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In harm's way, ethical pooches, digital dumping

In harm's way

"Megacities are something new on the planet," Joel Achenbach writes for The Washington Post. "Earthquakes are something very old. The two are a lethal combination … In 1800, there was just one city with more than a million people - Beijing. Now there are 381 urban areas with at least one million inhabitants. … About 403 million people live in cities that face significant seismic hazard, according to a recent study by seismologist Roger Bilham of the University of Colorado."

Ethical pooches

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"Every dog owner knows a pooch can learn the house rules - and when she breaks one, her subsequent grovelling is usually ingratiating enough to ensure quick forgiveness," Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce write for Scientific American Mind. "But few people have stopped to ask why dogs have such a keen sense of right and wrong. Chimpanzees and other non-human primates regularly make the news when researchers, logically looking to our closest relatives for traits similar to our own, uncover evidence of their instinct for fairness. But our work has suggested that wild canine societies may be even better analogues for early hominid groups - and when we study dogs, wolves and coyotes, we discover behaviours that hint at the roots of human morality."

You mean, it gets better?

"Fewer responsibilities, financial worries and more time to yourself leads to contentment previously unknown in earlier life," The Daily Telegraph reports. "According to [new research] from the teenage years until 40 happiness declines. It levels off until 46, and then starts to increase until peaking at 74. Scientists from Germany and America regularly questioned 21,000 men and women how happy they were with their lives, providing a scale from one to seven - seven indicated complete contentment. Teenagers in their late teens marked themselves at around 5.5, which fell to around 5 by age 40. At 74, happiness averaged at 5.9. The report, published in the journal Social Indicators Research, said this could be due to older people being more appreciative."

Book guilt

"We turn off TV shows without a second thought," writes Julia Keller, cultural critic for the Chicago Tribune. "We walk out of movies on a whim. Concerts and plays? Sometimes, we don't even wait for intermission. But abandoning a book feels different. It feels shabby and small-minded and short-sighted. Like a character flaw. Certain academics love to brag about the big, important books they have never finished … but that is simply an attempt to show off. We're supposed to understand that the confessor is so brilliant, such a great bluffer, that he has been able to fool tenure committees and gullible students all these years."

Digital dumping

"Digital dumping is on the rise, according to a survey, with growing numbers of people preferring to use e-mail and social-networking websites to break up with their partners," Reuters reports. "Over one-third of 2,000 people polled (34 per cent) said they had ended a relationship by e-mail, 13 per cent had changed their status on Facebook without telling their partners and 6 per cent had released the news unilaterally on Twitter. By contrast, only two per cent had broken up via a mobile phone text. The rest had split up the old-fashioned way by face-to-face conversation (38 per cent) and by telephone (8 per cent)." The survey was done for DateTheUK dating service.

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Your Excellency

"Thousands of Vietnamese fishermen are giving a royal sendoff to a 15-ton dead whale, gathering at a southern Vietnamese village to pay homage at a funeral for the creature they call 'Your Excellency,' " Associated Press reports. "In Vietnam's fishing culture, whales are considered sacred. They are referred to by the title ngai, the same honorific used for kings, emperors and other esteemed leaders."

An ape walks into a bar

"Chimpanzees are intelligent enough to appreciate how big a pint of liquid is, or the volume of any other measure," Matt Walker reports for BBC's Earth News. "That shows they have an ability to gauge the difference between continuous quantities, such as a pint or half-pint of non-alcoholic fruit juice. Previously, apes have only been known to differentiate discrete quantities, such as eight sweets over five. That means chimps are more intelligent than we thought, and shows they have a basic grasp of the physics of liquids. Details of the discovery are published in the journal Animal Cognition."

Thought du jour

"Think like a man of action; act like a man of thought."

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- Henri Bergson

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