its businesses, to perhaps most famously the Arab Spring, where the role of social media in bringing about political change is still being debated today.

And this new model is complemented by technological changes. “The innovation in energy technology is such that we no longer have to wait for the big energy breakthrough,” Grimsson says. “We already have the available technologies. Every individual, home, village, community, town and region can execute change. The good news from the climate point of view is that, in addition to the information technology revolution, there has now also taken place an energy revolution. A house can be a power station: If the people who live in that house have extra energy, they can sell their energy through the smart grid. The notion that every house can be a power station is as revolutionary as saying that every mobile phone can be a media company.”

Grimsson admits that it may seem odd for someone in his position to be advocating that ordinary citizens take action apart from the conventional corridors of governmental power.

“For me to say that these traditional political organizations and positions are somewhat outdated is perhaps a strange statement: I was a professor of political science, I’ve been a member of parliament, I’ve been a minister of finance, I was president for 20 years,” he says.

It was during Iceland’s financial meltdown that he first experienced this new kind of social change: “I saw this very strongly through the financial crisis in my own country, which led to a big social economic uprising. All those activities were engineered by unknown people, people who were not part of a big organization, who used Facebook and the information media to bring thousands of people together in one day.”

Right now, Roadmap consists of a website and a lofty manifesto that speaks of raising the value of “moral currency” and creating a “best practices warehouse.” Visitors to the site can fill out a form if they want to become part of its community of “doers.” The practical part of the manifesto speaks of identifying the best methodologies and models; implementing a “real-time system of measurement” and a way to “gauge and understand what is working, what is not, and exactly what is being achieved.” As the platform develops, it will be interesting to see exactly what form these gauges, measurement systems, and warehouses take.

After the Paris Agreement, Grimsson says of himself and his Roadmap co-founders, “We were all optimistic, but we are all also realists.” It is his belief that if you “give people the tools, they can execute the transformation and the change—without governmental leadership.” Perhaps Roadmap will be one of those tools.

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Here’s a video that spells it out in ways that I find impossible to ignore. (And, yes, I signed up, as in joining, yesterday afternoon.)

Because in hundreds of years time I want others to look at the following picture of Troutbeck Valley in England and know how precious is this one and only planet we live on.

Or in the words of Sue Dreamwalker that I read yesterday evening:

We are witnessing more storms, more unseasonal weather patterns, and I just hope that we wake up soon to the damage we are doing to our beloved Mother that has held us in her eternal arms for so long..

Photo credit: Getty Images

Enjoy the month of May wherever you are in the world!

Closing by repeating a key pronouncement in that RoadMap video above:

Why We? Who Else!

Out of this world!

Forgive my indulgence!

I wish I understood where my fascination with the night sky came from. Not that I am anything other than an amateur gazer (of the night sky, I should hasten to add!). I have never taken the trouble to gain any real knowledge.

Yet, some of the most serene moments of my life have been when I have been alone at sea under a night sky.

OK, that’s enough wallowing for anyone!

The last week has been an important one for those that take an interest in the planets in our solar system, or to be specific, take an interest in Jupiter.

For as EarthSky reported on the 8th April:

Today – April 8, 2017 – the planet Jupiter is closest to Earth for this year.

Yet yesterday was Jupiter’s opposition, when Earth flew between Jupiter and the sun, placing Jupiter opposite the sun in our sky. You’d think Jupiter was closest to Earth for 2017 yesterday as well … and yet it wasn’t. It’s closest to Earth for 2017 today, April 8, coming to within 414 million miles (666 million km).

EarthSky also included this image:

Jupiter at its April 7, 2017 opposition with the Great Red Spot and moons Io, Europa, and Ganymede (L to R). Photo by Rob Pettengill in Austin, Texas.

Then, Mother Nature Network yesterday presented more information:

Jupiter strikes a pose for Hubble portrait

April 12, 2017

During the month of April, Jupiter will be in opposition, meaning the planet is at its closest point to Earth. Thanks to the sun, it’s during this window that astronomers can enjoy a particularly close-up photo session that can help reveal how the planet’s atmosphere has changed over time by comparing it with previous such photos of the gas giant.

This photo of Jupiter was taken on April 3 by the Hubble Space Telescope when the enormous planet was 670 million kilometers (or about 416 million miles) from Earth. The photo shows the Great Red Spot, but it also shows something new: a weather feature called the Great Cold Spot, which is almost as large as its more well-known cousin.

“The Great Cold Spot is much more volatile than the slowly changing Great Red Spot, changing dramatically in shape and size over only a few days and weeks, but it has reappeared for as long as we have data to search for it, for over 15 years,” Tom Stallard, a planetary astronomer at the University of Leicester in the U.K. and lead author of the study, said in a statement.

The cold spot is nearly 15,000 miles by about 7,500 miles in size, and it’s dubbed the “cold” spot because it’s 200 degrees Kelvin (about 400 degrees Fahrenheit) cooler than the surrounding atmosphere.

The article included this stunning image of Jupiter.

Photo: A. Simon (GSFC)/NASA, ESA

Jaymi went on to write:

Here’s what some of the other details in the image mean:
The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope reveals the intricate, detailed beauty of Jupiter’s clouds as arranged into bands of different latitudes. These bands are produced by air flowing in different directions at various latitudes. Lighter coloured areas, called zones, are high-pressure where the atmosphere rises. Darker low-pressure regions where air falls are called belts. Constantly stormy weather occurs where these opposing east-to-west and west-to-east flows interact. The planet’s trademark, the Great Red Spot, is a long-lived storm roughly the diameter of Earth. Much smaller storms appear as white or brown-coloured ovals. Such storms can last as little as a few hours or stretch on for centuries.

The Great Red Spot is an anticyclonic storm that is so large that Earth would fit inside it. That stormy spot — which is actually shrinking, though astronomers don’t know why — gives us a great perspective for understanding just how huge Jupiter is compared to our own blue dot in the solar system.

Finally, I’m taking the liberty of republishing in full an item that appeared on The Smithsonian site on April 7th.

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Hubble Snags Splendid Snapshot of Jupiter

The perfect photographic conditions make for a grand view of the gas giant

This snapshot shows Jupiter’s swirling, banded atmosphere and signature vortices. (NASA, ESA, and A. Simon (GSFC))
smithsonian.com
April 7, 2017

It’s been 27 years since the Hubble Space Telescope went into orbit, and the geriatric observatory is still going strong. When the telescope recently trained its sights on the solar system’s largest planet, the results were spectacular—proof that for the stellar spectator, age is but a number.

The image above is the latest picture of Jupiter. The snapshot was taken by Hubble on April 3 with the help of the telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3, a high-res instrument that lets the telescope observe using different wavelengths. It combines light on the visible, ultraviolet, and infrared spectrum to create an image of a massive planet in constant atmospheric flux.

In a press release, the European Space Agency, which co-runs Hubble with NASA, said that Hubble was able to take advantage of the planet’s current opposition with Earth to take the close-up. At the moment, Jupiter is lined up perfectly with the sun, and Earth is lined up with both the sun and Jupiter. Think of it as a truly heavenly photographic opportunity—a chance to look at the planet head-on. Better yet, Jupiter’s position relative to the sun means that it’s brighter than at any other time of year, which lets telescopes trained on the gigantic planet see even more detail than usual.

As The Washington Post’s Amy B. Wang notes, there were no new discoveries in the picture per se, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to look at. As ESA explains, scientists will compare the photo to previous views of the planet to hopefully learn more about the atmosphere. And for the rest of us, there’s a strangely soothing view of Jupiter’s layered cloud bands and impressive vortices.

The gas giant is thought to have sucked up most of the space debris left over after the sun formed, grabbing dust and gas with gravity. Scientists think it has two times as much debris as all of the other bodies in the solar system combined—and all of that material swirls through cloud layers in its quickly-rotating atmosphere.

Since Jupiter doesn’t exactly have a surface, it has nothing to slow the spots and vortices that appear in its atmosphere. The most famous, the Great Red Spot, is thought to have been swirling around for more than 150 years, and even though it’s unclear which gases give it that red hue, it’s the planet’s most recognizable feature. As NASA writes, the cloudiness of Jupiter’s atmosphere makes it hard to understand what might be contributing to it. But that doesn’t decrease its allure.

Want to delve even further into the mesmerizing bands of a huge planet’s atmosphere? A high-res version of the snapshot is available online. And if you prefer seeing things live, it’s a great time to check out Jupiter through in the night sky. You can find Jupiter in the east right after the sun goes down—a massive mystery that’s brighter than any star.

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/hubble-snags-splendid-snapshot-jupiter-180962832/#2QLP7buDDb5PJaGK.99
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Let me finish up with another incredible fact.

Namely, that the universe came into existence some 13.82 billion years ago. The power of natural evolution that came with that event eventually brought along homo sapiens some 200,000 years ago. 200,000 is 0.0000145 of 13.82 billion.

Or to put it another way, we humans have only been a part of this universe for 1/10th of 1% of the life of said universe! (Oh, and dogs came along 100,000 years ago!)

Dogs: Aren’t They Incredible!

The love and admiration for this beautiful animal goes on and on!

It seems as though it is almost on a weekly basis that new and incredible facts about our dear, dear dogs come to the surface.

So what prompted this from me today!

Only a wonderful article that was originally published in New Scientist but then was carried by The Smithsonian. I am hoping that by fully linking this post to both the New Scientist article and the essay in The Smithsonian I am at liberty to republish it for all you good people.

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Dogs Use Deception to Get Treats, Study Shows

When a human partner withheld tasty snacks, the dogs got sneaky

Would these eyes deceive you? New study says yes. (johan63/iStock)

By Brigit Katz     smithsonian.com
March 10, 2017
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that dogs, in addition to looking adorable in sweaters, possess fairly sophisticated cognitive abilities. They recognize emotion, for example, and respond negatively to antisocial behavior between humans. Man’s best friend can also get pretty tricksy when it comes to scoring snacks. As Brian Owens reports for New Scientist, a recent study found that dogs are capable of using deceptive tactics to get their favorite treats.

The study, published in the journal Animal Cognition, was led by Marianne Heberlein of the Department of Evolutionary Biology and Experimental Studies at the University of Zürich. Heberlein told Owens that the idea for the study was born when she observed her pet pooches engaging in deceptive behavior; one sometimes pretends to see something interesting outside, prompting the other to give up his sleeping spot.

To find out if dogs engage in similar shenanigans with humans, Heberlein and a team of researchers paired 27 dogs with two different partners, Stanley Coren explains in Psychology Today. One of these partners would repeatedly go to the bowl of a given dog, fish out a treat, and give it to the pup. The other would show the treat to the dog, and then put it in her pocket. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the dogs began to show a preference for the more generous partners, and would approach them spontaneously.

Once one partner had been established as co-operative, the other as competitive, the dogs were taught to lead their partners to one of two boxes, both containing food, with the command “Show me the food.” And the same pattern was repeated: when the dogs led the co-operative partner to a treat, they got to eat it. The competitive partner withheld the treat.

Researchers then showed the dogs three covered boxes. One contained a sausage, the second contained a less-yummy dry biscuit, and the third was empty. Once again, the process of treat giving and withholding was repeated, but this time with a twist: when the dog was reunited with its owner, the owner asked it to choose one of the boxes. If there was a treat inside the box, the dog was allowed to eat it. But “if the dog chose the box which had been opened before,” Coren explains, “the owner just showed the empty box to the dog.”

Over the course of a two-day testing period, the dogs were repeatedly presented with this conundrum. They had been trained to lead both partners to boxes containing food, but they knew that the competitive partner would not let them eat the snacks. They also knew that if any snacks remained inside the boxes once they were reunited with their owners, they would get a chance to eat them. So the dogs got a little devious.

Researchers observed the pooches leading the co-operative partner to the box containing the sausage more often than expected by chance. They led the competitive partner to the sausage less often than expected by chance. And here’s where things get really interesting: the dogs took the competitive partner to the empty box more frequently than the co-operative partner, suggesting that they were working through their options and engaging in deliberate deception to maximize their chances of getting both treats.

“It is as though the dog is thinking, ‘Why should I tell that selfish person where the best treat [is] if it means that I will never get it?’,” writes Coren.

“These results show that dogs distinguished between the co-operative and the competitive partner,” the authors of the study write, “and indicate the flexibility of dogs to adjust their behaviour and that they are able to use tactical deception.”

Rest assured, dog lovers: your pooches may be sneaky, but they still love you more than cats.

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/dogs-use-deception-get-treats-study-shows-180962492/#5r1vc6gkyLQoIQaL.99
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 The article from Brigit opened up with a picture of a pair of eyes; a pair of dog’s eyes.

I don’t know about you but some dogs have eyes that reach out and seem to illuminate one’s soul.

Our Oliver has just that set of eyes. I will close today’s post with a photograph of Oliver’s eyes that was taken yesterday afternoon.

Talk about the power of non-verbal communication!

Back to puppies!

Actually, some recent very interesting research on how puppies relate to the sounds of people around them.

A recent mailing under the SmartNews banner used by The Smithsonian Magazine seemed too good not to share with all you dog lovers.

Plus, our internet connection is not good at the moment so not going to dilly dally but go straight to the article that may be seen on the Smithsonian website here.

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Why Puppies Love Baby Talk

New research shows puppies respond strongly to high-pitched chatter, but most adult dogs could care less.

istock-511313058-jpg__800x600_q85_crop_subject_location-1501569By Jason Daley
smithsonian.com
January 11, 2017

Anyone who has lived with a dog will find themselves occasionally cooing to their pup in slow-paced, high-pitched baby talk (OK, maybe most of the time). And a new study suggests that our canines respond to such dulcet tones—well, puppies do at least.

The study, published this week in the Proceedings of Royal Society Bshows that the baby-talk, also known as dog-directed speech, gets a big response from puppies. Older dogs, however, aren’t super impressed, reports Virginia Morell at Science.

The study’s researchers had 30 female volunteers look at photographs of dogs while reading standard dog-directed phrases, like “Who’s a good boy?” and “Hello cutie!” (they didn’t use real dogs to minimize the speakers going off script). The volunteers also read the doggie praise to a human. The researchers found that women used the higher-pitched, sing-song baby-talk tone when reading the passages to the photos, making their voices 21 percent higher when reading to the puppy images. With the human, they spoke in their normal voice.

That was more or less expected. But when the researchers played recordings of the women’s voices to ten puppies and ten adult dogs at a New York animal shelter, there was a stark difference. The puppies went wild when they heard the dog-directed voices. Morell reports they barked and ran toward the loudspeaker, crouching down in a pose used to start a round of horseplay. When researchers played the same phrases using the women’s normal tone of voice, the puppies weren’t nearly as enthused.

The adult dogs, however, were a different story. “They didn’t care at all,” Nicolas Mathevon, a bioacoustician at the University of Lyon in Saint-Étienne, France, and co-author of the study tells Morell. “They had a quick look at the speaker, and then ignored it.”

There’s no clear reason why the puppies reacted so strongly to the baby talk and the mature animals didn’t. It’s possible the higher-pitched tones stimulate a special response in the puppies. Mathevon tells Helen Briggs at the BBC that it may be related to a theory called the baby schema. In that hypothesis, humans evolved to find big eyes, big heads and round cheeks irresistibly cute. That helps parents bond with children, convincing them to spend the endless hours required to feed and tend to infants. Many of those cues are also found in baby animals.

But there may be more to the response.  “One of the hypotheses was that we humans use this dog-directed speech because we are sensitive to the baby cues that come from the face of a small baby [animal] as we are sensitive to the faces of our babies,” he tells Briggs. “But actually our study demonstrates that we use pet-directed speech or infant-directed speech not only because of that but maybe we use this kind of speech pattern when we want to engage and interact with a non-speaking listener. Maybe this speaking strategy is used in any context when we feel that the listener may not fully master the language or has difficulty to understand us.”

Over time humans have bred dogs to be more baby-like, which only makes humans bond with them more, Evan Maclean, an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of Arizona not involved in the study tells Nicola Davis at The Guardian. “As a result of selection for juvenile traits, dogs emit a lot of signals that scream ‘baby’ to humans, which can facilitate special kinds of interactions with dogs that are normally reserved for children,” he says. “The question we don’t have a great answer to is whether there are long term functional consequences of interacting with dogs in this way (e.g. effects on word learning), or if this is just a byproduct of the baby-like cues that dogs inundate us with.”

So why did the older dogs just keep chewing their bones when they heard the strangers’ voices coming from the speaker? “[M]aybe older dogs do not react that way because they are just more choosy and they want only to react with a familiar person,” Mathevon tells Briggs.

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I think there’s more to this than the slightly light-hearted tone that came across in the article (well to my ears anyway!).

If you want to study the published proceedings from The Royal Society, referred to by Jason Daley in the second paragraph, then the paper is here:

Dog-directed speech: why do we use it and do dogs pay attention to it?

Tobey Ben-Aderet, Mario Gallego-Abenza, David Reby, Nicolas Mathevon
Only one way to finish today’s post!

P.S. Don’t run the video in front of a roomful of dogs! (As we did last night!)

Two sides of the pilot’s life!

The life of the commercial pilot; that is.

I have a good understanding of the commercial pilot’s world, both inside and outside of my family. For many years as an active private pilot I held a British Instrument Rating (IR) that allowed me to fly in the commercial airways. Studying for the IR required a good appreciation of the safety culture that was at the root of commercial flying especially surrounding one’s departure and arrival airports.

So when I read a recent item from the Smithsonian Magazine proposing that airline pilots were more depressed than the average American my first reaction was one of disbelief. I forwarded the link to Bob D., an experienced British airline Captain and a good friend for years. Here is that article:

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Think Your Job Is Depressing? Try Being an Airline Pilot

New study suggests pilots are more depressed than the average American

4322816521_2e87d62705_o-jpeg__800x600_q85_cropBy Erin Blakemore
smithsonian.com  December 16, 2016

Being a pilot for a commercial airline has its perks—travel to exotic places, a cool uniform and those breathtaking views of the sky. But that job can come with a side of something much more sobering: depression. As Melissa Healy reports for The Los Angeles Times, the mental health of airline pilots is coming into sharp focus with the revelation that nearly 13 percent of them could be depressed.

A new study of the mental health of commercial airline pilots, recently published in the Journal of Environmental Health, suggests that depression is a major problem for pilots. The first to document mental health for this particular field, the study relied on a 2015 web survey of international pilots that contained a range of questions about their condition over the prior two weeks. Questions included whether they felt like failures, had trouble falling or staying asleep, or felt they were better off dead. (Those questions are part of a depression screening tool called the PHQ-9.) Other questions involved pilots’ flight habits, their use of sleep aids and alcohol, and whether they have been sexually or verbally harassed on the job.

Of the 1,848 pilots who responded to the depression screening portions of the questionnaire, 12.6 percent met the threshold for depression. In addition, 4.1 percent of those respondents reported having suicidal thoughts at some point during the two weeks before taking the survey. The researchers found that pilots who were depressed were also more likely to take sleep aids and report verbal or sexual harassment.

Airline pilot organizations and occupational safety experts assure Healy that airline travel is still safe. But the study continues a conversation about pilot psychology that has been in full swing since a German pilot committed suicide by crashing his plane in 2015—an incident that inspired the current study.

Since then, calls for better statistics on pilot suicide have grown louder. As Carl Bialik notes for FiveThirtyEight, those statistics do exist—and do suggest that the number of actual suicides among pilots are very small. However, limitations in data, the possibility of underreporting, and infrequent data collection all challenge a complete understanding of that facet of pilots’ mental health.

This latest mental health study has its own limitations, including the fact that it relies on self-reporting and a relatively small sample size compared to total pilot numbers worldwide (in the U.S. alone, there are over 70,000 commercial airline pilots). The cause of the reported depression also remains unclear.

But if the depression rate for commercial airline pilots really is nearly 13 percent, it’s almost double the national rate of about seven percent. Though future work is necessary to confirm these results, this study provides an initial glimpse into the health of the people who make the nation’s airlines tick and emphasizes the importance of figuring out ways to improve their mental health and quality of life.

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/airline-pilots-are-really-depressed-180961475/#QojUDlEzhHEsxww4.99
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As the article points out the study contains a number of flaws that really reduce it from an erudite analysis to an eye-catching news item. (Better than reading about politics; that’s for sure!)

I know these are busy times for Captain Bob even without it being Christmas. But if Bob finds time to comment on this study then I will publish it later on.

However, Bob did find a moment to forward me copies of some of the many placards that are a necessary part of the flight deck.

pilot1oooo

pilot2oooo

pilot3Fly safely all you good pilots out there!

What a Moon!

This is a night to be outside! (And that includes you, Susan L.)

It has been receiving quite a lot of publicity in recent days. I’m speaking of the “Supermoon”.

Or in the opening words of a recent Smithsonian Magazine article:

The Biggest Supermoon in 68 Years Will Leave You “Moonstruck”

It hasn’t been this close since 1948 and won’t be again for the next 18 years

(Adrian Scottow via Flickr)
(Adrian Scottow via Flickr)

In terms of when this is happening then I will draw on Mother Nature Network:

According to NASA, the full moon that rises on Nov. 13 will be the closest one to Earth since 1948. If viewing conditions are clear, the moon will not only appear 30 percent brighter, but also 14 percent larger. While the nighttime viewing is supposed to be spectacular, the true closest approach of the supermoon will take place on the morning of Nov. 14 at 8:52 a.m. EST.

Just how special is this super supermoon? Humanity won’t get another show like this one until Nov. 25, 2034.

Or as the EarthSky blogsite puts it:

The moon turns precisely full on November 14, 2016 at 1352 UTC. This full moon instant will happen in the morning hours before sunrise November 14 in western North America and on many Pacific islands, east of the International Date Line.

For those of us on Pacific time that equates to 0852 PST.

So the balance of today’s post will comprise the republication, with permission, of a recent essay on The Conversation blogsite.

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Supermoons are big and bright, but not as rare as the hype would suggest.

November 8, 2016

By

Senior Lecturer and Associate Department Head for Undergraduate Programs in Astronomy & Astrophysics, Pennsylvania State University.

As an observational astronomer who teaches students about the behavior of the moon, I’m thankful for anything that inspires people to go out and look at the sky. For me it’s second nature to pay attention to the moon; when my son was born, I would take him out at night to observe with me, and one of his very first words was “moon.”

But I have mixed feelings about what’s being billed as the upcoming “super-supermoon.” Many astronomers do not like using the term because reports overhype the factors that make certain full moons unusual. Most of what you’ve likely read has probably misled you about what you can expect to see on Nov. 14 and just how rare this event is. Beautiful, yes. Worth looking up for, definitely. Once in a lifetime… that’s a bit overblown.

he moon’s phases as it revolves around the Earth. Orion 8, CC BY-SA
The moon’s phases as it revolves around the Earth. Orion 8, CC BY-SA

The moon’s cyclical phases

Just about everyone is familiar with the moon’s changing appearance as it goes through its phases from crescent, to half-illuminated (first quarter), to gibbous, to full, and then back through gibbous, to half-illuminated (third quarter), to crescent, to new.

This pattern occurs because the moon orbits the Earth. When the moon is between the Earth and sun, it’s a new moon, and you don’t see it that day. When the moon is on the opposite side of the Earth from the sun we get a full moon as the sun’s light illuminates almost its entire face. The complete sequence of phases takes about the same amount of time as it does for the moon to orbit the Earth once – just about a month.

As the moon makes its monthly trip around our planet, it travels on an elliptical, not circular, path. Every object in the solar system orbits like this, including the Earth around the sun; over the course of the year, the Earth is sometimes closer to the sun and sometimes more distant. Same for the moon – sometimes it’s closer to us and sometimes farther away.

The changes are proportionally not large; at “perigee” (the closest it gets to the Earth) the moon’s approximately 10 percent closer to the Earth than at “apogee” (most distant point on its orbit). Over the year, the moon’s distance from Earth varies from around 222,000 to 253,000 miles.

 The moon’s orbit is elliptical and changes over time. Rfassbind
The moon’s orbit is elliptical and changes over time. Rfassbind

The time it takes the moon to go from perigee to perigee (about 27.3 days) is shorter than the time it takes to go through a complete set of phases (about 29.5 days). Because these timescales are different, the phase at which perigee occurs varies. Sometimes perigee occurs when the moon is full, but it is just as likely for perigee to occur when the moon is in the first quarter phase, or any other. Whichever phase the moon is in when it’s at perigee will be the one that looks largest to us here on Earth for that month.

wo full moons as seen from Earth: at perigee on the left, at apogee on the right. Catalin Paduraru
Two full moons as seen from Earth: at perigee on the left, at apogee on the right. Catalin Paduraru

At perigee, the moon can appear 14 percent larger and 30 percent brighter than an apogee full moon. But this is complicated by the fact that our eyes play tricks on us and convince us the moon looks larger when it is near the horizon than when it is higher in the sky. Every full moon will look big and bright whether it happens at perigee or apogee.

So what’s a supermoon?

The first time I heard the phrase “supermoon” was in 2011, and someone had to explain the suddenly in vogue term to me. People were using it to describe the full moon that happened to occur within an hour of perigee in March of that year. The moon’s perigee distance also varies a bit, and March 2011 was the moon’s closest perigee of that year.

 A 2013 supermoon as seen from Ireland. John Finn, CC BY-NC-ND
A 2013 supermoon as seen from Ireland. John Finn, CC BY-NC-ND

This was a somewhat rare event – a full moon occurring not just at perigee, but at the closest perigee of the year. But many people got the impression that this was an exceedingly unusual event, and rushed to see and capture images of this supposedly ultra-rare moon. Depending on how closely you require the full moon to occur to perigee in order to call it a supermoon, though, these events happen at least roughly once a year, and often more frequently.

Which brings us to this month’s much ballyhooed “super-supermoon.” News stories are hyping the upcoming full moon as a once-in-a-lifetime viewing opportunity. It’s true that the Nov. 14 full moon is the closest since 1948, and the next time the full moon will be closer is in 2034.

But this month’s full moon is only 0.02 percent closer – a mere 41 miles! – than the March 2011 supermoon. These tiny distances make no noticeable difference in the moon’s appearance.

 Get out there and enjoy this supermoon! AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
Get out there and enjoy this supermoon! AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

Please do go out and observe the November full moon. If you are good with photography, try to document that the moon does appear larger than the other months this year. Just be aware you’ll have other virtually equivalent opportunities to do so pretty much every year for the rest of your life. So don’t worry if you miss it. You can catch the supermoon next time around.

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Fingers crossed our local weather will enable Jean and me to view this moon and I will try and photograph it.

If any readers also get to see this moon do let us know your thoughts and feelings.

All change at 10 Downing Street!

Well, perhaps not completely all change!

There will be few who can’t have heard of the enormous changes going on in my old country, with Teresa May now Britain’s second female Prime Minister. Talk about out with the old and in with the new!

But as this lovely story recently published over on the Smithsonian Magazine website illustrates, it’s not total change.

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10 Downing Street’s “Chief Mouser” Is Keeping His Job Despite Brexit

Larry the Cat will outlast David Cameron at the Prime Minister’s residence
Larry, Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office (Her Majesty's Government)
Larry, Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office (Her Majesty’s Government)
By Danny Lewis  smithsonian.com
July 14, 2016

In the weeks since British citizens voted to leave the European Union in a national referendum, the government of the United Kingdom has seen its share of political turmoil. Following the results of the vote, then-Prime Minister and “Remain” supporter David Cameron announced that he would be stepping down, and has now been replaced by his successor, Theresa May. But while Cameron has officially left the Prime Minister’s residence and offices at 10 Downing Street in London, at least one of his appointees will remain in May’s service: a brown and white tabby cat named Larry.

“It’s a civil servant’s cat and does not belong to the Camerons—he will be staying,” a government official tells the BBC.

Larry first came to 10 Downing Street in 2011, when Cameron adopted him from a rescue home in hopes that the feline would help handle a mouse infestation plaguing the Prime Minister’s residence. As the first cat to hold the title of Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office, Larry has become a familiar face in and around the building over the years.

“Larry spends his days greeting guests to the house, inspecting security defenses and testing antique furniture for napping quality,” an official government website detailing the history of 10 Downing Street writes. “His day-to-day responsibilities also include contemplating a solution to the mouse occupancy of the house. Larry says this is still ‘in tactical planning stage.’”

However, despite being touted as a “good ratter” with “a high chase-drive and hunting instinct,” some reports suggest that Larry is not as good at his job as official statements might lead one to believe. Indeed, Larry has faced harsh scrutiny for slacking on the job, as his love of long naps often gets in the way of his hunting duties, Jack Goodman reports for Atlas Obscura. In one incident, Cameron reportedly was forced to throw a silver fork at a mouse to shoo it away during a meeting with other government officials, even after Larry was brought on board to handle the problem. However, despite his lack of progress on the mouse problem, Larry has managed to continue to retain his position.

While Larry may be the first cat to hold this particular title, he isn’t the first cat to make his home at 10 Downing Street. During the 1920s, Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald brought along his cat, Rufus of England, and, in the 1930s and ’40s, the so-called “Munich Mouser” ran rampant throughout the residence, the BBC reports. In the 1970s, a cat named Wilberforce took up guard. Upon retirement, he was replaced by a stray who wandered into the offices during Margaret Thatcher’s premiership (he was called Humphrey). The last cat before Larry to hold court at 10 Downing Street was Sybil, who belonged to former Chancellor Alastair Darling. However, she reportedly did not care for city life, and later retired with Darling to his home in the Scottish countryside.

Whatever other effects the decision to leave the European Union will have on the United Kingdom’s government in the coming weeks, Larry’s position as “top cat,” at least, remains assured.

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 Well done, Larry!

Labelling and form over substance.

A providential sequel to yesterday’s post.

It was after 3pm yesterday when I turned on my computer and wondered what today’s post was going to be; I wasn’t feeling especially creative!

But sitting in my ‘in-box’ was a link to the latest newsletter from The Smithsonian and within that newsletter was a perfect sequel to yesterday’s post What’s In A Name?

I’ll go straight to that article. (Apologies if you notice that there is a fair degree of overlap between the two articles.)

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Call a Dog a Pit Bull and He May Have Trouble Finding a Home

Dogs labeled as pit bulls at shelters may wait three times longer to be adopted—even when they aren’t actually pit bulls

An adorable shelter dog shouldn’t have a difficult time finding a home—but it might if it comes with the label “pit bull.” (LeticiaRose / iStock)
An adorable shelter dog shouldn’t have a difficult time finding a home—but it might if it comes with the label “pit bull.” (LeticiaRose / iStock)

By Rachel Nuwer, March 23, 2016

Regardless of a canine’s actual breed, simply labeling a dog a “pit bull” can condemn it to a significantly longer stay in a shelter and make it less attractive to potential adopters, concludes a new study in PLOS One.

Pit bulls are often stereotyped as aggressive and dangerous toward humans, though there is little evidence that those characteristics are inherent to the breed. The breed is popular among the dog fighting crowd, however, which contributes to its reputation for aggressiveness. To complicate matters, when attacks do occur, dogs may be labeled as pit bulls even when they are not. Indeed, in the United States, “pit bull” often serves as a catchall for a handful of breeds ranging from English bulldogs to American Staffordshire terriers; one person’s pit bull is another’s American bulldog mix.

This reputation follows the canines when they land in shelters. When potential adopters look at available dogs, they “don’t rate pit bulls any differently than look-alike dogs,” says the study’s lead author, Lisa Gunter, a graduate student in psychology at Arizona State University. “It’s only when we start attaching labels that people begin to perceive them more negatively.”

Most shelter dogs are of unknown origin, so employees often have to guess at an animal’s breed. Over a 10-year career working in shelters, Gunter noticed that she and her co-workers frequently arrived at different conclusions about a dog’s breed. And genetic studies have found significant discrepancies between descriptions of shelter dogs and their actual breed. One study found, for example, that half of the dogs that had been labeled as pit bulls at four Florida shelters had no pit bull ancestry in their DNA.

Gunter and her colleagues undertook a series of studies to find out how those potentially flawed labels might impact an animal’s chance of finding a home. They started by showing college students in California and users of the website Reddit photos of three dogs—a Labrador retriever, a pit bull-like dog and a border collie—without attached breed labels and asked questions about each, such as whether the dog looked smart or if the person would feel comfortable approaching it. The team found that participants ranked the pit bull-type dog as lowest on intelligence, friendliness, approachability and adoptability, and highest on aggressiveness and difficulty to train. When the pit bull appeared in a photo with an elderly woman or a child, however, it was rated more favorably.

Next, the researchers asked potential adopters at an Arizona shelter to rank dogs that appeared in photos and short videos on the animals’ approachability, intelligence, aggressiveness, friendliness, difficulty to train and adoptability. These scores were then summed to create an “attractiveness” composite for each pooch. To get around possible biases, such as apartment rules about animal sizes or bans on certain breeds, the team used phrases such as, “If circumstances allowed, I would consider adopting this dog,” to assess willingness to take a canine home.

These two dogs may look similar, but the pit bull label could mean that the one on the left may wait a lot longer to find a home. (Arizona Animal Welfare League)
These two dogs may look similar, but the pit bull label could mean that the one on the left may wait a lot longer to find a home. (Arizona Animal Welfare League)

When the dogs were not labeled as any particular breed, participants ranked pit bulls and look-alikes (dogs that were the same size and color as the pit bulls) as equally attractive. Potential adopters even ranked the pit bulls in video recordings as more attractive than the non-pit bull matches. When the researchers introduced breed labels, however, that trend reversed, with participants ranking the same dog as significantly less attractive than similar dogs without the label.

The researchers also found that pit bulls at that shelter waited over three times as long to find a home as their matched counterparts.

Finally, the team analyzed a set of data from an animal shelter in Florida that recently removed breed descriptions altogether. When freed from the loaded label, pit bull-like dogs were much more likely to find a home. Adoptions of these dogs increased by more than 70 percent, compared with the prior year, and the shelter’s euthanasia rate for the same group dropped by 12 percent, probably because more of them were finding homes.

Taken together, these results “are very convincing that breed labels negatively impact any dog that is labeled as ‘pit bull,’” says Erica Feuerbacher, who studies dogs at Carroll College in Montana and was not involved in the study. “Furthermore, we know from other studies that humans are quite bad at correctly labeling breeds, so many dogs could be erroneously labeled pit bull—even though they are not—and by that label they become less adoptable.”

Eliminating breed labels, which people seem to be using as poor proxies for stereotyped traits, may be the key to banishing a significant amount of dog discrimination—and getting more dogs into homes, Feuerbacher and the other researchers argue. There is also a need to devise better means of measuring dogs’ true personalities, including their potential for aggression, and of ensuring those assessments are valid not just in the shelter environment but also in homes, Gunter notes.

“We want to drive the adoption conversation toward evaluating whether an individual dog, regardless of the breed, is a suitable candidate for adoption,” she says. “Then we can match-make between the personality of the dog and that of the person, instead of just relying on labels.”

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You can see why it so perfectly followed on from yesterday!

Not just my post but yesterday’s comments. Such as this from Tony:

Another example of form over substance. When will we learn?

So I know you will all cheer Erica Feuerbacher who is quoted towards the end of that Smithsonian essay and I will close with her words, in part: “We want to drive the adoption conversation toward evaluating whether an individual dog, regardless of the breed, is a suitable candidate for adoption. Then we can match-make between the personality of the dog and that of the person, instead of just relying on labels.

Oh, and a very Happy April Fool’s Day!