Tag Archives: pattern

Giraffe patterns aren’t random — and they’re quite important

A new study suggests that giraffe spot distribution isn’t random — it’s inherited genetically on the mother side. Furthermore, it could have a big impact on the calves’ likelihood of survival.

Not all spots are alike.

When it comes to animal patterns, the likes of zebras and tigers are the most famous, but giraffes also have their own patterns. It’s not as noticeable, but it’s quite important for the giraffes — although this is the first study to examine what these patterns are for.

Like many other studies, this stemmed from pure curiosity.

“We were inspired by so many people’s natural curiosity about giraffe spots and where the patterns come from. It was a consistent theme of question we heard when talking about giraffes,” Derek Lee, one of the authors of the study, told NPR. “We began looking for answers in the literature and found nobody had measured complex mammal coat patterns like spots.”

So Lee and his team used a hi-tech approach: they used image analysis software to note the differences between spot traits of wild Masai mother giraffes and their offspring in Tanzania. This comparison was made because first have a rather limited area, whereas the latter roam free around vast landscapes.

They tracked 31 sets of mother-calf pairs, analyzing the general shape and distribution of the dark spots, as well as whether these factors impact a young giraffe’s survival chances. They photographed the same 258 juveniles six times a year for four years.

“Giraffe coat markings are highly complex and variable and it has been hypothesized that variation in coat patterns most likely affects fitness by camouflaging neonates against visually hunting predators,” the study notes.

“We demonstrated that some characteristics of giraffe coat spot shape were likely to be heritable, as measured by mother-offspring regression.”

Newborn giraffes with large and irregularly shaped spots survive better during their first few months of life. Image credits: Derek Lee, Wild Nature Institute/Penn State.

They found that things such as spot roundness and smoothness were passed on maternally. These traits also were a significant indicator of a calf’s chances to survive, due to increasing or decreasing its camouflage ability. Calves with large and irregularly-shaped spots were more likely to survive their first months of life, as they were presumably able to better mimic the surrounding landscape.

“This increased survival could reflect better camouflage of these young giraffes, but it also could be related to other survival-enhancing factors, such as temperature regulation or visual communication,” researchers explain.

Of course, other traits such as good genes and maternal investment play a much stronger role in calf survival rates.

The team hopes that ultimately their work can aid other scientists study the heritability and influence of these traits, and ultimately, understand what the full purpose of the giraffes’ spotted pattern really is.

The study was published in PeerJ.


Analysis of over 800 million tweets reveals how our thought patterns shift throughout the day

Our minds follow different patterns of thought throughout the day, social media analysis reveals.


Image via Maxpixel.

How does one glean insight into the human mind? One method is to look at tweets. Many tweets. Some 800-million tweets, judging by a novel study. The paper, published by University of Bristol researchers studied thinking behaviors by analyzing over seven billion words tweeted by Britons throughout the day over the past four years — and report that two main factors influence how we think throughout the day.

Thought swings

“The analysis of media content, when done correctly, can reveal useful information for both social and biological sciences,” said Nello Cristianini, Professor of Artificial Intelligence and lead researcher. “We are still trying to learn how to make the most of it.”

The team of researchers, with a strong background in both artificial intelligence (AI) and medicine, used AI software to analyze aggregated, anonymized UK Twitter content to understand how our minds work. The material was sampled every hour over the course of four years across 54 of the UK’s largest cities.

The researchers tracked the use of specific words, associated with 74 psychometric indicators, across the sample — which they then used to interpret the underlying thinking style. The results suggest that our thinking patterns change throughout the day, and follow a roughly 24-hour cycle.

Although they tracked 73 different psychometric qualities, the team found that it all boiled down to two independent factors that explain most of the variation seen in the dataset.

The first pattern of thought, the team reports, is a more analytically-inclined one. It seems to peak at around 5 to 6 am. Tweets sent out around this hour used words and an overall language style previously shown to correlate with more logical patterns of thought. They included a high ratio of nouns, articles, and prepositions, which the team notes have previously been linked to intelligence, academic performance, and education.

During these hours, people also showed increased concern with achievements and power.

In the evenings and during the night, however, the pattern flips. It becomes more emotional and takes on existential tones. It’s a more impulsive, social, and emotionally-heavy mode, and its expression peaked at around 3 to 4 am, the team reports. The algorithm the team employed found that during this interval there was heavy language correlated with existential concerns — but negatively correlated with expression of positive emotions.

The team notes that these shifts also occur during times associated with major changes in neural activity and hormonal levels — which would suggest that they’re tied to the workings of our circadian clock. Finally, they report that a user’s cognitive and emotional states could be reliably predicted over a 24-hour period.

The paper is awaiting publishing in the journal PLOS ONE. Materials via University of Bristol.

What Can Quartz Crystals Really Do?

Image in public domain.

Crystals and quartz

Crystals have caught the eye of humans since the dawn of time. Some scientists have even speculated that the origins of life on Earth may trace its origins to crystals. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that these gleaming mineral formations appear frequently in pop culture often as having supernatural powers (even though they don’t). A few examples of this reoccurring theme are the Silmarils in the Lord of the Rings universe and the sunstones in James Gurney’s Dinotopia.

The atoms which make up a crystal lie in a lattice which repeats itself over and over. There are several methods for generating crystals artificially in a lab, with superheating being the most common process. Likewise, in nature, a hot liquid (eg: magma) cools down, and as this happens, the molecules are attracted to each other, bunching up and forming that repeating pattern which leads to crystal formation.

Quartz is one of the most abundant minerals found on the planet. This mineral is known to be transparent or have the hues of white, yellow, pink, green, blue, or even black. It is also the most common form of crystalline silica which has a rather high melting point and can be extremely dangerous if inhaled in its powdered form. This mineral compound is present in the majority of igneous rocks. Some quartzes are considered semiprecious stones. Aside from mere bedazzlement, they have been used in countless industries.

Industrial, not magical uses

If a pressure is applied to the surface of a quartz crystal, it can give off a small electrical charge. This effect is the result of the electrically charged atoms (the ions) dispersing and spreading away from the area to which the pressure is being applied. This can be done in a number of ways, including simply squeezing the crystal. It also dispenses an electric current if a precise cut is made at an angle to the axis.

Since it possesses this property, quartz has been a component of devices such as radios, TV’s, and radar systems. Some quartz crystals are capable of transmitting ultraviolet light better than glass (by the way, quartz sand is used in making glass). Because of this, low-quality quartz is often used for making specific lenses; optical quartz is made exclusively from quartz crystals. Quartz which is somewhat clouded or which is not as transparent as the stuff used for optics is frequently incorporated into lab instrumentation.

Scientists have employed quartz for many things, and they have considered its role in the Earth sciences a crucial one. Some have stated it directly brings about the reaction which forms mountains and causes earthquakes! It continues to be used in association with modern technology, and it likely will lead us to more discoveries in the future.

artist graph

Computer analyses fine art like an expert would. Art only for humans?

When fine art is concerned, or visual arts in general for that matter, complex cognitive functions are at play as the viewer analyze it. As you go from painting to painting, especially different artists, the discrepancies in style can be recognized, and trained art historians can catch even the most subtle of brush strokes and identify a certain artist or period, solely based on this. For a computer, this kind of analysis can be extremely difficult to undertake, however computer scientists at Lawrence Technological University in Michigan saw this as an exciting challenge and eventually developed a software that can accurately analyse a painting, without any kind of human intervention based solely on visual cues, much in the same manner an expert would.

The program was fed 1,000 paintings from 34 well known artists and was tasked with grouping artists by their artistic movements, and provide a map of similarities and influential links. In first instance, the program separated the artists into two main, distinct groups: modern (16 painters) and classical (18 painters).

Each painting had 4,027 numerical image context descriptors analyzed – content of the image such as texture, color and shapes in a quantitative fashion. Using pattern recognition algorithms and statistical computations, the software was able to group artists into styles based on the similarities and dissimilarities, and then quantify these similarities.

artist graph

So, from these two broad groups, the software sub-categorized even further. For instance, the computer automatically placed the High Renaissance artists Raphael, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Michelangelo very close to each other.  High Renaissance artists Raphael, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Michelangelo were grouped similarly. The software also branched sub-groups by similarities, so artists like  Gauguin and Cézanne, both considered post-impressionists have been identified by the algorithm as being similar in style with Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, and Giorgio de Chirico, all are considered by art historians to be part of the surrealism school of art.

[RELATED] Computer recognizes attractiveness in women

The researchers conclude their “results demonstrate that machine vision and pattern recognition algorithms are able to mimic the complex cognitive task of the human perception of visual art, and can be used to measure and quantify visual similarities between paintings, painters, and schools of art.”

While a computer can analyze art with conclusions similar to those of an expert, human art historian, a serious question arises – is then, in this case, a computer able to understand art? If so, will a computer ever able to feel art?

The findings were reported in the journal Journal on Computing and Cultural Heritage (JOCCH).

[via KurzweilAi]



Complex simplicity is the best for music

Art and science almost always seem to be standing at opposite seats of the table, so it’s really hard to explain one through the means of the other. But if we were to look at some of the best compositions in the world, music that transcended time and delighted generations and generations, what would we find ? According to a new study published by BioMed Central’s open access journal BMC Research Notes, the brain does some really interesting things when listening to music, which could provide some insight on this matter.

Basically, it simplifies complex patterns, in pretty much the same way music compression formats reduce audio files, by removing redundant data and identifying patterns. There is a theory that’s been around (and accepted) for a long time that we are hardwired to find simple patterns most pleasurable. Dr. Nicholas Hudson used ‘lossless’ music compression programs to mimic the brain’s ability to condense audio information and for this purpose, he compared the amount of compressibility for a random noise and for different types of music.

The results seemed to be pretty relevant: random noise could be condensed to no less than 86% of its original file size, techno, rock and pop all were around 60%, while some apparently complex masterpieces, such as Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony compressed to 40%.

Dr Nicholas Hudson says “Enduring musical masterpieces, despite apparent complexity, possess high compressibility” and that it is this compressibility that we respond to. So whether you are a die hard classicist or a pop diva it seems that we chose the music we prefer, not by simply listening to it, but by calculating its compressibility.

So if you’re trying to compose music that will live on forever, you should focus on music which sounds complex, but is reductible to patterns as simple as possible.

Feeling amuck makes people see inexistant patterns

patternIt’s natural that when you are stressed out, you tend to search for an explanation for your current situation and to search for answers; too many people have felt this and this is a global issue even without the economy crisis that struck us. But in such times when you feel that your finances are getting out of control, it’s really necessary to calm down and take a deep breath.

A study conducted by Jennifer Whitson, a management scholar at the University of Texas, Austin pointed out that the desire for such an explanation creates the need to see certain patterns that just aren’t there. She has gone further in the direction of some older studies, for example the one which pointed out that there is a connection between back stock performance and the how many people buy horoscopes, and that’s not really hard to understand. When things go bad, most people just want to look for the stars, instead of actually doing something useful.

Going further in the footsteps of such studies, she teamed up with psychologist Adam Galinsky and she asked 41 undergratuates to remember two different situations; one in which they lacked control, and one in which they had total control. Then they had to read some may or may not have influenced that certain event and speak about it.

They also had to do other things. Those in the loss of control group were more likely to see nonexistent objects in fuzzy images that looked like a snowy TV screen and they suspected conspiracies in some scenarios more often. What’s the worst about this study is that it shows that the mind has the tendency to create such scenarios when we need it the most.

“This suggests that we’re going to exhibit these tendencies at the times when they’re most dangerous for us,” Ariely says. His advice: Question your intuitions more and consult the experts, whose knowledge and experience may give them a better sense of control.”