Diversions Archive

Study: Desert ants display a sophisticated sense of direction

SmartBrief on Leadership | Jan 23, 2017

Ants must often drag their food back home while walking backward, and research suggests they are able to do so because they know their destination, internalize visual cues and take direction from the sky. This suggests "a representation of direction and of space that is much more sophisticated than we thought," says Antoine Wystrach, one of the study's authors.

Welcome to the newest dwarf lemur

SmartBrief on Leadership | Jan 20, 2017

A recently discovered dwarf lemur species in Madagascar is said to have different DNA than other species, and a researcher not involved in the find suggests the Ankarana dwarf lemur may not be the last discovery. Lemur species are abundant on Madagascar, their natural home, but nearly all are threatened or endangered.

The road to an Oscar is actually a campaign trail

SmartBrief on Leadership | Jan 19, 2017

Looking at advertising in trade magazines offers insight into what films and actors are gunning for an Oscar nomination, writes Walt Hickey. "Name recognition, positive exposures, press-the-flesh meetings -- the dark arts of the campaign trail work, and work well, in this setting and others," he writes.

Michelangelo pioneered paint by number

SmartBrief on Leadership | Jan 18, 2017

The artist Michelangelo is credited with inventing what was centuries later marketed as paint by number. He created the system so students could help him finish up commissioned jobs when he became too busy.

Remembering the dissident who created Pinyin

SmartBrief on Leadership | Jan 17, 2017

Zhou Youguang, who died Saturday at 111, was an economist and critic of China's Communist government who nevertheless was instrumental in developing Pinyin, a system that made the Chinese character system of writing more accessible and improved literacy. Zhou said a long tradition of orthography was key to his success, as he was only "the son of pinyin."

Even Canadians aren't sure why they say "eh"

SmartBrief on Leadership | Jan 16, 2017

The Canadian linguistic tic of "eh" isn't totally understood, but most say it's a tool for noting mutual understanding, writes Dan Nosowitz. Most languages and dialects have similar verbal tags, "but what really makes 'eh' different is less about the way it's used and more about its place in Canadian society," he writes.

Video games are not as random as you'd think

SmartBrief on Leadership | Jan 13, 2017

Video game developers have the challenge of deliberately engineering a degree of luck -- to keep players from getting frustrated or discouraged -- without them realizing the interference, writes Simon Parkin. "Call it the Lucky Paradox: Lucky is fun, but too lucky is unreal," he writes.

The ancient world loved poisons and antidotes

SmartBrief on Leadership | Jan 12, 2017

Ancient civilizations and monarchs loved to concoct poisons, and the delight in playing with antidotes, or theriacs, continued for centuries before any regulation began to emerge, writes Carly Silver. "There was no internationally universal recipe -- no rules at all, really, for what could and couldn't be called a theriac," she writes.

Hummingbirds literally see the world differently

SmartBrief on Leadership | Jan 11, 2017

Hummingbirds, known for their fast-beating wings and hearts, perceive the world to be moving as fast as they are, according to research. That research was done on anesthetized birds, and scientists hope to study brain processes when hummingbirds are in motion.

Stars on track to collide in about 5 years

SmartBrief on Leadership | Jan 10, 2017

A pair of stars will collide in about five years in a red nova so bright that it will be among the night sky's brightest objects for a period of time, according to findings presented at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society. The stars of binary pair KIC 9832227 are currently so close to each other, they share an atmosphere.

Survivor of a shark attack shares her story

SmartBrief on Leadership | Jan 09, 2017

Maria Korcsmaros was attacked by a shark last year and describes how she stayed calm despite the danger. "My immediate instinct -- not panic and not prayer, even though I'm Catholic -- just think like a triathlete and get to the finish line," she said.

This universe is complicated enough, much less the multiverse

SmartBrief on Leadership | Jan 06, 2017

The idea of the multiverse can be difficult to comprehend, not to mention controversial, even for the physicists who spend their lives exploring the edges of our universe and these potential other universes. "How do I pretend I have no problem accepting the fact that infinite copies of me might be parading around in parallel worlds making choices both identical to, and different from, mine?" writes Tasneem Zehra Husain, a theoretical physicist.

There's more to rainbows than we understand

SmartBrief on Leadership | Jan 05, 2017

Research is challenging the traditional theory behind what creates a rainbow, writes physicist Jon Butterworth. "Scientists must avoid falling into the trap of defending all aspects of current thought because we feel the underlying truth needs protecting," he argues.

Looking at America through Disney's eyes

SmartBrief on Leadership | Jan 04, 2017

Disney's sense of optimism has been important in American history since at least World War II, and it's not because of strict accuracy in Disney's depictions, writes Bethanee Bemis. "The importance of 'Disney's American history' is in how it gives life to a folk history we would like to have, one that gives us a sense of optimism and unity," Bemis writes.

Scientists seek answers about Earth's earliest years

SmartBrief on Leadership | Jan 03, 2017

Researchers are hopeful that ongoing research can help us understand the infancy of our planet, including traits about how Earth's mantle formed, writes Natalie Wolchover. Rocks with a high concentration of tungsten-182 relative to tungsten-184 could indicate that they date from the solar system's first 50 million years.

Why your brain struggles with New Year's resolutions

SmartBrief on Leadership | Dec 30, 2016

New Year's resolutions are known for not being fulfilled, and researchers think they know why. Thinking about the future tends to cause our brains to minimize the obstacles we'll face and focus instead on desired outcomes, with more research needed on how to best overcome this problem.

The story of Hallmark's art collection

SmartBrief on Leadership | Dec 29, 2016

The artists that design Hallmark's Christmas cards draw inspiration from an in-house collection of 3,800 works of art, writes Annalisa Merelli. Hallmark's curators also gain, as the greeting cards help inspire their acquisitions.

Britain's first female doctor was actually a man

SmartBrief on Leadership | Dec 28, 2016

Margaret Ann Bulkley, Britain's first female doctor, spent her entire career having everyone believe she was a man, James Barry. Her plans to shed her disguise after medical school fell through, and she practiced for decades, including as chief of all medical and public health concerns in the then-colony of South Africa.

A photo study of American commuters

SmartBrief on Leadership | Dec 27, 2016

Photographer Cassandra Zapini's photos of Americans commuting in New York, Chicago and Boston are on display here. "Another thing I found in photographing commuters, was the amount of advertisements, signage or symbols that suggest what to do, how to feel about the world, or what we should work hard for," she said.

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