Sunday, May 07, 2006

Intelligence of Crows

A recent news report has drawn my attention to a remarkable story of avian intelligence. A female crow, named Betty, has been demonstrating her intelligence to Oxford researchers, by learning how to make hooks from pieces of wire to use as probes in her search for food. Her ability to bend pieces of wire into a useful tool is quite extraordinary, but not the only example of intelligent crow behaviour. Another crow has been filmed getting food out of a waste bin by systematically hauling the plastic bag towards it, whilst holding each pull with its feet. Just imagine a fisherman hauling in a net and you get the broad idea.

I’m not surprised by the news that birds are highly intelligent, as I personally fear the intelligent malignancy of the many pigeons who hang around my house, like bored teenagers outside an off-licence. There is one particular fat Mafiosi of a pigeon who from his precarious perch on a thin branch of a willow tree, eyes me with undisguised superiority. Most mornings I find that my car has provided a faecal target for the obvious amusement of this pigeon’s flock.

The crow of course would seem to take intelligent use of resources to a new level, but it is one that is not necessarily common. For Betty’s mate Abel, seems not to have mastered her tool making skills and is resigned to grubbing for food without the aid of a bend in the wire. Is Betty an extreme example of greater female intelligence, or is she merely taking delight in watching her mate do things the hard way? A question I feel sure that my pigeon would be able to answer.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The last Straw?

The sight of the British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, following Condoleeza Rice around like a love sick puppy, is just one excruciating embarrassment two far. In what amounted to the date from hell, he took her on a trip Baghdad, via Liverpool, and his home constituency of Blackburn. I would have been tempted to jest that Jack knew how to impress a girl, were it not for his antics on arrival at Baghdad. In full view of the World’s media, Condoleeza emerged from the plane wearing a rather fetching tunic and skirt, whilst Jack emerged wearing body armour and a Kevlar helmet. Now senior politicians are supposed to be smart. Letting a woman eschew danger whilst you equip yourself with maximum protection does not go down well with the folks at home. Unfortunately Jack clearly knew this, for almost immediately upon leaving the plane, he saw the cameras, assessed the political implications, and removed his helmet, and handed it to an aide. Wrong! All that he succeeded in doing was to show the waiting media that he knew he should never have worn it in the first place. I can forgive him for caution, but his stupid change of tactic really was the last straw.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Race for relativity

Professor Kurt Gibble of Yale University is lead scientist in a new attempt to test Einstein’s theories of relativity by repeating the famous Hafele and Keating experiment of 1971. In short, four caesium atomic clocks were flown around the world and compared with a ground based clock to detect variations in timekeeping.Most will no doubt be aware that the experiment successfully demonstrated Einstein’s theory that the faster you go the slower time passes. Or does it? Atomic clocks work by measuring the properties of atoms when transitioning from one energy state to another. The experiment clearly demonstrated that atoms are affected by acceleration and gravity, but does that constitute a measure of time? Try boiling a pan of water, the more heat you apply the more the water molecules get excited - but does that make time go faster? If you construct a clock whose timekeeping is determined by either the rate of atomic decay, or variations in excitation energies, it stands to reason that any alteration to the atomic energy state will provide an apparent variation in time. Einstein’s premise that clocks tick slower in strong gravity is a paradigm of physics, but may not be a valid measure of time. Hopefully the Yale University Experiment, RACE, set to launch in late 2006, or early 2007, will provide answers to this vexing question. Click Here to confuse yourself more.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Do Alien’s Exist?

As most statisticians would confirm the inevitability of extraterrestrial life, at least somewhere in the vastness of the Universe, the question of whether Aliens exist is both scientifically and philosophically unnecessary. The more interesting question is whether any intelligent Alien life forms have visited our planet? Science provides the probable answer, in that if we exclude the possibility of Alien life existing within our solar system, then such visitations must come from another star system. To do so would go beyond the bounds of science fiction and require some form of real-life hyperdrive. Physics theoretically accepts this as a possibility, but then it is equally possible that an infinite number of monkeys, given infinite time could compose the works of Shakespeare. It just does not seem plausible, and leads to the only other conclusion, which as Sherlock Holmes might have said, “when you eliminate the impossible, all that remains is the improbable.” The inevitability of such induction, requires that matter be able to travel faster than the speed of light. Our science is quite clear that cannot happen. Alien scientists would have to be working with a different set of science rules. Obviously rubbish.. or is it?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Henry VIII spoke with a Brummie accent.

In a 2005 BBC poll of over five thousand people, the Birmingham (Brummie) accent was voted the worst in all categories, most notably for pleasantness and career progression. The preference of a majority of respondents was for the perfect Queen’s English of the long vanished and ephemeral, aristocratic South. Yet surprisingly it appears possible that at least one of our kings may well have spoken with a Brummie accent. Absurd I hear you say! Judge for yourself. The following extract is taken from a letter of Henry VIII to Cardinal Wolsey, dated sometime in 1518. Read it with a Birmingham accent and it makes perfect sense.

Myne awne good cardinall,

I recomande me vnto yow with all my hart and thanke yow for the grette payne and labour that yow do dayly take in my bysynes and maters, desyryng yow (that wen yow have well establyssyd them) to take summe pastime and comfort…

The letter carries on in the same vein, and is part of a manuscript held in the British Museum. [Cotton MS. Vespasian F. xiii. F. 71]

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Tattoo Marketing

News that a pregnant belly has been successfully eBay’d as an advertising billboard, comes as little surprise. What is surprising is that Asia Francis, a twenty-one year old American student, only achieved a winning bid of $1,000. A California Internet Company now owns the marketing rights for her swollen belly and video rights of the birth. Putting aside all questions of good taste, it strikes me that she should have had better representation; Max Clifford for one, could have got her a lot more money. Now everyone knows that pregnant stomachs come in all sizes, and the consequent problem of determining a price per-square-metre coverage, must cause marketing companies unnecessary angst. What is clearly needed is an agency dealing specifically in the technicalities of pregnancy advertising. Perhaps it should be called “”

Friday, March 10, 2006

Publisher on the bandwagon

I am dismayed that Harper Collins has reportedly agreed a £5M advance for a five book deal with the England footballer Wayne Rooney. I don’t begrudge the lad a crack at the odd autobiography, although I am not alone in wondering what degree of creative ghosting will be required to populate five books of it. The Daily Telegraph for one, was singularly unimpressed by the prospect, and anticipated such riveting chapters as "My name is Wayne and I like football and chips. And football. And chips. And beans sometimes." I think they miss the point, which is not how interesting the books are likely to be, but the fact that they will sell. Harper Collins knows its business, and between the books and a bewildering array of ancillary money spinning ventures, they will profit handsomely. No, the real sadness of this deal, is what it says about the British book buying public. Wayne and his advisors have merely created a bandwagon, which Harper Collins are happy to jump on. A wagon moreover that has a curious, almost predestined symmetry, in that Wayne’s name derives from the old English wægn, meaning wagon maker. Who knows, maybe this riveting fact will appear in one of the volumes. After all they have to fill them with something.