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A Conglomeration of Cuteness ~ UPDATE

Eye of Science/Science Source
Well, apparently, even though it's still adorable and can dry out and rehydrate itself, which is amazing enough, the study showing that tardigrades have an unusually high amount of foreign DNA (as discussed below) is being questioned:
   It looks like a stuffed toy covered in a tarp with a valve on one end. It has six legs ~ seven, if you count the one at the back that's where a tail should be. The water bear, or tardigrade, is one of the most bizarrely adorable creatures on this planet ~ also one of the most amazing. And what scientists have just discovered about it make it more amazing still. Amazing even beyond the fact that they, much like your average kitchen sponge, can dry out their bodies until they're only 3 percent water and then rehydrate themselves. Even beyond the fact that these microscopic creatures can withstand temperatures from just above absolute zero to way above the boiling point of water. It turns out that the tardigrade has the most foreign (i.e., from other species) DNA of any animal that we know of so far (story, gif):

Of Tutus and Tenements

“Every plié and jump they make is a step closer to entering college, or getting their dream job,” says Tuany Nascimento. She's talking about her students, young girls who live, as she does, in Morro do Adeus, one of Rio de Janeiro's most dangerous slums, or favelas. “People get into crime because they don’t have opportunities, but the ballet project gives them a chance not to fall into the wrong kind of life.” Nascimento is a ballerina and rhythmic gymnast whose dream of going professional couldn't be realized because she lacked the funds, so in 2012, she started “Na Ponta dos Pés” to help others like her (story, video):

Where Have All the Women Gone?

© Holger Leue/Corbis
When the topic of gender selection comes up, most people think of China first, and then maybe India, but rarely, if ever, of South Korea. Perhaps that's because it's no longer an issue there, as, in one generation, that country managed to turn the whole thing around. By last year, their gender ratio was back to normal. China and India, however, which together represent one-third of the human race, continue to value boys over girls, though there, too, the trend might be slowing. Still, a New York-based research organization calculated that, taking into account selective abortions, malnutrition, neglect, infanticide, and poor medical care, India is "missing" millions of women who could have been but weren't born or who didn't survive to adulthood. In 1990, according to the study, there were 88 million missing, in 2010, 126 million, and by 2035, it is projected to be 150 million (story, slideshow):

Don't Cross a Crow

OK, so this is an old study (2011), but it's so good. Also something I feel duty-bound to pass along. You'll thank me later. We all know crows are intelligent birds (, but did you know that they're also vengeful? According to this study (which I learned about, credit where it's due, from my beloved mental_floss), a crow will remember the face of a person who has wronged him/her and will scold that individual when next he/she's spotted ~ or even go so far as to organize a mob to menace that individual. And it gets worse (for the offending human):

Wi-Fi? How About Li-Fi?

Harald Haas, inventor of li-fi, co-founder of pureLiFi
A start-up in Estonia is working on a technology that delivers internet access using light waves, as opposed to the radio waves currently being used. It is 100 times faster and could possibly be even faster than that. As it requires an LED light bulb and a standard solar cell, there are some shortcomings, such as it not working in direct sunlight or through solid, opaque surfaces like walls, but it doesn't interfere with radio signals, as wi-fi does:
   The idea of using light waves started with Professor Harald Haas, of Edinburgh University, who coined the term "li-fi" and showed that it could, indeed, work. As he points out, one of the advantages is that the same bulb and solar cell that are used for li-fi can continue their energy-gathering tasks. "What's really important here," he told his TED audience in September, "is that a solar cell has become a receiver for high-speed wireless signals encoded in light while it maintains its primary function as an energy-harvesting device. That's why it's possible to use existing solar cells on the roof of a hut to act as a broadband receiver from a laser station on a close-by hill, or indeed, lamp post."  Li-fi should be available to the public in the next three or four years, he says (video):

Words Worth Knowing

One in an occasional series (as the LA Times noncommittally notes), this entry being of particular interest during the holiday season for sadly obvious reasons. from


\v. GAWR-muh n-dahyz; n. gawr-muh n-DEEZ\
1. to eat greedily or ravenously.

1. unrestrained enjoyment of fine foods, wines, and the like.
Where are ye trooping to now? back to the kitchen to gormandize and guzzle?
-- Charles Maturin, Melmoth the Wanderer, 1820
Gormandize comes from the French term gourmand meaning "a person who is fond of good eating."

Horses for Hitler

© Les Willis
Deep in a primeval forest ~ Europe's last and largest surviving old-growth forest ~ lives a race of creatures with a curious past. Yes, there are bison and wild boars, beavers and badgers, black storks and eight species of woodpecker, but among them gallop the equine descendants of a Nazi experiment to bring the tarpan back from extinction. One early mention of the original tarpans was by Herodotus, in the 5th century BCE. By the end of the 1800s, they were extinct, mostly hunted for their meat. In the 1930s, German zoologist Lutz Heck and his brother took it upon themselves to resurrect the tarpan through selective breeding, and they took advantage of the war to raid Eastern European zoos for specimens with the right characteristics. These beautiful and hardy horses, though technically not tarpans, are the result:

Give and Take

It's that time of year when many of us think about money ~ spending it, saving it, and also donating it. What with everything going on in the world, there are innumerable charities vying for donations, and I don't know about you, but I end up wanting to help most of them. The other day, I was this close to donating to one when I decided to read reviews. I learned that about 70 percent of its funding goes to marketing, 25 percent to administration, and what's left goes to the intended recipients. There are, of course, lots of honest, worthwhile charities, and there are some that just don't do as well. And then, there are a few that are the worst:

Oh, the Things We'll See

From the chance of inclement weather to the next president, we're all interested in predictions. Here, to try on for size, are a few of the 21 in a report from The World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Future of Software & Society, which was based on a survey of 800 executives and experts in the field: 1 billion sensors connected to the internet by 2022, of which 10 percent will be clothing; the first implantable mobile phone commercially available by 2025; the first transplant of a 3D-printed liver in 2024; the first AI machine on a corporate board of directors in 2026; 10 percent of global GDP stored using blockchain technology by 2027 (story, slideshow):

Humans All

screen shot
The indefatigable Brandon Stanton, of Humans of New York fame (,,, turned his camera and interview skills on Greece, the landing point of so many Syrian and other refugees. The stories he brings to light, not only of the refugees but of the residents and the volunteers, remind us that we humans are much the same everywhere, that we all have our ways of coping ~ some better than others ~ no matter which side of a tragedy we're on. This collection, from the Canadian branch of the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), is poignant, inspirational, and heartbreaking, but more than that, it is vitally important (slideshow):


For some, the terrorist organization now commonly called IS, for Islamic State, was first ISIL, or Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant ("Levant" being a historical name for the lands east of the Mediterranean). For most Americans, it was and is ISIS, or Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham ("al-Sham," or "Bilad al-Sham," being a region of Syria in the 7th century). But now we're hearing a new name, which France adopted a while back: Daesh. In an opinion piece in the Boston Globe last year, writer Zeba Khan explained why everyone should use that name. The most obvious reason, she notes, is that, as President Obama pointed out, "ISIL is not Islamic, ... and [is] certainly not a state." Khan continues, "The term 'Daesh' is strategically a better choice because it is still accurate in that it spells out the acronym of the group’s full Arabic name, al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham. Yet, at the same time, 'Daesh' can also be understood as a play on words—and an insult":

The Altruist Inside Us

Pascal Rondeau
For all the heartache and horror of tragedies like the recent terrorist attack in Paris, there eventually also emerge stories of unbelievable valor and selflessness. David Rand, an assistant professor at Yale and director of its Human Cooperation Laboratory, has been studying such acts in an effort to understand why some people risk their lives for others. What he has found is at once heartening and, to parents who have taken the time to really get to know their child, not so very surprising. It seems that we may be born altruistic. Rand deduces this from his observation that humans tend to be more chivalrous the less time they have to think. In other words, our first instinct is to protect, to save, to be cooperative:

Missing Missives

some letters were intricately folded Courtesy of the Museum voor Communicatie
"If you come here, do not bring your instrument or anything else.” This could have been written to someone visiting any number of cities around the world, but what makes it particularly unique is not the where, but the when and the why. It was written in 1702, in a letter from a man to his brother, warning him to avoid Paris. Not because he might be robbed, but because another musician had been forced to join the army while there. Back then, letter delivery was paid for by both the sender and the recipient. If a recipient wouldn't or couldn't pay, the postmaster usually just threw the letter or package away. One postmaster and his wife in the Netherlands, though, had a better idea. They kept all the undeliverable mail, perhaps in the expectation that they could at some point make money off it. They never did, but the linen-lined trunk of old letters is better than gold to the international team of academics that is studying them:

No, No, No!

Feeling a little negative today? There's a reason for that, and it's not the one you think. We are, according to neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, programmed that way. From an evolutionary standpoint, it makes sense. It was important to early humans' survival to focus more on possible threats than on possible rewards. Fast forward to urban life and the workplace, where the threat is not so much from hungry fanged animals or an enemy's spear (except metaphorically) but from stress and worry. Unfortunately, though, our mental mechanism remains the same. Negative thoughts stay with us a lot longer than positive ones. Whether those thoughts are based on real experiences or simply on our fears, the affected neurons are the same. And, as they say in the field, "neurons that fire together, wire together." Which may sound pretty hopeless, but don't get all negative about it. There are ways to stop the cycle:

From the Archives: 'So It Goes ... '

At just about this time last year, I posted the following. Watching the video again just now, I felt it was worthy of a repeat performance:

In honor of both Veterans' Day (once known as Armistice Day) and Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007), whose birthday it is, his version of how a war can end in peace, as read by the author from Chapter 4 of his 1969 classic, Slaughterhouse Five, or A Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance With Death, and put to images by one LloydRizia for his English class. I hope he got an A (video):

   I mentioned in that post that Veterans' Day was originally Armistice Day. It was created to mark the armistice, or truce, that ended World War I, aka the Great War and the war to end war, even though the actual treaty, the Treaty of Versailles, wasn't signed until June 1919. Seven years after that, Congress decided that the “recurring anniversary of [November 11, 1918] should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations”:
   In the UK and Canada, the symbol of the day is a red poppy, after a poem written by Canadian military doctor and artillery commander Major John McCrae (1872-1918) in 1915, apparently on the

A Bubbling Crude, Black Gold, Texas Tea

Puck magazine, 1904
Once upon a time, the future was light and bright for fossil fuels. We have learned, of course, that, just as nothing is free, this particular light cast some huge and very dark shadows. But back then, we were all blissfully ignorant of that reality. Back then, the biggest fear was of oil-refinery fires, which were common. But even those, and the concurrent polluting of local rivers and land, couldn't snuff out the post-Civil War oil boom, propelled as it was by the ambitions of men like John D. Rockefeller, the political system, and the lax banking laws of the day. (And for those of you who don't recognize the title of this post, it's from "The Ballad of Jed Clampett," from one of the more embarrassing TV shows to come out of the '60s [video]:
   For a fascinating timeline of humankind's relationship with oil, which is a lot longer, deeper, and more international than most of us realize, see

   Today's selection -- from Titan by Ron Chernow. With the discovery of oil in northwestern Pennsylvania in 1859, a colossal new American industry was born, and Civil War veterans flocked there in the late 1860s in a manner beyond even the California Gold Rush of a decade earlier:

   "By the end of the Civil War, the preconditions existed for an Industrial economy of spectacular new proportions. Before the war, the federal government had only twenty thousand employees and shied away from attempts to regulate business. Unlike Europe, America had no tradition of political absolutism or ecclesiastic privilege to quench entrepreneurial spirits, and the weak, fragmented political system gave businessmen room to flourish. At the same time, America had the legal and administrative apparatus necessary to support modern industry. There was respect for private property and contracts; people could get limited corporate charters or file for bankruptcy; and bank credit, while not yet plentiful, was everywhere available in a highly fragmented banking system. In time, the government redefined the rules of the capitalist game to tame trusts and preserve

Talk of the Town

sound reflects off leaves and trunks                              KW
If bird sounds evolve differently depending on habitat, why wouldn't human sounds, i.e., language, be similarly affected by things like topography and climate? Well, as it turns out, they probably are. A map of where languages are vowel-heavy vs. consonant-heavy shows a definite pattern. The theory developed by University of New Mexico linguist Ian Maddieson has it that consonants don't travel well in windy, hot, and/or foliage-dense areas, which is why most of the languages used by people who live in rain-forest areas, like Hawaii, for example, are heavy on vowels. Tecumseh Fitch, a linguist at the University of Vienna in Austria, notes that habitat is probably just one of the causes of the differences. Still, he notes, "English is quite a consonant-heavy language, and of course it didn't develop in a rain forest" (story, audio clips):

Lost in Translation

Say it ain't so! This probably is not a huge surprise to many, but in case you're not one among those many, listen up. It seems that certain emojis come out differently on different platforms. So if, for example, you send one that quite obviously indicates your rather abashed surprise about something, what your friend gets is something that communicates your intent to never say another word. But all is not lost. Forewarned, as they say, is forearmed (story, link to more comprehensive list):

Number Crushing

Do you have a favorite number, and if so, do you know why it's your favorite? Six individuals whose names you may or may not know (but will from here on out) ~ academicians, editors, writers ~ share theirs and many compelling facts and stories you may or may not have heard (but will now always remember) along the way. Mathematician Helen Joyce asks if all infinities are the same size, writer Julian Barnes tells of learning from a letter by Dmitri Shostakovich when we can expect Heaven on Earth, author Katherine Rundell explains the roots of triskaidekaphobia ... :

When 'AI' Means 'Altruistic Incumbent'
The outlandish and extreme comments made so far during this election season may have some wondering whether individuals with such strong feelings could ever provide rational and evenhanded leadership of an entire country. And then there are the obligations to donors, the pressure from special-interest groups, etc. Who can resist all that? Well, there are those who posit that a well-programmed robot could. You may not have heard of him, but Zoltan Istvan, of the World Transhumanist Party, is running for president, and he would be perfectly happy to have a machine as chief executive. "I would love to see a truly altruistic entity running our government," he says. "Right now, all politicians, including myself, are motivated by self-interest. This is just how humans are. So wouldn’t it be nice to have something like a super-intelligent AI running things and it be entirely after our best interest?":

Unrecognized in Africa

Somalia has had its share of problems ~ two decades of anarchy that ended only in 2012, famine, pirates, al-Shabab (,, the last of which has struck again, attacking a popular hotel in the capital city of Mogadishu and killing 15. Is it any wonder, then, that even as Somalia has tried to claim parts of neighboring Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti, there is an area of the country that has claimed its own independence? Somaliland has its own currency, bureaucracy, army, and police force. It is comparatively peaceful. Its government signs legal contracts and participates in diplomatic processes with other countries and international organizations. Still, it has yet to be officially recognized by the rest of the world as an independent state:

Numbers Game

screen shot
What does winning a video game world championship get you? If the game is League of Legends, it's $1 million, which is what a South Korean team walked away with when it beat its closest competitor, another team from South Korea, in the playoffs in Berlin ( With such sums at stake and more on the horizon as gaming's popularity grows (the finals attracted an audience of 15,000), it's getting serious. So far, South Korea seems to be the center of the e-sports world. Teams train and live together. They have coaches. Games are broadcast on TV and live-streamed, in both Korean and English. They're like boy bands in that the great majority of the players are men in their early 20s and many, if not most, of their fans are young girls who shower them with gifts and wait to take selfies with them after their competitions. But like athletes in the more traditional sports, they also risk physical injury ~ and undergo surgery to ensure they can stay in the game (story, video):