Penguins: Spy in the Huddle

Penguins - Spy in the Huddle

PBS premiered a 3-part mini-series called Penguins: Spy in the Huddle on Wednesday night and OH MY GOODNESS IT WAS SO AMUSING! Researchers made animatronic penguin cameras and sent them out to mingle with real penguins to get a better sense of what penguin life is like. Here’s the description of the show from PBS’s website:

For nearly a year, 50 animatronic cameras disguised as realistic life-size penguins, eggs and rocks infiltrate penguin colonies to record the tough challenges penguins face from the moment they emerge from the sea to raising their chicks and finally returning to the water. The intimate, emotional, and sometimes amusing behavior of nature’s most devoted parents bringing up their young against the most extraordinary odds is revealed as never before.

If you missed the first episode, you can stream it online on PBS’s website. The next two parts will be available on PBS over the next two Wednesdays at 8pm.

Understanding the Origins of Morality

I saw a really interesting segment on 60 Minutes tonight about using babies to understand the origins of morality. Researchers enacted various scenarios using “good guy” puppets and “bad guy” puppets and then let the babies choose one of the two puppets. Researchers also experimented with punishing “bad guy” puppets and introducing puppets who were like and unlike the babies to see how they reacted.

Another interesting experiment involved older children and the concepts of greed and generosity. The children were faced with two options; in each, the child would receive a certain number of tokens and “some other kid” would receive a certain amount of coins. Given the options of 1. One coin for themselves & no coins for the other kid and 2. Two coins for each of the kids, young kids consistently picked the first option, even though they got fewer coins. The study showed that as children get older, they learn to be more generous and less selfish.

I’m not sure if the researchers’ results are conclusive. The “good guy” and “bad guy” puppets wore different colored shirts. It could be that the babies just favor one color over the other. Or maybe the babies tend to favor puppets on the right instead of the left. There wasn’t enough information about the experiments to see if the researchers considered factors like these. Nevertheless, I found it interesting to watch.

Click the image below to watch the 60 Minutes segment:

Babies help unlock the origins of morality


Learning from Slime Mold

This is an amazing documentary about the research computer scientists are doing on slime mold. They are using the slime mold to solve maze and networking problems and even operate robots.

In one experiment, oat flakes were placed on a dish to represent the major cities around Tokyo and the slime mold was placed in the corresponding location for Tokyo. The mold created a network between the oat flakes that was strikingly similar to Tokyo’s rail system. My complaint about the experiment was that it did not seem to take topography into consideration, but I looked into it and they used light to simulate mountains, water, and other obstacles. Neat!