Let’s discuss talking monkeys
University of Michigan researcher Thore Bergman thinks he may have stumbled upon the linguistic missing link between monkeys and humans while researching wild Gelada baboons (pictured above).
“I would find myself frequently looking over my shoulder to see who was talking to me, but it was just the geladas,” said Bergman. “It was unnerving to have primate vocalizations sound so much like human voices.”
Bergman thinks that communicative lip-smacking by the baboons, in alignment with rhythmic facial expressions, could represent the bridge between animal sounds and human speech.
Read more on Bergman’s study via Science Now, or check out his report in Current Biology. Or just listen to Ricky Gervais’ perfect lead-in for any and all primate news.
Photos: Associated Press
Can dreams be decoded?
Researchers in Japan are making progress toward the goal of deciphering dreams, announcing yesterday that they’ve been able to teach computers how to inspect the images produced by the brain during the initial moments of dreaming.
Allowing research subjects to fall asleep, then waking them up after a few minutes to get them to recount what they had dreamed of - as groggy as they may have been, the computers were able to match the subject’s responses 60% of the time.
So how did the computers actually figure out what had been going on in the initial dreams?
The rest was a giant math problem. The scientists wrote a computer program to sort through the patterns of brain activity captured by the functional MRI in both waking and sleeping states; then the program looked for links between those brain activity patterns and specific images.
Read more from reporter Geoffrey Mohan here.
Photo: Richard Drew / Associated Press
Need some more Facebook in your life?
Lay those long-standing rumors of Facebook producing its own physical phone to rest - the world’s largest social network is aiming to take over your pre-existing Android device (letting down those of us who were hoping for a ridiculous F-shaped cell phone).
“Facebook Home” will be an Android-focused app, available for download on select devices starting on April 12.
Take a deeper look at Facebook’s new mobile initiative via Tech Now.
Photos: Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press, Facebook
Do robot ants dream of electric crumbs?
Want to get inside of the brains of ants? Researchers looking to understand how ants solve problems, instead of sitting down for a focus group with the ants, have called upon 10 sugar-cube-sized robots.
The study, which culminated in a study published Thursday, is an attempt to comprehend how ants coordinate their behavior, with the long-term goal of curbing the spread of the invasive Argentine ant, which is disrupting ecosystems worldwide.
And what’s the importance of a single ant among a gigantic swarm?
The behavior of individual foragers can have drastic consequences for the entire group. A series of wrong turns by one or several workers can transform an otherwise successful picnic raid into a catastrophe: Wayward ants can accidentally lock their supply network into a closed loop, causing the group to march in a fruitless spiral until they drop from exhaustion.
As for the conclusions of the study, well, you’ll have to check out the full write-up from Science Now.
More legal action likely for Facebook’s bungled IPO
Nasdaq OMX Group Inc. may plan to repay brokerages $62 million lost during the disastrous launch of Facebook’s IPO, which morphed from a minor slip-up to an investment debacle last year. An estimated $500 million was lost due to the delays and general chaos caused by Nasdaq’s insufficient planning for demand of the stock.
But waiting in the wings is the possibility of the government or other interested parties filing their own legal complaints against Nasdaq.
Plus, there’s the SEC probe into the matter that has yet to be released, which probably won’t like the handling of Facebook’s IPO.
Photos: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times
GMOs are a controversial climate adaptation measure. But, drought resistant crops are necessary.
Agricultural biotechnology companies have been pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into developing plants that can withstand the effects of a prolonged dry spell. Monsanto Co., based in St. Louis, has received regulatory approval for DroughtGard, a corn variety that contains the first genetically modified trait for drought resistance.
Seed makers, such as Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc. of Johnston, Iowa, and Swiss company Syngenta, are already selling drought-tolerant corn varieties, conceived through conventional breeding.
At stake: a $12-billion U.S. seed market, with corn comprising the bulk of sales. The grain is used in such things as animal feed, ethanol and food. The push is also on to develop soybean, cotton and wheat that can thrive in a world that’s getting hotter and drier.
“Drought is definitely going to be one of the biggest challenges for our growers,” said Jeff Schussler, senior research manager for Pioneer, the agribusiness arm of DuPont. “We are trying to create products for farmers to be prepared for that.”
Their efforts come amid concerns about genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, and the unforeseen consequences of this genetic tinkering. Californians in November will vote on Proposition 37, which would require foods to carry labels if they were genetically modified. The majority of corn seed sold is modified to resist pests and reap higher yields.
Opponents say the label would unnecessarily dampen further development that is intended to feed a growing global population dependent on the U.S., the largest exporter of corn and soybean.
“Trying to create drought-tolerant crops is not going to be easy to do,” said Kent Bradford, director of the Seed Biotechnology Center at UC Davis. “We certainly need all the tools [available] to do that, and that includes conventional breeding and adding transgenic traits. We don’t need to stigmatize these approaches.”
Great read via LATimes
test reblogged from thenoobyorker
Apple officially announces iPhone 5: As you’ve no doubt heard, the big unveiling was today. Apple says iPhone 5 is thinner and lighter than the previous model, even though it has a bigger screen.
The iPhone 5 features a larger screen and weighs 112 grams, or about 4 ounces, which is 20% lighter than the iPhone 4S. It is also 18% thinner, Apple’s marketing chief Phil Schiller said. It has an improved A6 processor that is twice as fast as its predecessor, high-speed 4G LTE connectivity and a widescreen aspect ratio.
Apple has also improved the device’s battery life and updated both of its cameras, giving its front camera 720p HD video. The company also announced a smaller dock connector for the device and a new cable charger named Lightning that is 80% smaller than its predecessor.
Video: Apple’s CEO Tim Cook introduces iPhone 5 to a packed house. Credit: Associated Press
They’re town criers in the age of Twitter: A growing group of L.A.-area residents share a passion for listening to police scanners and spreading that news online, in real time, via Twitter. “It’s like theater,” one says.
Photo: Alex Thompson stands at a Venice site where Los Angeles police responded to a call about a theft. Since launching her Twitter feed in January 2011, she has sent more than 22,000 tweets, the vast majority relating to police scanner calls. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times
Might large groups be better predictors of wars and terrorism than analysts in government spy services?
Crowd-sourcing would mean, in theory, polling large groups across the 200,000-person intelligence community, or outside experts with security clearances, to aggregate their views about the strength of the Taliban, say, or the likelihood that Iran is secretly building a nuclear weapon.
The Department of Homeland Security’s BioWatch air samplers, meant to detect a terrorist biological attack, have been plagued by false alarms and other failures.
President George W. Bush announced the system’s deployment in his 2003 State of the Union address, saying it would “protect our people and our homeland.” Since then, BioWatch air samplers have been installed inconspicuously at street level and atop buildings in cities across the country — ready, in theory, to detect pathogens that cause anthrax, tularemia, smallpox, plague and other deadly diseases.
But the system has not lived up to its billing. It has repeatedly cried wolf, producing dozens of false alarms in Los Angeles, Detroit, St. Louis, Phoenix, San Diego, the San Francisco Bay Area and elsewhere, a Los Angeles Times investigation found.
Worse, BioWatch cannot be counted on to detect a real attack, according to confidential government test results and computer modeling.
… according to a computer science professor who develops software to detect fake reviews. From today’s story on how Yelp is working to keep suspect reviews off their site.
SoCalGas tests unusual solar air conditioner: Southern California Gas is testing an unusual solar energy system that produces electricity for its building and hot water for air-conditioning of its Energy Resource Center in Downey.
Photo credit: Southern California Gas Co.
Harvard, MIT partner to offer free online courses: Harvard and MIT are donating $30 million each to develop education via the Internet. Online students will not earn credit, but the move is still seen as bringing prestige to the field.
Photo: Harvard University. Credit: Kelvin Ma / Bloomberg