People from all walks of life are fascinated by weather and make routine measurements. The “Cooperative Network” operated by the National Weather Service (or NWS) is a network of several thousand volunteers from across the country that routinely make and report weather observations. This Coop has operated continuously since 1890. The group includes about 9,000 weather observes who systematically measure high and low temperatures, rainfall and snow accumulation every day. These observations are archived at the National Climatic Data Center and are a large part of the historical weather record of the country.
Another group, the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow networks, or CoCoRaHS, includes 15,000 volunteers who help measure and report precipitation type and amounts every day. Observations of precipitation by a large group of volunteers are critical to understanding storms as precipitation varies widely from place to place even in a single storm. Such observations are useful for assessing flooding hazards and rapid snow melting. You can join CoCoRaHS at http://www.cocorahs.org.
There are also tens of thousands of citizens that serve as NWS severe weather spotters. The NWS relies on these storm spotters, along with radars, satellites and other data to supply observations that help in NWS’ decision making process of issuing and verifying severe weather warnings. The NWS is always looking for volunteers to help get the word out about severe storms. You can find out more about this group and sign up for classes and become a trained spotter at http://www.crh.noaa.gov/mkx/?n=spotters. It is a good class to take as we approach severe weather season.
So, if you enjoy making weather observations, join one of these groups and be one of the nation's weather observers!
All the interwebs were aflutter when the Ely, MN based North American Bear Center turned a web camera on a hibernating bear, Lily, who shortly gave birth to a new cub named Hope. We've blogged about Lily and Hope before - a couple times.
Sadly, Hope has now gone missing and researchers at the bear center fear she may be dead. There are some interesting posts from their research staff that give you some insight into how little we know about these animals' behavior.
Did Lily abandon her cub? Did they just get separated? Is this normal behavior for these bears?
Lily, a 3-year-old pregnant black bear, made her den near a cabin in Ely, MN. Access to electricity, etc., meant that researchers were able to install a web cam in Lily's winter quarters. And today, their efforts may be rewarded. Biologist Lynn Rogers told the Associated Press that he thinks Lily's labor started today at around 2 pm. We should see cubs in the very near future.
Watch the live video stream for yourself. (A lot of people are trying to check it out. If you can't get through, try again later.)
Also, I'd like it if there are any bear experts that could confirm this for me, but I'm fairly certain that brown bears don't have "eight-inch fangs." The tyrannosaurus rex, after all, with the largest teeth of any carnivorous dinosaur, had teeth 12 inches long, and that includes the root. The T. rex also had a 5-foot-long skull, however, so there was more room for ridiculously long teeth—a large bear skull might be a foot and a half long.
JGordon hooked me up with this video of the Minnesota Zoo's grizzly bears taking on a 500-pound pumpkin. It's no contest: the pumpkin doesn't stand a chance. But the bears don't seem interested in eating the pumpkin, just destroying it. Why do bears hate pumpkins? :)
Courtesy JGordonHave we never talked about the uncanny valley on Science Buzz? I searched for the term, and got nothing. (Although… I’m beginning to suspect that my computer doesn’t accept voice commands. “Computer, display LOLcats,” gets me nothing, and I know that there are LOLcats out there.)
So… the uncanny valley. It has to do with robots, and human-simulation thingys. It’s like… like… well, here’s an example:
Think about factory assembly line robots—big arms, repetitive movements… it doesn’t do much for you, does it? They’re just boring ol’ machines.
Now think about R2D2, Star Wars’ trashcan robot. Beep beep, whistle! Cute, huh? He rolls around, and does sassy things we can’t understand, and we know he’s a robot, and he’s pretty likeable.
Now think about Johny 5 from Short Circuit. He can talk, he’s got a face, and expressive eye-flaps. And we still kind of like him, despite the attitude. (Great, you can read fast. Clean my kitchen before I have you recycled, robot.)
Now think abut C3PO, Star Wars’ deeply uncomfortable, shuffle-gaited robot. He’s pretty much human shaped, he speaks human (with an accent too…), and he’s clearly grappling with some of the same personal identity issues we real humans deal with. And… he’s just a little bit creepy, isn’t he? He’s like us, but not like us… How do we deal with this goldbot?*
And then there’s the “Simroid,” the Japanese robotic monstrosity used for dentist training. See the Simroid:
Clearly Lady Simroid has discovered what it means to be human, and she is, appropriately, horrified. And it doesn’t help that her existence is limited to sitting in a chair and having dental students see what hurts.
But, see, robots like the Simroid, in their appearance and limited behavior, are quite like humans. And it’s weird! They make us uncomfortable. So like us, but they’re absolutely missing the piece that makes a person a person. Brrrr
And then, moving on, we have healthy, living humans. Or maybe Blade Runner replicants. And they aren’t so weird any more. We’re back up to something we’re comfortable with.
It’s the Simroid point on this scale where the familiarity/comfort level takes a huge dive. That’s the uncanny valley.
(Another way to think about it might be cartoons. Stick figures. Disney’s Aladdin. Toy Story. The Polar Express movie adaptation. Pirates of the Caribbean. Which of these are you least likely to see on a poster in a kid’s bedroom? Well, maybe stick figures, but do you see what I’m getting at?)
There are different theories as to why objects in the uncanny valley creep us out so much. The remind us of dead things. (Like zombies!) They are similar enough to us that, on a biological level, we perceive them as a threat (because a genetically similar creature is more likely to pass diseases to us, I guess), and so we feel revulsion towards them. Or they’re no longer like robots, but when we judge them on the human scale, they come up disturbingly lacking. Basically, they’re weird.
So, when you’re building your humanoid, you have to decide early on where you’re going to shoot for on the uncanny valley scale. If you aim too high, you may end up dooming your creation to the same hate we have for ventriloquists’ dummies. (In my opinion, you should probably set your expectations somewhere around R2D2, unless you’re making a baby. And even then…)
Enter the military-funded “Battlefield Extraction-Assist Robot,” or BEAR. BEAR was designed to be able to rescue wounded people in combat areas, and to do heavy, potentially dangerous tasks. It’s basically some big treads and a torso with arms, and each new version is a little stronger, and more nimble and damage resistant. And the newest versions have bizarre teddy bear heads, apparently because that’s the sort of thing that’s reassuring to an injured soldier.
So where does this fall on the uncanny scale? We like teddy bears. But teddy bears are usually soft and fuzzy, not six-foot-tall human-torsoed robots, able to dead lift 500 pounds. Also, their dark lifeless eyes aren’t usually set in hard, urban camo faces. For me, at least, a face like that seems to promise physical dismemberment with utter, robotic detachment (pun intended, I guess?).
Am I alone? Am I relating too much (but not enough) to the BEAR? How do y’all feel? Anything else in the uncanny valley that you feel deserves a shout out for its creepiness? Let’s have it.
*I’m aware that R2D2 and C3PO are supposed to be spelled out phonetically. I won’t be doing that. Ever.
That’s why I was glad to read today’s press accounts of a new idea to help reduce highway deer accidents: the use of wolf, coyote or bear urine. That’s one of the new ideas being discussed this week at a summit of law enforcement officials from nine states meeting in the Twin Cities.
How exactly would that work? Canisters with urine would be placed along roadways that have high incidents of deer crashes. The thought is that the deer would be able to smell the urine and turn back on their path as not to get close to a predator.
It’s a very plausible idea in places like Minnesota and Wisconsin, where there are healthy populations of the predators. But what about places further south? That’s what members of the law enforcement group want to study. They don’t know if deer will react to the smell of urine from predators they’ve never faced before.
Minnesota is also working on a deer control project of its own. Using a dual set of light beams along side roads, the presence of a deer near the road could be sensed and send a signal to lights on deer crossing signs along that road. The lasers would be spaced far enough apart (six inches) so they couldn’t both be set off by smaller animals. The lights on the deer crossing sign would flash for about a minute in the vicinity of where the deer, or other large animal, crossed through the light beams.
At test of that plan will be done over the course of this year near Camden State Park in southwest Minnesota along Hwy. 23. Each year between 40 and 80 deer are killed by vehicles on that stretch of road.
Statewide, there were 4,176 vehicle/deer crashes in Minnesota in 2005 (statistics for 2006 are not yet compiled). Two people died in those crashes.
Other solutions to vehicle/deer crashes are not so popular with the public, including culling deer herds with special hunts.
But what I really want to know, how are they going to collect the predator urine? I, for one, am not going to go around to ask any wolves, coyotes or bears to pee into a little cup.