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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Moving on to a new blog

Dear Friends,

I've decided that while this blog served a purpose for many years, my interests have tilted somewhat in another direction, and while I will always be an anthropologist and am still curious about the interaction between brain and body, culture and individual, and what happens when all four collide, I have found myself drawn more to exploring creativity, environmental enrichment, and similar elements in the human experience.

Plus, the only people who respond tend to be Chinese spammers.

Therefore, I will now be blogging about culture, science, and other aspects on mentalflowers.wordpress.com. Feel free to follow me there if you are a real person (or a friendly robot), as it is updated much more regularly. I have also been collecting instances where art and science collide at artofscience.wordpress.com for a couple of years now, so feel free to see what I've stalked up over there.

Thank you.

-B

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A transformation...

Hi Avid Readers, (all six of you)...

This blog has been a little quiet as of late. I have been contemplating the direction the blog has been taking, and which way I want it to go.

I will make a decision here soon and let you know, one way or another. Stay tuned...

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The new economics of college vs. trade school...or no school

This is something that people have been struggling with for awhile, but as this article from the New York Times says, the current economic crisis is putting it into sharp perspective: a lot of kids are being pushed to go to college when in fact it may not be the best choice for their future.


College degrees are simply not necessary for many jobs. Of the 30 jobs projected to grow at the fastest rate over the next decade in the United States, only seven typically require a bachelor’s degree, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Among the top 10 growing job categories, two require college degrees: accounting (a bachelor’s) and postsecondary teachers (a doctorate). But this growth is expected to be dwarfed by the need for registered nurses, home health aides, customer service representatives and store clerks. None of those jobs require a bachelor’s degree.
Professor Vedder likes to ask why 15 percent of mail carriers have bachelor’s degrees, according to a 1999 federal study.
“Some of them could have bought a house for what they spent on their education,” he said.
Read the article...

Even though I was someone who excelled in college, and even went to graduate school, I am in fact a strong proponent of the idea that college is unnecessary for a lot of people. I think this was brought home even more for me the year that I worked as a college teaching assistant. The push for four-year colleges is almost starting to feel like a racketeering job.

I think we in the U.S. need to move past the stigma of not having a college degree being equivalent to being a slacker or stupid or unmotivated. If anything, they are smarter for not automatically buying into the system, they are more motivated to start contributing to the workforce, and more goal-oriented than their college-bound counterparts who often view college as an extension of high school.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

How women should ask for a raise

A couple of years ago I read the study that discussed how women who ask for raises are seen as pushy and it usually doesn't go so well as for men. So how do we not come off as pushy, but still receive equal pay, I thought. FINALLY someone has done a study to try and figure out the answer. From the New York Times:


The work by Ms. Riley Bowles and her peers suggests that women in the work force can use specific advice. Here are some of their suggestions:
BE PROACTIVE If you believe you deserve a raise, don’t sit around and wait for someone to notice. “A lot of women, and this is quite commonly found, think, ‘As long as I work really, really hard, someone will notice and they will pay me more,’ ” said Karen J. Pine, a psychology professor at the University of Hertfordshire in Britain and co-author of “Sheconomics” (Headline Publishing Group, 2009). But “people don’t come and notice.”
You also want to think about the best time to approach your boss. It may make sense to approach him or her after an annual performance review, said Evelyn F. Murphy, president of the WAGE Project, a nonprofit organization, who runs negotiation seminars for women. “Or, if you just took on a major responsibility or won an award.”
BE PREPARED Doing your research pays, literally. A study found that men and women who recently earned a master’s degree in business negotiated similar salaries when they had clear information about how much to ask for.
But in industries where salary standards were ambiguous, women accepted pay that was 10 percent lower, on average, than men. “In our experiments, we found that with ambiguous information, women set less ambitious goals,” said Ms. Riley Bowles, who ran the study. “They asked for less in a competitive negotiation and got less.”
That theory also holds in other areas where there aren’t set expectations, like executive bonuses and stock options. “You get bigger gender gaps in those less standard forms of pay,” she added.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Using lasers to map archaeological sites

My day job involves laser technology, so this was a nice intersection of study and work. From the New York Times:

in the dry spring season a year ago, the husband-and-wife team of Arlen F. Chase and Diane Z. Chase tried a new approach using airborne laser signals that penetrate the jungle cover and are reflected from the ground below. They yielded 3-D images of the site of ancient Caracol, in Belize, one of the great cities of the Maya lowlands.
In only four days, a twin-engine aircraft equipped with an advanced version of lidar (light detection and ranging) flew back and forth over the jungle and collected data surpassing the results of two and a half decades of on-the-ground mapping, the archaeologists said. After three weeks of laboratory processing, the almost 10 hours of laser measurements showed topographic detail over an area of 80 square miles, notably settlement patterns of grand architecture and modest house mounds, roadways and agricultural terraces.
“We were blown away,” Dr. Diane Chase said recently, recalling their first examination of the images. “We believe that lidar will help transform Maya archaeology much in the same way that radiocarbon dating did in the 1950s and interpretations of Maya hieroglyphs did in the 1980s and ’90s.”

Read the full story

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Possible male contraceptive in ultrasound

A research team thinks it may be able to stop sperm production for up to six months using ultrasound, the same instrument used to look at fetuses in the womb, an often-occurring side effect of sperm:

University of North Carolina researchers, working with a $100,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, think that delivering a single dose of ultrasound to the male reproductive organs can stop sperm production for six months, after which time production fires up again.
Perhaps the best part: it's non-hormonal, low-cost, and once treated the man has to do/remember absolutely nothing to remain infertile for up to half a year. Such an inexpensive and widely available method of stopping sperm production long-term -- but not permanently -- has plenty of appeal in the first world, but could be a serious boon for developing nations dealing with overpopulation and poverty.
The work is still preliminary, but the team is pushing forward with more clinical trials aiming to tweak the technique for optimum safety, as well as the greatest effect. In the meantime gents, we don't recommend any attempts at self-medicating with unattended ultrasound machines. As with any experimentation that requires you to take off your pants, we recommend you let the professionals get a bit further along in the lab before trying this at home.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Mayans had plumbing too

Everybody gets to share!
http://news.discovery.com/earth/mayan-plumbing-more-than-a-pipe-dream.html

he New World’s earliest known example of engineered water pressure was discovered by two Penn State archaeologists in the Mayan city of Palenque, Mexico.
“Water pressure systems were previously thought to have entered the New World with the arrival of the Spanish,” the researchers wrote in a recent issue of the Journal of Archeological Science. But this water feature predates the arrival of Europeans.
The city of Palenque was built around the year 100 in a constricted area with little land to build on and spread out to. By the time the city’s population hit its zenith during the Classic Maya period from 250-600, Mayans had saved precious urban space by routing streams beneath plazas using aqueduct-like structures. 
The pressurized water feature is called Piedras Bolas Aqueduct, a spring-fed channel on steep terrain.  From the tunnel’s entrance to its outlet 200 feet downhill, the elevation drops about 20 feet and its diameter decreases from 10 feet near the spring to about a half a foot where the water emerges. This combination of a downhill flow and sudden channel restriction pressurized the water, shooting it from the opening to an estimated height of 20 feet.
The researchers don’t know for sure how the Maya used the pressurized water, but they have a couple of ideas. One possibility is they used it to lift water into the nearby residential area for wastewater disposal.Another possibility, and the idea the researchers used as their model, was as a fountain.
A similar feature was found in the city’s palace. 

Neanderthal/Human mutant = most of us!

WE are the missing link!

http://news.discovery.com/human/neanderthal-human-interbreed-dna.html

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Pictish art may be a language

The ancestors of modern Scottish people left behind mysterious, carved stones that new research has just determined contain the written language of the Picts, an Iron Age society that existed in Scotland from 300 to 843.

The highly stylized rock engravings, found on what are known as the Pictish Stones, had once been thought to be rock art or tied to heraldry. The new study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society A, instead concludes that the engravings represent the long lost language of the Picts, a confederation of Celtic tribes that lived in modern-day eastern and northern Scotland.

"We know that the Picts had a spoken language to complement the writing of the symbols, as Bede (a monk and historian who died in 735) writes that there are four languages in Britain in this time: British, Pictish, Scottish and English," lead author Rob Lee told Discovery News.

Read the story on Discovery News
Scientific American's take on the story

Primate metacommunication

Jonah Lehrer, mastermind behind Front Cortex, has "always been fascinated by tip-of-the-tongue moments. It's estimated that, on average, people have a tip-of-the-tongue moment at least once a week. Perhaps it occurs when you run into an old acquaintance whose name you can't remember, although you know that it begins with the letter "J." Or perhaps you struggle to recall the title of a recent movie, even though you can describe the plot in perfect detail.
What's interesting about this mental hiccup is that, even though the mind can't remember the information, it's convinced that it knows it, which is why we devote so many mental resources to trying to recover the missing word. (This is a universal experience: The vast majority of languages, from Afrikaans to Hindi to Arabic, even rely on tongue metaphors to describe the tip-of-the-tongue moment.) But here's the mystery: If we've forgotten a person's name, then why are we so convinced that we remember it? What does it mean to know something without being able to access it?
The larger question is how the mind decides what to think about. After all, if we really don't know the name - it's nowhere inside our head - then it's a waste of time trying to find it. This is where metacognition, or thinking about thinking, comes in handy. At any given moment, we automatically monitor the flux of thoughts, emotions and errata flowing in the stream of consciousness. As a result, when a name goes missing we immediately analyze the likelihood of being able to remember it. Do we know the first letter of the name? Can we remember other facts about the person? Are we able to remember the first names of other acquaintances from high school? Based on the answer to these questions, we can then make an informed guess about whether or not it's worth trying to retrieve the misplaced memory.
Interestingly, a new experiment with a variety of primates (gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans) demonstrated that great apes also demonstrate some rudimentary metacognitive skills. The study, conducted by Josep Call at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, involved presenting the primates with two hollow tubes. One of the tubes came with a food reward, while the other was empty. The apes were then observed as they searched for the reward.

Read on for the results.

how humans adapted to climate change

U. BUFFALO (US)—Siberia’s remote Kamchatka peninsula, a rough and extremely volcanic wilderness region the size of California, is the current site of an international effort to understand how humans living 4,000 to 6,000 years ago reacted to climate changes.
Since 2004, University at Buffalo anthropologist Ezra Zubrow has worked intensively with teams of scientists in the Arctic regions of St. James Bay, Quebec, northern Finland, and Kamchatka. Their findings will tell governments, scientists, and NGOs how relationships between human beings and their environments may change in decades to come as a result of global warming.
“The circumpolar north is widely seen as an observatory for changing relations between human societies and their environment,” Zubrow explains, “and analysis of data gathered from all phases of the study eventually will enable more effective collaboration between today’s social, natural, and medical sciences as they begin to devise adequate responses to the global warming the world faces today.”
The study, which will collect a vast array of archeological and paleoenvironmental data, began with the Social Change and the Environment in Nordic Prehistory Project (SCENOP), a major international research study by scientists from the U.S., Canada, and Europe of prehistoric sites in Northern Quebec and Finland.
“With forecasts of sea-level rises and changing weather patterns, people today have been forewarned about some likely ramifications of climate change,” Zubrow says, “but those living thousands of years ago, during the Holocene climatic optimum, could not have known what lay ahead of them and how their land—and lives—would be changing.
“This was a slower change,” he says, “about one-third the rate we face today. In the Holocene period, it took a thousand years for the earth to warm as much as it has over the past 300 years—roughly the time spanned since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.
Phases I and II of the effort were headed by AndrĂ© Costopoulos and Gail Chmura of McGill University, Jari Okkonen of Finland’s Oulu University, and Zubrow, who also holds academic positions at the University of Toronto and Cambridge University. Phase III of the project is under way now in Kamchatka.
“As in other phases of the study,” Zubrow says, “our goal in Kamchatka is to clarify ancient regional chronologies and understand the ways prehistoric humans adapted to significant environmental changes, including warming, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, and the seismic uplift of marine terraces that impacted the environment during the period in question.”
He points out that, despite our more sophisticated prediction technology, and technologies overall, many of the world’s people have residences and lifestyles that are just as vulnerable to climatic shift as those of our prehistoric ancestors. They, too, live along estuaries and coastlines subject to marked alteration as oceans rise.
Ultimately, information gathered over the next year by the geologists, archaeologists, geochemists, volcanologists, and paleoecologists on Zubrow’s team will be compared with data from the two other ICAP sites.
The project is being funded by the National Science Foundation’s Arctic Social Sciences Program of the Office of Polar Programs, which is supported by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

University at Buffalo news: www.buffalo.edu/news/

Article taken from Futurity.org - http://futurity.org

URL to article: http://futurity.org/earth-environment/how-early-humans-adapted-to-climate-change/

Vervet females better teachers

Not an april fool's story:
 When vervet monkeys play follow the leader, they prefer to follow a female. That was the conclusion of Erica van de Waal, whose lengthy study of these primates in South Africa will be published this week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. When her team presented them with a tricky contraption they had to open to reach a tasty snack, the monkeys learned better if they watched a female from their group demonstrate the solution rather than a male.
Seeking some answers to how social learning works in monkeys, van de Waal and her colleagues headed to Loskop Dam Nature Reserve.
The scientists saw that other monkeys paid more attention when the dominant female was solving the puzzle as opposed to the dominant male. Later, the team passed out the same kind of box to other members of the groups. If those monkeys were among the groups that had watched the male, they didn’t show a preference for which side of the box to open, which suggested they hadn’t learned much during their spectating days. In fact, van de Waal says, they didn’t even show a preference toward attempting to open the box. But, in the groups that watched their dominant female, 80 percent went for the side of the container they’d seen her open before.
Read full story

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Just how connected we primates are

I feel bad just dumping links onto the page, but if I don't do it this way it just isn't going to happen:

Radiolab's tragic story about Lucy, who was raised by humans.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

I love political puppets!

I mean the kind of cloth-and-stick puppets that people make to protest or poke fun of politics and politicians.

One example from Kenya:
At a recent prayer breakfast in Kenya, religious matters were pushed aside and instead gluttony was the order of the day.
President Mwai Kibaki struggled to eat a whole chapatti in one go, Prime Minister Raila Odinga spilt tea down his suit and Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka struggled after getting a sausage stuck in his mouth.
Luckily, these were just puppets being filmed in the cramped dining room of a Nairobi home for the latest of 13 episodes of the XYZ show.
The satirical puppet show, which was influenced by the British 1980s show Spitting Image and France's Les Guignols, is a chance for a group of scriptwriters and puppeteers to delve into the murky world of Kenyan politics.
Read full story...

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

NYT: "Human Culture, an Evolutionary Force"

Ha ha!
 By NICHOLAS WADE, New York Times

As with any other species, human populations are shaped by the usual forces of natural selection, like famine, disease or climate. A new force is now coming into focus. It is one with a surprising implication — that for the last 20,000 years or so, people have inadvertently been shaping their own evolution.
The force is human culture, broadly defined as any learned behavior, including technology. The evidence of its activity is the more surprising because culture has long seemed to play just the opposite role. Biologists have seen it as a shield that protects people from the full force of other selective pressures, since clothes and shelter dull the bite of cold and farming helps build surpluses to ride out famine.
Because of this buffering action, culture was thought to have blunted the rate of human evolution, or even brought it to a halt, in the distant past. Many biologists are now seeing the role of culture in a quite different light.
Although it does shield people from other forces, culture itself seems to be a powerful force of natural selection. People adapt genetically to sustained cultural changes, like new diets. And this interaction works more quickly than other selective forces, “leading some practitioners to argue that gene-culture co-evolution could be the dominant mode of human evolution,” Kevin N. Laland and colleagues wrote in the February issue of Nature Reviews Genetics. Dr. Laland is an evolutionary biologist at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

Read full article