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facts & arguments

Rob Carr/The Associated Press

Dolphins have cliques

"For the bottlenose dolphins of Shark Bay, Australia," reports, "functional fashion seems to be all the rage, with inclusion in cliques dependent on whether one is wearing a nose sponge – a tool that helps dolphins find food – new research suggests. The female dolphins that wear marine basket sponges on their beaks to scour the sandy bottoms of deep channels for fish associate more with each other than with non-sponge users, the researchers said. … These results initially surprised study coauthor and behavioural biologist Janet Mann of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Sponge-using dolphins, called spongers, are solitary for the most part. '(At first) it seemed like the spongers weren't that interested in a social life,' Dr. Mann said. But over 22 years of observing the Shark Bay dolphins, a pattern emerged, and 'it seemed (the spongers) were going out of their way to hang out with other spongers.' "

How to dress at Oxford

"Oxford University students will no longer have to wear gender-specific academic clothing after concerns it was unfair to the transgender community," reports BBC News. "It will mean men can attend formal occasions in skirts and stockings and women in suits and bow ties. The new rules come after a motion by the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer society (LGBTQ Soc) was passed by the students' union earlier this year. The changes, to start from Aug. 4, have now been agreed by the university. Jess Pumphrey, LGBTQ officer, said the change would make a number of students' exam experience significantly less stressful."

How ancient Olympians did it

"Ancient Greeks trained specifically for the games for only a few months," writes Brian Palmer at, "and they may not have practised individual events much during that time. … Weightlifting was rare because the trainers worried about overdeveloping certain muscles and creating an imbalance in strength. Athletes experimented with a wide variety of diets … Bizarre elixirs were common, and most athletes seem to have used 'cursing tablets' to hex their opponents before the games commenced. One aspect of training hasn't changed: The ancients fiercely debated the value of sexual abstinence during the days before competition. Ancient Olympians were also probably exhausted at the start of the games because they had to walk [58 kilometres] just to get from Elis, the city that administered the games, to Olympia."

All kids are smart

"As early as age 3," writes Sue Shellenbarger in The Wall Street Journal, "children have what researchers call a 'positivity bias' – a tendency to see themselves as smart regardless of their abilities, and to exaggerate positive traits in others, says a 2010 study in the journal Child Development Perspectives. By adolescence, one-fourth of college-bound students rate themselves in the top 1 per cent in their ability to get along with others, research shows."

Sleep? Worth the effort

"Tiredness, like hunger, is a warning signal to encourage us to rest," writes Luis Villazon in BBC Sciencefocus magazine. "Sleepiness is governed by the levels of the hormones adenosine and melatonin, which gradually accumulate during the day. The function of sleep isn't well understood but [it] seems to be important for tissue repair and growth, as well as memory processing. It isn't simply a question of conserving energy. Hibernating squirrels will periodically raise their body temperatures to enable them to transition from hibernation to ordinary sleep. This shows that sleep is an active process that is worth spending energy on, even in a completely resting animal."

Travel to boast about

"The latest trend in the travel world aims to help vacationers hold onto their bragging rights. A growing number of companies are offering 'experiential travel,' trips that veer off the beaten path …" says Fortune magazine. "Are you royalty? A billionaire? Just sell your tech startup? 'Based on a True Story' could be for you. Founded by British entrepreneur Niel Fox, this Europe-based outfit organizes just a handful of trips each year, but each one is a wish-fulfillment bonanza. So what do you get when you hand over the AmEx black card and ask for the moon? Imagine a cast-iron canopy bed perched on the edge of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, or a custom-built igloo complex, complete with a hot tub and champagne chilling in the walls, awaiting the arrival of your Finnish dogsledding team. Wherever you go, you'll get all-private transport – jet, yacht, you name it – plus a professional photographer cum tour guide who accompanies you, shooting the footage for the book that will arrive after your return home."

Respect for old Larry

The life of a 7.7-kilogram, 80-year-old lobster that was destined for a pot of boiling water was spared on July 24, reports The (New London, Conn.) Day. The crustacean is now back in the ocean. "The lobster was caught in the waters of New England … and then purchased by The Dock Restaurant [of Waterford, Conn.]. That's when Don MacKenzie, vice-president of Boats Inc. in Niantic, stepped in. 'This lobster has seen … World War Two, seen the landing on the moon and the Red Sox win the World Series, he's made it this far in life' Mr. MacKenzie said. 'He deserves to live.' " The lobster, dubbed Larry by local children, was released in an area of Long Island Sound where it is believed he'll be safe from capture.

Thought du jour

The face is the index of the mind.

Latin saying