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Even birds are sleep-deprived in the city

Urban early birds

"City living could have a major impact on the biological clocks of humans and animals, a new study has found," says BBC News. "Researchers measured the circadian rhythms – the 24-hour cycle of biological activity – of urban and rural blackbirds in southern Germany. German and Scottish researchers found the city birds woke up earlier and rested less than forest-dwelling birds." Dr. Barbara Helm of Glasgow University said: "We found that the rhythms of urban birds in the wild differed significantly. … On average, they began their daily activities around 30 minutes before dawn, while forest birds began their day as the sun rose. The city birds ended their days around nine minutes later [than forest birds], meaning they were active for about 40 minutes longer each day."

How the pyramids got built

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The Egyptians built the pyramids under the influence, writes Christian Millman in Discover magazine. "Workers at Giza received about four litres of beer a day, according to Patrick McGovern, a biomolecular archeologist at the University of Pennsylvania. Beer (in part because it contains antimicrobial ethanol) was a healthier drink than polluted Nile river water."

Safety and the revolution

"An important question in economics is why the Industrial Revolution happened when and where it did," writes Kevin Lewis of The Boston Globe. "Several theories have been offered, but here's a new one from a pair of economists: The boom in commerce came thanks in part to the welfare state. While China or countries in continental Europe may have had access to technology and commercial institutions, Britain was the first to implement a generous and reliable safety net, specifically the Old Poor Law of 1601, when the state formally mandated 'relief of the poor.' Where there was more relief, there was less social unrest and more technological innovation because people were more cushioned from the downside of economic progress and more willing to take risks."

When the computer errs

Tom Chatfield, author of Netymology: A Linguistic Celebration of the Digital World, discusses Cupertinos, also known as auto-correct errors: "A Cupertino error occurs when your computer thinks it knows what you're trying to say better than you do. The name comes from an early spellchecker program, which knew the word Cupertino – the California city where Apple has its headquarters – but not the word 'co-operation.' All the co-operations in a document might thus be automatically 'corrected' into Cupertinos. Courtesy of smartphones, Cupertinos are a richer field than ever – a personal favourite being my last phone's determination to transform 'Facebook' into 'ravenous.'"

Man discovers he is woman

"A 66-year-old who lived his whole life as a man was given a surprising diagnosis after visiting the doctor in Hong Kong with a swollen abdomen – he was a woman," says Agence France-Presse. "Doctors realized the patient was female after they found the swelling came from a large cyst on an ovary, the Hong Kong Medical Journal reported. The condition was the result of two rare genetic disorders. The subject had Turner syndrome, which affects girls and women and results from a problem with the chromosomes, with characteristics including infertility and short stature. But he also had congenital adrenal hyperplasia, increasing male hormones and making the patient, who had a beard and a 'micropenis,' appear like a man."

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Thought du jour

"The best career advice to give the young is 'Find out what you like doing best and get someone to pay you for doing it.'"

Katharine Whitehorn, British journalist (1928- )

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