Question: When the neurobiology professor encountered a student who had plagiarized her entire paper from one of his class lectures, what punishment did he mete out? An F? Expulsion from the class?

Answer: A lesser teacher might have but not this one, says Oliver Sacks in "Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain." When the professor called the student into his office, something didn't add up: She didn't seem the type to cheat or lie so he played a hunch, asking her if she happened to have a photographic memory. "Why, yes, sort of like that," she replied. "I can remember anything if I put it to music." She then sang back to him whole sections of his lecture. And quite prettily, he added. "I was flabbergasted."

This got Sacks thinking about the countless cultural songs and rhymes to help kids learn the alphabet, numbers and other lists. Even as adults we may have to sing the "ABC song" internally to recall the entire alphabet.

Especially in preliterate cultures, music has held power in oral traditions of storytelling, liturgy, prayer. Whole books can be held in memory — "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey" — with their music-like rhythm and rhyme. All of this may have much to do with why we humans took to music to the extent we have.

Question: "To be on cloud 9" is to be sky high with happiness, yet probably more of us have been UNDER cloud 9.

But how about cloud 10? What apparel might be appropriate in that case?

Answer: Likely umbrellas, raincoats and galoshes, since cloud 10 replaced the designation of cloud 9 in the 2nd edition of "The International Cloud Atlas" of 1896, to signify cumulonimbus clouds, or thunderclouds, the tallest of the cloud types, says Andrew Robinson in "The Story of Measurement." The 10 of course never caught on in popular lingo. Scientific cloud typing itself got started in 1802 when Luke Howard, drawing on an even older system, coined the names cumulus, stratus, cirrus and nimbus (the last no longer still in use).

Question: What's that clipped to a shark's fin, collared to a bear or attached to a crow's tail? The device has come of age, taking biologists deeper into the secret world of animals.

Answer: It's one of the new generation of Crittercams, or wildlife cameras, worn by the animals themselves and capable of providing hours of footage and audio, along with a host of other scientific data, says Michael Greenwood in "Biophotonics International" magazine. The old version was eight pounds and two feet long, but today's varieties go as light as a pound and a half for large terrestrial animals, a few ounces for birds and weightless in effect for marine animals as the cameras float in water.

Using an infrared headlight, the Crittercam beams a real-time signal up to three miles in color or black and white, revealing the animal's home environment. (There's a smaller system for house cats, birds, etc.)

More than 60 species have been Crittercammed, from a lioness in Africa to a humpback whale in Alaska, providing images that in many cases have never been seen before. Generally the target animals have reacted well, though one shark thrashed about so aggressively it knocked off the camera and had to be released for its own safety. On the other hand, when a camera was affixed to a lion in Kenya, the animal actually groomed itself and cleaned the lens for the researchers!

It gives us the animal's-eye view of the world, says nationalgeogaphic.com, and what we learn helps us protect the very animals that wear the Crittercams.


Send STRANGE questions to brothers Bill and Rich at [email protected]