Team McCallum

R&D for Lifetime of Life

How smart is your dog?

John W Pilley and Alliston K Reid decided they would like to find out how much a dog can learn, given extensive training over a long period. The dog in question was a border collie called Chaser. Pilley and Reid couldn’t find Chaser’s limit after 3 years, when the dog could remember the names of over a thousand different objects and was still learning new ones.

The 1,022 objects were toys that Chaser used, each with a different name. However, Chaser also understood verbs, so the dog could combine the correct object with what was supposed to be done with that toy.

Further, Chaser understood a few groups. For example, there were objects that collectively could be referred to as balls, while others fell into the frisbee group.

Finally, Chaser could remember, at least for a short while, that a particular toy was excluded from the group to which it apparently belonged. For example, a particular ball was not to be counted as a ball. This remembering for a short time then forgetting is displayed by children when they learn.

As noted, Pilley and Reid did not find Chaser’s limit. They simply stopped trying to find it after the 3 years was up.

The other point of interest is that these things were toys to Chaser – fun, enjoyment, a real incentive to learn, and this be the main carry over message for humans.

But the next time you talk to your dog just be aware that the dog may understand more than you think.


January 9, 2011 Posted by | Activity, Brain, Exercise, Fun, Health, Language, Learning, Nature, Psychology, Success | Leave a comment

The buddy diet.

Dr Maureen M Black reported on a trial in which 235 adolescents in Baltimore USA were either paired up with a mentor or formed a control group with no intervention.

The mentors were college students or recent graduates and the 12 sessions were structured to cover specific activities.

According to Dr Black “In every session they had food, and they often made the food together in the child’s home. The mentors took the children to the corner store or to a nearby fast-food restaurant to learn about healthy choices. They visited the skating rink or went hiking in a state park to learn the importance of being physically active.”

The kids learned how make healthy food choices at corner stores and fast food restaurants, how to choose healthy snacks and how important it is to drink water rather than sugary sodas.

After two years, the rate of overweight/obesity among children in the mentorship program declined 5%, while it rose 11% among children in the control group.

August 3, 2010 Posted by | Activity, Child Health, Diet, Fun, Health, Maureen M Black, Obesity, Social networks, Success, Weight management | 1 Comment

Happy = (justifiably) busy!

Prof Christopher K Hsee has found that we like to be busy. But only if we have a reason. Whether that reason is valid, or not.

Volunteers completed a survey. Then they had to wait 15 minutes before a second survey.

They could return the first survey nearby and wait, or go further, which kept them busy for the 15 minutes.

Those who kept busy were found to be happier than those who chose to be idle.

Not all people picked the busy option. Some preferred to remain idle. But Prof Hsee found a way to make more people happy (aka busy).

He tweaked a reward. If the same candy was the reward at both sites, you got more idle people, as there was no justification for going to the distant site.

But when different candies were offered at near and far sites, more people chose the far site than before. There was now a justification to go to the far site.

And it didn’t matter which candy was offered near or far. Swap the candies and people still justified the trip.

Make people happy. Keep them busy. Make it seem like there is a reason, any reason, even if the activity serves no purpose.

Justifiably busy people are happier. Even if the justification doesn’t hold up.

August 1, 2010 Posted by | Activity, Christopher K Hsee, Fun, Positive Psychology, Success | Leave a comment

Kids summer reading.

Professors Richard Allington and Anne McGill-Franzen of the University of Tennessee have found a significantly higher reading capability in young children who received fun books to read in the school summer break.

The study ran for 3 years and involved 1,300 children in US grades 1 to 2 at the start (UK years 2 and 3), with two thirds choosing books to read in the school break and the other third as controls.

Pop-culture books were the favourites, featuring musicians, athletes and television and movie characters.

The researchers found that summer reading is as effective as or better than summer school.

According to Allington “Children who do not read in the summer lose two to three months of reading development while kids who do read tend to gain a month of reading proficiency. This creates a three to four month gap every year. Every two or three years the kids who don’t read in the summer fall a year behind the kids who do.”

July 22, 2010 Posted by | Anne McGill-Franzen, Books, Fun, Learning, Richard Allington, Success | Leave a comment

Buy chocolate?

On Friday, hedge fund Armajaro bought 241,000 tonnes of cocoa beans, worth £660 million (US$ 1 billion), in the biggest purchase on the London International Financial Futures and Options Exchange (Liffe) for 14 years.

The purchase accounts for about 7% of global annual production. According to the International Cocoa Organization, stocks usually average about 45% of annual production, so Armajaro has cornered a significant chunk of the reserves.

Stocks normally decline to a September low as manufacturers start production for Xmas and before the next crop from Africa.

Armajaro is betting on a spike in cocoa prices, and chocolate will follow suit. Is it time to lay in some supplies? 🙂

July 18, 2010 Posted by | Chocolate, Diet, Fun, News, Success | | Leave a comment

Weight loss responders?

Dr Jason MR Gill and team from the University of Glasgow studied a group of overweight or obese sedentary women for 8 weeks to see how they would respond to government-recommended levels of exercise.

They found that one third of the women were responders – losing the amount predicted by the exercise, or more.

Two thirds were non-responders. Even though some of these lost weight, it was by less than the amount predicted from exercise, and this group as a whole put on weight.

Both groups benefitted from a significant reduction in waist circumference. Although this may suggest a redistribution of fat away from the dangerous area of the abdomen, fat distribution was not checked in the study.

Both groups increased their energy intake by eating more. The difference in the extra amount eaten by responders v non-responders was not significant.

Over the 8 week period, despite starting from low fitness levels most women rated the exercise regime as enjoyable. They were working for the government-recommended 150 mins per week, at roughly 75% of their age-predicted maximum heart rate. At this level, stickability (the rate at which the women completed the exercise routine) was 100%.

Other important health-related measures, such as maximum oxygen uptake, showed significant improvement.

Gill’s study also shows who responds and who doesn’t, how you can make a good prediction of this in advance, and how you can test if this is working for you without waiting for 8 weeks to see. We’ll cover all of these findings in a forthcoming Internet workshop on high-success weight loss.

July 14, 2010 Posted by | Activity, Diet, Exercise, Fun, Health, Jason MR Gill, Obesity, Positive Psychology, Success, Weight management | Leave a comment

Socialising v cancer.

The news story is that in mice with cancer, moving them to a richer environment was enough to reduce tumour size significantly and increase the rate of remission. Increased exercise was ruled out as a cause. The benefits were obtained with more space to explore, more mice to interact with and more toys to play with.

The medical experts have questioned whether this would work in humans. But read on – another effect of a richer environment was that the mice lost weight.

A particular part of the brain, the hypothalamus, was found to have higher levels of BDNF (brain derived neurotropic factor).

BDNF influences the amount of leptin produced by fat cells in the body. BDNF was up, and the fat cells were found to produce less leptin and more adiponectin, in mice in the richer environment.

Blocking the BDNF increase blocked the cancer improvement, so BDNF is key.

Leptin is considered an appetite suppressant. The more body fat you have, the more leptin is produced, signalling to stop eating. This breaks down in obese people, who do not produce or do not respond to increased leptin.

Adiponectin regulates uptake of fat and sugar and insulin response. It also has an anti-inflammatory effect. Low levels of adiponectin are found in people who are obese, and those at risk of a heart attack.

The scientists focussed on BDNF up, leptin down as the key cancer reduction cause, when they showed that adding leptin stopped the improvement.

The researchers also found that the spleens of the mice in the enriched environment were more enlarged after they were injected with cancer cells, indicating they had a stronger immune response.

The mice also showed higher levels of stress hormones known as glucocorticoids.

So there is a lot going on here, some of it quite strange. Which means it will take a lot more research before there are results that can easily be applied to humans.

July 10, 2010 Posted by | Activity, Brain, Cancer, Environment, Fun, Health, Lei Cao, Matthew J During, Obesity, Social networks, Success | Leave a comment

Maths backs Spain?

Two mathematicians, Dr Javier López Peña and Dr Hugo Touchette, have applied a technique intended to analyse computer networks to the qustion of who will win the World Cup final.

The maths normally flags up whether a computer network, such as the Internet, relies too much on one particular computer.

The doctors have turned this maths to analyse passes made by each team at the World Cup. Spain has made lots of passes, evenly spread through many players, (see diagram), so the maths boffins are backing Spain.

We think the analysis fails to include how Spain and The Netherlands will defend. Taking that into account, we’re going for The Netherlands.

Network analysis graph is copyright Queen Mary, University of London. Click this link for more.

Copyright QMUL Holland v Spain

July 9, 2010 Posted by | Fun, Hugo Touchette, Javier López Peña, News, Science | Leave a comment

Computer kids score worse in tests.

The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) has now published on-line work by professors Jacob Vigdor and Helen Ladd which shows that kids who get home computers score worse in school tests, not better.

The professors tracked over 150,000 students in N Carolina from 2000-2005, when broadband Internet access was rolling out. The students were in grades 5 to 8 (year 6 to 9 in the UK, where grade 5/year 6 is age 10-11).

The study allowed the comparison of those with home computers to those without, and test scores before getting a home computer with scores after.

The professors found negative effects on reading and maths scores that were modest but significant and persistant. They concluded that home computers are put to more productive use in households where parental monitoring is more effective.

Vigdor added that children in these grades are not using a home computer as a productivity tool, but to play games and to socialise. Further, he noted the 2005 cutoff was before the Facebook and Twitter generation.

Although only just published on-line by the NBER, with a charge for access, the full report study came out in mid-2008, and is available free of charge as a PDF file here.

June 19, 2010 Posted by | Fun, Helen Ladd, Internet, Jacob Vigdor, Learning, Social networks, Success | Leave a comment

Harrelson scores winner.

Soccer Aid 2010 has just raised at least £2 million for UNICEF with an amusing mix of celebrities and ex-players competing in England v The Rest of World, where Woody Harrelson scored the winning goal.

The result was balanced at 2-2 after normal time, resulting in penalties to decide the contest.

None of the ex-players were allowed to take part in this section of the competition, so goal keeper and penalty taker had to be celebrities.

The contest went to sudden death for several rounds as celebrities like The Mentalist Simon Baker, Robbie Wiliams, Mike Myers and many more started to run out, as the shoot-out remained even.

A crack appeared, The Rest Of The World had the chance to win and so dug deep, then up stepped Woody.

Game over. The Rest Of The World beat England at Wembley on a Harrelson penalty.

Gentle fun. Great humour. A bit of drama to make it interesting.

And UNICEF gets a tidy sum as well. A nice evening all round.

June 6, 2010 Posted by | Fun, Inspiration, Positive Psychology, Success | 1 Comment