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Talking points: Dirty-water icicles, smart elephants and the next generation of smokers in China

Two men watch their fighting crickets at an insect market in Beijing.



Why do most icicles have ridges and bumps? It's all about the salt content and dirty water. The Province reports on a recent study from the University of Toronto that reveals salt water is responsible for the distinctive ripples seen on the ice stalactites that grow from house eaves and bridges during the winter months. And there are other contaminants that contribute to the creation of the characteristic bumps on icicles. "We didn't expect this, but it turns out that very slightly dirty water, like Toronto tap water, produces nice ripply icicles," said Stephen Morris, an experimental physicist at U of T. Pure water produces icicles with no ripples.


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Not only do elephants never forget, they also get the point. From, we learn that elephants comprehend the human gesture of pointing. A recent study by the University of St. Andrews in Scotland reveals that the pointing gesture is understood by elephants that received no prior training and have never been domesticated. The study focused on a group of 11 African elephants. Researchers hid food in several containers and then pointed to the correct bin to steer elephants toward the food. Two-thirds of the time, the elephants went to the right container. "By showing that African elephants spontaneously understand human pointing … we have shown that the ability to understand pointing is not uniquely human, but has also evolved in a lineage of animal very remote from the primates," said study co-author Richard Byrne.


A good percentage of tomorrow's smokers could come from China. The Wall Street Journal reports on an alarming new study by Johns Hopkins University that examined the effects of tobacco marketing on children in low- and middle-income countries. The survey queried nearly 400 children in Qi County, Shanxi province, and discovered that 71 per cent of those ages 5 and 6 had someone using tobacco in their household. More shockingly, 86 per cent of the kids could identify at least one brand of cigarette – far higher than their survey counterparts in Brazil, Nigeria, India, Pakistan and Russia. Twenty-two per cent of the Chinese kids said they intended to smoke themselves when they grew up, second only to India, where 30 per cent planned to take up the habit.


Colleges are like old-age homes, except for the fact that more people die in colleges.

Bob Dylan (1941-), American songwriter

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