Invention mods traffic lights with game theory to ease congestion

Sometimes, we get angry being stuck in traffic. We might be fuming about the person playing on their cellphone that rear-ended someone, or we might blame the person poking along in the left lane. And yes, sometimes, we might just blame the oppressive injustice doled out by traffic lights, particularly when we hit every… single… red.

But a researcher from the University of Toronto named Samah El-Tantawy might have a solution to at least the traffic light issues. As part of a pilot program in Toronto and Cairo, El-Tantawy installed a sort of artificial intelligence system in the lights that allows them to communicate with each other through decision-making strategies rooted in game theory to manage the traffic flow, rather than rely on algorithms from a central command center…

In Toronto, the effect of El-Tantawy’s lights on just 60 city intersections reduced traffic by about 40 percent and cut down on travel times by just over a quarter. It’s unclear what the effects were in Cairo.

Still, the chances of having our travel times cut down by up to 25 percent and the environmental implications of slashing traffic delays by 40 percent, make the idea of these autonomous traffic lights something we’d like to see in our own cities. I for one welcome our new traffic light overlords…

More detailed coverage of the trial is found over here.

Why am I not surprised that logic and science haven’t been applied in this manner before?

Researchers affirm roles of exercise and diet in aging, depression

New studies…underscore the potential impact of healthy lifestyle choices in treating depression, the effects of aging, and learning. The research focused on the effects of mind/body awareness, exercise, and diet, and was presented at Neuroscience 2013, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience…

The experiences and choices people make throughout life actively impact the brain. As humans live longer, these choices also affect aging and quality of life. Lifestyle changes to diet and exercise will be important to aging populations as non-drug, easy-to-follow interventions with few side effects, make ideal potential therapies.

The new findings show that:

As few as 12 consecutive days of exercise in aging rats helps preserve and improve movement function, an effect possibly caused by changes in dopamine. The results suggest that exercise could stave off or reverse the slowed movements that are hallmarks of age…

Practices like yoga or meditation that increase mind/body awareness help people learn a brain-computer interface quicker. This finding may have implications for those who need brain-computer interfaces to function, such as people with paralysis…

Long-term exercise in aging rats improves memory function, as well as increases the number of blood vessels in the white matter of their brains —the tracts that carry information between different areas of the brain. Increased blood flow may explain why exercise can help preserve memory…

Regular, supervised exercise helped young adults with depression overcome their symptoms in a pilot study. The results suggest that exercise could be an important treatment for depression in adolescents…

A low calorie diet starting in middle-age onward protected rats against the effects of aging on movement. The results suggest that dietary interventions can help preserve movement function in a manner similar to exercise…

“We all know that keeping fit is critically important to a healthy lifestyle, from combating the effects of aging to boosting our mood,” said press conference moderator Teresa Liu-Ambrose of the University of British Columbia, who is an expert on exercise and its role in healthy aging.

“Today’s results begin to show us not only how different types of exercise interventions can improve our lives, but how other types of lifestyle behaviors, from diet to meditative practice, can help us achieve wellness in our body and our brain as we age.”

You can read the full press release over here. I heartily recommend doing so. You’ll find links to each of the research segments noted in the edited press release I posted. Good stuff.

California man kidnaps his ex-wife to exorcise demons that made her divorce him

A California woman was unharmed after allegedly being kidnapped by her ex-husband and forced to undergo an exorcism, authorities said.

Jose Magana-Farias, 47, and his son, Victor Farias, 20, were locked up Tuesday in Stockton on suspicion of kidnapping and false imprisonment after they allegedly drove off with the unidentified woman from a Walmart parking lot in Stockton Saturday.

San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Lt. Mike Jones told KCRA-TV in Sacramento that Magana-Farias and his son said the woman had undergone some major and worrisome personality changes that led them to believe she had been possessed by demons.

The woman reportedly willingly got into the car driven by the two men, who then picked up two priests and drove to another location where a sacred oil was applied and a religious ritual was performed, the arrest report said.

Jones told KCRA the woman was not harmed during the ritual. The priests were not charged.

Hey, the priests are as looney as the ex-hubbie and his son. Shouldn’t they be charged, too.

Unintended consequences aid sustainable farming

Tom Steyer may have made billions of dollars for his investors before retiring this year, but he would have lost money betting against his wife, Kat Taylor and Leftcoast Grassfed, the brand name of the Steyer-Taylor beef.

While Ms. Taylor says, modestly, that it is hard to know how profitable the business is, her husband said it had outperformed his expectations. “We could sell 10 times the amount we raise, in 10 minutes,” he said.

The couple did not set out to raise prime grass-fed beef at TomKat Ranch, which sprawls across some 1,800 acres in this rural community near the ocean off Highway 1. The plan was to create a model conservation project, demonstrating ways to improve soil health, use solar energy and conserve water. “This wasn’t about cows,” Ms. Taylor said.

But once cows became part of the plan to restore the land, it was not too long before TomKat also became an agricultural project, one that the couple hope will help develop sustainable farming practices that can be put to use far beyond Pescadero.

“Think of the ranch as a huge science experiment,” Mr. Steyer said. “Can you raise animals sustainably? Can the land become the carbon sink that it once was? Can you demonstrate a way of doing agriculture, raising food, that doesn’t damage the environment..?

In a book, “Grass-Fed Cattle: How to Produce and Market Natural Beef,” the author Julius Ruechel theorized that soil was enriched as a result of the migration of giant herds of ruminants and other animals across the world’s great plains.

According to his book, large herds of heavy, hoofed animals help force dead plant materials back into the ground, where they are broken down by microorganisms in the soil. Herd migration also churns up the earth, allowing rain to penetrate it further and slowing runoff, and natural “fertilizers” containing additional microbes are left in the herd’s wake.

All of that produces more and better grass, which then feeds the herds the next time they migrate across the land…

TomKat is aiming to mimic the migratory patterns that developed the world’s great plains on a small scale by rotating cows, birds and pigs around the ranch in a deliberate dance.

There are lots of details in the original if you’re not frustrated by the TIMES unpredictable paywall.

I’m kind of taken aback by the author’s surprise over the popularity of grass-fed beef. Any accomplished foodie often prefers grass-fed beef over the feed lot corn-crammed variety fed most Americans. Additionally, unless things have changed, areas with significant French heritage like Louisiana support a historic preference for grass-fed beef. Both of the nature-oriented markets we shop for our groceries carry – and advocate – grass-fed beef. Neither of which is an expensive organics-only source.

I spent some time with folks active in managing New Mexico park and forest areas and sat in on experiments 20 years ago on managing test herds of beef cattle so their grazing patterns imitated the bison that originally roamed the range hereabouts. Results were positive and adopted by a small number of progressive ranchers in the northeastern part of the state.