Sunday, December 07, 2014

Possibly getting eaten by a shark, versus winning the Lotto?

I keep telling members of my family that buying Lotto tickets is a “mug’s game” and that they would better spend their hard-earned money on something else.

They even think that buying a Lotto ticket each week increases their chance of a win. I’ve given up on trying to persuade them, it’s like talking to the proverbial brick wall.

Earlier today I was reading Response to the latest shark bite is fuelled by myth and retribution and reading the various interesting opinions of commenters.

One of them pointed to a web document that turns out to be a real gem, and I encourage you all to read right through its six pages:

Shark attacks and the Poisson approximation by Byron Schmuland

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As well as gaining valuable insights about your chances of being gobbled by a “Noah’s Ark” you will also learn about the theory of coincidences: winning the Lotto, having the same birthday as someone else in a group, and the true nature of Edmonton Oiler Wayne Gretsky’s amazing batting average.

Monday, January 20, 2014

What you think is right may actually be wrong – Inferring versus rationalising

Over at The Conversation there’s a thought-provoking new article (16 January 2014) about the process of thinking:

What you think is right may actually be wrong – here’s why

We like to think that we reach conclusions by reviewing facts, weighing evidence and analysing arguments. But this is not how humans usually operate, particularly when decisions are important or need to be made quickly.

The matters broached in this article are very relevant to this blog about Basic Questions, wouldn’t you agree?

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Do dogs show empathy? It could well be so.

Just back from checking that our pooch was comfortable on a clear. cool early Winter’s night here Down Under in Melbourne. He was okay, and seemed to appreciate the visit!

Back inside, I went to ABC Australia’s Catalyst science show’s website to catch up on their latest episode. You may recall that back in April I pointed out a story about dogs cute appearance probably being due to their facial musculature (see Cute Canines, Eyes That Engage You and watch the video).

Well, in this week’s new episode there’s another intriguing story, this one about dog empathy which the story describes as:

“. . . the naturally occurring subjective experience of similarity between the feelings expressed by self and others without losing sight of whose feelings belong to who. Translated, what that means is to have true empathy, you have to not only feel someone's pain, you have to know that the emotion belongs to them and not to yourself.”

Watch the video. What do you think?

I’m somewhat convinced. I do know that if I’m playing with my dog (and others before him), I only have to howl or yelp in a certain way – making the sort of sound you hear if you accidentally tread on the dog, or if the dog gets bitten in a dogfight – then consistently the dog will immediately stop whatever he’s doing and cuddle up close to to me as if to offer sympathy.

You only have to do a simple search or two and you’ll find much other material about the unique dog-human relationship.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Fascinating Facts about Flu - What Flu is and isn’t

As southern winter sets in here Down Under, I’m aware that for the previous two years I suffered a number of quite nasty attacks of what I called “the Flu” – But was it really influenza, or something else, and will I succumb again this year despite again getting jabbed with Flu vaccine?

Just-published this first week of June 2013 is a “Facts about Flu” series of articles in The Conversation that sheds light on this topic. There are insights and clarifications, as well as lots of shadowy and dark areas where our knowledge remains deficient.

This excellent series is as follows:

Part one: Of influenza, flu, potions and key opinion leaders

Part two: Influenza vaccine for 2013: who, what, why and when?

Part three: H1N1, H5N1, H7N9? What on earth does it all mean

Part four: The Tamiflu saga shows why all research data should be public

Part five: CSL’s flu vaccine leaves a hole in Australia’s pandemic plan

Part six: Should flu shots be mandatory for health-care workers?

Part seven: The Holy Grail of influenza research: a universal flu vaccine

Part eight: Is it really the flu? The other viruses making you ill in winter

Part nine: The heart of the matter: how effective is the flu jab really?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Cute Canines - Eyes That Engage You

My mother adored cats, and I was brought up with felines of all fur colors, temperaments ranging from cuddly to haughty, taking control as they do all over the house. But my wife hates cats, so it’s been dogs during my married life.

I’ve gotten to really like dogs, and I’m in good company. For example, British prime minister Winston Churchill in the movie The Gathering Storm is pictured one day sitting in the farm section of his country property pondering the animals around him. He comments to an approaching visitor:

“You know, a cat looks down upon a man, and a dog looks up to a man, but a pig will look a man in the eye and see his equal.”

I don’t know about pigs, the closest I’ve ever been to one is while eating ham or bacon. Can’t say that I’ve eaten cat or dog (knowingly at least, but then again I have been to parts of Asia).

The dogs that we’ve had have always been cute and devoted. What is it about dogs that makes them into “man’s best friend” as is generally accepted?

Of course, there’s the services they faithfully carry out for us: watchdogs, seeing-eye dogs, wartime duty, lifesaving, farm dogs effortlessly shepherding sheep, and much. much more.

But it was an episode of the outstanding Catalyst science program Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) that put forward another fascinating insight. Catalyst features stories about dogs every now and again.

For example, there’s this story about dogs’ eyes:

It was thought, that like humans, all dogs have the same eye structure and see the world the same way. But Australian researchers have discovered that dogs had a completely different retina. Amazingly, it means different dogs see the world completely differently.

All very interesting, but it doesn’t answer my question of why, of all domestic animals, dogs seem so cute and appealing (compared with cats, especially).Dogeyebrows_small

It seems that there could be a good scientific reason for this. There’s now a plausible theory that it all has to do with dogs’ eyebrows.

Watch the video, and read the transcript.

Are you convinced?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Do husbands and wives ever fully understand each other?


Now that really is a basic question!

Thanks to Scott Hilburn’s “Wife of Pi” comic of 08 February 2013 for leading me to ponder this most problematic of matters:

More of his works at The Argyle Sweater.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Is perfection achievable?

That’s a pretty decent ‘basic question’ is it not?

I got to thinking about it after coming across the following article:
Don’t Let Perfection Be a Barrier to Improvement

If you know of something that can be done to make a process better and you intentionally choose to leave the issue unresolved, you are violating the principle of zero defects. But if you overspend your resources for a small gain when there is a bigger gain available somewhere else, your actions violate the ‘better, not perfect’ principle.

So, which is right?

I suggest that you read this short article too, including the comments.