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Social Foraging
Dynamics of Social Interaction
Curated by Ashish Umre
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Spectra of random graphs with arbitrary expected degrees

We study random graphs with arbitrary distributions of expected degree and derive expressions for the spectra of their adjacency and modularity matrices. We give a complete prescription for calculating the spectra that is exact in the limit of large network size and large vertex degrees. We also study the effect on the spectra of hubs in the network, vertices of unusually high degree, and show that these produce isolated eigenvalues outside the main spectral band, akin to impurity states in condensed matter systems, with accompanying eigenvectors that are strongly localized around the hubs. We also give numerical results that confirm our analytic expressions.

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Inquire — The intelligent textbook that helps students learn

Inquire — The intelligent textbook that helps students learn | Social Foraging | Scoop.it

Want to know more about your subject? Type in your own question and artificially intelligent software will construct a new page to answer your query

 

SITTING down with the Inquire system is, at first, a lot like trying to cosy up to an intimidatingly dense biology textbook. Sure, its presentation on the iPad is slick, but that can't hide the fact that you are in for a tough old read.

 

That is until you highlight the first bit of particularly impenetrable text. Suddenly a list of questions pops up in the right-hand margin. Touch one and you are whisked away to a Wikipedia-like page full of information specific to the concept you are stuck on. Terms like "chloroplast" and "plasma membrane" are succinctly defined, and the page explains how each concept fits into the wider field of biology.

 

Want to know more? Type in your own question and artificially intelligent software will construct a new page to answer your query.

The aim of Inquire is to provide students with the world's first intelligent textbook, says its creator David Gunning of Seattle-based Vulcan. At first glance, the system just looks like an electronic version of Campbell Biology, the tome that forms the bedrock of biology classes for first-year university and advanced high school students in the US. But behind the scenes is a machine-readable concept map of the 5000 or so ideas covered in the book, along with information on how they are all related.

When a student asks a question - "what does a protein do?", for instance - the system first converts it into a more structured query, such as "what is the function of a protein?", and then uses this to search and find results from the concept map.

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Lying less linked to better health

Telling the truth when tempted to lie can significantly improve a person's mental and physical health, according to a "Science of Honesty" study presented at the American Psychological Association's 120th Annual Convention.

 

"Recent evidence indicates that Americans average about 11 lies per week. We wanted to find out if living more honestly can actually cause better health," said lead author Anita E. Kelly, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame. "We found that the participants could purposefully and dramatically reduce their everyday lies, and that in turn was associated with significantly improved health."

 

Kelly and co-author Lijuan Wang, PhD, also of Notre Dame, conducted the honesty experiment over 10 weeks with a sample of 110 people, of whom 34 percent were adults in the community and 66 percent were college students. They ranged in age from 18 to 71 years, with an average age of 31. The just-completed study has not yet undergone peer review and has yet to be published.

 

Approximately half the participants were instructed to stop telling major and minor lies for the 10 weeks. The other half served as a control group that received no special instructions about lying. Both groups came to the laboratory each week to complete health and relationship measures and to take a polygraph test assessing the number of major and white lies they had told that week.

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Developing a Technology Roadmap for Data-intensive Computing

Developing a Technology Roadmap for Data-intensive Computing | Social Foraging | Scoop.it

Technology and computational evangelists quickly learn that human psychology is a key component of any project roadmap. The truth in the quip that it took one social genius plus 500,000 scientists and engineers to put a man on the moon can be appreciated when one observes the social issues that surface in technical discussions within even small groups of people. As the name implies, data-intensive computing requires large amounts of data.

 

My article “Big Money for Big Data” in the June 2012 issue of HPC Source notes that massive parallelism is the only path forward for organizations wishing to cope with the ever-increasing size of big data sets. Just as technology is changing the meaning of “big” data, so is it increasing what is meant by “massive” parallelism. At the moment, GPU programmers work with tens of thousands of threads, while multi-core programmers utilize tens of threads. This technical dichotomy has created a tension between the CTO (chief technical officer) who is responsible for defining the data processing goals to keep an organization competitive over time, and those within the organization vested with the responsibility to evaluate, integrate and manage the technology used to reach those goals within a production environment.

 

Both parties are making a rational risk/reward calculation, but when and how should the performance gains attributed to massively parallel technology be included in the organization roadmap? While technology ultimately dictates production capability, the choice of the technology roadmap to meet the performance goals for the organization is a very human process. People differ in their risk affinity and perception of a reward. So, they naturally make different judgments. Uncertainty increases the importance of testing, but opinion tends to guide the decision-making process about what to test. Unfortunately, personal biases are a known danger that can inadvertently affect the test process to support a pre-conceived notion.

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Memory and the Cybermind

Memory and the Cybermind | Social Foraging | Scoop.it

THE line that separates my mind from the Internet is getting blurry. This has been happening ever since I realized how often it feels as though I know something just because I can find it with Google. Technically, of course, I don’t know it. But when there’s a smartphone or iPad in reach, I know everything the Internet knows. Or at least, that’s how it feels.

 

This curious feeling of knowing has settled over most of us. In a group, someone always seems to be “checking” something in the conversation, piping up with handy facts culled from a rapid consultation with the Great and Powerful Man Behind the Curtain. I’ve attended more than one nerdy party where everyone had a link open and we were all talking about things we didn’t know until we were prompted by our conversation to look them up.

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Birds that live with varying weather sing more versatile songs

Birds that live with varying weather sing more versatile songs | Social Foraging | Scoop.it

A new study of North American songbirds reveals that birds that live with fluctuating weather are more flexible singers.

 

Mixing it up helps birds ensure that their songs are heard no matter what the habitat, say researchers at Australian National University and the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center.

 

To test the idea, the researchers analyzed song recordings from more than 400 male birds spanning 44 species of North American songbirds -- a data set that included orioles, blackbirds, warblers, sparrows, cardinals, finches, chickadees and thrushes.

 

They used computer software to convert each sound recording -- a medley of whistles, warbles, cheeps, chirps, trills and twitters -- into a spectrogram, or sound graph. Like a musical score, the complex pattern of lines and streaks in a spectrogram enable scientists to see and visually analyze each snippet of sound.

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Don Mangus' "It Only Hurts When I Smirk.": Book Review: Visual Complexity Mapping Patterns of Information

Don Mangus' "It Only Hurts When I Smirk.": Book Review: Visual Complexity Mapping Patterns of Information | Social Foraging | Scoop.it

Our ability to generate information now far exceeds our capacity to understand it. Finding patterns and making meaningful connections inside complex data networks has emerged as one of the biggest challenges of the twenty-first century. In recent years, designers, researchers, and scientists have begun employing an innovative mix of colors, symbols, graphics, algorithms, and interactivity to clarify, and often beautify, the clutter. From representing networks of friends on Facebook to depicting interactions among proteins in a human cell, Visual Complexity presents one hundred of the most interesting examples of information-visualization by the field's leading practitioners. Author Manuel Lima has been called the "Edward Tufte of the 21st century" and nominated as one of the "50 most creative and influential minds of 2009" by Creativity magazine.

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Analysis suggests the likelihood of future world-record-breaking performances.

Analysis suggests the likelihood of future world-record-breaking performances. | Social Foraging | Scoop.it

A new mathematical model can estimate which track and field world records are the most likely to be broken.

 

Brian Godsey, a graduate student in mathematics at the Vienna University of Technology in Austria, recently published a paper including computations of the likelihood of record-setting performances in 48 different men's and women's track and field events during this calendar year.

 

Godsey's paper did not directly address the likelihood of an athlete setting a track and field world record at the 2012 London Olympics, but his analysis suggests that viewers should keep a close watch on the men's 110-meter hurdles and three women's events, the 5,000-meter and 3000-meter steeplechase races, as wells as the hammer throw. There is a 95 percent chance that the women's steeplechase record will be broken this year, Godsey wrote in the Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports.

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Stock Trading Robot Makes Decisions Based on Superstitious Algorithms

Stock Trading Robot Makes Decisions Based on Superstitious Algorithms | Social Foraging | Scoop.it

When we feel there's a situation out of our control, we often fall back on superstition to account for it. ("Nothing else is working, why not blame it on that black cat?") But when enough of us rely on superstition, it's not just an individual comfort; it starts to have real repercussions. Now a designer has created an algorithm trades stock superstitiously, and it's going to see if gambling based on full moons and thirteens can pay off.

 

Sid the Superstitious Robot (for which you can see the open-sourced code if you're so inclined) is governed by a set of rules programmed by 25-year-old Shing Tat Chung. Among them are a phobia of the number thirteen that prevents it from trading stocks on the thirteenth day of the month. On the other side of the scale, it has an affinity for new moons, but will sell during a full moon. It's a rewiring of other trading systems that make decisions based on more rational changes, such as costs of certain goods or other expected outcomes.

 

But those beliefs aren't concretely set; Sid incorporates new ones based on feedback from his performance. That doesn't equate to rationality: a certain pattern can be observed but also be imaginary, and the algorithm will incorporate it based on a superstitious "feeling" that it evokes.

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Lawn signs can influence how neighbors vote

Lawn signs can influence how neighbors vote | Social Foraging | Scoop.it

Neighbors’ lawn signs and public opinion polls can affect how people vote in an election, but it all depends on how far away the election is, research shows.

 

“Research like this highlights the fact that we are social creatures,” says Alison Ledgerwood, assistant professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and author of the study published in the journal Psychological Science.

 

“We clearly use other people to help us make our decisions, but what this research shows is that we rely on different people’s opinions for near-future and distant-future events,” she says.

 

Ledgerwood’s study—using both New York University and UC Davis student subjects in simulated votes and opinion surveys—found that when it comes to decisions about the distant future, peer group opinions carry a lot of weight.

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Is the singularity near, or is it already history?

Is the singularity near, or is it already history? | Social Foraging | Scoop.it

In Silicon Valley, there’s no overstating the redemptive potential of technology. Tech can make us happier, wealthier, healthier and luckier. It’s almost like a religion. It should come as no surprise, then, that this religion has its own rapture: the rapture of the geeks known as the singularity. According to this belief system, faster and better machines (a central tenet is Moore’s law) will beget faster, better machines at an exponential rate, and eventually, the machines will become so powerful that they rival human intelligence. Although there are variations, most people who subscribe to the notion of the singularity believe that when it comes, we will upload our consciousness into a computer and live forever. It will be the death of death.

 

The chief evangelist of this vision is futurist Ray Kurzweil. Kurzweil has serious credentials. He invented the text-to-speech synthesiser, among many other devices. The White House selected him to receive a National Medal of Technology, the highest technology honour in the US. He is in the US Patent Office’s National Inventors Hall of Fame.

 

He is also famous for consuming up to 150 vitamin pills a day to slow his body’s ageing, so that he will be around to witness the singularity.

 

The Singularity is Near is a hybrid of documentary and drama, co-directed by Kurzweil, that tries to explain the why and how of its title. Kurzweil’s alter ego, an animated character called Ramona, illustrates the evolutionary arc of thinking machines. She starts out as a primitive, choppy animation but gradually acquires consciousness.

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Using Data to Predict Your Future Health

Have you ever gone on a trip and unexpectedly found yourself in need of medical care? What if your condition could have been predicted? Better yet, what if you already had the medicine needed to treat that condition in your luggage?

 

The Hierarchical Association Rule Model (HARM), which I co-developed with Tyler McCormick of the University of Washington and David Madigan of Columbia University, can help patients be better prepared by warning them (and their doctors) about the conditions they may likely experience next. The predictive modeling tool checks data about an individual patient against other patients in the database with similar situations to help determine future conditions. It also alerts patients about any higher risks they may have for certain types of conditions.

 

For example, a patient or doctor would input the patient's medical history into HARM's interface and HARM would then combine that information with other information in the database to rank likely future medical conditions. It would say something like: patients like you who have experienced X and Y tend to experience Z next. HARM is not just a black box -- it can explain its predictions in simple easy-to-understand terms.

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Processing Rat Brain Neuronal Signals Using A Hadoop Computing Cluster – Part I

In this three-part series of posts, we will share our experiences tackling a scientific computing challenge that may serve as a useful practical example for those readers considering Hadoop and Hive as an option to meet their growing technical and scientific computing needs. This first part describes some of the background behind our application and the advantages of Hadoop that make it an attractive framework in which to implement our solution. Part II dives into the technical details of the data we aimed to analyze and of our solution. Finally, we wrap up this series in Part III with a description of some of our main results, and most importantly perhaps, a list of things we learned along the way, as well as future possibilities for improvements.

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Graph spectra and the detectability of community structure in networks

We study networks that display community structure -- groups of nodes within which connections are unusually dense. Using methods from random matrix theory, we calculate the spectra of such networks in the limit of large size, and hence demonstrate the presence of a phase transition in matrix methods for community detection, such as the popular modularity maximization method. The transition separates a regime in which such methods successfully detect the community structure from one in which the structure is present but is not detected. By comparing these results with recent analyses of maximum-likelihood methods we are able to show that spectral modularity maximization is an optimal detection method in the sense that no other method will succeed in the regime where the modularity method fails.

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Researchers unveil molecular details of how bacteria propagate antibiotic resistance

Fighting "superbugs" -- strains of pathogenic bacteria that are impervious to the antibiotics that subdued their predecessor generations -- has required physicians to seek new and more powerful drugs for their arsenals. Unfortunately, in time, these treatments also can fall prey to the same microbial ability to become drug resistant. Now, a research team at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) may have found a way to break the cycle that doesn't demand the deployment of a next-generation medical therapy: preventing "superbugs" from genetically propagating drug resistance.

 

The team will present their findings at the annual meeting of the American Crystallographic Association (ACA), held July 28 -- Aug. 1 in Boston, Mass.

 

For years, the drug vancomycin has been the last-stand treatment for life-threatening cases of methicilin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. A powerful antibiotic first isolated in 1953 from soil collected in the jungles of Borneo, vancomycin works by inhibiting formation of the S. aureus cell wall so that it cannot provide structural support and protection. In 2002, however, a strain of S. aureus was isolated from a diabetic kidney dialysis patient. This particular strain would not succumb to vancomycin. This was the first recorded instance in the United States of vancomycin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or VRSA, a deadly variant that many now consider one of the most dangerous bacteria in the world.

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Beetle walks and sticks underwater by creating dryness with every footstep

Beetle walks and sticks underwater by creating dryness with every footstep | Social Foraging | Scoop.it

Sticking to surfaces and walking up walls are so commonplace among insects that they risk becoming boring. But the green dock beetle has a fresh twist on this tired trick: it can stick to surfaces underwater. The secret to its aquatic stride is a set of small bubbles trapped beneath its feet. This insect can plod along underwater by literally walking on air.

 

The green dock beetle (Gastrophysa viridula) is a gorgeous European resident with a metallic green shell, occasionally streaked with rainbow hues. It can walk on flat surfaces thanks to thousands of hairs on the claws of their feet, which fit into the microscopic nooks and crannies of whatever’s underfoot. Most beetles have the same ability, and some boost the adhesive power of their hairs by secreting a sticky oil onto them.

 

These adaptations work well enough in dry conditions, but they ought to fail on wet surfaces. Water molecules should interfere with the hairs’ close contact, and disrupt the adhesive power of the oil. “People believed that beetles have no ability to walk under water,” says Naoe Hosoda from the National Institute for Material Science in Tuskuba, Japan.

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Meerkats acquire novel behavior using 9 different social and asocial mechanisms

A novel methodology shows that Wild meerkats engage in nine separate learning processes during foraging, and this method may provide general insight into learning mechanisms for groups of animals and culture development. The full report is published Aug. 8 in the open access journal PLOS ONE.

 

The researchers, led by William Hoppitt of the University of St. Andrews in the United Kingdom, presented wild meerkats with a novel foraging TASK to investigate the animals' learning mechanisms. They found that the meerkats engaged in a wide variety of social and asocial behaviors to learn to solve the task, and that in general the social factors helped draw the meerkats into the task, while the asocial processes helped them actually solve the task. Based on these results, they propose a model for characterizing social learning mechanisms in the field that may also be more broadly applicable and can be used to investigate the relationship between social learning mechanisms and so-called "behavioral traditions" that together can constitute a culture.

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Link between cell division and growth rate: Puzzling question of how cells know when to progress through the cell cycle answered

It's a longstanding question in biology: How do cells know when to progress through the cell cycle?

 

In simple organisms such as yeast, cells divide once they reach a specific size. However, determining if this holds true for mammalian cells has been difficult, in part because there has been no good way to measure mammalian cell growth over time.

 

Now, a team of MIT and Harvard Medical School (HMS) researchers has precisely measured the growth rates of single cells, allowing them to answer that fundamental question. In the Aug. 5 online edition of Nature Methods, the researchers report that mammalian cells divide not when they reach a critical size, but when their growth rate hits a specific threshold.

 

This first-ever observation of this threshold was made possible by a technique developed by MIT professor Scott Manalis and his students in 2007 to measure the mass of single cells. In the new study, Manalis and his colleagues were able to track cell growth and relate it to the timing of cell division by measuring cells' mass every 60 seconds throughout their lifespans.

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Human cycles: History as science: Mathematical Model Proves History Does Repeat Itself

Human cycles: History as science: Mathematical Model Proves History Does Repeat Itself | Social Foraging | Scoop.it

Sometimes, history really does seem to repeat itself. After the US Civil War, for example, a wave of urban violence fuelled by ethnic and class resentment swept across the country, peaking in about 1870. Internal strife spiked again in around 1920, when race riots, workers' strikes and a surge of anti-Communist feeling led many people to think that revolution was imminent. And in around 1970, unrest crested once more, with violent student demonstrations, political assassinations, riots and terrorism (see 'Cycles of violence').

 

To Peter Turchin, who studies population dynamics at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, the appearance of three peaks of political instability at roughly 50-year intervals is not a coincidence. For the past 15 years, Turchin has been taking the mathematical techniques that once allowed him to track predator–prey cycles in forest ecosystems, and applying them to human history. He has analysed historical records on economic activity, demographic trends and outbursts of violence in the United States, and has come to the conclusion that a new wave of internal strife is already on its way1. The peak should occur in about 2020, he says, and will probably be at least as high as the one in around 1970. “I hope it won't be as bad as 1870,” he adds.

Turchin's approach — which he calls cliodynamics after Clio, the ancient Greek muse of history — is part of a groundswell of efforts to apply scientific methods to history by identifying and modelling the broad social forces that Turchin and his colleagues say shape all human societies. It is an attempt to show that “history is not 'just one damn thing after another'”, says Turchin, paraphrasing a saying often attributed to the late British historian Arnold Toynbee.

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Bacterial community inside the plant root: Plants choose soil bacteria that they allow into their roots

Bacterial community inside the plant root: Plants choose soil bacteria that they allow into their roots | Social Foraging | Scoop.it

Soil is the most species-rich microbial ecosystem in the world. From this incredible diversity, plants specifically choose certain species, give them access to the root and so host a unique, carefully selected bacterial community from which they then benefit in a variety of ways. To achieve this, the plant's immune system must be able to tell which of these bacteria are friends and which foes.

 

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research in Cologne and the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Bremen have now discovered that the model plant Arabidopsis preferentially takes up three bacterial phyla into its roots: Actinobacteria, Proteobacteria and Bacteroidetes. This community of microbes is dependent on soil type and plant genotype.

 

The scientists have been breaking new ground in plant science with their investigation. It is only in recent years that the significance of microbial communities has been receiving wider attention. Even humans have more microorganisms than cells inside them, which means that any living organism can be regarded as a metaorganism. Schulze-Lefert and his colleagues have conducted acensus of the Arabidopsis root and identified varying quantities of 43 bacterial phyla. It may therefore be concluded that Arabidopsis makes a selection of the inhabitants of its roots from the profusion of microorganisms in the soil.

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What Is the Fundamental Nature of Consciousness?

What Is the Fundamental Nature of Consciousness? | Social Foraging | Scoop.it

This chapter from PHI: A Voyage from the Brain to the Soul, by Giulio Tononi (Pantheon, 2012) describes Tononi’s theory of consciousness as a measure of information. The brain, Tononi postulates, consists of billions of neurons: think of them as if they were transistorlike bits that, when tallied, sum to equal more than their parts. That increment above and beyond—Tononi calls it phi—represents the degree to which any being, whether human or mule, remains conscious.

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Predatory beetles eavesdrop on ants' chemical conversations to find best egg-laying sites

Predatory beetles eavesdrop on ants' chemical conversations to find best egg-laying sites | Social Foraging | Scoop.it

Predatory beetles can detect the unique alarm signal released by ants that are under attack by parasitic flies, and the beetles use those overheard conversations to guide their search for safe egg-laying sites on coffee bushes.

 

Azteca instabilis ants patrol coffee bushes and emit chemical alarm signals when they're under attack by phorid flies. In an article published online July 27 in the journal Ecology and Evolution, University of Michigan researchers and their colleagues show that pregnant lady beetles intercept the ants' alarm pheromones, which let the beetles know that it's safe to deposit their eggs.

 

The findings, which may have practical implications for pest management on coffee plantations, are the first documentation of a complex cascade of interactions mediated by ant pheromones, according to the authors.

 

"It is too often the case that pest management in agriculture focuses on finding a magic bullet solution to every problem," said U-M ecologist Ivette Perfecto, professor at the U-M School of Natural Resources and Environment and co-author of the Ecology and Evolution paper.

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Moths know how to melt into the background

Moths know how to melt into the background | Social Foraging | Scoop.it

Many species of moth are experts in camouflage, with the ability to make themselves practically invisible to predators by matching the pattern on their wings with that of their background. But surprisingly little is known about the behaviour surrounding this conjuring trick.

 

In a first step towards solving the puzzle, researchers at Seoul National University in South Korea placed two species of moth - Jankowskia fuscaria and Hypomecis roboraria - on tree bark and watched what they did. "We let the moths do the job for us," says Changku Kang, one of the researchers.

 

Rather than remaining where they first landed, the moths tended to walk around, turning their body while repeatedly lifting and lowering their wings until they found a spot where they could blend in (video here).

 

To test how good the moths were at concealing themselves from predators - or at least beady-eyed humans - the researchers compared photos of the moths taken when they first landed with photos taken when they had settled. Volunteers asked to find the moths in the photos found it much harder when the moths were in their final position.

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Strangers on a bus: Study reveals lengths commuters go to avoid each other

Strangers on a bus: Study reveals lengths commuters go to avoid each other | Social Foraging | Scoop.it

You're on the bus, and one of the only free seats is next to you. How, and why, do you stop another passenger sitting there? New research reveals the tactics commuters use to avoid each other, a practice the paper published in Symbolic Interaction describes as 'nonsocial transient behavior.'

 

The study was carried out by Esther Kim, from Yale University, who chalked up thousands of miles of bus travel to examine the unspoken rules and behaviors of commuters.

 

Over three years Kim took coach trips across the United States. Kim's first trip, between Connecticut and New Mexico, took two days and 17 hours, and this was followed by further adventures from California to Illinois, Colorado to New York, and Texas to Nevada.

"We live in a world of strangers, where life in public spaces feels increasingly anonymous," said Kim. "However, avoiding other people actually requires quite a lot of effort and this is especially true in confined spaces like public transport."

 

Kim found that the greatest unspoken rule of bus travel is that if other seats are available you shouldn't sit next to someone else. As the passengers claimed, "It makes you look weird." When all the rows are filled and more passengers are getting aboard the seated passengers initiate a performance to strategically avoid anyone sitting next to them.

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Writing graphics software gets much easier with Halide

Writing graphics software gets much easier with Halide | Social Foraging | Scoop.it
A new programming language for image-processing algorithms yields code that’s much shorter and clearer — but also faster.

 

Image-processing software is a hot commodity: Just look at Instagram, a company built around image processing that Facebook is trying to buy for a billion dollars. Image processing is also going mobile, as more and more people are sending cellphone photos directly to the Web, without transferring them to a computer first.

 

At the same time, digital-photo files are getting so big that, without a lot of clever software engineering, processing them would take a painfully long time on a desktop computer, let alone a cellphone. Unfortunately, the tricks that engineers use to speed up their image-processing algorithms make their code almost unreadable, and rarely reusable. Adding a new function to an image-processing program, or modifying it to run on a different device, often requires rethinking and revising it from top to bottom.

 

Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) aim to change that, with a new programming language called Halide. Not only are Halide programs easier to read, write and revise than image-processing programs written in a conventional language, but because Halide automates code-optimization procedures that would ordinarily take hours to perform by hand, they’re also significantly faster.

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