Even in the wildest corner of your yard (or prairie) mice will run on wheels

Yes, I know this is a couple years old. But, I somehow missed it first time round.

In 2009, neurophysiologist Johanna Meijer set up an unusual experiment in her backyard. In an ivy-tangled corner of her garden, she and her colleagues at Leiden University in the Netherlands placed a rodent running wheel inside an open cage and trained a motion-detecting infrared camera on the scene. Then they put out a dish of food pellets and chocolate crumbs to attract animals to the wheel and waited.

Wild house mice discovered the food in short order, then scampered into the wheel and started to run. Rats, shrews, and even frogs found their way to the wheel—more than 200,000 animals over 3 years. The creatures seemed to relish the feeling of running without going anywhere.

The study “puts a nail in the coffin” of the debate over whether mice and rats will run on wheels in a natural setting, says Ted Garland, an evolutionary physiologist at the University of California, Riverside, who was not involved in the work. More importantly, he says, the findings suggest that like (some) humans, mice and other animals may simply exercise because they like to. Figuring out why certain strains of mice are more sedentary than others could help shed light on genetic differences between more active and sedentary people…

On average, the backyard mice she and colleagues observed ran in 1 to 2 minute stints, roughly the same duration as that seen in lab mice, they reported online…in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The team also set up a second wheel in a nearby nature preserve of grassy dunes and attracted a similar crowd of enthusiasts.

Robot Fear Index stands at 30.9

❝ …Consumer adoption of artificial intelligence and robotics is already quite broad, and yet, fear of robots is also pervasive. We fear that they’ll replace our jobs or somehow overthrow us; and to be blunt, those fears are valid. That said, our 2017 survey indicates acceptance for these technologies continues to grow. Our most recent Robot Fear Index value of 30.9 (vs. 31.5 in late 2016) suggests that public perception of robots is essentially unchanged over the last year despite increased awareness of artificial intelligence, robotics, and the potential impact of these technologies. Notably, the related increase in media coverage of these issue does not seem be causing the rise in fear that we might expect. In fact, the slight year-over-year decline in our index value suggests slightly less fear of automation technologies.

❝ We believe that consumer awareness of robotics is closely correlated to the rise of domestic robots within households. Domestic robots are classified as robot vacuum cleaners, mops and lawn mowers, and over the next 10 years we believe this category will be one of the fastest growing robot markets in the world.

Glance through the whole report. Designed as a quarterly evaluation for investors – that, in itself, speaks volumes about the acceptability of robots and artificial intelligence growing in our society.

Personally, I think Gene Munster leads one of the sharpest firms dealing with advanced technology of any American investment firm.

America’s 2020 Census systems are a $15 billion cyber-security target

❝ Last week, the US Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee heard that the 2020 census will be the first to make extensive use of electronic equipment. For example, census workers will be given tablets to interview people who can’t be bothered filling in and sending back their forms.

Crucially, the US Census Bureau must patch vulnerabilities and install strong defenses in the computer systems it has set up to find and tabulate American citizens. With less than three years to go, a little more hustle in that department is needed, it seems…

❝ Previously, the census was recorded by mailing paper forms to every household in the country, and then dispatching data collectors to quiz citizens who don’t return their completed paperwork. Dodaro reported that “because the nation’s population is growing larger, more diverse, and more reluctant to participate,” response rates were at an historic low: just 63 per cent of households replied by mail in 2010 compared to 78 per cent in 1970.

As a result, the bureau had to recruit a load of temporary workers to manually obtain people’s details. After the 2010 census, someone had the bright idea to make the process more electronic, with workers using touchpads to input data…

❝ Eugene Dodaro, US Comptroller General, said the US Government Accountability Office has identified 43 electronic systems that are to be used in the 2020 census. None have undergone the required security certification – and one, the code used to tabulate all the data, won’t even finish development until March 2019 at the earliest. Any assessment and debugging of this software will be rather last minute…

❝ The situation is complicated further by staffing turmoil within the bureau. The head of the agency resigned shortly after Trump was elected, and Dodaro reported that as of October last year 60 per cent of positions at the bureau were unfilled…

Census data is used to determine congressional districts for voting by assessing how many people live in a certain area. It is also used to devise education and public sector funding so that the needs of the population can be met.

Dodaro said the GAO is keeping a close eye on the systems and will be conducting further security testing – if the code is ready to do so.

Since Trump represents only the ideologues who prefer no government over functional government, we’re in for a bumpy ride. Especially since Republicans have used every opportunity since the last census to gerrymander existing electoral districts. Trying to hang onto power by any means necessary is the internal slogan of reactionaries everywhere. Including the United States.

Electric cars will change the cultural landscape


Alix Paultre

❝ There are many reasons for the birthing pains behind the development and deployment of the next generation of electric vehicles. In the marketplace, range anxiety is the primary criticism, but in reality, the issues go much deeper.

A car (or van or truck) isn’t just a means of conveyance for you and the people and things that you want to take with you. It is part of some people’s personal identity and the lens through which they choose to engage the world. Reinventing the car alters our relationship with it. Change the car, and you change society.

The tipping point is coming — in years, not decades.

❝ We’ve seen this before. Many people were highly critical of HDTV deployment and early-generation flat-screen TVs. Complaints ranged from price points to real performance issues, such as phosphor burn-in on plasma sets, and many people believed that flat-screen high-resolution TV would remain a playground for rich folks and tech geeks. Then flat-screen TVs crossed a price-point threshold, and the market reached its tipping point…

The electric car is already here, and the industries that support it are in a disruptive renaissance of creative development, shaping the future as they go along. Our staffers have put together a collection of reports that take a look at several important aspects of the electric car and the infrastructure inside and out.

RTFA for hints – and links to the articles Alix Paultre references. A Renaissance Man in his own right, I have no doubt you’ll find them readable, informing, and if you’re in one of the electronic arts he addresses – carrying new directions to your attention.

Thanks, SmartAlix

Wanderer from another star system

❝ Telescopes only picked it up a week ago, but it’s likely been traveling through interstellar space for millions of years.

For centuries, skywatchers have chronicled the comings and goings of thousands of comets. Every one of them has come from someplace in our own solar system, either the Kuiper Belt beyond Neptune or the much more distant Oort Cloud at the fringes of the Sun’s realm.

But an object swept up just a week ago by observers using the PanSTARRS 1 telescope atop Haleakala on Maui has an extreme orbit — it’s on a hyperbolic trajectory that doesn’t appear to be bound to the Sun. Preliminary findings, published earlier today by the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center, suggest that we are witnessing a comet that escaped from another star

❝ Now it’s headed out of the solar system, never to return. It passed closest to Earth on October 14th at a distance of about 24,000,000 km (15,000,000 miles), and astronomers worldwide have been tracking it in the hopes of divining its true nature — especially whether it’s displaying any cometary activity…

❝ This object entered the solar system moving at 26 km (16 miles) per second. At that speed, in 10 million years it would traverse 8,200,000,000,000,000 km — more than 850 light-years.

I guess this brief look was sufficient. If there is any communication back to intelligent lifeforms, they now know there is little of value here excepting the usual commodities probably found in other solar systems.

Thanks, UrsaRodinia

For $1,000, anyone can track your location and app use


Begin and end a morning commute. Red dots = standing still over 4 minutes.

❝ Privacy concerns have long swirled around how much information online advertising networks collect about people’s browsing, buying and social media habits — typically to sell you something.

But could someone use mobile advertising to learn where you go for coffee? Could a burglar establish a sham company and send ads to your phone to learn when you leave the house? Could a suspicious employer see if you’re using shopping apps on work time?

❝ The answer is yes, at least in theory. New University of Washington research, which will be presented Oct. 30 at the Association for Computing Machinery’s Workshop on Privacy in the Electronic Society, suggests that for roughly $1,000, someone with devious intent can purchase and target online advertising in ways that allow them to track the location of other individuals and learn what apps they are using…

❝ “Because it was so easy to do what we did, we believe this is an issue that the online advertising industry needs to be thinking about,” said co-author Franzi Roesner, co-director of the UW Security and Privacy Research Lab… “We are sharing our discoveries so that advertising networks can try to detect and mitigate these types of attacks, and so that there can be a broad public discussion about how we as a society might try to prevent them.”

Mail me a penny postcard when the advertising industry and our plastic, fantastic lawmakers take this seriously.