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Exploring Everyday Things with R and Ruby by Sau Sheong Chang

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Chapter 7. Schooling Fish and Flocking Birds

Part and parcel of using public transportation is walking home from the train station in the evening. It is also the most nerve-racking part of my weekday ritual, as the walk goes through a path lined gently with trees that occasionally bear purple berries. But neither the trees nor the berries are the problem—rather, it’s the swarms of Javan mynahs that roost in them as the sun gradually sets. While I’m not describing Hitchcockian-level terror here, it is quite a gauntlet to run through, because Javan mynahs have some “restroom problems” that would make it quite complex to carry out for them the kind of analysis I presented in Chapter 3. As the swarm settles when the sky darkens, the birds generally let loose their daily intake indiscriminately over the pathway, and any unlucky souls who happen to be under them run the risk of zoonosis.

Flocking birds, adapted from a photo taken by Eugene Zemlyanskiy (http://www.flickr.com/photos/pictureperfectpose/81938785/)

Figure 7-1. Flocking birds, adapted from a photo taken by Eugene Zemlyanskiy (http://www.flickr.com/photos/pictureperfectpose/81938785/)

This naturally encourages me to walk hurriedly by before the sun sets, often in time to see the dramatic aerial acrobatics the mynahs perform before settling on their communal roosts in the trees. It can be startling to watch as the birds rise, twist, and turn as one, beautifully maneuvering in seeming exuberance. What is even more amazing is that the birds often number ...

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