Unrelated to all that, 1/17 edition

Sparks in the dark: the attraction of electricity in the eighteenth century

‘A turkey is to be killed for dinner by the electric shock, and roasted by the electric jack, before a fire kindled by the electrified bottle; when the healths of all the famous electricians of England, France, Holland, and Germany, are to be drunk in electrified bumpers, under the discharge of guns from the electrical battery.’ (Ben Franklin)

…Women became essential protagonists of electrical soirees. Electrical performances staged in courts and salons counted on their active participation and played with sexual difference. Although both men and women could experience the electric fire with their bodies, they would tackle it in different ways.

The selected lady would stand on an insulated stool while an operator charged her body with an electrical machine. Gentlemen in the audience would then be invited to kiss her, but alas, as they tried to approach her lips a strong spark would discourage any attempt, while exhilarating the lady and the rest of the audience.

(ht Tony Christie)

Here is a shark that is trying to eat the Internet

New Frontiers for the Integrative Study of Animal Behavior

This is especially relevant to studies of animal behavior, since behavior is central to both neurobiology and population biology/genetics. Approximately 50 years after Tinbergen’s seminal publication on levels of analysis in studies of animal behavior, the necessity of understanding behavior at the level of the organism has become pressing.

However, due to both historical contingencies and methodological limitations, classical approaches to the study of animal behavior have been limited to relatively simple processes and questions, which often failed to holistically explain the complexity of animal behavior in natural ecological systems. Understanding physiological mechanisms and developmental constraints may not only provide a more holistic understanding of why and how behavior evolve, but such an approach may also help explain why animals sometimes behave in seemingly non-adaptive ways or if certain resources are indeed limiting, as is often assumed (Monaghan, 2014). Moreover, placing developmental and physiological results within their evolutionary and ecological context allows us to distinguish between how organisms can behave in a laboratory environment and how they do behave in their natural environment.

6 things The Oatmeal Learned from riding in a self-driving car

2. Google self-driving cars are timid.
The car we rode in did not strike me as dangerous. It struck me as cautious. It drove slowly and deliberately, and I got the impression that it’s more likely to annoy other drivers than to harm them. Google can adjust the level of aggression in the software, and the self-driving prototypes currently tooling around Mountain View are throttled to act like nervous student drivers.

In the early versions they tested on closed courses, the vehicles were programmed to be highly aggressive. Apparently during these aggression tests, which involved obstacle courses full of traffic cones and inflatable crash-test objects, there were a lot of screeching brakes and roaring engines and terrified interns. Although impractical on the open road, part of me wishes I could have experienced that version as well.

Bees drink with expandable mop tongues

Video footage revealed that a bee’s tongue is not the dumb mop it resembles. Instead, the hairs on the glossa are active. When the bee’s tongue extends, the hairs snap outward. First those at the base of the tongue stand on end, then the middle hairs, and finally the ones on the tip. Then they flatten again as the bee withdraws its tongue, slurping up the sweet nectar caught in its bristles.

Although standing the tongue hairs out at a perfect 90 degrees would capture the most nectar, the hairs in the study didn’t extend that far. The researchers think this is because bees have to balance the amount of nectar in each sip with the drag that the sticky liquid generates on their tongues. Standing up their tongue hairs in this order, and to this degree, might be the most efficient way they can suck up nectar.

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