Urgent Reply Needed!

Just some light-hearted fun at the expense of fraudsters. I found an email in my spam folder that was titled “Urgent Reply Needed!” Occasionally I find it amusing to look at the spam so I opened it. It was a nice man from the Central Bank of Burkina Faso who wanted to split “$10.5 Million Dollars” (His unnecessary repetition, not mine) with me. He’d get 60% and I’d get 40% and all I had to do was send my details and claim to be next of kin of an Indonesian man who died in the 2004 tsunami disaster.

There were a couple of red flags. For example, I would be committing fraud. Also, every word in his letter was capitalised. I Guess It Is Meant To Make It Seem More Urgent But It’s Quite Odd Once You Notice It. I’m not even going to bother asking who thought an Indonesian man would do his banking in Burkina Faso and have his next of kin in South Africa. Then there was the strange question of the banker’s religion. Normally I don’t judge a person just on their religion but it’s nice to know that they know what they believe. This guy wasn’t so sure. Continue reading

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What is the point of the justice system?

This story is totally ridiculous. The entire point of a justice system should be to reform criminals so that they can return to society. Now I’ve heard of story where a man, due to an error, was not sent to jail. In the meantime though, he hasn’t been out committing crimes. He started a family, started businesses, made no attempt to hide and has essentially been a model citizen. When he was going to be released, they realised he wasn’t in jail and arrested him. Now they want him to server his 13 year sentence. More details available from the Riverfront Times here and here. That is totally pointless! It’s pure retributive “justice” that seeks only to punish. It’s ethically indefensible and serves absolutely no practical purpose.

There is a Change.org petition for his release.

Indulging superstitions comes at a real cost

Often we think of people’s superstitions as harmless quirks that have are easily tolerated. No one gets hurt if someone says a prayer before eating, refuses to walk under a ladder or doesn’t go out on Friday the 13th. Those are all superstitions, ie irrational beliefs in the supernatural, but ones that are so common or harmless that we give them a free pass. When some people take their superstitions to even greater extremes, like claiming lego will destroy children’s souls or that Dungeons and Dragons is evil, we find it ridiculous but don’t pay it much attention other than as a curiosity. Continue reading

Eureka! Canny crows figure out water displacement to get noms

Rather than rewrite everything myself I will just reblog this post on a new study of crow intelligence that I found on WEIT. For what it’s worth, I believe there was a paper a year or two ago that found human children performed about the same in these tasks as crows did. I will have to go reread it before I can say for sure though.

Why Evolution Is True

In the Aesop fable “The Crow and the Pitcher,” a thirsty crow manages to get water out of a near-empty jar by dropping pebbles into it, raising the water level so he could reach it with his beak. The moral was “Little by little does the trick.”

That fable is a title reference in a new a new paper in PLoS ONE by Sarah Jelbert et al. (reference and free download below), showing that crows can not only displace water this way—in this case to get a treat, not a drink—but also understand some principles of water displacement: use heavy rather than floating “stones,” avoid hollow objects, use vessels where the water level is higher rather than lower, and—it doesn’t work with sand.

The authors used six wild New Caledonian Crows (Corvus moneduloides), a species already known for its smarts and its ability to use tools (see…

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