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Hot Science: Are Sharks Killing Machines?

Killing machines, theft machines, and sex machines

By Mary Beth Griggs, Sophia Li, Eric A Powell, Veronique Greenwood, Emma Bryce, and Fangfei Shen
Aug 7, 2012 5:00 AMApr 26, 2023 2:47 PM


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TV/DVD for August 2012

Masters of the Deep

“Live every week like it’s Shark Week.” If you’ve spent time online recently, you may have come across these cryptic words of advice, first dispensed on the comedy 30 Rock. Just how you should draw inspiration from the Discovery Channel’s hugely popular weeklong coverage of these stealthy carnivores is open to interpretation, but there is no mystery to our enduring fascination with sharks: Their razor-sharp teeth and uncanny ability to sniff out prey remind us that there are still some places on Earth where humans are nowhere near the top of the food chain.

Late summer has abundant offerings for the shark-obsessed. The 25th annual Shark Week, which begins August 12 on Discovery, has researchers spying on shark behavior with an underwater surveillance cam and reconstructing the megalodon (a long-extinct shark species) down to the 250 six-inch-long teeth in its giant jaws. And for those wondering where you’ll get your shark fix when the week comes to a close, not to worry: A digitally remastered version of the classic thriller Jaws comes out on Blu-ray August 14.—Mary Beth Griggs

Movie for August 2012

The Dawn of the Deed
 By John A. Long

When paleontologist Long spotted a set of tiny bones inside a 380-million-year-old fossilized fish, he not only discovered the oldest known embryos, he also found the earliest known evidence of animals copulating directly, rather than releasing sperm and eggs to meet in the open sea. Long uses the discovery to shed light on what amorous ancient fish might have done in the dark (and with what appendages) and then embarks on a wide-ranging discussion of the evolution of sex. He details the intimate activities of reptiles with two penises, male damselflies that can scrape out the sperm from a female’s previous partner, 70-ton sauropods whose unique anatomy meant only one position was physiologically feasible, and Amazonian catfish, which rely on oral sex to fertilize their eggs.—Sophia Li

The Hour Between Dog and Wolf: Risk Taking, Gut Feelings, and the Biology of Boom and Bust By John Coates

Most of us would blame the 2008 financial collapse on the subprime lending meltdown. But the author, a neuroscientist and former Wall Street derivatives trader, sees the roots of the crisis extending much deeper, into the very body chemistry of the traders making the multimillion-dollar bets that drive the global financial system. Coates explores how these (overwhelmingly young, male) risk-takers are at the mercy of biofeedback loops triggered by high-pressure decision-making. It’s not all grim news, though. Coates also suggests ways to train and toughen our physiology to make it less susceptible to both wild risk-taking and overly timid responses that can lead to damaging boom and bust cycles.—Eric A. Powell

Mathletics By John D. Barrow

It’s easier to bench-press the same weight in Mexico City than in Oslo because gravity is weaker near the equator. High jumpers can get farther off the ground by curving their body to lower their center of gravity. And if you’ve ever wondered whether to pick heads or tails in a pregame coin toss, pick the side that was face-up beforehand: Statistically, it’s more likely to win. Mathematician Barrow plunges into the numbers behind those and 97 other sports tidbits in this fast-paced, lighthearted book that revels in the brainier side of brawn.—Fangfei Shen

Samuel Goldwyn Films | NULL

Robot & Frank
 By Jake Schreier

When retired cat burglar Frank (Frank Langella) shows signs of worsening dementia, his exasperated son (James Marsden) buys him a caretaker robot. The automated aide fixes Frank nutritious meals, keeps him on a regimented schedule, and accompanies him on long walks, often—at Frank’s insistence—to call on the local librarian (Susan Sarandon). Frank initially bristles under the robot’s regime. But he soon comes to rely on its memory and on its companionship, especially when the two join forces to revive Frank’s illicit career. Part sci-fi indie, part buddy heist flick, Robot & Frank explores the value of memory and asks whether we are anything at all without it. Opens August 24 in limited release.—Emma Bryce

Books for August 2012

Interop By John Palfrey and Urs Gasser

Compatibility, whether between pieces of software or neighboring railroads, is essential to making complex systems function smoothly. Technology experts Palfrey and Gasser discuss the far-reaching potential of such “interoperability,” which could one day help refill your prescription bottle, safely stream your data between numerous computer programs and storage in the cloud, and efficiently hook up your home to the energy grid. As tantalizing as these applications are, the authors are too focused on defining the idea to make it come fully alive for readers—a missed opportunity, since “interop” is such a promising, intriguing concept.—Veronique Greenwood

Museum for August 2012

Return to Mars: Roving with Curiosity

At the Exploratorium in San Francisco

After a journey of more than eight months, the Mars rover Curiosity touched down August 6, fully equipped to investigate whether our now-harsh planetary neighbor could have once supported life. Through September 16, Exploratorium visitors can inspect a full-scale replica of the sedan-size rover and learn about the mission through a dozen live discussions led by NASA scientists and engineers. Space enthusiasts can watch the events online. Visit exploratorium.edu/mars for a schedule and videos, or get the latest Mars news from NASA or Discover's own Bad Astronomer—S.L.

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