Wolf to dog: It took 12,000 years to create Lassie

Q. How did dogs get to be "man's best friend"? –F. Walton
A. Our relationship with wolves goes back to about 20,000 B.C., when herds of large prey roamed the last Ice Age landscape, hunted by both wolves and men, says Deidre Barrett in Supernormal Stimuli. Wolf packs chased and trapped game faster than humans but had no chance against the largest mammoths, which is where humans came in with their spears and arrows. 
"Evidence is that humans and wolf packs hunted together from 20,000 BC to 15,000 BC,” Barrett writes, “with humans who liked wolves being more likely to live to reproduce, just as were wolves who liked humans." 
By 10,000 BC, humans were beginning to turn wolves into domestic dogs and to use them to control other animals rather than kill them. The assignment of different tasks led to breeds taking on different traits– retrievers, shepherds, guards, and personal pets. Diverse dog breeds accented cuteness, with larger eyes, floppy ears, and behaviors such as whining, barking, and submissiveness– neotonous characteristics that wolves generally show as pups but then outgrow. Dogs were given their own species designation of canis familiarus, though they can still interbreed easily with wolves. 
"That's from wolf to dog over a span of 12,000 years," Barrett concludes.

Q. As a laptop is loaded with more and more files, does it get heavier? –B. Gates
A. Nope, there's no weight difference between a loaded drive and an empty drive, answers Vance Checketts of the digital storage company Mozy, in ScienceIllustrated.Com magazine. Transferring data means changing electromagnetic characteristics of the drive, or as is often said, changing 1s to 0s and vice versa. Think of switching on a lightbulb. 
"Drives are never really empty either,” Checketts says. “They store information about structure, error correction, and much more, even before files are loaded on by a user."

Q. If you were traveling in a plane flying at the speed of a bullet and fired a bullet out the back, would the speeds cancel and the bullet fall straight to the ground? Conversely, if the bullet were fired forward from the front of the plane, would it exit the gun and appear to "float" in front of the barrel? –J. James
A. Ignoring air resistance, the rotation of the Earth, relativistic effects and so on, with respect to an observer on the ground, a bullet fired out of the back of the plane would indeed fall straight down. But far from floating, a bullet fired out of the front of the plane would travel at twice the speed of the plane, with the two velocities simply added together.

Q. Baseballers, what are we to make of that classic pitching illusion of the game–the "rising fastball"? –D. McNair
A. In 2010, the Philadelphia Phillies Roy Halladay pitched the 20th perfect game in major league history, retiring all 27 Florida Marlins he faced, says Steve Mirsky in Scientific American magazine. As one scribe wrote, Halladay "made the ball dive, and he made it rise." 
But as visual perception expert Kenneth Fuld corrected, no pitcher throwing overhand can really make the ball rise— gravity will make it drop slightly, though the batter perceives it as level. But an unusually fast pitch, which drops less than expected, will seem to rise. "It's an illusion, like thinking your stationary train is moving because a train on the next track moves," Fuld writes.
Sadly, the danger posed to batters by the hard and heavy ball is all too real: Cleveland Indians shortstop Ray Chapman was the only man killed playing major league baseball; after being struck in the temple by a pitch in 1920, he never regained consciousness. This was 51 years before baseball mandated protective headgear.
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 Send Strange questions to brothers Bill and Rich at strangetrue@cs.com

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