July 2, 2015

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For important stuff we turn to a NY Times story on one of Louisville Slugger’s bat makers.

Danny Luckett did some woodworking in high school. Other than that, his main qualification for a job that would help many major league hitters was simply saying yes to the man at the employment office.

“He said, ‘How do you feel about making baseball bats for a living?’ ” Luckett said last week. “I said, ‘Well, I need a job, so that sounds good to me.’ I’ve been here ever since.”

Luckett’s 46-year tenure as the longest-serving bat maker for Louisville Slugger came to an end on Friday, when he retired. Few had as much direct impact on producing the tools of the game.

Luckett is believed to have made more than two million bats for Louisville Slugger, which was bought by Wilson Sporting Goods in March but will retain its name and continue to manufacture bats in Louisville, Ky. Luckett said he was retiring not because of the sale but because, with his 68th birthday approaching, it was time.

He takes decades of highlights with him, including Oct. 11, 1972. With the best-of-five National League Championship Series between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati tied, two games apiece, Luckett went to work for the Reds’ star catcher.

“Johnny Bench hit a home run in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game with a bat I had turned that morning,” Luckett said. “Our representative took it to Cincinnati in the afternoon and he used it in the game.” …




The Washington Post Science section tells us how smart crows are. Pickerhead knew that, because crows are black, and not one of them was dumb enough to vote for obama.

… the greatest intellectual rival to the brainy apes may be a noisy scavenger with a sharp beak, bright eyes and a brain about the size of a walnut: the crow and its corvid relatives.

Crows and ravens are clever problem-solvers, expert toolmakers and adept social movers, but scientists haven’t reached a consensus about how corvid minds handle abstract thinking or how closely their mental processes resemble those of humans.

Researchers from the University of Iowa and LomonosovMoscowStateUniversity in Russiareported early this year that crows can use analogies to match pairs of objects. To reach that conclusion, the scientists trained crows to recognize whether two objects were identical or different, which the birds indicated by pressing one button when shown pictures of objects that matched and a different button when the objects didn’t match. Once all the birds were good at matching objects, researchers showed the crows images of pairs of objects. Some images depicted matched pairs, while others depicted two mismatched objects with different shapes or colors. In response, crows could press buttons to choose between a matched pair or a mismatched pair.

The researchers wanted to see if crows could figure out the relationship between pairs of objects and then choose a pair with the same relationship: matched or mismatched. For instance, a crow looking at a mismatched pair would then select the mismatched pair from their response choices. Nearly 78 percent of the time, the birds succeeded. According to the researchers, the birds recognized that the relationship between the two pairs of objects was the same. In other words, they were making analogies. …

… Corvids seem to understand that other birds have minds like theirs, and their decisions often take into account what others might know, want or intend, according to several studies of crows, ravens and jays. Psychologists call this a theory of mind, and it’s a fairly sophisticated cognitive ability. Humans don’t develop it until late in childhood. Crows and their fellow corvids are social animals, much like primates, so theory of mind probably offers significant evolutionary advantages.

For one thing, it may help prevent food theft. Crows and ravens often hide food in caches and retrieve it later. “You can actually see them watching both the other birds that they are with and the humans, and if they sense that they have been seen, they will take that food and they’ll go and hide it somewhere else,” Innes said of the Maryland Zoo’s ravens. The birds appear to realize that watchers will know where they’ve hidden the food and might use that knowledge to steal it later.

Studies of several corvid species have documented this re-caching, as it is called. …




National Geographic says North Carolina is having a perfect storm of conditions that could lead to shark attacks.

An unusual combination of factors has led to an increase in bites.

There have been six shark attacks in North Carolina this year, all of them in June.

This is already more than last year, when the state saw four attacks. In the previous decade, there were only 25 shark attacks in North Carolina. And there have been just 55 documented shark attacks in the state between 1905 and 2014.

So what’s going on this year?

“It’s kind of a perfect storm,” says George H. Burgess, the director of the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History. Burgess says across the United States overall, shark attacks are on pace with an average year, and the chance of getting bit is still very low—an estimated one in 11.5 million for an ocean bather. But, he adds, “clearly, something is going on in North Carolina right now.”

Here’s why: …




Mental Floss reports 10 confessions of car salesmen. 

It may look like a world of balloons and bad tweed. But making a living on the lot is anything but a Sunday drive.

1. They read you like a book.

“I don’t care what anybody says, verbally,” says Prentiss Smith, the general manager at a Toyota dealership in Brookhaven, Mississippi. “If they pull up on our lot, they might say they’re not ready to buy, but that’s not true.” Salespeople watch for subtle signs to read your mind. “If it’s a trade-in and I’m doing an appraisal, I see how much gas is in there,” says Daniel Wheeler, an Oregon-based Hyundai salesman. “If it’s a quarter of a tank or below, it’s usually a fairly good sign [a customer is] ready to purchase.” David Teves, a California-based salesman who writes the blog Confessions of a Car Man, says he can determine a customer’s mood by the parking spot they choose. “There’s a place at the end of our lot we call ‘Laydown Lane’ because the people who park there are too timid to park out front. They’re either total ‘laydowns’—which means they buy whatever you want for whatever price—or they have extremely bad credit.”

2. They are speaking in code to each other. (Yes, about you.) …




Popular Science says “sugar highs” in children is something in parent’s minds.

… Milich and Hoover concluded that the link between sugar and behavior might be based on parents’ expectations, not on the sweetener itself.

There might also be other factors at play when sugared-up kids go nuts. Candy and cake, for example, are staples on Halloween and at birthday parties—events rife with kid drama. Or there might be other substances in the mix. Chocolate, for instance, is packed with stimulants, such as caffeine and theobromine.

Still, for many parents, sugar remains the go-to scapegoat, even if proof is lacking. “We’re always looking to explain our behavior,” Milich says. “We don’t like to be in a vacuum where something happens and we don’t know why.”