Monthly Archives: January 2010

Bats live much, much longer than other small mammals


Fascinating article here about the anomalous longevity of bats from the Summer 2006 issue of Bats magazine. It begins with discussion about a healthy male bat in Siberia who was first banded in 1964, so in 2006 was at least 41 years old.

According to Robert Locke

Bats, Podlutsky said in an interview, break the rules of longevity. “They are the grand champions. It is very well established that in mammals, longevity depends on size. You have this correlation between body mass and longevity: [the smaller the animal, the shorter the life span]. Except for bats. With a very small body size, they live much, much longer.” The Gerontology paper said longevity of more than 20 years is documented for 22 bat species and more than 30 years for six species. “That is why bats are so interesting to gerontologists, because of this paradox,” said Podlutsky, associate professor of cellular and structural biology. “If you want to learn to swim, you take lessons from someone who swims well. Studying [aging in] bats is like having an Olympic champion as your swimming teacher.”

The scientists said that the Brandt’s myotis had lived 9.8 times longer than would have been expected based on its “longevity quotient” (maximum age standardized by body size). That is the highest value ever reported for any mammal, including those maintained in captivity. The human longevity quotient, with a record documented life span of 122 years, is 4.5, Podlutsky said. And as important as the bat’s great age is the fact that it reached that age in the wild, not in the protected and well-fed captivity of a laboratory. Even after 41 years, Podlutsky said, the bat’s physical functions must have been very well preserved.


Podlutsky is pushing bats as a better animal model for studying human aging. Mice currently are by far the most often used, even though their maximum life span in captivity is just three years and 90 of 100 mice in the wild die within nine months. Even laboratory mice kept in a protected environment, he said, show all the signs of aging at 2 years old. Contrast that with bats, which weigh half what a mouse does and are still hunting successfully day after day at 30 or 40 years of age. “Studying mice [in aging research],” he said, “is like taking swimming lessons from someone who’s never been in the water.”

Sadly, I became aware of the longevity of bats while reading this article about how, perhaps because of pesticides, they (and bees and frogs …) are dying off.

Consensus trance


Following up to “Most people seem content to sing an endless round of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat …”” and “Why do so few unwrap the gift of Santa Claus?” and “Why art matters, and how literature professors could, too“.

According to Wikipedia about Charles Tart

In his 1986 book Waking Up, he introduced the phrase “consensus trance” to the lexicon. Tart likened normal waking consciousness to hypnotic trance. He discussed how each of us is from birth inducted to the trance of the society around us. Tart noted both similarities and differences between hypnotic trance induction and consensus trance induction. He emphasized the enormous and pervasive power of parents, teachers, religious leaders, political figures, and others to compel induction. Referring to the work of Gurdjieff and others he outlines a path to awakening based upon self-observation.

Concept sounds reasonable, but the mention of Gurdjieff is worrying. And Wikipedia also mentions that

He supports Joseph McMoneagle’s remote viewing claims that McMoneagle has remote viewed into the past, present, and future and has predicted future events.

Hmmm. See also the Wikipedia entry on “Consensus reality“.

“The specific research you are doing, how will it make that dream come true?”


CACM recently interviewed Prith Banerjee, the director of HP Labs. Here are the final 3 Q&A’s:

Q: How do you inspire your researchers to think big?

A: Unless I engage with the researchers on a regular basis, the passion will not be there, the intensity will not be there. I say, “What are you trying to build? Can we not do something bigger?” Then I say, “The specific research you are doing, how will it make that dream come true?” There’s an unrelenting pressure that I want to be able to feel — that if we don’t do it, someone else will.

Q: Before you joined HP, you spent more than 20 years in academia. Did you find the transition difficult?

A: Many people warned me, “Prith, you will not survive.” Fortunately, my experience in academia was not in only one position. I also took two exits into the world of startups, and what I learned from those startups are things I’ve tried to preach and practice at HP Labs.

Q: Such as?

A: In academia, professors can work and work and refine their papers to the last word. The world of startups doesn’t give you that luxury. I learned how to deliver fast. I learned how to run — I am always running. I try to convey that to my colleagues at HP Labs — you have to find the right trade-off. I want you to document your work. I want you to advance the state of the art, but don’t just keep on publishing and refining — run, right? Start making stuff, as well.

Who still has a beeper?


According to David Harkleroad

Sign at symphony, “Please turn off cell phones and beepers.” Who still has a beeper???

I responded

@davidharkleroad 6 million ppl in US “still has a beeper”, & most cant “turn off”. 1 reason:

Paging is not simply cheaper than cell phone text messages, it’s much more reliable, penetrates buildings better, works better in difficult terrain, etc. When disaster strikes, you’ll be glad the first responders use pagers.

The poetry of Usama bin Ladin


According to Thomas Bartlett

On the tapes, the world’s most-wanted terrorist can be heard speaking at a wedding and, in another case, reading his own poetry. In his poems, Mr. bin Laden paints himself as a cosmic warrior, transcending time and distance, slaughtering infidels in the ninth century. He’s a good poet, Mr. Miller says, though that fact troubles him, the idea that poetry could be a vehicle for such ugly, violent thoughts.

See also “That old poisoner Wagner, and why art matters“.

“Low salaries are a severe but necessary test of a genuine dedication to science”


According to Leon Lukaszewicz in “On the Beginnings of Computer Development in Poland” (paper, abstract)

Our job, although very stimulating, was poorly paid. It was quite easy to obtain a salary twice as high in industry and also be alloted a flat, which in those days of the acute housing problem mattered a great deal. We turned to [mathematician] Professor [Kazimierz] Kuratowski [the director of the Institute of Mathematics in Warsaw] with our grievances. He answered that “low salaries are a severe but necessary test of a genuine dedication to science of young research workers. If the salaries were high, what sort of people would we get here?” His arguments were not entirely convincing for us, but of course no one quit the Institute we adored. It should also be added that, some time later, some of us, already “tested,” were allotted the flats we and our families had dreamt about.

Reminds me of Randy Pausch saying

But remember, the brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.

(A transcript of Pausch’s lecture is here.)

Castles in the air, yet real castles all the same — morality, music, money


According to Joshua May

At one point, De Waal firmly objects to those who argue, for example, that human empathy is “some sort of afterthought of evolution or something contrived” or that “we are never truly empathic and kind” (p. 74). According to De Waal, the apparently moral behavior and emotions of primates provide key “building blocks” or “prerequisites” for human morality. Haidt, also in a more positive vein, is quite attune to the fact that one can deny strong forms of moral realism while still holding that there are important facts of the matter, though they may be in some sense relative to something or other: “[W]ith morality, we build a castle in the air and then we live in it, but it is a real castle. It has no objective foundation, a foundation outside of our fantasy–but that’s true about money, that’s true about music, that’s true about most of the things that we care about” (p. 161). But even here Haidt seems to put an unnecessarily gloomy spin on this picture. Does morality have “no objective foundation” whatsoever even if it’s grounded in human nature, for example, in the empathic responses we have to the needs of others? Likewise, though we play a large role in the creation of money and its significance, is its existence really just a “fantasy”?

See also “Money is just information, not real wealth“.