2011年10月31日 星期一

‘A Toad-Eat-Toad World,’ and Other Tales of Animal Cannibals


‘A Toad-Eat-Toad World,’ and Other Tales of Animal Cannibals

Clockwise from top left: B.G. Thomson/Photo Researchers; Photo Researchers, via Getty Images; Ian Waldie, via Getty Images; and Steffen Schmidt.

Midsize cane toads lure younger cane toads, which the bigger toads then swallow whole. A mother caecilian, top right, stays by her young and literally feeds them herself. Tamarin monkeys don't eat their offspring, except when they do. The female redback spider makes a meal of her mates.

When Richard Shine, a biologist at the University of Sydney in Australia, first heard the mystery of the missing eggs, he feared it was another case of what might be called invasive toadkill. He and his colleagues were studying the cane toad, Rhinella marina, a big, warty, sludge-colored Latin American amphibian that was brought to the continent years ago in an ill-fated effort at beetle control.

The researchers already knew that many large Australian carnivores like freshwater crocodiles and marsupial quolls had died after naïvely feasting on the highly toxic adult toads. Now it seemed that smaller predators were going after the toad’s equally poisonous eggs, and Dr. Shine worried that they too would be doomed.

Follow-up field studies soon revealed the identity of the caviar thieves. To the researchers’ astonishment, Dr. Shine said, it was cane toads themselves — or rather their tadpoles, which would swim over to each fresh batch of Rhinella eggs and “desperately consume” every slick black spherelet they could find.

Significantly, the tadpoles weren’t simply hungry for a generic omelette. Reporting in the journal Animal Behaviour, Dr. Shine and his co-workers showed that when given a choice between cane toad eggs and the similar-looking egg masses of other frog species, Rhinella tadpoles overwhelmingly picked the cannibal option. Oh, little cane toads lacking legs, how greedily you snack on pre-toads packed in eggs!

Life after metamorphosis brought scant relief from fraternal threats. The scientists also demonstrated that midsize cane toads wriggle digits on their hind feet to lure younger cane toads, which the bigger toads then swallow whole. “A cane toad’s biggest enemy is another cane toad,” Dr. Shine said. “It’s a toad-eat-toad world out there.”

Rhinella’s brutal appetite is among a string of recent revelations of what might be called extreme or uncanny cannibalism, when one animal’s determination to feed on its fellows takes such a florid or subversive turn that scientists are left, as Mark Wilkinson of the Natural History Museum in London put it, “gobsmacked” by the sight.

There are males that demand to be cannibalized by their lovers and males that seek to avoid that fate by stopping midcourtship and hammily feigning rigor mortis. There are mother monkeys that act like hipster zombies, greeting unwanted offspring with a ghoulish demand for brains; and there are infant caecilians — limbless, soil-dwelling amphibians — that grow fat by repeatedly skinning their mother alive.

In the past, animal cannibalism was considered accidental or pathological: Walk in on a mother rabbit giving birth, and the shock will prod her to eat her bunnies. Now scientists realize that cannibalism can sometimes make good evolutionary sense, and for each new example they seek to trace the selective forces behind it.

Why do cane toad tadpoles cannibalize eggs? Researchers propose three motives. The practice speeds up maturation; it eliminates future rivals who, given a mother toad’s reproductive cycle, are almost certainly unrelated to you; and it means exploiting an abundant resource that others find toxic but to which you are immune.

“We’re talking about a tropical animal that was relocated to one of the driest places on earth,” Dr. Shine said. “Cannibalism is one of those clever tricks that makes it such a superb colonizer and a survival machine.”

Maydianne Andrade, a biologist at the University of Toronto Scarborough in Ontario, has studied the redback spider, a type of black widow in which males willingly fling themselves onto the fangs of their much bigger mates. Dr. Andrade has found that the self-sacrificial act is simply the grand finale of an elaborate Ringling Brothers courtship performance that can last hours.

The suitor leaps around the web to vibrate its silken strands just so. He vaults up and over the female, back to front, side to side, again and again. He somersaults tantalizingly close to her mouth and then flips himself clear.

Is she ready to mate? She allows the male to mount her and fill one of her paired sperm storage organs, but then, hold on buster, it’s time for more jitterbugging, more lordly leaping. The male dances around her jaws again, she lets him fill sperm receptacle No. 2, his genitals break off to help seal the deal, and that’s it. He somersaults toward her fangs for real, she makes a quick meal of him, and he dies in arachnirvana, his gametes well positioned to sire thousands of next-generation redbacks.

But woe to any suitor that lacks a daredevil stripe. The female will cut short his wan routine, cannibalize him prematurely and then instantly mate with a rival, as if out of spite.

Dr. Andrade said the male redback’s suicidal efforts made sense. Males are the size of rice grains and blown about by the wind, females are spottily distributed and hard to find, and a vast majority of males never encounter a single female. For the lucky few who do, there’s no time to waste: This is their one shot at legacy, and they throw their hearts and parts in her hands.

“It’s what we call a terminal investment,” Dr. Andrade said.

For males with better dating prospects than the redback, the idea of connubial cannibalism may not seem so sexy, and the males do what they can to keep peckish females at bay. Among some species of widow spiders, males are preferentially drawn to females that smell as if they’ve just finished dinner, and hence are less likely to view approaching mate as a meal.

Studying Pisaura mirabilis, a slender, half-inch-long brown garden spider found in Denmark, Trine Bilde of Aarhus University and her colleagues have discovered that the males sometimes resort to a particularly melodramatic anticannibalism gambit. A male woos a female with a nuptial gift, a fresh-caught insect neatly bundled in silk and held aloft in his fangs. The female latches onto the gift with her fangs, and if she starts eating it calmly, the male slowly positions himself around her and starts transferring sperm.

If, however, the female grabs the parcel a little too hungrily, the male counters the predatory threat by playing spider possum. “He’s still holding onto the gift, but he stretches himself out into a deathlike pose, completely motionless, with his legs lagging behind,” Dr. Bilde said.

The female starts running around with the gift, the limp male dangling from it. Only when she finally grows tranquil enough to treat her present with care will the male dare to rouse himself back to life and lovemaking.

“This sort of death-feigning behavior has never been observed before in a sexual context,” Dr. Bilde said. “It’s very spectacular to see.”

Another skin-tingling spectacle is the kind of living cannibalism recently identified in two species of caecilians. These limbless tropical amphibians may live in soil and look like worms, but the mothers act like saints. For some three months after her young have hatched, the mother stays by their side, and repeatedly, literally feeds them herself.

Over a three-day period, the outer layer of the female’s skin gradually swells with lipids and turns pale and glisteny. When moment and maternal epidermis are ripe, a half-dozen famished young caecilians surround her, and using rows of temporary, specialized teeth that look like slotted spoons or grappling hooks, they peel her, potato-style, from top to tail. They tug and yank. They fight over hanks.

“Within 10 minutes of fairly frenzied activity, they have peeled all the mother’s skin off,” said Dr. Wilkinson of the Natural History Museum, who with his colleagues reported on skin-feeding behavior in the journals Nature and Biology Letters. Mother Caecilia doesn’t seem to mind. Like a lactating Madonna, “she remains placid the whole time,” Dr. Wilkinson said.

Not all mothers are martyrs, of course, and even the good ones may have their monstrous moments. Tamarin monkeys are normally famed for extravagant devotion to their offspring, but in a recent issue of the journal Primates, Laurence Culot, now of São Paulo State University in Brazil, and her colleagues described witnessing a rare case of maternal cannibalism among wild mustached tamarins of Peru.

A mother tamarin holding her infant son was foraging for fruit with her adult daughter. One moment the charming tableau looked fine, baby monkey clinging adorably to mother’s fur. The next, the researchers watched as the mother bit through the baby’s skull and ate out its brain. And once the mother had polished off the entire head, her adult daughter partook of some shoulder.

“I was really, really surprised — it was a totally unexpected thing to see among wild tamarins,” Dr. Culot said. “I couldn’t help thinking, ‘Oh, my God, I forgot my camera!’ ”

The researchers propose that, in a way, the grisly act was an expression of maternal love. The adult daughter turned out to be pregnant at the time. Tamarin infants are so demanding that rearing them is a group affair, and if the mother’s infant survived, the daughter’s wouldn’t have a chance. Through a shared act of cannibalism, mother and daughter made their pact.

2011年10月29日 星期六

A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute

Grading the Digital School

A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute

Jim Wilson/The New York Times

The Waldorf School in Los Altos, Calif., eschews technology. Here, Bryn Perry reads on a desktop. More Photos »

LOS ALTOS, Calif. — The chief technology officer of eBay sends his children to a nine-classroom school here. So do employees of Silicon Valley giants like Google, Apple, Yahoo and Hewlett-Packard.

Grading the Digital School

Blackboards, Not Laptops

Articles in this series are looking at the intersection of education, technology and business as schools embrace digital learning.

Previous Articles in the Series »

Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Cathy Waheed helps Shira Zeev, a fifth grader. Waldorf parents are happy to delay their children's engagement with technology. More Photos »

Readers’ Comments

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But the school’s chief teaching tools are anything but high-tech: pens and paper, knitting needles and, occasionally, mud. Not a computer to be found. No screens at all. They are not allowed in the classroom, and the school even frowns on their use at home.

Schools nationwide have rushed to supply their classrooms with computers, and many policy makers say it is foolish to do otherwise. But the contrarian point of view can be found at the epicenter of the tech economy, where some parents and educators have a message: computers and schools don’t mix.

This is the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, one of around 160 Waldorf schools in the country that subscribe to a teaching philosophy focused on physical activity and learning through creative, hands-on tasks. Those who endorse this approach say computers inhibit creative thinking, movement, human interaction and attention spans.

The Waldorf method is nearly a century old, but its foothold here among the digerati puts into sharp relief an intensifying debate about the role of computers in education.

“I fundamentally reject the notion you need technology aids in grammar school,” said Alan Eagle, 50, whose daughter, Andie, is one of the 196 children at the Waldorf elementary school; his son William, 13, is at the nearby middle school. “The idea that an app on an iPad can better teach my kids to read or do arithmetic, that’s ridiculous.”

Mr. Eagle knows a bit about technology. He holds a computer science degree from Dartmouth and works in executive communications at Google, where he has written speeches for the chairman, Eric E. Schmidt. He uses an iPad and a smartphone. But he says his daughter, a fifth grader, “doesn’t know how to use Google,” and his son is just learning. (Starting in eighth grade, the school endorses the limited use of gadgets.)

Three-quarters of the students here have parents with a strong high-tech connection. Mr. Eagle, like other parents, sees no contradiction. Technology, he says, has its time and place: “If I worked at Miramax and made good, artsy, rated R movies, I wouldn’t want my kids to see them until they were 17.”

While other schools in the region brag about their wired classrooms, the Waldorf school embraces a simple, retro look — blackboards with colorful chalk, bookshelves with encyclopedias, wooden desks filled with workbooks and No. 2 pencils.

On a recent Tuesday, Andie Eagle and her fifth-grade classmates refreshed their knitting skills, crisscrossing wooden needles around balls of yarn, making fabric swatches. It’s an activity the school says helps develop problem-solving, patterning, math skills and coordination. The long-term goal: make socks.

Down the hall, a teacher drilled third-graders on multiplication by asking them to pretend to turn their bodies into lightning bolts. She asked them a math problem — four times five — and, in unison, they shouted “20” and zapped their fingers at the number on the blackboard. A roomful of human calculators.

In second grade, students standing in a circle learned language skills by repeating verses after the teacher, while simultaneously playing catch with bean bags. It’s an exercise aimed at synchronizing body and brain. Here, as in other classes, the day can start with a recitation or verse about God that reflects a nondenominational emphasis on the divine.

Andie’s teacher, Cathy Waheed, who is a former computer engineer, tries to make learning both irresistible and highly tactile. Last year she taught fractions by having the children cut up food — apples, quesadillas, cake — into quarters, halves and sixteenths.

“For three weeks, we ate our way through fractions,” she said. “When I made enough fractional pieces of cake to feed everyone, do you think I had their attention?”

Some education experts say that the push to equip classrooms with computers is unwarranted because studies do not clearly show that this leads to better test scores or other measurable gains.

Is learning through cake fractions and knitting any better? The Waldorf advocates make it tough to compare, partly because as private schools they administer no standardized tests in elementary grades. And they would be the first to admit that their early-grade students may not score well on such tests because, they say, they don’t drill them on a standardized math and reading curriculum.

When asked for evidence of the schools’ effectiveness, the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America points to research by an affiliated group showing that 94 percent of students graduating from Waldorf high schools in the United States between 1994 and 2004 attended college, with many heading to prestigious institutions like Oberlin, Berkeley and Vassar.

Of course, that figure may not be surprising, given that these are students from families that value education highly enough to seek out a selective private school, and usually have the means to pay for it. And it is difficult to separate the effects of the low-tech instructional methods from other factors. For example, parents of students at the Los Altos school say it attracts great teachers who go through extensive training in the Waldorf approach, creating a strong sense of mission that can be lacking in other schools.

Absent clear evidence, the debate comes down to subjectivity, parental choice and a difference of opinion over a single world: engagement. Advocates for equipping schools with technology say computers can hold students’ attention and, in fact, that young people who have been weaned on electronic devices will not tune in without them.

Ann Flynn, director of education technology for the National School Boards Association, which represents school boards nationwide, said computers were essential. “If schools have access to the tools and can afford them, but are not using the tools, they are cheating our children,” Ms. Flynn said.

Paul Thomas, a former teacher and an associate professor of education at Furman University, who has written 12 books about public educational methods, disagreed, saying that “a spare approach to technology in the classroom will always benefit learning.”

“Teaching is a human experience,” he said. “Technology is a distraction when we need literacy, numeracy and critical thinking.”

And Waldorf parents argue that real engagement comes from great teachers with interesting lesson plans.

“Engagement is about human contact, the contact with the teacher, the contact with their peers,” said Pierre Laurent, 50, who works at a high-tech start-up and formerly worked at Intel and Microsoft. He has three children in Waldorf schools, which so impressed the family that his wife, Monica, joined one as a teacher in 2006.

And where advocates for stocking classrooms with technology say children need computer time to compete in the modern world, Waldorf parents counter: what’s the rush, given how easy it is to pick up those skills?

“It’s supereasy. It’s like learning to use toothpaste,” Mr. Eagle said. “At Google and all these places, we make technology as brain-dead easy to use as possible. There’s no reason why kids can’t figure it out when they get older.”

There are also plenty of high-tech parents at a Waldorf school in San Francisco and just north of it at the Greenwood School in Mill Valley, which doesn’t have Waldorf accreditation but is inspired by its principles.

California has some 40 Waldorf schools, giving it a disproportionate share — perhaps because the movement is growing roots here, said Lucy Wurtz, who, along with her husband, Brad, helped found the Waldorf high school in Los Altos in 2007. Mr. Wurtz is chief executive of Power Assure, which helps computer data centers reduce their energy load.

The Waldorf experience does not come cheap: annual tuition at the Silicon Valley schools is $17,750 for kindergarten through eighth grade and $24,400 for high school, though Ms. Wurtz said financial assistance was available. She says the typical Waldorf parent, who has a range of elite private and public schools to choose from, tends to be liberal and highly educated, with strong views about education; they also have a knowledge that when they are ready to teach their children about technology they have ample access and expertise at home.

The students, meanwhile, say they don’t pine for technology, nor have they gone completely cold turkey. Andie Eagle and her fifth-grade classmates say they occasionally watch movies. One girl, whose father works as an Apple engineer, says he sometimes asks her to test games he is debugging. One boy plays with flight-simulator programs on weekends.

The students say they can become frustrated when their parents and relatives get so wrapped up in phones and other devices. Aurad Kamkar, 11, said he recently went to visit cousins and found himself sitting around with five of them playing with their gadgets, not paying attention to him or each other. He started waving his arms at them: “I said: ‘Hello guys, I’m here.’ ”

Finn Heilig, 10, whose father works at Google, says he liked learning with pen and paper — rather than on a computer — because he could monitor his progress over the years.

“You can look back and see how sloppy your handwriting was in first grade. You can’t do that with computers ’cause all the letters are the same,” Finn said. “Besides, if you learn to write on paper, you can still write if water spills on the computer or the power goes out.”

2011年10月25日 星期二

Innovation works in mysterious ways

Innovation works in mysterious ways

Was it salesmanship or engineering? Creativity or ruthlessness? Or was Steve Jobs simply gifted with vision and impeccable taste? Whatever the true source of his success, there was more than a touch of genius about Jobs. Even his side project, Pixar, was an astounding achievement. His first love, Apple, he built from nothing and then dragged back from the brink to make it the most valuable company in the world. No wonder so many of us felt sad at the news of his passing: surely he had m​​ore to offer.

是推銷藝術還是工程實力?是天才創意抑或冷酷無情?又或者僅僅因為史蒂夫•喬布斯(Steve Jobs)天生就具有遠見卓識和無可挑剔的品味?無論喬布斯取得成功的真正原因是什麼,他的天才能力可不止一點。甚至他的“副業”皮克斯(Pixar)都取得了令人矚目的成就。蘋果(Apple)是喬布斯的初戀,他白手起家創立了這家公司,後來又從懸崖邊上把它拉了回來並打造成為全球最有價值的公司。也難怪我們許多人對喬布斯的去世感到難過——他要活著,準能給我們​​帶來更多驚喜。

I spend my life in front of a computer, and that life is better because of what Steve Jobs created. But here's the strange thing: I've never owned an Apple product for longer than the two weeks it took to give up and send it back. (Apple's customer returns department is impeccable, by the way.) My Macbook Air? Glorious hardware, but fussy software and a counterintuitive interface. My iPad? Beautiful – but also heavy, not too fond of wireless, and refused even to turn on until I did some most impertinent things to my Windows laptop.

我每天的生活都是在電腦前度過的,是喬布斯的諸多創造讓我的生活更美好。但奇怪之處在於:我擁有蘋果產品的時間從沒有超過兩週,兩週時間已足以讓我放棄,並把它退還給蘋果公司了。 (順便說一下,蘋果公司的顧客退貨部也是讓人無可挑剔!)我的Macbook Air?硬件炫極了,可軟件有些花里胡哨,界面也不夠直觀。我的iPad?華麗得很,可它太重了,不太喜歡無線網絡,而且直到我在Windows筆記本電腦上進行了一些極其荒謬的操作之後,它才可以開機。

Apple never made a penny from me. Why, ​​then, do I say that Steve Jobs improved my life? It's because I am surrounded by technology that looks good and works well because others followed where Apple led. Without Apple's refinement and popularisation of the WIMP environment (window, icon, menu and pointer), how long would we have waited for a graphic interface from Microsoft – and how awful might it have been? It's hard to imagine Bill Gates would have shown much interest in fonts without Apple's beautiful typography. Beyond desktop computers, there's a similar story to tell: I own an Android phone that owes more than a passing debt to the iPhone; I'm still waiting to own a Windows machine to rival the Mac Air; and every tablet in the world bows to the iPad.

蘋果從來沒有從我身上賺到過一分錢。那麼,為什麼我要說史蒂夫•喬布斯改善了我的生活呢?理由是,我被各種外觀出色效率出眾的技術所圍繞,正是因為其它公司都在追隨蘋果的腳步。若不是蘋果對WIMP(窗口、圖標、菜單和光標)環境的改進和推廣,我們不知要多久才能等到微軟(Microsoft)的圖形界面——那會是多麼可怕的一種情形啊!很難想像,要不是因為蘋果的漂亮字體,比爾•蓋茨(Bill Gates)會對字體產生多大的興趣。除了台式機以外,我還有類似的經歷告訴大家:我有一部Android手機,它欠iPhone的可不止一星半點;我還在期待可以擁有一台能與Mac Air相媲美的Windows筆記本;還有,世界上的每一台平板電腦都應該向iPad致以敬意。

To an economist the lesson is obvious: innovative profits are imperfectly appropriable. In more user-friendly language: when an entrepreneur bakes a cake, he only gets to keep a thin slice for himself. This is worrying if it discourages innovation, and in some industries innovators may be discouraged by the prospect that they must take big risks and sink big costs while society sits back and hopes to reap the benefits. Yet in the computer industry, plenty of entrepreneurs seem happy to take risks for the prospect of a thin slice of the social benefits.


A discussion paper published in 2004 by the economist William Nordhaus attempts to establish exactly how thin that slice is. Nordhaus reckons that innovators capture a “minuscule” 2.2 per cent of the total social benefit of their innovations. The other 97.8 per cent goes to consumers , partly because competitors soon catch on, and partly because no company, even a monopolist, can charge each consumer a price reflecting her individual willingness to pay.

經濟學家威廉•諾德豪斯(William Nordhaus)於2004年發表的一篇論文,試圖準確地計算出這一薄片到底有多薄。諾德豪斯認為,創新者在其發明所產生的社會總收益中僅能收穫“微不足道的”2.2%。其它97.8%則造福了消費者,部分原因是競爭對手們很快就趕了上來,還有部分原因是沒有一家公司、哪怕是壟斷企業,向每位消費者收取的價格能夠與其個人願意付出的數額相符。

Professor ​​Nordhaus's estimate can be regarded as, at best, an educated guess, partly because Nordhaus is only able to focus on innovations which lead to lower production costs and thus lower prices. If that's the metric, developments such as the world wide web or penicillin barely register. Still, I think it's safe to say that both Tim Berners-Lee (the web) and Alexander Fleming (penicillin) reaped far less than 2.2 per cent of the total value to society of their insights.

諾德豪斯教授的估算充其量可以被看作一種推測,部分原因是他只能夠集中研究那些促進生產成本下降、進而降低價格的發明創造。如果那就是衡量標準,萬​​維網(World Wide Web)和盤尼西林(penicillin)等發明勉強說來也算符合。不過,我覺得可以有把握地說,萬維網創造者蒂姆•伯納斯-李(Tim Berners-Lee)和盤尼西林的發現者亞歷山大•弗萊明(Alexander Fleming)從他們的創意想法給社會帶來的總價值中收穫的份額遠遠低於2.2%。

Was Jobs an exception? Chris Dillow of the Investor's Chronicle, who called my attention to the Nordhaus paper, reckons that Jobs's gift for branding and design helped Apple retain an unusually large slice of the innovator's cake. Perhaps that's true. Apple's shareholders have certainly enjoyed a profitable few years. But the greater benefit has flowed to customers – and not only the customers of Apple.

喬布斯是一個例外嗎?使我注意到諾德豪斯論文的是《投資者年鑑》(Investors' Chronicle)的克里斯•迪洛(Chris Dillow)。他認為,喬布斯在品牌塑造和設計方面的天分幫助蘋果公司從創新者的蛋糕上分得了出奇大的一片。或許他說的對。蘋果的股東們近幾年無疑賺得盆滿缽盈。但更多的收益還是流向了顧客——而且不僅僅是蘋果的顧客。

Tim Harford's latest book is 'Adapt:​​ Why Success Always Starts with Failure' (Little, Brown)

蒂姆•哈福德的新書名為《適者生存:為何失敗是成功之母》(Adapt:​​ Why Success Always Starts With Failure),由利特爾-布朗公司(Little, Brown)出版。


2011年10月23日 星期日

Japan’s Standardized Baseballs Are Popular With Pitchers

Japan’s Standardized Baseballs Are Popular With Pitchers


The new ball used for all top-league games in Japan, made by Mizuno, has features that make it popular among pitchers.

TOKYO — Unlike Major League Baseball, for whom Rawlings has been the official supplier of baseballs since 1977, Japan’s top league has long used multiple manufacturers.

This season, however, for the first time in the 75-year history of Nippon Professional Baseball, every team is using the same supplier.

In any given season, as many as nine manufacturers had supplied baseballs to Japan’s 12 teams. Many clubs, in fact, contracted with multiple suppliers and freely switched the balls they used in their home games depending on the series, the month or some other variable that had to be revealed in advance to the commissioner’s office.

Citing rising costs and declining domestic production, Commissioner Ryozo Kato began the tedious and touchy process of unifying Japan’s ball last year. Mizuno emerged as the lone supplier.

But old customs are hard to break, and in tradition-bound Japan, the move to a unified ball comes with a twist: it is required only for official games played between major league teams. Individual clubs can continue choosing their own baseballs for minor league games, spring training games and practices. According to the commissioner’s office, at least two teams that contracted with multiple baseball makers last year, the Hanshin Tigers and the Yakult Swallows, continue to use those balls in unsanctioned events.

In Japanese baseball, power has traditionally rested with the teams. Franchises have operated independently on a variety of issues, including deciding which ball manufacturers to contract with, much as players in the United States and Japan decide which manufacturers’ bats, gloves and spikes they use.

In Japan, a culture evolved in which sporting goods makers, especially smaller regional ones, became dependent on their relationships with local clubs to supply thousands of balls each year.

“In order to build relationships that stand the test of time, you have to be willing to endure lots of hardships on your customers’ behalf,” Katsuhisa Matsuzaki, a spokesman for N.P.B, said in Japanese, describing the traditional arrangement. “For a team to then turn around and say to a supplier that persevered, ‘Sorry, we don’t you need anymore,’ is not the Japanese way.”

So instead of trying to undo longstanding relationships, Japan’s commissioner’s office established standards over the years to attain a degree of uniformity among the game balls being produced by multiple manufacturers.

That began as far back as 1950, when the Central and Pacific Leagues came under one governing umbrella. Over the years, standards pertaining to the balls were gradually tightened. This happened, for example, in 1981, after a game was delayed by 20 minutes as one team accused another of using a suspicious ball with extra zip. But until this year, teams could use any ball that adhered to the standards.

The new Mizuno ball for this season has been called the noncarrying ball, a reference to the effect of the lower-elasticity rubber that encases the cork center. Not surprisingly, pitchers like the new ball for that and other subtle changes they can use to their advantage.

“It breaks better, moves more advantageously for the pitcher,” Hisashi Iwakuma of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, speaking in Japanese, said of the new ball. “Whether you throw a fork or a curve or a slider, the break is bigger. Even your fastball doesn’t have to be perfectly straight; you can make it miss the sweet spot of the bat.”

Iwakuma said pitchers could manipulate the slightly lower height of the red stitches and their slightly wider spread.

Japan’s regular season was extended until this week because of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in March and unusually heavy rain. But the ball is believed to be responsible for an abundance of curiosities.

Through Friday’s games, seven pitchers among the 12 clubs had earned run averages below 2.00 while throwing more than 170 innings. By comparison, despite his dominant performance of 24 wins in 29 decisions, Detroit’s Justin Verlander, the major league leader in E.R.A. among starters at 2.40, would not crack Japan’s top 10.

Among those Japanese pitchers is Yu Darvish, 25, who many believe will be made available to American teams this winter by the Nippon Ham Fighters. But Darvish’s 1.44 E.R.A. was only second best in the Pacific League. As a testament to his acumen, though, he had a 1.78 E.R.A. last season.

In another oddity, Darvish’s team tied a Japanese record with five consecutive shutout victories during a stretch in May. That was part of nine shutouts in 11 games by the Fighters’ staff, three of them complete-game shutouts by Darvish.

Robust pitching has turned the batting races into rather pedestrian competitions. Worry abounds that the race in at least one league could produce the lowest average for a batting champion in Japanese history. The Hiroshima Carp’s Katsuya Morinaga holds that distinction, capturing the Central League’s 1962 title with a .307 average. This season’s race has come down to the Yomiuri Giants’ Hisayoshi Chono (.315) and Hanshin’s Matt Murton (.312), with three others teetering around .300. Last year, 14 players in the league hit .300 or better, with .358 taking the title. In the Pacific League, five players were hitting over .300, with the leader at .339.

Most noticeable of all, home runs were down. With three players totaling 40 or more homers last year, the overall title was claimed with 49. This season, only the Seibu Lions’ Takeya Nakamura and the Yakult Swallows’ Wladimir Balentien will finish with more than 30.

Although Japan’s new ball is not meant to replicate the American major league ball, a conscious effort was made to make it much more similar than before. That is a crucial point in Japan, where performance in international competitions like the quadrennial World Baseball Classic, which uses the American ball, weighs on the national conscience. Kato, the commissioner, said as much at a news conference when he unveiled the new ball before the season.

“Certainly, an impetus for the uniform ball was seeing with my own eyes the difficulties Japanese pitchers had with the different ball at the W.B.C.,” he said of the 2009 tournament, which Japan won. “By unifying our approach to the domestic game, we can lessen such discomforts that arise for our players on the international stage.”

That could pave the way for Mizuno to bid on the contract to supply the American major leagues. The leagues’ contract with Rawlings, which replaced Spalding after a century as the sole ball supplier, expires in 2013.

At the preseason news conference, Kato was seemingly focused on something larger than his own league when he proclaimed Japan’s new ball to be “of a higher quality than the one used in the American major leagues.”

2011年10月12日 星期三



Steve Jobs

The magician

The revolution that Steve Jobs led is only just beginning

America’s drone campaign

Drones and the law

America’s attacks on suspected terrorists should be more closely monitored


Our science and technology blog hails the Google bus, plumbs the internet's depths and admires precision engineering

Babbage podcast

In our weekly Babbage podcast we discuss the latest iteration of the iPhone, how IBM has outmuscled Microsoft and why Yahoo! has become the potential target of a Chinese takeover

The Difference Engine

Our weekly column ponders how technology affects our lives


Follow The Economist's science and technology coverage on Twitter @EconSciTech

Peer review
Other stories from the scientific press

A planetary tiff

Antineutrino detectors can spot the destruction of weapons-grade plutonium

Technology Review

The whole truth

The ethics of whole-genome sequencing


The probabilistic mind

How human brains evolved to deal with doubt

Science News

Business stories with a technological dimension

The astonishing career of the world’s most revered chief executive

The rapid rise of newspaper paywalls

Sciences Po
Political stories with a scientific dimension

The mounting human costs of Japan’s nuclear disaster—and the problems it causes—are changing

Why the future of air power belongs to unmanned systems soup

If only more of Latin America's higher-education institutions were like the University of São Paulo

A history of measurement

From yardsticks to metre rule

A history of greater and greater accuracy

A special report on personal technology

Beyond the PC

Mobile digital gadgets are overshadowing the personal computer, says Martin Giles. Their impact will be far-reaching

Difference Engine: To catch a thief

數字錯誤最平常: 天下雜誌例: 60萬台啦!





Retrieving stolen digital devices

Difference Engine: To catch a thief

Clearly, such headline cases are merely the well-publicised tip of an iceberg of pricey portables that disappear. In America, the Federal Bureau of Investigation reckons some 600,000 laptops are stolen annually, with only 3% ever being recovered. A further 26m mobile phones go missing each year. Airports, hotels and parked cars are where most laptops vanish. Mobile phones tend to get lost in taxis, and be swiped in bars, restaurants and other public places where their owners are easily distracted. The Federal Trade Commission urges people to treat such gadgets “like cash” and keep them securely about their person or hidden out-of-sight.


2011年10月10日 星期一

NikkeiBP : 史蒂夫·喬布斯病逝










在2011年6月6日召開的“Worldwide Developers Conference 2011(WWDC)”主題演講中,介紹雲服務



雖然受到天線問題影響的iPhone 4用戶只是一部分,但是我們尊重所有的用戶,因此希望所有用戶都能滿意

在2010年7月16日召開的有關“iPhone 4”天線問題的媒體說明會上宣布將向所有iPhone 4用戶免費提供護套

對於我們而言,iPhone 4是推出首款iPhone之後邁出的最重要一步

在2010年6月7日召開的“Worldwide Developers Conference 2010(WWDC)”主題演講中正式發布“iPhone 4”


在2009年9月9日召開的媒體發布會上介紹發布平板電腦“iPod nano”

The reports of my death is greatly exaggerated(有關我死亡的報告太誇張了)”。



在2008年6月9日召開的“Worldwide Developers Conference 2008(WWDC)上正式發布”iPhone 3G”


在2008年3月6日召開的記者發布會上,發布用於iPhone的SDK(software development kit)


在2008年1月15日召開的“Macworld Conference and Expo”的主題演講中,發布“MacBook Air”


在2007年6月11日召開的“Worldwide Developers Conference(WWDC)2007”宣布加大Safari的業務力度


在2007年1月9日召開的“Macworld Conference and Expo”的主題演講中,發布“iPhone”




在2006年8月7日召開的“Worldwide Developers Conference(WWDC)2006”上發布台式機“Mac Pro”



iPod Hi-Fi”、新

The energy efficiency of computing is doubling every 18 months

Computing power

A deeper law than Moore's?

Oct 10th 2011, 13:28 by The Economist online

The energy efficiency of computing is doubling every 18 months

IN 1965 Gordon Moore, a co-founder of Intel, first observed that integrated circuits, better known as silicon chips, seemed to conform to a predictable law: since their invention in 1958, the density of components in each chip had doubled each year, and this trend was, he suggested, likely to continue for at least a decade. In 1975 Dr Moore modified his prediction, observing that component density was doubling every two years. In practical terms, the result is that personal-computer performance doubles every 18 months, and has done so for decades, a prediction commonly known as Moore’s law. As computers have become mobile devices, however, their users are increasingly concerned about battery life as well as raw performance. So they will welcome a new analysis, by Jonathan Koomey of Stanford University and his colleagues, which seems to have uncovered a deeper law relating to the energy-efficiency of computers, dating back to the era of vacuum tubes. The researchers found that the electrical efficiency of computing has doubled every 1.6 years since the mid-1940s. “That means that for a fixed amount of computational power, the need for battery capacity will fall by half every 1.6 years,” observes Dr Koomey. This trend, he says, “bodes well for the continued explosive growth in mobile computing, sensors and controls.” Some researchers are already building devices that run on “ambient” energy harvested from light, heat, vibration or TV transmitters. As the energy-efficiency of computing continues to improve, this approach will become more widespread. Dr Koomey’s team published their results in IEEE Annals, an industry research journal. Inevitably, industry observers are already calling this new finding “Koomey’s law”.

2011年10月7日 星期五



皇家學院 48頁/ 格林威基皇家天文台 45頁/ 英國的農業研究--樂桑斯特實驗戰30頁

馬丁(Thomas Martin), 準兹(Harold Spencer Jones),拉塞爾(John E. Russell)撰
臺一版 臺北市|c臺灣商務|d民65 1976 [6],126面|d18公分

"Sir Harold Spencer Jones, 1890-1960". Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada 55: 117. Bibl code:1961JRASC..55..117S. Página visitada em 2008-02-24.

2011年10月6日 星期四

Nobel prizes in chemistry

Getting squishier

Oct 5th 2011, 16:22 by The Economist online

The changing chemical affinities of the Nobel Committee

ALFRED NOBEL, himself a chemist, founded his prizes in the late 19th century, when scientific excitement centred on chemistry. Boffins were busily filling in the blanks in the periodic table and probing unknown atomic phenomena (like radioactivity and bonding). Little wonder, then, that at the start of the 20th century most of the Nobel prizes in the discipline went to these and other discoveries under the broad label of physical chemistry. Soon, however, chemists reached a point where further advances became the province of chemical physics, rather than physical chemistry. As our chart shows, topics like the nature of organic compounds and of biological substances and processes grew more prominent. (Where the winning work straddled two categories, we ascribed half a prize to each.) The trend towards squishiness moved into reverse in the last two decades of the 20th century, however, in part because of developments in physics which yielded precision devices like the scanning-tunnelling microscope that permitted chemists to study the structure of chemical compounds close up. The 21st century, meanwhile, has again been dominated by mushier matters. Until this year's prize, that is. On October 5th it was awarded to Daniel Shechtman for the discovery of a new type of atomic lattice called quasicrystals—a discovery that, it must be remembered, was first reported in 1984 in Physical Review Letters, the world's leading physics journal.

2011年10月5日 星期三


Israeli Chemist Wins Nobel Prize for Discovery of "Quasicrystals"

The discovery faced skepticism and mockery before it won widespread acceptance as a fundamental breakthrough.


UPDATE: And the winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize for chemistry is: Dan Shechtman of Israel.

Shechtam's win was for his 1982 discovery of a new chemical structure known as "quasicrystals" that the scientific community had previously thought was impossible.

The find "faced skepticism and mockery, even prompting his expulsion from his U.S. research team, before it won widespread acceptance as a fundamental breakthrough," the Associated Press reports.

The Nobel Foundation with more:

"On the morning of 8 April 1982, an image counter to the laws of nature appeared in Daniel Shechtman's electron microscope. In all solid matter, atoms were believed to be packed inside crystals in symmetrical patterns that were repeated periodically over and over again. For scientists, this repetition was required in order to obtain a crystal.

"Shechtman's image, however, showed that the atoms in his crystal were packed in a pattern that could not be repeated. Such a pattern was considered just as impossible as creating a football using only six-cornered polygons, when a sphere needs both five- and six-cornered polygons. His discovery was extremely controversial. In the course of defending his findings, he was asked to leave his research group. However, his battle eventually forced scientists to reconsider their conception of the very nature of matter."

UPDATE Tuesday, Oct. 4: The 2011 Nobel Prize in physics was awarded to three U.S.-born scientists on Tuesday for showing that the expansion of the universe is constantly accelerating -- and not ever-slowing, as most scientists had assumed for decades.

The Associated Press explains: "Their discovery created a new portrait of the eventual fate of the universe: a place of super-low temperatures and black skies unbroken by the light of galaxies moving away from each other at incredible speed."

The award is being shared with one half being awarded to Saul Perlmutter and the other half jointly to Brian Schmidt and Adam Riess.

"For almost a century the universe has been known to be expanding as a consequence of the Big Bang about 14 billion years ago," the Nobel citation read. "However the discovery that this expansion is accelerating is astounding. If the expansion will continue to speed up the universe will end in ice."

UPDATE Monday, Oct. 3: Following an emergency meeting Monday, the Nobel Prize committee has decided to go ahead with plans to award its annual prize in medicine to a New York-based scientist even though he died on Friday.

The Nobel statutes typically don't allow posthumous awards. Via the AP, the foundation said: "The Nobel Prize to Ralph Steinman was made in good faith, based on the assumption that the Nobel laureate was alive."

POST Monday, Oct 3..: A Canadian-born biologist at Rockefeller University in New York was awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine on Monday—three days after he died of cancer.

The prize committee was unaware that Ralph Steinman, a 68-year-old Canadian-born researcher, had passed away when it announced the honor, the Associated Press reports.* The rules don’t allow for the prize to be awarded posthumously, so the organization will have to decide whether to rescind it. Officials said they believe this is the first time a recipient has died without the committee’s knowledge prior to the announcement.

“It’s incredibly sad news,” Nobel committee member Goran Hansson said. “We can only regret that he didn’t have the chance to receive the news he had won the Nobel Prize. Our thoughts are now with his family.”

Steinman was to have shared the $1.5 million award with American Bruce Beutler, 53, a professor at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, and French scientist Jules Hoffman, 70, who led a research laboratory in Strasbourg, France, until 2009. Each of the three made important discoveries related to the activation of the body’s immune system. The knowledge could be used to develop new treatments for infectious diseases, cancer, and a range of other ailments.

Steinman had been using a cutting-edge therapy based on his own research to prolong his life, Reuters reports. He had battled pancreatic cancer for four years.

The other Nobel Prize announcements are expected later this week, with the Peace Prize coming Friday. The schedule is available on the Nobel website.

*Correction: An earlier version of this post misidentified the Nobel Prize winner in question. His name is Ralph Steinman.