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Art collector’s hopes for a van Gogh rest on one red hair

Vincent van Gogh Self-portrait as an Artist, January, 1888.

Vincent van Gogh Foundation

Van Gogh? DNA will decide

"A human hair that may have belonged to Vincent van Gogh has been removed from a painting in an attempt to prove or disprove whether he painted the work of art," The Daily Telegraph reports. "In a bid to settle one of the mysteries of the art world, the three-inch-long[(8-centimetre] red hair was lifted from Still Life with Peonies and DNA samples taken from it will be compared with those from van Gogh's living relatives. If confirmed as a van Gogh, the painting could fetch … £39-million [$61-million]."

Sexy, sleepless sandpipers

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"You may think you can cope without sleep, but you have nothing on male pectoral sandpipers," says the New Scientist. "Some of these birds can go more than a fortnight with hardly any sleep – the most extreme case of uninduced sleep deprivation known in any animal. What's more, the males that sleep the least father the most offspring, suggesting they benefit from their lack of slumber. Pectoral sandpipers (Calidris melanotos) breed on the Arctic tundra of Asia and North America." Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany fitted radio tags to 149 sandpipers in Alaska and found that males were highly active when females were fertile. "One male was active 95 per cent of the time for 19 days."

Snaps and the city

"Paris, the city of light, is instantly recognizable – as long as you're looking at a photo of the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre," says a Discover Magazine blog. "But could you recognize the city if the picture lacked a flashy landmark? … If you find yourself stumped, know that a new software program has you beat: It can identify a city from a single photo of any old street. Almost any street, the program's designers found, has little details that give away its city, including distinctive street signs, windows, and balconies. To program the new software, researchers at Carnegie Mellon fed it 40,000 Google Street View images from 12 cities, including Paris and New York. These photos contained hundreds of millions of unique visual elements, creating a huge database that allowed the software to pick out which recurring details were typical of which cities. For example, Paris has unique cast-iron balconies that are clearly distinct from New York's fire escapes and London's neoclassical columns."

How to evict a spider

When doctors at China's Changsha Central Hospital looked in the ear of a patient who was complaining about an itch, they found a spider staring back out at them, says Huffington Post U.K. "Doctors were left with the challenge of extracting the spider while trying to ensure it would not burrow deeper or even bite the woman. After much discussion, it was decided to fill the woman's ear with saline, in the hope the spider would come out of its own accord, the Xiaoxiang Morning News reported. Thankfully, the plan worked. … It later emerged the spider had probably been living in her ear canal for up to five days and may have crawled in while she slept in her home during renovations."

When bears drop in

"A mama bear and her three cubs are suspected of breaking into a cabin in northern Norway and knocking back more than 100 cans of beer, officials said," United Press International reports. "'They had a hell of a party in there,' cabin owner Even Borthen Nilsen [said]. 'The cabin has the stench of … trash and bears.' The bear family is believed to have ripped a wall off the cabin to gain entry, TheLocal.no reported." Mr. Nilsen said the cabin and its contents were destroyed.

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No profile? That's suspicious

"Facebook has become such a pervasive force in modern society that increasing numbers of employers, and even some psychologists, believe people who aren't on social-networking sites are 'suspicious,'" says The Daily Mail. "… Forbes.com reports that human-resources departments across the country are becoming more wary of young job candidates who don't use the site. The common concern among bosses is that a lack of Facebook could mean the applicant's account could be so full of red flags that it had to be deleted. Slate.com advice columnist Emily Yoffee wrote in an advice column that young people shouldn't date anyone who isn't on Facebook."

Samaritans' rewards

Re: "The underpaid Samaritan?" (Social Studies, Aug. 9): "By law, a good Samaritan in Japan has the right to demand 5 to 20 per cent of the value of the goods that have been returned to the owner," writes Elmer H. Hara of Regina. "If the police hold the goods for six months and two weeks and the owner is not found, good Samaritans can receive the goods as their own."

Thought du jour

Find something that isn't a miracle, you'll have cause to wonder then.

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Laurence Housman

English writer and illustrator, (1865-1959)

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