Making Unique Observations in a Very Cluttered World

Sunday, 25 August 2013

STUDY: Birds can tell speed limit on certain roads... -

STUDY: Birds can tell speed limit on certain roads... - 

Though birds haven't yet learned how to read road signs, recent research suggests that birds can figure out the speed limit on a particular stretch of road.

Biologist Pierre Legagneux of the University of Quebec in Rimouski noticed that common European birds standing on the side of a roadway tended to fly away from an approaching car when the vehicle was at a particular distance from the birds.

The distance varied from one road to another, but not on the actual speed of an approaching car. "They reacted the same way no matter the speed of the car," Legagneux told National Geographic. [See Amazing Photos of Birds of Prey]

Were the birds able to determine the local speed limit (or the average speed of traffic) on certain roads? Daniel Blumstein, a wildlife behavior specialist at UCLA, believes there may be some degree of learning in the birds' response.

A speeding car, for example, could knock a roadside bird off its feet. "One or a few trials of getting knocked around may be sufficient for the bird to learn that cars are approaching faster on certain roads than other roads," Blumstein, who was not involved in the research, told NatGeo.

Birds' ability to learn from their environment is a constant source of surprise for researchers. Scientists have discovered, for example, that crows will use stones as tools to raise the water level in a pitcher and snatch a worm floating on the water (just like the clever crow in Aesop's famous fable).

And birds that have a bad experience with humans (such as being trapped and banded for wildlife studies) will remember those particular people's faces — and will teach their friends which humans are the "bad humans," even years after an unpleasant encounter.

Legagneux believes birds that learn to respond to cars based on the speed limits of certain roads have an advantage over those that don't. The birds that don't overreact to approaching cars can spend more time foraging for food (most of the birds studied were sparrows and carrion eaters like crows), while still protecting themselves from any approaching cars.

"This way, they are not spending a lot of time being vigilant by looking at the speed of each car," Legagneux said. The study is published in the latest issue of the journal Biology Letters.


New Site Helps Users Vanish From Internet... -

New Site Helps Users Vanish From Internet... - 

It’s tiring, isn’t it? Doing everything online, I mean. Everyday you log into services tailor-made for shopping, searching, sharing, watching, chatting, curating, reading, bragging — that’s a lot of places to keep your personal information, and no one could blame you if you wanted to try to pare down on those extraneous connections. Hell, I’d like nothing better myself sometimes.

A U.K.-based duo consisting of developer Robb Lewis and designer Ed Poole seem to understand that desire awfully well, and they teamed up to create what may be a truly indispensable resource. It’s called Justdelete.me, and as the name sort of implies, it’s a directory of links to pages where you can lay waste to your myriad online accounts.

It’s a deceptively simple resource. You’re greeted with a sizable grid that points you to a slew of popular web services that you probably use. More specifically, those links point you straight at the pages where you can deactivate all those pesky accounts… or at least where you can try. Thankfully, Lewis has done the due diligence to figure out which services can be disconnected from painlessly and which ones require you to (ugh) actually communicate with someone to get the job done.

A disconcerting number of sites and services fall into that latter category. Of the ones that Lewis has added, 10 won’t let you kill your account without first talking to a customer service rep, and 4 (Netflix, Steam, Starbucks, and WordPress) don’t seem to let you delete your accounts at all. Of course, it’s in these companies’ best interests to keep the account deletion process as obtuse (one might say dark) as possible. The less progress you make on that front, the more likely you are to say “screw it” and remain in their clutches.

As useful as the site can be for people looking to disconnect sans headaches, it’s far from being a complete compendium. Lewis notes on his blog that Justdelete.me is very much a work-in-progress — he’ll gladly accept suggestions for services that people think should be on the list, and here’s hoping this thing continues to pick up steam.

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