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Monthly Archives: January 2010
“I Just Want To Say To The Kids Watching: You Can Do Anything You Want In Life, Unless J. Leno Wants To Do It, Too.” ~ ‘Coco’
From timesonline.co.uk, by Jonathan Leake w/ additional reporting by Helen Brooks
Dolphins have been declared the world’s second most intelligent creatures after humans, with scientists suggesting they are so bright that they should be treated as “non-human persons”.
Studies into dolphin behaviour have highlighted how similar their communications are to those of humans and that they are brighter than chimpanzees. These have been backed up by anatomical research showing that dolphin brains have many key features associated with high intelligence.
The researchers argue that their work shows it is morally unacceptable to keep such intelligent animals in amusement parks or to kill them for food or by accident when fishing. Some 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises die in this way each year.
“Many dolphin brains are larger than our own and second in mass only to the human brain when corrected for body size,” said Lori Marino, a zoologist at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, who has used magnetic resonance imaging scans to map the brains of dolphin species and compare them with those of primates.
“The neuroanatomy suggests psychological continuity between humans and dolphins and has profound implications for the ethics of human-dolphin interactions,” she added.
Dolphins have long been recognised as among the most intelligent of animals but many researchers had placed them below chimps, which some studies have found can reach the intelligence levels of three-year-old children. Recently, however, a series of behavioural studies has suggested that dolphins, especially species such as the bottlenose, could be the brighter of the two. The studies show how dolphins have distinct personalities, a strong sense of self and can think about the future.
It has also become clear that they are “cultural” animals, meaning that new types of behaviour can quickly be picked up by one dolphin from another.
In one study, Diana Reiss, professor of psychology at Hunter College, City University of New York, showed that bottlenose dolphins could recognise themselves in a mirror and use it to inspect various parts of their bodies, an ability that had been thought limited to humans and great apes.
In another, she found that captive animals also had the ability to learn a rudimentary symbol-based language.
Other research has shown dolphins can solve difficult problems, while those living in the wild co-operate in ways that imply complex social structures and a high level of emotional sophistication.
In one recent case, a dolphin rescued from the wild was taught to tail-walk while recuperating for three weeks in a dolphinarium in Australia.
After she was released, scientists were astonished to see the trick spreading among wild dolphins who had learnt it from the former captive.
There are many similar examples, such as the way dolphins living off Western Australia learnt to hold sponges over their snouts to protect themselves when searching for spiny fish on the ocean floor.
Such observations, along with others showing, for example, how dolphins could co-operate with military precision to round up shoals of fish to eat, have prompted questions about the brain structures that must underlie them.
Size is only one factor. Researchers have found that brain size varies hugely from around 7oz for smaller cetacean species such as the Ganges River dolphin to more than 19lb for sperm whales, whose brains are the largest on the planet. Human brains, by contrast, range from 2lb-4lb, while a chimp’s brain is about 12oz.
When it comes to intelligence, however, brain size is less important than its size relative to the body.
What Marino and her colleagues found was that the cerebral cortex and neocortex of bottlenose dolphins were so large that “the anatomical ratios that assess cognitive capacity place it second only to the human brain”. They also found that the brain cortex of dolphins such as the bottlenose had the same convoluted folds that are strongly linked with human intelligence.
Such folds increase the volume of the cortex and the ability of brain cells to interconnect with each other. “Despite evolving along a different neuroanatomical trajectory to humans, cetacean brains have several features that are correlated with complex intelligence,” Marino said.
Marino and Reiss will present their findings at a conference in San Diego, California, next month, concluding that the new evidence about dolphin intelligence makes it morally repugnant to mistreat them.
Thomas White, professor of ethics at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, who has written a series of academic studies suggesting dolphins should have rights, will speak at the same conference.
“The scientific research . . . suggests that dolphins are ‘non-human persons’ who qualify for moral standing as individuals,” he said.
By: Holman Jenkins; The Wall Street Journal, Opinion Journal
This may not be the year America cuts the cable cord and drops its subscription to pay TV. But it will likely be a year of sublime creative destruction in the home-video entertainment business.
Comcast’s proposed acquisition of NBC has elicited the usual panic from the usual worrywarts wondering who will possibly be able to compete with the new cable-cum-programming giant.
A better question is: Who won’t?
Dozens of players (including retailers and gadget makers) are entering what’s called the “over the top” TV market, with nothing to lose and every reason to innovate in competition with each other.
The toughest hurdle has been connecting the television to a potentially bottomless supply of Internet programming in a way not daunting to the average viewer. Coming this year are TVs with direct Internet connections, which could change things fast. Of note is Best Buy’s recent announcement that every Web-connected TV it sells will soon come with a subscription to a Best Buy library of entertainment. Sony has similar plans. Think Wal-Mart, Blockbuster and Disney won’t be in the hunt?
Ditto the cablers themselves, who are burnishing a concept called “TV Everywhere” in hopes of satisfying your appetite for on-demand TV (while somehow keeping you paying your cable bills at the same time).
Yeah, right. The losers won’t just be cable and satellite’s existing business models. The losers will be Verizon and AT&T, whose Internet-powered television this column cheerleaded for. Too little, too late, too cablelike. Likewise, Sony and Microsoft, which have spent billions developing high-powered, Internet-connected game machines as Trojan horses in the living room, only to find the set-top box market suddenly crowded and perhaps obsolescing.
In this world, Fox Broadcasting’s victory Friday in winning retransmission fees from Time Warner Cable might seem a case of one corpse feeding on another, slightly healthier corpse. Broadcasters are supposed to be on suicide watch because they lack even cable’s dual revenue streams (advertising and subscription). But the free-to-air TV distributors may yet have a card up their sleeves.
Nobody would mistake Qwest Communications, the former Baby Bell, for one of the winners of the telecom war of the ’90s, but having not followed AT&T and Verizon into the TV business, its executives now are able to say freely that live-transmission TV doesn’t make much sense in an on-demand world—that is, except news and sports, the only programming that large numbers of people are likely to want to consume at exactly the same moment.
It just so happens that over-the-air broadcasters, now that they have multiple, crystalline hi-def digital channels at their disposal, may prove the best way to deliver live programming over a given geographical area. After a recent column on this subject, several readers emailed to say they’ve already dropped cable and now get their video from a combination of free HDTV plus on-demand downloads from the likes of Netflix, iTunes or Amazon.
And surely one of Ben Bernanke’s unenumerated greenshoots lately has been the unexpected surge in HDTV antenna sales since last year’s digital switch. Look to Western Europe, where the digital transition began earlier. Viewers willing to rely on over-the-air digital broadcast TV have grown to 42 million from 31 million in three years, according to the International Television Expert Group. They are expected to hit 59 million in 2013. A new European standard-setting body called HbbTV (for hybrid broadcast-broadband TV) has even been launched to consecrate the wedding of on-demand and over-the-air.
One future wild card will be the strategies adopted by program creators. Will the established networks and studios fight to preserve cable’s business model (while cutting themselves in for a bigger share of subscriber fees) or will they seize the broadband opportunity? To wit, the proposed tie-up between Comcast and NBC gives Comcast an ownership stake in Hulu, through which NBC, ABC and Fox jointly have experimented with bypassing cable to stream their shows directly to viewers. Now regulators will have to decide what Comcast’s motivation is likely to be: snuffing a proto-cable competitor in its crib or developing Hulu’s full potential? (Even Comcast probably doesn’t know at this point.)
In the long run, we wouldn’t care to bet which programming aggregator will be a winner, but here’s a guess at what TV viewing will look in five years: You will point an iPhone-like device at the nearest screen in order to play any kind of video, whether stored on the device’s own memory, downloaded from a third-party site or plucked from an over-the-air signal.
Somehow, too, programmers will get paid, or there won’t be programming. One thing is also clear: If you’re playing in this sandbox, there is no better leverage than owning rights to college and professional football, especially during bowl season.