Genius Stray Dogs of Moscow

By Anupum Pant

Back in the old days, there weren’t as many fast food centres and restaurants in Moscow (anywhere actually). So, stray dogs of those times didn’t find many people holding food stuff. Instead of begging for food, the dogs preferred searching for it on their own. Probably bins of residences and factories were the best places to find food.

Soon, fast food centres and restaurants started pooping and factories started converting into shopping centres, in the new world. This changed something. Dogs started feeling a need to adapt to the city life. For one, their strategies to forage for food changed. Stray dogs started developing better techniques to get food.

Gathering Food in a City

They started sneaking behind people who carried food. And just when they felt the moment was right, they barked. The men got scared and dropped the food. Moreover, they’d jump and bark just behind the head of people to startle them. They don’t bite, their aim is to just get the food somehow. Other times, packs of dogs send out smaller and cuter dogs to beg for food!
To make their food finding efficient, they have figured out which one of the many people would actually get startled. Dogs turned into dog psychologists. The dogs of today know Muscovites better than Muscovites know the dogs.

Travelling in the Subway

Besides that, the stray dogs of Moscow have mastered using the subways. To travel across the great city, the dogs move around in the subways with the humans as if it’s totally normal. Unlike the domesticated dogs, these dogs have mastered the art of handling dog stress that is associated with loud sounds. What scares the domesticated dogs, has become normal for the stray dogs of Moscow now.

The most amazing part is that, even if they can’t read, they somehow know where to get in and where to get out. Scientists are guessing that it could be the signature scents they associate with various stations. Or may be there’s something else. It’s hard to know. That is the reason there are people who’ve been formally studying local stray dogs for 30 years now!

The thing is, even the city people love these dogs. In fact, they even have a dog’s memorial statue in one of the subway station. Watch how the city dogs move in train…

By watching the traffic lights, dogs there have even learnt to cross the street. After I read and watched what these dogs have been doing, I’ve found new respect for these seemingly “not so clever” animals.

Still they have a long way to go before they can get as smart as crows of Japan. [Link]

Train Wheels are Not as Simple as They Seem

By Anupum Pant

I’m pretty sure not many of you know this about train wheels, neither did I.

Look at the picture and answer this: What do you think keeps a train moving on the track? or Which part of the wheel do you think it is that keeps the train from careening away from the track at turns?
Applying general logic, I thought that flanges at the end of the wheels  kept a train from going off rails at a turn. Turns out, I was wrong!

In fact, flanges at the end of the wheels are just a safety mechanism to keep the train on its track only if the main mechanism fails. And what is that main mechanism?

The problem with cornersTrain wheels are conical in shape. That means they have a varying diameter at different points of contact. Now, suppose the track turns right. The train’s left wheels now have to travel more than the right wheels because at the turn the track on the left is longer.

So how do the left wheels travels more than the right wheels without a differential?
Since the wheels are conical in shape, the whole wheel-set shifts a bit to the left, if the track curves right. Now the point of contact of the left wheel is at a larger diameter of the cone. While the smaller wheel Correction from the toptouches at a point where the diameter of the wheel is lesser. Therefore, if the left wheel now makes one circle it travels further than the right wheels and the train moves along the curve smoothly.

The whole beauty of this system is that the amount of shift of the wheel-set happens automatically, makes the train move on turns smoothly and keeps the train on track.

Look at how you can try this at home using 2 plastic cups and 2 similar pipes. [Experiment]

If I couldn’t explain it properly, probably the best physics teacher ever – Richard Feynman – will explain it to you better. [Video]

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Working Memory – Chimpanzees vs. Humans

By Anupum Pant

At least in one known cognitive area, chimpanzees prove to be far smarter than human beings. While it is possible for humans to train themselves up to some extent at it, they lack the capacity for an excellent working memory. On the other hand, chimps naturally display a remarkable working memory.

So, naturally the next question we’d ask – what exactly is working memory and how can I beat chimps at it?

But before that is answered, let us have a look at this study conducted by Japanese scientists.
In the study, scientists use a test where numbers from 1 to 9 are arranged on a screen randomly. The test taker is given a chance to remember all the nine positions. When the subject is ready, the areas go blank and the user is required to recall all the nine numbers in sequence. One mistake and the subject has to start over. In the test, we see this chimpanzee named Ayumu showing remarkable ability in terms of working memory. The opponent human loses badly.

BTW at this test, the chimp Ayumu, can now recall 19 numbers in sequence without making a single mistake. Not just Ayumu, this knack is observed in all chimps.


As the researcher mentions, chimps are not the same as humans. Both humans and chimps had a common ancestor several millions of years ago. Now, both of these species have evolved in their own ways for all these years. While they’ve gotten good at something, we’ve picked up different abilities. You don’t have to feel bad about it.

This ability to actively hold multiple pieces of information in the mind and play with them has helped these chimps to survive in the wild by helping them to make quick decisions. As a result, they have evolved to master it.

Training + Caveat

Although you can train yourself to have an amazing working memory, you’ll probably never be able to beat chimps. Also, you should know that very few humans have a nearly equal level of working memory as compared to chimps, and these are the people who are affected by a mental disability called the Savant syndrome. It is beyond common humans to train themselves to chimp-level-working memory.

A game known as n-back, used as a test and an exercise tool can help you to master your working memory. The game starts easy. Then you move on to the second level where things straight away move from easy to difficult. The next levels seem impossible at first. But it has been proved that this game can help you to improve your working memory. The harder you train, the better you get at it; of course, never as good as Ayumu.

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