Congratulations (again) to Maria!

29 08 2014

She corrected her thesis in record time and it’s now lodged safely in the library’s ‘atrium’:

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Her student visa expires at midnight tonight, so we’re hoping this will stop her being deported. Fingers crossed!

Faked pregnancy to get more buns?

29 08 2014

Click here for an odd story about phantom pregnancy in a panda at the Chengdu breeding centre.

Two thoughts. She elevated her output of certain hormones in order to win more buns? Really?? Seems an unlikely kind of duplicity… And if all the pandas there had great treatment all the time, you wouldn’t see this problem, would you?

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G is for grief … and goshawks

29 08 2014

Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 9.39.56 PMTotally loved this strange interview with Helen Macdonald (starts at 7 minutes in) on how she reacted to her father’s sudden death by buying and obsessively training a goshawk called Mabel. (I was also fascinated that you can only train birds of prey using positive reinforcement).

Macdonald‘s just published a book about the experience called “H is for Hawk”, and this review makes it sound a must-read.

Happynomics (or: how to be happy)

28 08 2014

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Just scouting around for things for my group to read this semester.

We’re going to kick off with Ben Goldacre’s ‘Bad Science‘, but if that doesn’t work I’m quite keen on the BBC’s ‘More or Less’ podcasts … and in looking to see if Tim Hartford had published these in writing, I came across his great little summary on how to be happy (relevant for animals as well as humans, I bet):



Got to get this into my class

28 08 2014

Classes start again next week. And I’ve simply got to show this video in a lecture because it’s SO DAMN CUTE plus set to my very favourite Slumdog track…!!!!

No, wait, sorry: because it’s such an excellent illustration of chaining and the use of discriminative stimuli.


Congratulations to Alexandra!

27 08 2014

Been unofficial for a while, but here is official news of Alex‘s new chair here:


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One man and his two-rule-following dog

27 08 2014

New research shows that sheepdogs, whose impressive skills used to be featured once a week in the BBC show ‘One Man and his Dog’, follow just two simple rules to round up woolly ruminants: collect sheep when they’re dispersed and then drive them forward when they’re aggregated.

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I think both rules take some cleverness to effect though:

Quote of the week

26 08 2014

From Maria, to her examining committee:
“…your questions were great and I had a wonderful experience, I could have kept going!”

So, it’s official: PhD defences are not just scary!

Maria’s big day

26 08 2014

Maria‘s defence was today! Things got off to an alarming start, with “internal external” examiner Lee Niel calling in sick this morning. Would we have to postpone? (Then what about Maria’s student visa, due to expire in 6 days? And next semester’s fees? And the sheer agony of getting all psyched up for nothing, only to have to go through it all over again?). But the Office of Graduate Studies was great, and suggested that chair Jim Atkinson ask Lee’s questions. After this scare, the fact that no IT guys could be found all morning (and that Acqua, where M was booked to get her hair done, simply did not open today) barely registered as stressors.

Things kicked off at 1pm. Maria’s talk went down well, and then the examiners got to work. Ron Swaisgood was our “external external”, Skyping in his terrific questions from San Diego, while Elena and I were the advisory committee member examiners. Maria handled the questions pretty much perfectly  — and at some point, as so often happens in defences, suddenly realized she was enjoying herself. The top picture shows us 3 hours later, at the very end of the defence; then below that, a few of the big gang of us who went out to the Delta later (including my sister Katy, at the far right, visiting from the UK), and the gummy bears Maria very sweetly (pun intended) treated her whole audience to; and then Maria celebrating her congratulations presents (all signed by Nigel Warburton; we’re giving $300 to Philosophy Bites in her name too) with a delicious cocktail … (Thanks to Heather and Alexandra for the pictures)

Maria's defence 2

M with gifts

The location of sadness

18 08 2014

Right now I feel as though my heart is made of lead. And intense feelings in the chest do seem universally to be part of sadness. Some Finnish researchers got people to colour in body maps to indicate where in their body they felt different emotions, work which came out in PNAS last year.  I am liking this composite image of sadness that emerged from the 700+ participants. And the subjects came from all over the world – they weren’t all English speakers thinking about the phrase “heavy hearted”. Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 1.49.38 PM

It’s a little spoiled by looking at all the images…. But statistically sadness and depression apparently do form one clatter, and surprise (despite looking rather like sadness) is in a different cluster all by itself.
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Meanwhile I suspect cats achieve the patterns induced by love and happiness through baking in the sun. Just stumbled across this nice old photo of Sophie as a kitten, which I snuck into an article I wrote for an Italian encyclopedia of animal behaviour in 1999.

Un animale contento? Pretty sure the answer was “si”.

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