I saw this amusing press release today and thought you lot might appreciate it !

Anyone else got any pets with uncanny abilities or daft habits ?

TNS

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"You may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, but you can get him to solve a calculus problem.

That's what Dr. Tim Pennings, associate professor of mathematics at Hope College in Holland, Mich. realized when he took his Welsh Corgi, Elvis, for an outing to Lake Michigan to play fetch with his favorite tennis ball.

"Most calculus students are familiar with the problem of finding the optimal path from point A to point B," he says. "Standing on the water's edge at Point A, I throw the ball into the water at Point B. Elvis runs along the shore a portion of the way, then plunges into the lake at a point of his choosing and swims diagonally to the ball. By the look in Elvis's eyes, it seems clear that his objective is to retrieve it as quickly as possible."

Pennings assumed, then, that Elvis unconsciously attempts to find a path that minimizes retrieval time. But he wanted to test his theory.

So, he clocked Elvis's running and swimming speeds and spent three hours collecting data measuring the distance between the ball and the shore and where Elvis jumped in the water to retrieve it. Plotting the results revealed that, in most cases, Elvis chose a path which is in close agreement with the optimal path calculated mathematically.

In fact, given complicating factors -- waves, the movement of the ball in the water, and others -- Pennings suggests that dogs may choose a path that is actually better than the calculated ideal.

"Although he made good choices, Elvis does not know calculus," admits Pennings, who published his findings in the May 2003 issue of The College Mathematics Journal. "Though he does not do the calculations, Elvis's behavior is an example of the uncanny way in which nature often finds optimal solutions."