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December 7, 2018

Weekend reads: How a former MLB pitcher saved his dog's life

Daily Briefing

    Ben Palmer's reads

    A harrowing dog rescue. While spending time at his family farm a few days after Thanksgiving, former Major League Baseball pitcher Jeremy Affeldt's dog began choking on a turkey neck. Affeldt's wife, Larisa, attempted to perform the Heimlich maneuver on the dog to remove the turkey neck, but to no avail. According to Affeldt, when the dog eventually "went limp in [his] arms," Affeldt took his hand, "shoved it down as hard as I could and I ripped [the turkey neck] out of [the dog's] throat." Affeldt gave his dog CPR four times before the dog was revived—but his efforts were successful. The dog was taken to a veterinarian and survived. "I was just very thankful," Affeldt said.

    Children move less after age six. As children get older, they start moving less, especially after age six, according to a study  in Pediatrics. For the study, researchers measured physical activity of 600 European children at age six, eight, and 11. They found that by the time the children were 11 years old, physical activity had declined by roughly 75 minutes per day, and that children at age 11 were spending an average of nearly two more hours sitting still than they were at age six. Light activity declined by about 45 minutes a day between ages six and 11, while moderate or vigorous activity held steady until age eight, then declined by an average of 31 minutes per day by age 11.

    Danielle Poindexter's reads

    That's pretty old. The plague bacteria, called Yersnia pestis, was found in the tooth of a 20-year old Swedish woman who died about 5,040 years ago. According to Simon Rasmussen, the sample "is not only the oldest sample of the Y. pestis genome but also the oldest version of the genome." Scientists knew the plague existed about 4,000 years ago, but the new finding reveals that the bacteria might have been responsible for the deaths of humans for more than 5,000 years. The scientists do not know how the woman contracted the disease.

    The key to identifying an alien language? Whales, researchers say. Laurance Doyle, a scientist at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute, is seeking to answer one question: "How can we recognize an alien language when we have no idea what it might sound like?" Doyle told Vox's Brian Resnick that we can recognize extraterrestrial communication if it follows Zipf's law, which the term for the "mathematical pattern shared by all languages on Earth"—including the vocalizations, like those among whales and dolphins, that researchers suspect must be a form of communication. That said, Doyle calls Zipf's law a "necessary, but not sufficient, system for proving complexity." The communication must also have what are called conditional probabilities, or the "correlational structure" of a language, such as how "U's" usually follow "Q's" in the English language. And according to Doyle, whales are a good stand-in for alien language in this aspect as well, since they can still understand each other's songs when other noise, such as the sound of a boat, interferes with their communication—suggesting that there's a larger pattern to their language that enables them to fill in or guess what they might have not heard. To decipher alien language, analysts could analyze the frequency of transmissions from extraterrestrials, which could indicate whether the scientists are hearing language.

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