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The Globe and Mail

Humans swarming space that used to belong to wildlife

A cow grazes at sunset in Leicestershire, central England, October 23, 2007.


Swarming the planet

"Since 1700, the amount of cultivated land on the planet has increased from 7 to 40 per cent, according to researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison," writes Dave Foreman, author of Man Swarm and the Killing of Wildlife, on "Spin a globe. More than a third of what you see that is not water or ice has gone from neighbourhoods for wildlife to croplands for humans or grazing lands for our livestock."

Who says logic is dull?

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"The rumour that Smith College was going entirely vegetarian, and that it would only buy food from local growers, started a ruckus on the school's Massachusetts campus. There were protests and counter-protests last week at the prestigious women's college in Northampton, slogans pro and con written on walkways, and personal criticism of the manager of dining services," Associated Press reports. "It turns out it was a hoax, cooked up by two professors as part of their introductory class in logic. Prof. Jay Garfield tells The Boston Globe the prank was a way to liven up a dry topic. He and Prof. Jim Henle have started false rumours in the past. Smith president Carol Christ added to the exercise, saying Monday [that]Garfield and Henle had been fired. That, too, was a hoax."

Sleep and taking tests

"Sleep … plays a role in test performance, but in two unexpected ways," says The Wall Street Journal. "Review the toughest material right before going to bed the night before the test. That approach makes it easier to recall the material later, says Dan Taylor, director of a sleep-and-health-research lab at the University of North Texas in Denton. And don't wake up earlier than usual to study; this could interfere with the rapid-eye-movement sleep that aids memory, he says. A common study habit – the all-nighter – is a bad idea. Although 60 per cent of college students stay up all night at some point in school, the practice is linked to lower grades, says Pamela Thacher, an associate professor of psychology at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., based on a 2008 study of 120 students. It also impairs reasoning and memory for as long as four days."

Built for peak performance?

"Neanderthals had shorter lower legs than we do, leading scientists to theorize that this was an adaptation to the cold times in which they lived, even if it slowed them down," reports. "But two scientists offer a new explanation for those short lower legs: They allowed these early humans to move efficiently across the sloped terrain of their mountainous homes. Instead of being at a disadvantage on rugged terrain, as was generally thought, Neanderthals even may have been at an advantage, depending on the nature of the slope, they found. The research team also found the same connection between shorter lower-leg bones and mountain life among modern animals." The research was published online in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

Cars reading text messages

"Two and a half years into the [U.S.]crusade against distracted driving, auto makers are equipping vehicles with new technology that might circumvent the 34 state laws that prohibit text messaging behind the wheel, which 95 per cent of Americans say is dangerous," reports The Washington Post. "The manufacturers say the new hands-free text-messaging systems will reduce the risk of distraction. Safety advocates aren't so sure. … The latest wrinkle is an advancement in Ford's voice-activated Sync system, which is standard in most of the company's 2012 models. Now, using a Bluetooth wireless connection with a cellphone, the vehicles can read text messages aloud. The driver can tap a touch screen to send one of 15 preset responses, including 'I'm running a few minutes late,' 'I can't talk right now,' and 'I'm on my way.' BMW offers a similar system. Vehicles with General Motors' OnStar will read text messages and Facebook statuses to the user and transcribe spoken messages into text or Facebook messages."

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Thought du jour

"The vision of a champion is someone who is bent over, drenched in sweat, at the point of exhaustion, when no one else is watching."

- Anson Dorrance (1951-), coach of women's soccer at the University of North Carolina

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