Posts tagged with "nature"

Bow-WOW: Talent seems to be just as much a gift in dogs as it is in people

July 19, 2021

Whether it’s seeing a child take only a few seconds to learn Mary had a Little Lamb on the piano, experiencing getting wiped out by a much better player in a pickup basketball game, or witnessing someone’s encyclopedic memory while they rattle off statistics about geography, humans see natural talent every day.

Now, a study seeking the origin of “natural talent” in dogs has been published in Nature. What it found: Just as in humans, some particular pooches display more innate talent than others do.

According to The Good News Network, this story has a lot to do with border collies—a dog species that the authors of the study note has been bred for herding sheep and, therefore, has had to be extra-cognizant of owners’ calls, instructions, and whistles.

The American Kennel Club reported last year on a border collie named Chaser, who had 1,022 toys and knew the individual names of every on; while Science reported on one named Rico who knew the names of 200 toys and could very quickly retrieve those for which he had no name by using exclusion learning and inference at about the level of a three-year-old child.

Locating 34 dog owners across the globe using social media, researcher  Claudia Fugazza of Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest decided to test whether the pooches could attach specific names to all the toys they played with, and be able to recognize and respond to those names immediately.

Of those 34 dogs, only one border collie succeeded—a young female named Olivia, who sadly died of health complications before the trial could be finished.

But the work continues: “[W]e decided to set up a study in which both puppies and adult naïve dogs are systematically and intensively trained for learning at least two object names over a three-month period, and we used a strictly controlled testing method to assess the dogs’ learning outcome every month from the start of the training,” wrote Fugazza in her paper.

In this study, each month, a scientist visits a dog’s house and tests to see if he or she can retrieve an object based on it name. As each dog succeeds, another word is added.

Perhaps the surprising thing is that of the 34 dogs, 19 were border collies, and 18 of them failed to learn a single name. Also interesting was that, outside of the study, their same research method found that six border collies that could already learn names could continue to learn more.

The hypothesis was that some dogs with certain neurological plasticity owing to either early-life training or breed-activity would have better abilities.

However, the dogs learned the names of toys “irrespectively of the age of the subjects and despite intensive training,” the researchers wrote, concluding by saying that “while a few rare individuals can rapidly master multiple object names, we suggest that the capacity to learn object-names in dogs shows analogies with exceptional performance (talent) in humans.”

It seems that it’s just as hard to find out why Mozart was Mozart as it is to find out why Chaser the border collie was Chaser the border collie.

Research contact: @goodnewsnetwork

Natural and homespun, ‘cottagecore’ is 2020’s new holiday decorating trend

December 7, 2020

The pandemic has taught many of us how to enjoy the simple pleasures of life—from baking, to exercising, to pet adoption, to gardening, to knitting, to bird watching—and now, to an appreciation of a simpler, more homespun type of decking the halls for the holidays called “cottagecore,” Fox News reports.

“The cottagecore aesthetic swarmed the Internet this year with its revival of traditional ideals and the glorification of a simple yet charming cottage lifestyle,” s Amanda Brennan,a trend expert for Tumblr, tells the news outlet.

Engagement on the social platform for cottagecore began spiking in early spring and hasn’t abated, she reports. Now it’s flowing into the holiday season, she says, “with posts of farmhouse-inspired holiday decorations, homestyle seasonal recipes, warm winter décor, and knitting.”

Etsy.com trend expert Dayna Isom Johnson tells Fox she agrees with Brennan: “The nostalgia-inspired movement is all about bringing back pastoral aesthetics and activities.”

Characterized by romantic, nature-oriented themes and homespun design elements, cottagecore started around ten years ago. But it’s taken off this year as the pandemic kept

“It’s no surprise that the trend’s extending into the holidays,” says Isom Johnson. “Shoppers are opting for décor that’s reminiscent of a time that was filled with simpler pleasures in life, from baking to crafting.”

Etsy saw an increase in early fall in searches for crocheted, knitted and embroidered ornaments, as well as holiday quilts, she says. They’ve seen a nearly 200% increase in searches for DIY kits.

Kits come at all levels, for kids, beginners and skilled crafters, and with a variety of holiday-friendly themes:

  • Fancy Tiger’s felting kits offer alpacas, squirrels, and sheep, and cross-stitched mini holiday ornaments.
  • Stitchery.com has simple kits for making embroidered tree table-runners, tiny stockings, and snow globes.
  • Creativity4Kids has holiday snow globe kits.
  • Paper Source has kits to craft dog nutcrackers and Hanukkah bears in winsome sweaters.

Lorna Aragon, home editor for Martha Stewart Living, suggests some easy holiday projects for home and gifting that fit the aesthetic: “Think about stenciling or stamping a tablecloth, runner or napkins with a simple geometric motif. You can make a tree skirt the same way,” she tells Fox News. “Create some homemade stockings from simple dishcloths. Use baskets under the tree to hold gifts. You can also get some quilting squares at the craft store and make sachets to gift friends. I’m loving simple fabrics like ticking, gingham, denim, muslin, and calico small florals and prints.”

The magazine’s team created some items for the December issue based on quilt designs and folk-art motifs, evocative of the cottagecore look.

Minted’s founder Mariam Naficy likes ‘furoshiki’, the Japanese technique of gift wrapping with fabric. She says it’s a great way to wrap oddly-shaped items, and re-purpose fabric scraps or old scarves.

She’s also making garlands this year out of various materials, including fragrant dried orange slices. “You can display them on a mantle, bookcase, or drape one on your dining table surrounded by tea candles for a simple, aromatic centerpiece,” she tells Fox.

Naficy also suggests making garlands out of last year’s holiday cards and scraps of wrapping paper.

Research contact: @FoxNews

The Halo effect: Amazon’s first health wearable, is no Fitbit or Apple Watch clone

August 31, 2020

Amazon is launching Halo, a minimalist $99 health sleek,wearable, companion to an app that measures your body fat and gauges your tone of voice. Executives who worked on the project told Fast Company last week that the offering is more about the app and its various features than the wearable itself.

Right now, consumers can preorder the Halo band for $65, which includes six months of access to the app. After the first six months, customers will have to pay $4 a month to continue using the app. Once it ships in a few weeks, Halo will be $99, also with the $4/month fee. The app and the band work with both iPhones and Android devices.

Though that pricing puts the Halo in competition with Fitbit’s fitness trackers, Amazon—which has also purchased online pharmacy PillPack, developed both virtual and in-clinic employee health centers, and sought out HIPPA compliance for its Alexa voice assistant—is taking a different approach to health than its competitors in wearables.

For one thing, the company thinks Halo’s real value is in the app. Data tracking is divided into four sections, Activity, Body, Sleep, and Tone. The app also offers Labs, a series of health challenges designed by a range of professionals and expert organizations. While Activity and Sleep offer standard health-tracking capabilities, Body, Tone, and Labs represent Halo’s distinguishing features, Fast Company reports..

The Halo tracker is extremely simple: just a piece of water-resistant fabric and a small sensor-laden bit of hardware that lays against the wrist. There’s no display, notifications, clock, or other features that have become standard fare on even basic fitness trackers from other companies. (Like other wrist wearables, it does offer band options in several colors and materials.)

Halo tracks movement, heart rate, skin temperature, and the tone of a person’s voice. Notably, it doesn’t track heart rate variability. Both the Apple Watch and Fitbit’s devices have added heart rate variability in recent versions of their wearables, seemingly as a test of their ability as a diagnostic tool.

Amazon’s tracker captures steps, duration, and intensity of activity, as well as sedentary time to generate an activity score. While any activity will raise your score, you’ll be awarded more points for running as opposed to walking. The band can detect the difference between walking and running, and you can manually mark if you swim, cycle, or perform some other form of exercise. Sedentary time can negatively impact your score if you sit for more than eight hours.

The app also measures activity on a weekly rather than daily basis. “It’s more aligned with the [CDC] guideline recommendations, which clearly state that people should get 150 minutes of moderate exercise on a weekly basis at a minimum,” says Dr. Maulik Majmudar, a cardiologist and Amazon’s chief medical officer. Before joining Amazon in 2018, he practiced at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Halo tracks sleep too. Like the Apple Watch, Fitbits, and the Oura Ring, Halo identifies sleep duration and how long you linger in light sleep, REM sleep, and deep sleep. It also measures and monitors skin temperature at the wrist, to see if how this changes over the course of the night correlates to your sleep quality. Skin temperature is not the same as internal temperature, so it would not be a sound way to determine if someone has a fever, for example.

However, Body is one of the most distinctive elements of the Halo app. Using a phone’s camera, it captures a three-dimensional model of a person’s body to help them track their body changes over time and to track its fat percentage.

“You’re probably wondering, why body fat?” Majmudar told Fast Company in an interview. “Body fat percentage is actually much better indicator of overall health than weight or body mass index [BMI] alone.” A recent meta-analysis, published in the journal, Nature, shows that BMI isn’t a great indicator for obesity, which doctors use to look out for obesity-related disease. However, getting a good reading on a person’s body fat has historically been cumbersome and expensive. Amazon now suggests it can make this determination using a phone camera.

To get their body fat percentage, people must wear “tight, minimal” clothing, such as bike shorts and a sports bra. Placing their phone 4-6 feet away, they then take capture photos or “body scans,” one front facing, one back, and one from each side. Artificial intelligence renders those photos into a 3D view of their body shape.

Once calculated, the body fat percentage number is presented alongside a corresponding national average based on a person’s gender, age, height, and weight. The body model can be morphed to show how a person might look if they gained or lost weight. The visualization is designed for those trying to work towards certain body goals.(However, it could also be dangerous fodder for anyone suffering from body dysmorphia, eating disorders, or compulsive exercising.)

Majmudar says that by default, the body-scan photos are processed in the cloud and then deleted after 12 hours. The body model is only stored locally on the phone.

Tone is by far the strangest of the app’s features. Using its embedded microphone, the band listens to your voice throughout the day and detects its tone—positive, sad, irritated, or otherwise. The idea is to address your social and emotional health.

To use Tone, you have to create a voice profile by reading a piece of text. That way, it can recognize and measure only your voice, not other ones it may pick up. When Tone is turned on, it runs passively and intermittently in the background, picking up on snippets of conversations throughout the day. It then tells you how you sounded to other people. Among the list of emotions is content, concerned, happy, and tired.

“This gives you a simple way to reflect on your communications and interactions throughout the day,” says Majmudar. This feature also gives you summaries of your mood throughout the day, highlighting when you were noticeably energetic, positive, or warm. It also notes outlier moments when you sound different than they ordinarily do.

For those that may be concerned about Amazon tracking their every word, the company says this audio never goes to the cloud. It’s processed on your phone, and isn’t stored. Amazon appears to be drawing a hard line on privacy here. In the past, its stance on

Amazon is balancing its consideration for privacy with a healthy amount of data sharing. In order to make the data Halo collects useful, it’s turning to partners. WW (Weight Watchers) users can link to the Halo app activity, so they can collect FitPoints. Cerner, the electronic health record provider, can also hook into Halo and transfer a persons health data over to his or her larger medical record.

The Labs feature—which provides activities that users can perform to change their health outlook—also draws on Amazon’s partners. For instance, the Mayo Clinic offers a pet-free bedroom Lab that is supposed to lower sleep interruptions from a restless pet. Weight loss program LifeSum, has an activity for reducing calorie intake. Other partners include Apptiv, Orange Theory, Harvard Medical, and the American Health Association. These activities provide one more way for users to put that wrist band to use (and perhaps ensure that it doesn’t get relegated to a drawer somewhere).

How well does Halo track and analyze the data it collects? For now, it’s anyone’s guess. Majmudar says that Amazon has done lots of internal testing, but has not yet published any studies verifying the Halo’s capabilities.

Indeed, Amazon has good reason to want to get this right. But we won’t know how well it’s done until Halo arrives and independent researchers put it to the test.

Research contact: @FastCompany

Schiff says Barr misled the American public and ‘should step down’

May 2, 2019

The attorney general of the United States is a liar and he should resign. So said the Chairman Adam Schiff  (D-California) of the House Intelligence Committee on May 1, following the release to The Washington Post of a March 25 letter written by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

In that correspondence, the Russia investigator voiced grave concerns about the nature of the four-page summary of his team’s report written by AG William Barr and released the day before.

“The summary letter the Department sent to Congress and released to the public late in the afternoon of March 24 did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this Office’s work and conclusions,” Mueller wrote in the letter, which he also saved to his files for posterity.

“We communicated that concern to the Department on the morning of March 25,” Mueller continued, noting, “There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation. This threatens to undermine a central purpose for which the Department appointed the Special Counsel: to assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigations.”

The special counsel went on to urge the attorney general to distribute the executive summaries of the report prepared in advance by his team. “Release at this time would alleviate the misunderstandings that have arisen and would anser congressional and public questions about the nature and outcome of our investigation,” he said.

Mueller also followed up his correspondence with a call to Barr, during which he expressed similar concerns.

However, not only did Barr refuse to release the executive summaries in a “piecemeal” fashion, but, according to a May 1 report by the Post, “he disclaimed knowledge of the thinking of Special Counsel Robert Mueller” during two separate, back-to-back hearings on April 9 and April 10.

“No, I don’t,” Barr said, when asked by Representative Charlie Crist (D-Florida) whether he knew what was behind reports that members of Mueller’s team were frustrated by the attorney general’s summary of their top-level conclusions.

“I don’t know,” he said the next day, when asked by Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) whether Mueller supported his finding that there was not sufficient evidence to conclude that President Trump had obstructed justice.

Now, Schiff has a case against AG Barr:  “I think his statement is deliberately false and misleading, and yes, most people would consider that to be a lie,” Schiff said on CBS This Morning, as reported by The Hill.

“Look, there’s no sugar- coating this, I think he should step down,” Schiff said. “It’s hard, I think, for the country to have confidence in the top law enforcement official in the country if he’s asked a direct question as he was and he gives a directly false answer, so this is serious business.”

“After two years and work and investigation implicating the president of the United States, for the attorney general to mislead the public for an entire month before releasing that report is inexcusable.” 

Schiff is the highest-ranking Democrat on Capitol Hill so far to call for Barr to step down. He follows Sen. Chris Van Hollen’s call for Barr to resign.

Tuesday’s revelation upped the ante for Barr’s appearance Wednesday morning in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee and led to a cavalcade of criticism from House and Senate Democrats, The Hill reported.

“The Special Counsel’s concerns reflect our own. The Attorney General should not have taken it upon himself to describe the Special Counsel’s findings in a light more favorable to the President. It was only a matter of time before the facts caught up to him,” Representative Jerry Nadler (D-New York), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement Tuesday, demanding that Barr hand over Mueller’s letter to Congress by 10 a.m. on Wednesday.

According to Politico, in a separate statement on Wednesday, on CNN claimed Barr’s statements might be considered perjury “for an ordinary citizen.”

“It’s worse when it comes from the attorney general of the United States because it means the public cannot have confidence in what he says,” Schiff said. “It means that we cannot have confidence in how he administers justice.”

And in a separate tweet, Schiff wrote, “No one can place any reliance on what Barr says. We need to hear from Mueller himself.”

Research contact: @RepAdamSchiff