Technology VIDEO

SimCity, my a$$: Cornell boffins create simulated evolution

I’m sure you’re quite proud of the SimCity world you’ve created. Awesome stadium, bro. But the technologists and evolutionary scientists at Cornell University have just reduced your accomplishment to correctly assembling a Dominoes pizza. Bravo:

The team incorporated concepts from developmental biology and how nature builds complex animals—from jellyfish to jaguars. The result is an array of bizarre, simulated robots that evolve a diverse series of gaits and gallops.

The video shows evolution in action: A creature evolves into a galloping, soft robot over 1,000 generations. While 1,000 generations is relatively short by natural evolution standards, it is enough to demonstrate the power of evolution to create counterintuitive designs, according to the researchers.


You could train a baboon to work at a dollar store: U of R and SPZ study

In still more primate news for this week, it now turns out that yet another tenet of human arrogation goes up in a huff of baboon fur. It turns out that, given the choice of more or less treats in a cup, Seneca Park Zoo olive baboons proved they understand numbers just fine.

The baboons were given a choice of two cups, each containing a random selection of one to eight peanuts, to choose from. Based on their snap assessment of which cup had the greater number of treats, the baboons got to keep their booty. And after 54 trials with eight baboons, the research revealed that they were able to come up with the right answer 75% of the time:

Count on it: Baboons ‘know’ numbers

The baboons’ choices clearly relied on the “more than” or “less than” cognitive approach, known as the analog system. The baboons were able to consistently discriminate pairs with numbers larger than three as long as the relative difference between the peanuts in each cup was large.

Research has shown that children who have not yet learned to count also depend on such comparisons to discriminate between number groups, as do human adults when they are required to quickly estimate quantity.

So yeah. The next time you think the clerk at the Dollar General may have gotten the count wrong of your items despite having picked each one up, maybe you realize the reason is that they’re using the same cognitive appraisal technique as babies and your buddies in the new expansion of the SPZ.


Our global connectivity is brewing a “viral storm”

If you’ve noticed a sharp increase in purple flowers growing along the roadsides in the Rochester area – 390 being a particularly good example – that would be what is known as an “invasive species.” Purple Loosestrife is a wetlands plant that has been in the country for over a hundred years, but is only just now making its way to Rochester. Its done so because increased trade between New England states and Rochester has brought spores with it. As the plant displaces cattails in wetland areas, the other forms of life such as butterflies that depended on the cattails also get displaced. There are many more recent examples of this. Zebra Mussels, of course.

But another even scarier repercussion of our globally-connected world is that viruses and funguses are as easily transported and as readily-adaptable as these other forms of life. And that is setting up conditions for world-wide pandemics the likes of which we have never seen before. Scientific American goes into detail on the subject reviewing a new book The Viral Storm: The Dawn of a New Pandemic Age. The difference, they say, is that while there are some globe-trotting species of life, most animals including birds never really leave their homes. And those that do travel far still travel only between two locations. But human interconnectivity and trade is changing all that at an ever-increasing rate:

via How an Interconnected Planet Is Fueling the Brewing Viral Storm: Scientific American.


It Snowed Today, But So Far, No Glaciers.

I was stunned and panic-stricken this morning. I looked outside my window and there was an unmistakable one to two inches of accumulated snow on top of my car. I couldn’t believe my eyes, seeing as how scientists have been telling me for years that the globe is actually warming, yet here it was obviously colder than it was yesterday. These two things stood in clear and obvious contradiction to one another, as any good Conservative talking head could tell you. Or, even if you can’t find a good one, anybody on Fox News could have explained it.

But so far, I haven’t seen any glaciers forming. I’ve been watching all morning and nothing. Even more confusing, I think there’s a chance that it may have warmed up a degree or two since six thirty this morning. So, who is right? Fox News or the global warming scientists? With the weather changing so much, it’s really hard really pin it down. Fortunately, Rachel Maddow had Bill Nye the Science Guy on her show to explain it to me. Looking back, I almost feel as though all those Conservative yakkers were perhaps being a trifle disingenuous. Could that be right?

Me, Confused by Snow
Thinking for yourself is hard. Here I am, outside in the snow, but there's no glaciers. What's up with that?

It all makes me wonder. Should I not just believe what people tell me? Is it really necessary to educate myself before I speak about a subject? That certainly doesn’t sound right, but I guess I should. It makes me wonder about the tee shirt I just bought from a place called Ban Tee Shirts. I bought it because it has a monkey on it. I like monkeys. And this one seems very happy with his little beret on. Plus the girl on the home page is kinda hot. I support hot chicks.

And I naturally assumed the words underneath said “I like monkeys” or something I could get into, but it now I don’t think so. Now I think it might say “Long Live the Evolution.” I don’t often take such religious stances, but I can’t deny this is a comfy tee shirt: its 100% organic cotton and its red. Apparently, it’s also comfortable to make as well, since unlike all those great tee shirts I get at Walmart, these ones are sweatshop-free. Gosh! And here I was told that the reason stuff was cheap at Walmart was because of the slave labor. But Ban Tees are pretty cheap, too!

So, I think I’m gonna try thinking from now on. I think. What a thought….

NOTE: I did not actually buy this tee shirt. It was generously provided to me by Duncan from Ban in exchange for this poorly-written blog post. Check them out on FaceBook as well as their website..