Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #10111 on: Feb 20th, 2014, 1:26pm »
Today is a day for animal articles:
Brain Scans Show Striking Similarities Between Dogs and Humans
By Brandon Keim 02.20.14 12:00 PM
A new brain-imaging study of mankind’s best friend has found a striking similarity in how humans and dogs — and perhaps many other mammals — process voice and emotion.
Like humans, dogs appear to possess brain systems that are devoted to making sense of vocal sounds, and are sensitive to their emotional content. These systems have not previously been described in dogs or any non-primate species, and the new findings offer an intriguing neurobiological glimpse into the richness of our particular corner of the animal kingdom.
“What makes us really excited now is that we’ve discovered these voice areas in the dog brain,” said comparative ethologist Attila Andics of Hungary’s Eötvös Loránd University, lead author of the Feb. 20 Current Biology paper describing the experiments. “It’s not only dogs and humans. We probably share this function with many other mammals.”
Conducted in the laboratory of fellow Eötvös Loránd ethologist Ádám Miklósi, one of the world’s foremost researchers on canine intelligence and behavior, the study was inspired by a turn-of-the-millennium discovery of regions of the human brain attuned to human voices. Similar regions have since been described in monkeys, which last shared a common ancestor with humans 30 million years ago.
Humans and dogs last shared a common ancestor 100 million years ago. If a voice-attuned region could be found in dogs too, the trait would truly run deep in our shared biology.
To investigate the possibility, Andics and colleagues trained six golden retrievers and five border collies to lie motionless inside a scanner so the researchers could collect fMRI scans of their brains. These scans measure changes in blood flow, which is widely considered an indicator of neural activity.
Inside the scanner, each of the 11 dogs, and a comparison group of 22 men and women, listened to nearly 200 recordings of dog and human sounds: whining and crying, laughing and barking. As expected, human voice-processing areas responded most to human voices. In dogs, corresponding brain regions responded to the sounds of dogs. In both species, the activity in these regions changed in similar ways in response to the emotional tone of a vocalization — whining versus playful barking in dogs, for instance, or crying versus laughing human voices.
To people who know dogs as companions and friends, the results might seem predictable. But seeing it play out in the brain drives the point home.
“It’s not a surprising finding, but it’s an important finding,” said cognitive ethologist and author Marc Bekoff, who was not involved in the study. Processing vocal sounds and emotion “is fundamental to who they are.”
The responses were not identical between species. In dogs, vocal processing areas also responded to non-vocal sounds, but in humans they were triggered by voice alone — hinting, perhaps, at the intensely social trajectory of human evolution, said Andics. The areas may have evolved to be even more finely tuned for vocal sounds in humans, he speculated. Dogs in the study were also slightly better-attuned to human voices than people were to those of dogs.
That said, what the two species share appears to outweigh the differences, and raise some fascinating questions. Dog intelligence and social awareness is sometimes attributed to the 15,000 or so years they — Canis lupus familiaris, to be precise — have spent in the company of humans, being evolutionarily rewarded for social sensitivity.
The regions tagged in the new study, however, have deep evolutionary roots. Though dogs might conceivably have developed them independently of humans, it’s far more likely that they were present in that long-ago common ancestor, said Andics. They might even be traced further back into our evolutionary heritage.
Last week, I highlighted the fact that the latest Press Freedom Index showcased a 13 point plunge in America’s press freedom to an embarrassing #46 position in the global ranking. If the authoritarians in the Obama Administration have their way, this country is set to fall much further in next year’s index.
Incredibly, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is set to roll out something called the Critical Information Needs study, which will embed government “researchers” into media organizations around the nation to make sure they are doing their job properly.
No this isn’t “conspiracy theory.” It is so real, and represents such a threat to the First Amendment, that a current FCC commissioner, Ajit Pai, recently wrote an Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal, warning Americans of this scheme. He writes:
News organizations often disagree about what Americans need to know. MSNBC, for example, apparently believes that traffic in Fort Lee, N.J., is the crisis of our time. Fox News, on the other hand, chooses to cover the September 2012 attacks on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi more heavily than other networks. The American people, for their part, disagree about what they want to watch.
But everyone should agree on this: The government has no place pressuring media organizations into covering certain stories.
Unfortunately, the Federal Communications Commission, where I am a commissioner, does not agree. Last May the FCC proposed an initiative to thrust the federal government into newsrooms across the country. With its “Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs,” or CIN, the agency plans to send researchers to grill reporters, editors and station owners about how they decide which stories to run. A field test in Columbia, S.C., is scheduled to begin this spring.
The purpose of the CIN, according to the FCC, is to ferret out information from television and radio broadcasters about “the process by which stories are selected” and how often stations cover “critical information needs,” along with “perceived station bias” and “perceived responsiveness to underserved populations.”
I have no idea what country I am living in at this point.
How does the FCC plan to dig up all that information? First, the agency selected eight categories of “critical information” such as the “environment” and “economic opportunities,” that it believes local newscasters should cover. It plans to ask station managers, news directors, journalists, television anchors and on-air reporters to tell the government about their “news philosophy” and how the station ensures that the community gets critical information.
Participation in the Critical Information Needs study is voluntary—in theory. Unlike the opinion surveys that Americans see on a daily basis and either answer or not, as they wish, the FCC’s queries may be hard for the broadcasters to ignore. They would be out of business without an FCC license, which must be renewed every eight years.
Should all stations follow MSNBC’s example and cut away from a discussion with a former congresswoman about the National Security Agency’s collection of phone records to offer live coverage of Justin Bieber‘s bond hearing? As a consumer of news, I have an opinion. But my opinion shouldn’t matter more than anyone else’s merely because I happen to work at the FCC.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #10118 on: Feb 21st, 2014, 10:05am »
Pogo Sticks of Doom and Other Gems From a Massive Toy Fair
By Tim Moynihan 02.21.14 6:30 AM
The Toy Fair is exactly what it sounds like. It’s been going on for 111 years, and it’s huge. This year, more than 1,150 toy companies squeezed into New York City’s Javits Convention Center to show off the new things kids will be clamoring for later this year. Toy traditionalists and forward-thinkers have much to get excited about: While apps, robots, and meme-based toys are all trending, plenty of old-school playthings are in the mix, too.
There was plenty for us older “kids” too. A home version of the classic Chexx bubble hockey table from the early 1980s — complete with customizable teams and your very own “Boo” button — was on display at the show. If you’ve always craved a 1965 Volkswagen Camper Van but want to avoid paying for gas, there was an actual-size, four-person Volkswagen Camper Van tent. And if you want to hone your ping-pong skills but don’t have anyone to compete against, the Joola iPong Pro is essentially a table-tennis pitching machine with a 100-ball hopper.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #10119 on: Feb 21st, 2014, 10:07am »
Venezuela sends troops to border region as violence escalates
Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres says paratroopers will be dispatched to western border where protesters have clashed
Associated Press in Caracas Friday 21 February 2014 05.27 EST
The Venezuelan military plans to send additional troops to a border region where unrest has been particularly fierce, officials said, as the government faced growing criticism for its heavy-handed attempt to subdue a protest movement with nighttime sweeps that have turned many parts of the country into dangerous free-fire zones.
The interior minister, Miguel Rodriguez Torres, said a battalion of paratroopers would be dispatched to the state of Tachira, on the western border with Colombia, where protesters have clashed with police and national guard units, bringing the state capital, San Cristobal, to a halt.
"These units will enable the city to function, so food can get in, so people can go about their normal lives," Rodriguez said. "It's simply meant to restore order."
Members of the opposition have accused the government of President Nicolás Maduro of leaning too heavily on the military as well as police and civilian militias to squash opposition to his socialist government.
San Cristobal's vice-mayor, Sergio Vergara, a member of the opposition, said the government had already cut off vital services including public transportation and the internet, to crack down on what had been peaceful protests.
The presence of 3,000 troops in a city of 600,000, Vergara said, was "effectively part of an effort at repression being played out by the government across the country".
Violence has been escalating across Venezuela since an opposition rally on 12 February that turned violent and left three people dead. Since then, there have been at least three more deaths as well as dozens of injuries and arrests.
Police, national guard troops and members of private militias have swarmed through streets in the capital and elsewhere firing volleys, at times indiscriminately, in repeated spasms of nighttime violence in recent days.
Henrique Capriles, the two-time presidential candidate of an opposition coalition, said the government had engaged in "brutal repression" as it went after students and other protesters, in some cases breaking into apartment buildings to arrest those it accused of taking part in an attempted coup.
"What does the government want, a civil war?" Capriles asked at a news conference.
David Smolansky, an opposition mayor of a district in Caracas, said the country was passing through the harshest wave of political persecution in decades with the response to the protests and the jailing of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez. "If this isn't a totalitarian system then I don't know what can explain what is happening in this country," Smolansky said.