The Food and Drug Administration is warning dog owners to keep a close watch on their furry friends, after several brands of dry dog food were found to contain potentially toxic levels of vitamin D.
According to NPR’s Amy Held, the FDA has received reports of dogs falling ill after eating certain foods, which are made by an unnamed manufacturer and sold under at least eight different brands. Nutrisca and Natural Life issued recalls in early November, reports Shelby Lin Erdman of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and several other brands have followed suit. The full list, which includes products by Sunshine Mills and ELM Pet Foods, can be seen here.
The FDA says the situation is developing, and its scientists are still working to definitively link the dogs’ illnesses to their diet. But when the agency sampled some of the questionable products, it found that the foods contained as much as 70 times the amount of intended vitamin D.
As it does in humans and other mammals, vitamin D helps dogs maintain calcium and phosphorus levels in their bodies, which is essential for bone formation, along with heart, muscle and nerve function.
But if pooches ingest excessive doses of the nutrient—which happens most often when dogs accidentally eat vitamin D-containing rodenticide —their calcium and phosphorous levels can get thrown off balance, according to the veterinary company VCA. Very high amounts of vitamin D can have a number of serious health effects on dogs, including kidney disease and even death.
Symptoms of vitamin D poisoning in dogs include vomiting, loss of appetite, increased thirst, increased urination, excessive drooling and weight loss. The FDA says that pet owners who notice these symptoms in dogs that have been eating the recalled brands should contact their vets right away—there are treatments that can help.
The agency also recommends disposing of recalled products in a way that makes them inaccessible to pets, wildlife and children. And owners who suspect that their dogs have fallen sick from vitamin D poisoning can report the illness to the FDA through an online portal.
Some archaeologists carry tools and painstakingly chip away at historic sites. Others might have fluffy bodies, keen senses of smell and an affinity for digging stuff up.
As Tom McEnchroe reports for Radio Praha, a very good dog named Monty recently unearthed a rare trove of Bronze Age artifacts near the Czech village of Kostelecké Horky. Monty was walking with his human, identified as “Mr. Frankota,” in a field when he began pawing frenetically at the ground. Soon, thanks to Monty’s hard work, metallic objects began to emerge in the soil.
The cache of relics includes 13 sickles, two spear points, three axes and several bracelets. The objects have been dated to the Urnfield period around 3,000 years ago. This late European Bronze Age culture is marked by the transition from inhumation burials to cremations; the remains of the dead were interred in urns, giving the era its name. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, Urnfield culture first appeared in east-central Europe and northern Italy, but eventually spread “to Ukraine, Sicily, Scandinavia, and across France to the Iberian peninsula.”
It is rare to find a cluster of intact Urnfield objects, according to a press release. “The culture that lived here at the time normally just buried fragments, often melted as well,” Martina Beková, an archaeologist at the Museum and Gallery of Orlické who studied the artifacts after they were discovered by Monty, tells McEnchroe. So she suspects that the relics were tied to a ritual—“most likely a sacrifice of some sorts,” Beková says.
Additional evidence could help pin down the function of the objects, and according to Michelle Starr of Science Alert, local archaeologists have been searching the area in the hopes of finding more relics. They haven’t uncovered anything yet, but Sylvie Velčovská, a spokeswoman for the region, tells McEnchroe that there have been, “considerable changes to the surrounding terrain over the centuries, so it is possible that the deeper layers are still hiding some secrets.”
The newly uncovered objects will be on display at the Museum and Gallery of Orlické Mountains in the town of Rychnov until October 21, after which point they will undergo conservation and be moved to a permanent exhibition in the village of Kostelec.
Frankota, Monty’s owner, was awarded 7860 Czech Koruna (around $360) for his role in alerting archaeologists to the ancient treasures. One can only hope that Monty was given many treats and pets for his superb fieldwork
Simply because yesterday Anita from Anitashope blog left the following comment:
This article popped up after I responded to todays post but I also have to respond to this one as I need to tell you about Mimi. Mimi is my coon hound black lab mix and she will NOT make eye contact with you when a treat is involved. She will come sit by you and look off in the distance like “I am not looking at you”, then she will cut her eyes sideways just to make sure the treat is still there. Its hilarious.
The post where her comment was left was one that I published back on March 13th, 2017. It included the most beautiful photograph of Oliver’s eyes. I had forgotten that picture.
So for that reason alone, it is being republished today.
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.
When a human partner withheld tasty snacks, the dogs got sneaky
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.
Science confirms what we instinctively understand!
That the way a dog looks deep into our eyes is more than emotional froth!
Follower of this blog, Anita, left a comment to yesterday’s post. This is what she wrote (my emphasis):
This has been a wonderful compilation of awesome photos. You must do it again sometime. Dogs are so wonderful and such great companions. They do have eyes that see straight through our very souls and ready to love us at the drop of a hat.
One of our dogs here at home, Oliver, has those eyes. When he stares into my own eyes it feels as though at some mystical level Oliver and I are connected.
So imagine my surprise when reading yesterday the lead essay in The Smithsonian about the evolution of the domesticated dog and me coming across this:
The relationship has become so close that even our brains are in sync. Witness a study showing that dogs hijack the human brain’s maternal bonding system. When humans and dogs gaze lovingly into one another’s eyes, each of their brains secretes oxytocin, a hormone linked to maternal bonding and trust.
In other words, science confirms what I experience as being real!! (Undoubtedly shared by many of you!)
Long ago, before your four-legged best friend learned to fetch tennis balls or watch football from the couch, his ancestors were purely wild animals in competition—sometimes violent—with our own. So how did this relationship change? How did dogs go from being our bitter rivals to our snuggly, fluffy pooch pals?
The new drama Alpha answers that question with a Hollywood “tail” of the very first human/dog partnership.
Europe is a cold and dangerous place 20,000 years ago when the film’s hero, a young hunter named Keda, is injured and left for dead. Fighting to survive, he forgoes killing an injured wolf and instead befriends the animal, forging an unlikely partnership that—according to the film—launches our long and intimate bond with dogs.
Just how many nuggets of fact might be sprinkled throughout this prehistoric fiction?
We’ll never know the gritty details of how humans and dogs first began to come together. But beyond the theater the true story is slowly taking shape, as scientists explore the real origins of our oldest domestic relationship and learn how both species have changed along canines’ evolutionary journey from wolves to dogs.
When and where were dogs domesticated?
Pugs and poodles may not look the part, but if you trace their lineages far enough back in time all dogs are descended from wolves. Gray wolves and dogs diverged from an extinct wolf species some 15,000 to 40,000 years ago. There’s general scientific agreement on that point, and also with evolutionary anthropologist Brian Hare’s characterization of what happened next. ’The domestication of dogs was one of the most extraordinary events in human history,” Hare says.
But controversies abound concerning where a long-feared animal first became our closest domestic partner. Genetic studies have pinpointed everywhere from southern China to Mongolia to Europe.
Scientists cannot agree on the timing, either. Last summer, research reported in Nature Communications pushed likely dates for domestication further back into the past, suggesting that dogs were domesticated just once at least 20,000 but likely closer to 40,000 years ago. Evolutionary ecologist Krishna R. Veeramah, of Stony Brook University, and colleagues sampled DNA from two Neolithic German dog fossils, 7,000 and 4,700 years old respectively. Tracing genetic mutation rates in these genomes yielded the new date estimates.
“We found that our ancient dogs from the same time period were very similar to modern European dogs, including the majority of breed dogs people keep as pets,” explained Dr. Veeramah in a release accompanying the study. This suggests, he adds, “that there was likely only a single domestication event for the dogs observed in the fossil record from the Stone Age and that we also see and live with today.”
Comparing these genomes with many wolves and modern dog breeds suggested that dogs were domesticated in Asia, at least 14,000 years ago, and their lineages split some 14,000 to 6,400 years ago into East Asian and Western Eurasian dogs .
But because dog fossils apparently older than these dates have been found in Europe, the authors theorize that wolves may have been domesticated twice, though the European branch didn’t survive to contribute much to today’s dogs. Greger Larson, director of the Wellcome Trust Palaeogenomics & Bio-Archaeology Research Network at Oxford University, suggests that the presence of older fossils in both Europe and Asia, and the lack of dogs older than 8,000 years in between those regions, supports such a scenario.
“Our ancient DNA evidence, combined with the archaeological record of early dogs, suggests that we need to reconsider the number of times dogs were domesticated independently. Maybe the reason there hasn’t yet been a consensus about where dogs were domesticated is because everyone has been a little bit right,′ Larson said in a statement accompanying the study.
Perhaps more intriguing than exactly when or where dogs became domesticated is the question of how. Was it really the result of a solitary hunter befriending an injured wolf? That theory hasn’t enjoyed much scientific support.
One similar theory argues that early humans somehow captured wolf pups, kept them as pets, and gradually domesticated them. This could have happened around the same time as the rise of agriculture, about 10,000 years ago. The oldest fossils generally agreed to be domestic dogs date to about 14,000 years, but several disputed fossils more than twice that age may also be dogs or at least their no longer entirely wolf ancestors.
Since more recent genetic studies suggest that the date of domestication occurred far earlier, a different theory has gained the support of many scientists. “Survival of the friendliest” suggests that wolves largely domesticated themselves among hunter-gatherer people.
“That the first domesticated animal was a large carnivore, who would have been a competitor for food—anyone who has spent time with wild wolves would see how unlikely it was that we somehow tamed them in a way that led to domestication,” says Brian Hare, director of the Duke University Canine Cognition Center.
But, Hare notes, the physical changes that appeared in dogs over time, including splotchy coats, curly tails, and floppy ears, follow a pattern of a process known as self-domestication. It’s what happens when the friendliest animals of a species somehow gain an advantage. Friendliness somehow drives these physical changes, which can begin to appear as visible byproducts of this selection in only a few generations.
“Evidence for this comes from another process of domestication, one involving the famous case of domesticated foxes in Russia. This experiment bred foxes who were comfortable getting close to humans, but researchers learned that these comfortable foxes were also good at picking up on human social cues,” explains Laurie Santos, director of the Canine Cognition Center at Yale University. The selection of social foxes also had the unintended consequence of making them look increasingly adorable—like dogs.
Hare adds that most wolves would have been fearful and aggressive towards humans—because that’s the way most wolves behave. But some would have been friendlier, which may have given them access to human hunter-gatherer foodstuffs..
“These wolves would have had an advantage over other wolves, and the strong selection pressure on friendliness had a whole lot of byproducts, like the physical differences we see in dogs,” he says. “This is self-domestication. We did not domesticate dogs. Dogs domesticated themselves.”
A study last year provided some possible genetic support for this theory. Evolutionary biologist Bridgette von Holdt, of Princeton University, and colleagues suggest that hypersocial behavior may have linked our two species and zero in on a few genes that may drive that behavior.
“Generally speaking, dogs display a higher level of motivation than wolves to seek out prolonged interactions with humans. This is the behavior I’m interested in,” she says.
Von Holdt’s research shows that the social dogs she tested have disruption to a genomic region that remains intact in more aloof wolves. Interestingly, in humans genetic variation in the same stretch of DNA causes Williams-Beuren syndrome, a condition characterized by exceptionally trusting and friendly behaviors. Mice also become more social if changes occur to these genes, previous studies have discovered.
The results suggest that random variations to these genes, with others yet unknown, may have played a role in causing some dogs to first cozy up with humans.
“We were able to identify one of the many molecular features that likely shape behavior,” she adds.
How have dogs changed since becoming our best friends?
Though the origins of the dog/human partnership remain unknown, it’s becoming increasingly clear that each species has changed during our long years together. The physical differences between a basset hound and wolf are obvious, but dogs have also changed in ways that are more than skin (or fur) deep.
But, Yale’s Laurie Santos says, dogs may have compensated in other interesting ways. They’ve learned to use humans to solve problems.
“Several researchers have presented dogs and wolves with an impossible problem (e.g., a puzzle box that can’t be opened or a pulling tool that stops working) and have asked how these different species react,” Santos explains. “Researchers have found that wolves try lots of different trial and error tactics to solve the problem— they get at it physically. But at the first sign of trouble, dogs do something different. They look back to their human companion for help. This work hints that dogs may have lost some of their physical problem-solving abilities in favor of more social strategies, ones that rely on the unique sort of cooperation domesticated dogs have with humans. This also matches the work showing that dogs are especially good at using human social cues.”
The relationship has become so close that even our brains are in sync. Witness a study showing that dogs hijack the human brain’s maternal bonding system. When humans and dogs gaze lovingly into one another’s eyes, each of their brains secretes oxytocin, a hormone linked to maternal bonding and trust. Other mammal relationships, including those between mom and child, or between mates, feature oxytocin bonding, but the human/dog example is the only case in which it has been observed at work between two different species.
The intimacy of this relationship means that, by studying dogs, we may also learn much about human cognition.
We may never know the exact story of how the first dogs and humans joined forces, but dogs have undoubtedly helped us in countless ways over the years. Still, only now may we be realizing that by studying them, they can help us to better understand ourselves.
I can do no better than to repeat those last two sentences of the essay by Brian Handwerk:
We may never know the exact story of how the first dogs and humans joined forces, but dogs have undoubtedly helped us in countless ways over the years. Still, only now may we be realizing that by studying them, they can help us to better understand ourselves.
For, boy of boy, do we humans need help when it comes to better understanding ourselves!
The first humans to populate the Americas arrived from Siberia via the Bering land bridge around 16,000 years ago. Man’s best friend, the domesticated dog, didn’t arrive for another 6,000 years or so, crossing over just in time to avoid the land bridge’s collapse, but archaeological evidence suggests that the two species lived in harmony for thousands of years—at least until 1492, the year Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
According to a study published in Science on Thursday, “pre-contact” American dogs possessed a unique genetic signature derived not from the North American wolf, as previously thought, but from domesticated Siberian ancestors. Today, that singular genome has all but disappeared, eradicated by the 15th-century arrival of European settlers and their canine companions.
National Geographic’s Maya Wei-Haas explains that European dogs, like their human owners, probably carried diseases that pre-contact dogs were unequipped to fend off. The colonists preferred European breeds and discouraged their pets from mating with the native dogs, which study co-author Angela Perri, a zooarchaeologist at Durham University, says were viewed as “wild” and “vicious.”
“This study demonstrates that the history of humans is mirrored in our domestic animals,” Greger Larson, director of the Palaeo-BARN at Oxford and senior author of the study, said in a statement. “People in Europe and the Americas were genetically distinct, and so were their dogs. And just as indigenous people in the Americas were displaced by European colonists, the same is true of their dogs.”
To trace the story of these pre-contact dogs, researchers studied DNA found in the mitochondria of 71 North American and Siberian dog bones. The remains, which date from roughly 10,000 to 1,000 years ago, included those of the Koster dogs, a group of four domesticated canines discovered at a burial site in western Illinois during the 1970s. (A second study, newly published in pre-print server Biorxiv, further discusses these early dogs.) As Science’s David Grimm notes, the Koster pups lived about 10,000 years ago, making them the oldest known dogs in the Americas. Perri, referencing the animals’ small, slender stature, tells Grimm that “it wouldn’t be surprising if they were all used as hunting dogs.”
DNA analysis allowed the scientists to identify pre-contact dogs’ closest relatives: a group of dogs native to Zhokhov Island, a frigid Arctic site situated about 300 miles north of the Russian mainland. The Atlantic’s Ed Yong writes that these dogs were the first to be bred for a specific purpose, namely pulling their humans’ sleds.
In addition to shedding light on the first American dogs’ origins, the study offers insights on pre-contact dogs’ connections—or rather, lack of connections—with modern dogs. Researchers compared the 71 ancient genomes with DNA from more than 5,000 modern dogs, including breeds like chihuahuas and Carolina dogs, which are commonly thought to be descended from indigenous populations. The highest level of pre-contact DNA conclusively found in any of the modern dogs was four percent, a negligible result, the New York Times’ James Gorman reports.
The team’s findings suggest that modern American dogs are descended solely from Eurasian breeds introduced by European settlers. Perri tells Wei-Haas that the scientists expected to find evidence of interbreeding between the pre-contact pups and the new arrivals. Instead, they realized that the native dogs had virtually vanished.
“It is fascinating that a population of dogs that inhabited many parts of the Americas for thousands of years, and that was an integral part of so many Native American cultures, could have disappeared so rapidly,” Laurent Frantz, study co-author and evolutionary geneticist at Queen Mary University of London, said in a statement.
Oddly enough, scientists found that the closest surviving trace of pre-contact dogs’ DNA is found in a sexually transmitted canine cancer. The Los Angeles Times’ Deborah Netburn writes that the disease, known as canine transmissible venereal tumor, stems from the genetic mutation of a single North American dog that lived up to 8,225 years ago. The tumor cells spread through mating and carry a copy of that original DNA, allowing researchers to paint a clear picture of the “founding dog,” or patient zero.
Elaine Ostrander, chief of the cancer genetics and comparative genomics branch at the National Human Genome Research Institute, tells Wei-Haas, “It’s the world’s oldest continuously propagated cell line, which is really, really remarkable.”
I have republished it, hopefully without infringing copyrights, because it’s a story that needs to be circulated as far and wide as possible.
Chernobyl Puppies Going Up for Adoption in the U.S.
Now in quarantine, the pups are expected to come to the U.S. this summer in search of their forever homes.
In 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant melted down, sending nearby residents fleeing the disaster zone. And sadly, most pets got left behind. Over the last 32 years, the surviving pups have multiplied, creating a community of hundreds that live in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and another 250 that live on the grounds of the former power plant itself.
Now, a dozen of those homeless puppies will head to the United States for adoption, reports Matt Novak at Gizmodo.
According to the Russian website Meduza, Ukrainian authorities have captured 200 of the stray Chernobyl puppies. They are currently keeping them in a 45-day quarantine in the city of Slavutych, and then a dozen will be shipped to the United States.
“We have rescued the first puppies, they are now in our adoption shelter going through the quarantine and decontamination process,” Lucas Hixson, co-founder of the U.S.-based Clean Futures Fund, a non-profit created to take care of Chernobyl clean-up workers, their families and the dogs tells Novak. “The goal is 200 dogs but will likely be more in the long run. My hope is to get 200 dogs rescued and adopted in the next 18 months and then go from there.”
The pups have a heartbreaking story, as The Guardian’s Julie McDowell detailed earlier this year. During the evacuation, more than 120,000 people were herded onto buses to escape the meltdown of the Unit 4 reactor, leaving most of their valuables and their pets behind. Many dogs tried to follow their owners onto the buses but were kicked off. People left notes on their doors asking authorities not to kill their animals, but Soviet Army squads were dispatched to put down as many contaminated animals as they could find.
Some of the dogs survived the army and the radiation, rebuilding their community as a pack. The Clean Futures Fund reports that the 250 dogs living on the grounds of the former power plant were likely driven out of the surrounding forests by wolves and a lack of food. Another 225 dogs roam Chernobyl City and hundreds of others live and scrounge at security checkpoints and throughout the woods and abandoned communities in the Exclusion Zone. Most of the dogs around the plant are under the age of 4 or 5, and clean-up workers at the site sometimes feed and tend to sick animals.
But last year, after becoming aware of the animals, The Clean Futures Fund decided the pups needed a more permanent solution. That’s why they’ve implemented a three-year program in the Exclusion Zone to spay and neuter 1,000 animals and vaccinate them against rabies. At their first clinic last August, the Fund spayed and neutered 350 dogs and cats in the area. Each animal was tested for radiation, given antibiotics, vaccinated for rabies and microchipped. Each dog’s vital data was also recorded.
For the next clinic scheduled for June, the Fund has also partnered with researchers from the University of South Carolina. The team will study the dogs for signs of radiation poisoning as well as genetic damage and disruptions to the dogs’ microbiomes, reports Mary Katherine Wildeman at The Post and Courier. The team will sedate the dogs and look for tumors and cataracts, which can signal radiation poisoning.
Understanding the impacts of radiation exposure is becoming increasingly important, says Timothy Mousseau, a researcher who has studied radiation in the birds, insects and small animals of Chernobyl and will lead the project. Exposure rates in daily life from medical treatments and other sources are on the rise, with the average yearly dose Americans receive doubling in the last 20 years alone.
There is no word when or where the dozen Chernobyl pups will go up for adoption. But even if you’re not lucky enough to have one of the reminders of Soviet-era nuclear power at the foot of your bed, it’s still possible to see the place for yourself and hand out treats to some of the remaining pups. There’s a booming tourism industry in the area to visit the eerie ghost towns and surprisingly quiet and beautiful green space that has overtaken the Zone.
I am going to contact The Clean Futures Fund to see how one can register a potential interest in taking one of these puppies.
In the meantime, is there any reader who would be interested in having a puppy? Send me an email if so.
How would you describe an eclipse to a blind person? The moon moves in front of the sun, yes. But what does that look like? Someone trained in illustrative description of images might say, “The moon appears as a featureless black disk that nearly blocks out the sun. The sun’s light is still visible as a thin band around the moon’s black disk. To the upper right, at the moon’s leading edge, a small area of sunlight still shines brilliantly.”
That’s just an example of how such an event could be described. Bryan Gould, director of accessible learning and assessment technologies at the National Center for Accessible Media, a non-profit working to make media experiences accessible to people with disabilities, is hoping to offer oral descriptions of the eclipse in an app. Paired with other features, like a tactile diagram and audio from the changing natural environment as the eclipse darkens the sky, the app is designed to make the event more accessible to blind or visually impaired people who want to experience it.
Gould is working with Henry Winter, a solar astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, to develop the app, called Eclipse Soundscapes. As the August 21 solar eclipse darkens a path across the United States, Eclipse Soundscapes will release descriptions, timed—based on the user’s location—to match the progress of the eclipse.
Winter conceived Eclipse Soundscapes after a conversation with a friend who’s been blind since birth. She asked him to explain what an eclipse means.
Such an event might provide an interesting representation of the eclipse, thought Winter, so he partnered with the National Park Service’s Natural Sounds program, which preserves and catalogs sounds from the parks. Helpers stationed at national parks along the route will record audio during the eclipse, to hear the change in the “bioacoustical chorus” of the animals.
This can’t happen in real time, of course, so the National Center for Accessible Media is providing illustrative descriptions, based on a previous eclipse. The sounds of crickets, frogs and birds becoming active on the day of the eclipse will be added to the app later.
Last, with the help of an audio engineer named Miles Gordon, Winter is trying something completely new. Gordon developed a “rumble map” of the eclipse: The app places images of different stages of an eclipse on your smartphone’s screen, and as you trace your finger across the eclipse’s image, the vibration increases or decreases based on the brightness of the image.
“It does give you the impression that you’re actually feeling the sun, as you move your finger around,” says Winter.
“I realized I didn’t have the vocabulary to answer that question for her,” says Winter. “Every way I thought about it was visual in nature, and I didn’t know how to explain it to somebody … light, dark, bright, dim, flash. All these different words have no meaning to somebody that’s never seen.”
But the project goes well beyond audio descriptions. It includes two further elements: audio of the changing soundscape caused by the eclipse, and a tactile exploration of the eclipse’s image (which means that people who are blind or visually impaired can “feel” the eclipse using vibrations on their smartphones).
Scientists around the world will be using the eclipse as an opportunity to study solar astronomy in a way they usually can’t, measuring the ultraviolet light emitted from the sun’s corona, which Earth-based observers can’t normally see, as it is overpowered by the normal sunlight. It’s also rare for an eclipse to cover this much land — it traverses from Oregon to South Carolina — and Winter points out that it is a particularly good opportunity for education and outreach.
Though education is important, for Wanda Diaz Merced, a visiting scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who is completely blind, there’s a lot more to the eclipse than that. Merced, who has consulted on the Eclipse Soundscapes project, studies human-computer interaction and astrophysics, and to do her research, she needs assistance translating data into a format she can interact with. She’s been building tools to help with that translation, and sees elements of Winter’s project that could contribute.
“It’s still not a prototype that I may use, for example, to study elements of the photosphere. It is not on that stage,” says Merced. “But hopefully one day we will be able to not only hear, but to touch.”
The eclipse will occur on August 21, starting around 10 a.m. in Oregon and finishing by 3 p.m .in South Carolina. The Eclipse Soundscapes app is available for iOS now, and the team is working on an Android app as well.
I can’t imagine there’s anyone still pondering on whether or not to view the eclipse.
But that still doesn’t stop me offering you this recently presented TED Talk.
On August 21, 2017, the moon’s shadow will race from Oregon to South Carolina in what some consider to be the most awe-inspiring spectacle in all of nature: a total solar eclipse. Umbraphile David Baron chases these rare events across the globe, and in this ode to the bliss of seeing the solar corona, he explains why you owe it to yourself to witness one, too.
This talk was presented to a local audience at TEDxMileHigh, an independent event. TED editors featured it among our selections on the home page.
About the speaker: David Baron David Baron writes about science in books, magazines, newspapers and for public radio. He formerly served as science correspondent for NPR and science editor for PRI’s The World.
Enjoy it, good people. And protect your eyes!!!
Or better still allow NASA Television to show the eclipse to you.
NASA Television will air a four-hour show – Eclipse Across America – which will include live video of the event, along with coverage of activities in parks, libraries, stadiums, festivals and museums across the nation, and on social media. NASA’s show begins at 15:00 UTC (11 a.m. EDT; translate to your time zone), or later (we’ve seen this time waffle around a bit). Check the website for changes or further details.
In the days when I lived in South Devon in England and had cause to travel, as in drive, to London one of the route options was to take the M5 motorway (Freeway in American speak) up to Bristol and then follow the M4 motorway that ran from Bristol all the way into the outskirts of London.
One of the benefits of this was that half-way, give or take, was at the Swindon exit and a further ten-minute drive took one to the delightful car-park at the White Horse at Uffington. No, it wasn’t a pub despite numerous pubs in England being called The White Horse; it was something much more special.
Against All Odds, England’s Massive Chalk Horse Has Survived 3,000 Years
Cleaning up the Uffington Horse is the neigh-borly thing to do
Emily Cleaver smithsonian.com July 6, 2017
If you stand in the valley near the village of Uffington in Oxfordshire, England, and look up at the high curve of chalk grassland above you, one thing dominates the view. Across the flank of the hill runs an enormous white, abstract stick figure horse cut from the chalk itself. It has a thin, sweeping body, stubby legs, a curiously long tail and a round eye set in a square head.
This is the Uffington White Horse, the oldest of the English hill figures. It’s a 3,000-year-old pictogram the size of a football field and visible from 20 miles away. On this July morning black specks dot the lower slopes as small groups of people trudge slowly upwards. They’re coming to clean the horse.
It’s chalking day, a cleaning ritual that has happened here regularly for three millennia. Hammers, buckets of chalk and kneepads are handed out and everyone is allocated an area. The chalkers kneel and smash the chalk to a paste, whitening the stony pathways in the grass inch by inch. “It’s the world’s largest coloring between the lines,” says George Buce, one of the participants.
Chalking or “scouring” the horse was already an ancient custom when antiquarian Francis Wise wrote about it in 1736. “The ceremony of scouring the Horse, from time immemorial, has been solemnized by a numerous concourse of people from all the villages roundabout,” he wrote.
In the past, thousands of people would come for the scouring, holding a fair in the circle of a prehistoric fort nearby. These days it’s a quieter event. The only sounds are the wind, distant birdsong and the thumping of hammers on the chalk that can be felt through the feet.
Conservation organization the National Trust oversees the chalking, making sure the original shape of the horse is maintained. But the work is done by anyone who wants to come along. Lynda Miller is working on the eye, a circle the size of a car wheel. “The horse has always been part of our lives,” she says. “We’re really excited that we’re cleaning the eye today. When I was a little girl and I came here with my mother and father, the eye was a special spot. We used to make a wish on it.”
National Trust ranger Andy Foley hands out hammers. “It must have happened in this way since it was put on the hillside,” he says. “If people didn’t look after it the horse would be gone within 20 to 30 years; overgrown and eroded. We’re following in the footsteps of the ancients, doing exactly what they did 3,000 years ago.”
“There is something very special about this landscape that attracts people,” says archaeologist David Miles. In the 1990s, he led an excavation of the site that established the prehistoric date for the horse. Before the excavation, it was thought that the design was only scratched into the chalk surface, and therefore un-datable, but Miles’ team discovered the figure was actually cut into the hill up to a meter deep. That meant it was possible to use a technique called optical stimulated luminescence to date layers of quartz in the trench.
Up on the hill it’s not possible to view the whole horse at once; the curve of the slope gets in the way, the sheer scale of it confuses the eye. It is only from the valley below that the whole picture can be taken in. From this long distance, the horse is a tiny white figure prancing timelessly across the brow of the hill. But to the people who live near and tend the horse, it’s a monumental reminder of Britain’s ancient past.
“It was older than I’d been expecting,” Miles remembers. “We already knew it must be ancient, because it’s mentioned in the 12th-century manuscript The Wonders of Britain, so it was obviously old then. And the abstract shape of the horse is very similar to horses on ancient British coins just over 2,000 years old. But our dating showed it was even older than that. It came out as the beginning of the Iron Age, perhaps even the end of the Bronze Age, nearly 3,000 years ago.”
The trenches would have been dug out using antler picks and wooden spades: tough, labor-intensive work. How the builders planned and executed such a large figure when the full effect can only be taken in from several miles away is still a mystery.
Nobody knows for certain why the horse was made. “It’s a beautiful shape, very elegant,” says Miles. “It looks like it’s bounding across the hillside. If you look at it from below, the sun rises from behind it and crosses over it. In Celtic art, horses are often shown pulling the chariot of the sun, so that may be what they were thinking of here.”
From the start the horse would have required regular upkeep to stay visible. It might seem strange that the horse’s creators chose such an unstable form for their monument, but archaeologists believe this could have been intentional. A chalk hill figure requires a social group to maintain it, and it could be that today’s cleaning is an echo of an early ritual gathering that was part of the horse’s original function.
The Berkshire Downs where the horse lies are scattered with prehistoric remains. The Ridgeway, Britain’s oldest road, runs nearby. This is the heart of rural England and the horse is one of the country’s most recognizable landmarks, an identity badge stamped into the landscape. During World War II, it was covered over with turf and hedge trimmings so Luftwaffe bombers couldn’t use it for navigation. (Oxford is about a 30-minute drive and London about an hour-and-a-half.)
For locals, it’s part of the backdrop of daily life. Residents in the village reportedly arrange their rooms so that they sit facing the horse. Offerings, flowers, coins and candles are left on the site.
The people who come to the chalking have a variety of motivations. Martha Buckley is chalking the horse’s neck. ” I’m a neo-Pagan and I feel it connects me to the land. It’s of great spiritual significance,” she says. Lucy Bartholomew has brought her children. “It’s good to be able to explain to them why it’s here.” For Geoff Weaver, it’s the imperative to preserve history. “If we don’t do it, it would disappear, and the world would be a sorrier place,” he says.
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.
Cities all over the U.S. are pledging to go 100 percent renewable.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
If you would like to comment on this story or anything else you have seen on BBC Culture, head over to our Facebook page or message us onTwitter.
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.
“the brittleness of being.”
Please, all of us, let’s make a positive difference so that we can soften the edges of that brittleness.
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.
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
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.”
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.
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.
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..
Enjoy the month of May wherever you are in the world!
Closing by repeating a key pronouncement in that RoadMap video above: