Wednesday, December 31, 2008

LIFE Photo Archive Hosted By Google

From Google:

Search millions of photographs from the LIFE photo archive, stretching from the 1750s to today. Most were never published and are now available for the first time through the joint work of LIFE and Google.

My Comment: An incredible collection of Life photos that can be easily searched and/or browsed through.

The link is HERE.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Top 5 Incredible Science Discoveries of 2008

From Live Science:

Science is mostly an incremental process, a slow peeling of the onion to offer small glimpses of understanding. But over time, scientists remove enough layers to expose stunning truths about nature.

This year offered some intriguing revelations along these lines. Below are the top 5.

Read more ....

The Top 10 Green-Tech Breakthroughs Of 2008

From Wired News:

Green technology was hot in 2008. Barack Obama won the presidential election promising green jobs to Rust Belt workers. Investors poured $5 billion into the sector just through the first nine months of the year. And even Texas oilmen like T. Boone Pickens started pushing alternative energy as a replacement for fossil fuels like petroleum, coal and natural gas.

But there's trouble on the horizon. The economy is hovering somewhere between catatonic and hebephrenic, and funding for the big plans that green tech companies laid in 2008 might be a lot harder to come by in 2009. Recessions haven't always been the best times for environmentally friendly technologies as consumers and corporations cut discretionary spending on ethical premiums.

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If Climate Didn't Doom Neanderthals, Did Humans?

A map of Europe and part of the Middle East depicts the approximate range of the Neanderthals as provided by Richard Klein. The illustration below demonstrates some of the differences in the skulls between Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons. Illustration copyright Richard Klein (Image from National Geographic)

From Wired News:

Neanderthals could handle the weather, but they couldn't handle us, concludes a new analysis of late-Pleistocene hominid habitation.

Soon after modern humans arrived in Western Europe, plenty of temperate, food-rich habitat existed for our evolutionary near-brothers — but their settlements dwindled, and modern human settlements spread.

These patterns suggest that one of modern anthropological history's great mysteries had a harsh ending: a competition in which Neanderthals, for reasons still unknown, were doomed.

"Neanderthals didn't end up being the champion lineage that emerged from the end of the Pleistocene," said study co-author A. Townsend Peterson, a Kansas University evolutionary biologist. "Wouldn't it be fascinating to understand that weird point in human history, when there were two lineages of Homo, in the same region?"

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One World, Many Minds: Intelligence In The Animal Kingdom


From Scientific American:

We are used to thinking of humans as occupying the sole pinnacle of evolutionary intelligence. That's where we're wrong

* Despite cartoons you may have seen showing a straight line of fish emerging on land to become primates and then humans, evolution is not so linear. The brains of other animals are not merely previous stages that led directly to human intelligence.
* Instead—as is the case with many traits—complex brains and sophisticated cognition have arisen multiple times in independent lineages of animals during the earth’s evolutionary history.
* With this new understanding comes a new appreciation for intelligence in its many forms. So-called lower animals, such as fish, reptiles and birds, display a startling array of cognitive capabilities. Goldfish, for instance, have shown they can negotiate watery mazes similar to the way rats do in intelligence tests in the lab.

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Most Extreme News Stories Of 2008

From New Scientist:

It's been a year of extremes for science and technology. From camera footage of the deepest living fish, swimming some 5 miles beneath the surface of the Pacific ocean, to the creation of the smoothest ever surface - a lead and silicon film.

Here are eight more extremes that New Scientist brought you in 2008.

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Researchers Unlock Secrets Of 1918 Flu Pandemic

Policemen in Seattle wearing masks made by the Red Cross, during the influenza epidemic in a National Archives photo dated December 1918. (National Archives/Handout/Reuters)

From Yahoo News/Reuters:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Researchers have found out what made the 1918 flu pandemic so deadly -- a group of three genes that lets the virus invade the lungs and cause pneumonia.

They mixed samples of the 1918 influenza strain with modern seasonal flu viruses to find the three genes and said their study might help in the development of new flu drugs.

The discovery, published in Tuesday's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could also point to mutations that might turn ordinary flu into a dangerous pandemic strain.

Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin and colleagues at the Universities of Kobe and Tokyo in Japan used ferrets, which develop flu in ways very similar to humans.

Read more ....

Christmas Star Mystery Continues

The fabled Star of Bethlehem (shown above in a conceptual photo) may have been a series of events with great meaning for ancient skywatchers or a single planetary conjunction, astronomers suggest. Photograph by Thomas Nebbia/NGS

From National Geographic:

In the Bible, a celestial beacon now known as the Star of Bethlehem led the Magi, or wise men, to Jesus's manger.

Astronomers have been debating for centuries whether the star existed and, if so, what it might have been. Comets, meteor showers, and supernovae have all been proposed, but in recent years two main theories have come to dominate the discussion.

The first relates to a singular planetary gathering, or conjunction, of the bright planets Venus and Jupiter. A particularly striking conjunction occurred in June 17, 2 B.C.

It makes for a probable Christmas star, some astronomers say, because the two bright planets appeared so close in the evening sky that they would have seemed to merge.

"There is no doubt that for skywatchers at the time it looked like a massive, single starlike object in the western evening sky," said Ed Krupp, director of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, California.

Read more .....

Monday, December 29, 2008

Julia Roberts Was Born With A Beautiful Smile

The study found faking a smirk is innate. True smiles like Roberts’ toothsome grin cause the eyes to twinkle and narrow and the cheeks to rise. Munawar Hosain / Getty Images file

From MSNBC/Live Science:

Study finds facial expressions are genetic — not learned

From sneers to full-blown smiles, our facial expressions are hardwired into our genes, suggests a new study.

The researchers compared the facial expressions from more than 4,800 photographs of sighted and blind judo athletes at the 2004 Summer Olympics and Paralympic Games.

The analyses showed sighted and blind individuals modified their expressions of emotion in the same way in accordance with the social context. For example, in the Paralympics, the athletes competed in a series of elimination rounds so that the final round of two athletes ended in the winner taking home a gold medal while the loser got a silver medal.

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Lessons For Other Smokers In Obama's Efforts To Quit

Franklin D. Roosevelt smoked cigarettes, and John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton occasionally smoked cigars. Gerald R. Ford preferred a pipe. (Clockwise from top left: AP; Henry Griffin/AP; AP; Mark Wilson/A)

From International Herald Tribune:

Will one of President-elect Barack Obama's New Year's resolutions be to quit smoking once and for all?

His good-humored waffling in various interviews about smoking made it plain that Obama, like many who have vowed to quit at this time of year, had not truly done so.

He told Tom Brokaw of NBC several weeks ago, for example, that he "had stopped" but that "there are times where I've fallen off the wagon." He promised to obey the no-smoking rules in the White House, but whether that meant he would be ducking out the back door for a smoke is not known. His transition team declined to answer any questions about his smoking, past or present, or his efforts to quit.

Anti-smoking activists would love to see Obama use his bully pulpit to inspire others to join him in trying to kick the habit, but he has not yet taken up their cause.

The last president to smoke more than occasionally was Gerald Ford, who was quite fond of his pipes. Jimmy Carter and both Presidents George Bush were reportedly abstainers, but Bill Clinton liked cigars from time to time - though he may have chewed more than he smoked.

Read more ....

Satellites Unearthing Ancient Egyptian Ruins

Photo: The enclosure wall of the Great Aten temple in Egypt, as seen from the QuickBird satellite.

From CNN:

(CNN) -- Archaeologists believe they have unearthed only a small fraction of Egypt's ancient ruins, but they're making new discoveries with help from high-tech allies -- satellites that peer into the past from the distance of space.

"Everyone's becoming more aware of this technology and what it can do," said Sarah Parcak, an archaeologist who heads the Laboratory for Global Health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. "There is so much to learn."

Images from space have been around for decades. Yet only in the past decade or so has the resolution of images from commercial satellites sharpened enough to be of much use to archaeologists. Today, scientists can use them to locate ruins -- some no bigger than a small living room -- in some of the most remote and forbidding places on the planet.

In this field, Parcak is a pioneer. Her work in Egypt has yielded hundreds of finds in regions of the Middle Egypt and the eastern Nile River Delta.

Read more ....

Burning Coal At Home Is Making A Comeback

Kyle Buck of Sugarloaf, Pa., fills a stove with anthracite coal as his wife, Kelly, plays with their daughter Lila. Laura Pedrick for The New York Times

From The New York Times:

SUGARLOAF, Pa. — Kyle Buck heaved open the door of a makeshift bin abutting his suburban ranch house. Staring at a two-ton pile of coal that was delivered by truck a few weeks ago, Mr. Buck worried aloud that it would not be enough to last the winter.

“I think I’m going through it faster than I thought I would,” he said.

Aptly, perhaps, for an era of hard times, coal is making a comeback as a home heating fuel.

Problematic in some ways and difficult to handle, coal is nonetheless a cheap, plentiful, mined-in-America source of heat. And with the cost of heating oil and natural gas increasingly prone to spikes, some homeowners in the Northeast, pockets of the Midwest and even Alaska are deciding coal is worth the trouble.

Burning coal at home was once commonplace, of course, but the practice had been declining for decades. Coal consumption for residential use hit a low of 258,000 tons in 2006 — then started to rise. It jumped 9 percent in 2007, according to the Energy Information Administration, and 10 percent more in the first eight months of 2008.

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European Neanderthals Had Ginger Hair And Freckles

The gene known as MC1R suggests the Neanderthals had
fair skin and even freckles like redheads.

From The Telegraph:

Neanderthals living in Europe were fair skinned, freckled and had ginger hair, a study has revealed.

In a major breakthrough, Spanish scientists have discovered the blood group and two other genes of the early humans who lived 43,000 ago.

After analysing the fossil bones found in a cave in north-west Spain, the experts concluded they had human blood group "O" and were genetically more likely to be fair skinned, perhaps even with freckles, have red or ginger hair and could talk.

The investigating team from Spain's government scientific institute, CSIC, used the very latest forensic techniques to remove the bones for analysis to prevent them getting contaminated with modern DNA.

Carles Lalueza, an evolutionary biologist with the investigation, said: "What we were trying to do was to create the most realistic image of the Neanderthals with details that are not visible in the fossils, but which form part of their identity."

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Natural Disasters 'Killed Over 220,000' In 2008

From Yahoo News/AFP:

BERLIN (AFP) – Natural disasters killed over 220,000 people in 2008, making it one of the most devastating years on record and underlining the need for a global climate deal, the world's number two reinsurer said Monday.

Although the number of natural disasters was lower than in 2007, the catastrophes that occurred proved to be more destructive in terms of the number of victims and the financial cost of the damage caused, Germany-based Munich Re said in its annual assessment.

"This continues the long-term trend we have been observing. Climate change has already started and is very probably contributing to increasingly frequent weather extremes and ensuing natural catastrophes," Munich Re board member Torsten Jeworrek said.

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Lifeline For Renewable Power

Photo: Green lines: Tapping energy from remote wind and solar farms will require more high-voltage transmission lines like these, near Yermo, CA, which link southern Nevada with Los Angeles. Credit: Ewan Burns

From Technology Review:

Without a radically expanded and smarter electrical grid, wind and solar will remain niche power sources.

Push through a bulletproof revolving door in a nondescript building in a dreary patch of the former East Berlin and you enter the control center for Vattenfall Europe Transmission, the company that controls northeastern Germany's electrical grid. A monitor displaying a diagram of that grid takes up most of one wall. A series of smaller screens show the real-time output of regional wind turbines and the output that had been predicted the previous day. Germany is the world's largest user of wind energy, with enough turbines to produce 22,250 megawatts of electricity. That's roughly the equivalent of the output from 22 coal plants--enough to meet about 6 percent of Germany's needs. And because Vattenfall's service area produces 41 percent of German wind energy, the control room is a critical proving ground for the grid's ability to handle renewable power.

Read more ....

Why Isn't The Darkest Month Of The Year Also The Coldest?

From Slate:

Sunday marked the winter solstice—both the official start of winter and the shortest day of the year. But December is rarely as cold as January. Why isn't the month with the least sunlight also the one with the lowest temperatures?

Because water retains heat. Between 70 percent and 75 percent of the Earth's surface is covered in oceans, rivers, and lakes. (There's even more water vaporized in the air or stored in the ground.) During seasons of longer days and more sunlight, these geographical features are able to store up and retain heat over long periods of time, before emitting it as the days get shorter. A body of water is far more effective as a space heater than, say, a big field of rocks: The water holds on to five times as much heat per gram.

Read more ....

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Humans And Chimps Register Faces By Using Similar Brain Regions

Photo: Chimpanzee. Chimpanzees recognize their pals by using some of the same brain regions that switch on when humans register a familiar face. (Credit: iStockphoto)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Dec. 27, 2008) — Chimpanzees recognize their pals by using some of the same brain regions that switch on when humans register a familiar face, according to a report published online on December 18th in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication. The study—the first to examine brain activity in chimpanzees after they attempt to match fellow chimps' faces—offers new insight into the origin of face recognition in humans, the researchers said.

"We can learn about human origins by studying our closest relatives," said Lisa Parr, a researcher at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University. "We can discover what aspects of human cognition are really unique and which are present in other animals."

Read more ....

2009 To Arrive Not A Second Too Soon

From Yahoo News/Space:

Wait a second. The start of next year will be delayed by circumstances beyond everyone's control. Time will stand still for one second on New Year's Eve, as we ring in the New Year on that Wednesday night. As a result, you'll have an extra second to celebrate because a "Leap Second" will be added to 2008 to let a lagging Earth catch up to super-accurate clocks.

By international agreement, the world's timekeepers, in order to keep their official atomic clocks in step with the world's irregular but gradually slowing rotation, have decreed that a Leap Second be inserted between 2008 and 2009.

The extra second, ordered by the world's nominal timekeeper, the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service, will be marked officially at the stroke of midnight on Wednesday in Greenwich, England, the home of what is popularly known as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) – Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) to the more technically inclined – the standard time for the planet.

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Half Of The USA Is Covered In Snow

From Watts Up With That?:

This is something you don’t see every day. We recently heard that Canada had a white Christmas EVERYWHERE, the first time in four decades. Here we see that the USA has an increased albedo (surface reflectivity) for about 1/2 of it’s land area. The increased albedo combined with low sun angle this time of year conspires to keep ice and snow unmelted.

Look for a long and extended winter weather pattern as we head towards the spring equinox, which can’t get here fast enough.

Here is a more colorful view of snow depth on Dec 25th from the National Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center:

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Scientific Illiteracy All The Rage Among The Glitterati

Kate Moss, who believes diet can detox your body. GETTY IMAGES

From The Independent:

When it comes to science, Barack Obama is no better than many of us. Today he joins the list of shame of those in public life who made scientifically unsupportable statements in 2008.

Closer to home, Nigella Lawson and Delia Smith faltered on the science of food, while Kate Moss, Oprah Winfrey and Demi Moore all get roastings for scientific illiteracy.

The Celebrities and Science Review 2008, prepared by the group Sense About Science, identifies some of the worst examples of scientific illiteracy among those who profess to know better – including top politicians.

Mr Obama and John McCain blundered into the MMR vaccine row during their presidential campaigns. "We've seen just a skyrocketing autism rate," said President-elect Obama. "Some people are suspicious that it's connected to the vaccines. This person included. The science right now is inconclusive, but we have to research it," he said.

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2008 Was The Year Man-Made Global Warming Was Disproved

Polar bears will be fine after all Photo: AP

From The Telegraph:

Looking back over my columns of the past 12 months, one of their major themes was neatly encapsulated by two recent items from The Daily Telegraph.

The first, on May 21, headed "Climate change threat to Alpine ski resorts" , reported that the entire Alpine "winter sports industry" could soon "grind to a halt for lack of snow". The second, on December 19, headed "The Alps have best snow conditions in a generation" , reported that this winter's Alpine snowfalls "look set to beat all records by New Year's Day".

Easily one of the most important stories of 2008 has been all the evidence suggesting that this may be looked back on as the year when there was a turning point in the great worldwide panic over man-made global warming. Just when politicians in Europe and America have been adopting the most costly and damaging measures politicians have ever proposed, to combat this supposed menace, the tide has turned in three significant respects.

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Dino Extinction May Have Been Caused By ‘Magnetic Chaos’


Washington, Dec 13: A new theory has suggested that the mass extinction event that killed the dinosaurs 250 million years ago, was caused by the Earth’s magnetic field going into complete disarray, exposing the planet to a shower of cosmic radiation.

According to a report in Discovery News, the theory has been put forward by Yukio Isozaki of the University of Tokyo.

The Permian-Triassic mass extinction event happened 250 million years ago, snuffing out 90 percent of life on the planet.

Now, the new theory by Isozaki suggests that the catastrophe was set in motion 15 million years earlier, deep in the Earth.

Read more ....

Your Brain Sees $$$ More Clearly Than You Know

Photo: Visual areas of the brain that responded more to valuable objects in a study that shows our brain may recognize value better than our conscious mind. Credit: John Serences, UC San Diego

From Live Science:

When you see something of value, your brain essentially sees dollar signs, a new study finds.

The effect occurs even if you don't consciously realize the object's worth.

Researchers scanned the brains of subjects who were presented with choices of constantly changing red and green objects that represented 10 cents or nothing, with good choices in a game leading to potential winnings of $10.

Upon seeing objects that had been of value previously, brain activity lit up in several areas, including a part of the cortex known as V1, which is associated with representing basic features such as edge orientations and color.

Read more ....

NASA Looks Forward Beyond 2008 Successes

Photo: TS-126 spacewalker Heide Stefanyshyn-Piper rides the International Space Station's Canadarm2 to space shuttle Endeavour's payload bay, 18 Nov 2008

From Voice Of America:

At NASA, 2008 will be remembered for shuttle missions, discoveries on Mars, and mysteries revealed across the solar system and beyond. While looking back at the U.S. space agency's 2008 successes, VOA looks at the agency's uncertain future and its plans to bring humankind to Moon.

NASA's Constellation project is accelerating, with engineers building and testing rockets and capsules that will be the primary vehicles for human space exploration after the shuttle fleet is retired in 2010.

The core of NASA's current activities is a return to the moon, with astronauts landing there by 2020.

Read more

Regenerate Your Brain? -The Science Says It's Possible

From Daily Galaxy:

Contrary to popular belief, recent studies have found that there are probably ways to regenerate brain matter.

Animal studies conducted at the National Institute on Aging Gerontology Research Center and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, for example, have shown that both calorie restriction and intermittent fasting along with vitamin and mineral intake, increase resistance to disease, extend lifespan, and stimulate production of neurons from stem cells.

In addition, fasting has been shown to enhance synaptic elasticity, possibly increasing the ability for successful re-wiring following brain injury. These benefits appear to result from a cellular stress response, similar in concept to the greater muscular regeneration that results from the stress of regular exercise.

Read more .....

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Shape Of Things To Come On The Internet

Internet Sites Could Be Given 'Cinema-Style Age Ratings', Culture Secretary Says -- The Telegraph

Internet sites could be given cinema-style age ratings as part of a Government crackdown on offensive and harmful online activity to be launched in the New Year, the Culture Secretary says.

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Andy Burnham says he believes that new standards of decency need to be applied to the web. He is planning to negotiate with Barack Obama’s incoming American administration to draw up new international rules for English language websites.

The Cabinet minister describes the internet as “quite a dangerous place” and says he wants internet-service providers (ISPs) to offer parents “child-safe” web services.

Read more ....

Winter Cold Puts A Chill On Green Energy

In Minnesota, Alan Stankevitz did a new winter chore for homeowners: clearing the solar panels. Alan Stankevitz

From The New York Times:

Old Man Winter, it turns out, is no friend of renewable energy.

This time of year, wind turbine blades ice up, biodiesel congeals in tanks and solar panels produce less power because there is not as much sun. And perhaps most irritating to the people who own them, the panels become covered with snow, rendering them useless even in bright winter sunshine.

So in regions where homeowners have long rolled their eyes at shoveling driveways, add another cold-weather chore: cleaning off the solar panels. “At least I can get to them with a long pole and a squeegee,” said Alan Stankevitz, a homeowner in southeast Minnesota.

Read more

Space Station Cargo Delivery Still Expensive

From Future Pundit:

Orbital Sciences Corp has won a $1.9 billion contract to carry 20 metric tons of cargo to the International Space Station in 8 flights. Think about those numbers. That's $95 million per metric ton to move cargo from ground level to low orbit. Those deliveries start in 2011 and run through 2015. A metric ton is 1000 kilograms or 2204.6 lbs. So the cost of putting stuff into low Earth orbit in 2015 is still going to be around $43k per lb or $95k per kg. At these prices large scale human colonization of space still seems a very distant prospect.

Those costs will come down a lot if a beanstalk into space built using nanotubes becomes possible. A bigger cost reduction for a Mars mission will come from nanotech advances. A bunch of nanodevices that can transform Mars landscape and produce needed supplies for a colony would reduce the size of the payload needed for setting up an initial colony.

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Google's Grand Ambitions

From CBS:

(CNET) Google stretched its wings in 2008, furthering an expansion beyond its core search and search-advertising business. But the economy and the government raised the possibility that those wings could be clipped.

The company began the year overcoming opposition to its $3.1 billion acquisition of DoubleClick, a move that gave Google more clout in the market for graphical "display" ads. But that antitrust fight was a harbinger of things to come.

In April, Google showed its ambitions to house not just its own online applications such as Google Docs, but also others' with a project called Google App Engine. Basic applications are free, but more taxing ones cost money, a pay-as-you-go model that's popular with the cloud-computing concept.

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Tiny Clues To Collision In Space

From BBC:

Evidence that a massive meteorite shower had an impact on Earth on a global scale 470 million years ago have been found on a Highlands beach.

Researchers from the University of Aberdeen uncovered tiny remnants of meteorites, smaller than a grain of sand, within rocks in Sutherland.

The find is linked to others made in China, the US and Australia.

The scientists think the meteorites - a result of a collision in space - triggered earthquakes and tsunami.

The university said the find near Durness confirmed previous scientific speculation that the meteorite shower - which followed a "catastrophic event" in an asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter - was so vast in size that it affected locations across the globe.

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The World's Most High-Tech Nation

From ABC News:

If there ever is an "Easy Tech Adaptation for Dummies" book, I’d be the first one to grab it. Living in the most wired country in the world is quite a struggle for people with technology phobia like me. I’m not talking new gadgets or software that are released every few months or years. I’m talking almost every day learning how to use new functions on my mobile phone or keeping up to date with new ways to communicate.

Today, I joined the tech-savvy generation’s new thing: T-mobile money, only to find myself all frustrated because the whole concept is too good to be true and way too complex. It is a prepaid smart card that is embedded into your mobile’s SIM card, which works as a wallet, navigator or personalized weather forecaster. It even tells you how crowded -- not with car traffic but with human traffic -- certain places are so that you can avoid holiday shopping at those spots!

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Honey Bees On Cocaine Dance More, Changing Ideas About The Insect Brain

In a study that challenges current ideas about the insect brain, researchers have found that honey bees on cocaine tend to exaggerate. (Credit: iStockphoto/Florin Tirlea)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Dec. 25, 2008) — In a study that challenges current ideas about the insect brain, researchers have found that honey bees on cocaine tend to exaggerate.

Normally, foraging honey bees alert their comrades to potential food sources only when they've found high quality nectar or pollen, and only when the hive is in need. They do this by performing a dance, called a "round" or "waggle" dance, on a specialized "dance floor" in the hive. The dance gives specific instructions that help the other bees find the food.

Foraging honey bees on cocaine are more likely to dance, regardless of the quality of the food they've found or the status of the hive, the authors of the study report.

Read more ....

Discovery Indicates Mars Was Habitable

From Live Science:

Evidence of a key mineral on Mars has been found at several locations on the planet's surface, suggesting that any microbial life that might have been there back when the planet was wetter could have lived comfortably.

The findings offer up intriguing new sites for future missions to probe, researchers said.

Observations NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which just completed its primary mission and started a second two-year shift, found evidence of carbonates, which don't survive in conditions hostile to life, indicating that not all of the planet's ancient watery environments were as harsh as previously thought.

The findings are detailed in a study in the Dec. 19 issue of the journal Science and will be presented today at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco

Read more ....

Friday, December 26, 2008

Quantum Computer Could Solve Problems In A Few Months That Would Take Conventional Computers Millions Of Years

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Sep. 13, 2001) — How to build a super fast computer that uses the bizarre properties of quantum physics is the aim of a project by computer scientists Fred Chong of the University of California, Davis, Isaac Chuang at MIT and John Kubiatowicz at UC Berkeley. The five-year project is supported by a grant of $3 million from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The grant will establish a Quantum Architecture Research Center between MIT, UC Davis and UC Berkeley.

A quantum computer could solve problems in a few months that would take conventional computers millions of years, Chong said.

Quantum physics describes the special rules that apply to atoms and subatomic particles. One principle is that when you observe a particle, you change it. If a particle can be in one of two states, for example "up" or "down," it only settles on one state when you look at it. Before you look at it, it can be in both states at the same time.

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The Biggest Scientific Breakthroughs Of 2008

From ABC News:

Progress This Year Wasn't Just in Hardware but in Understanding the Urgency of Key Issues.

The year 2008 closes with two enormous scientific and technological challenges unresolved: How to create renewable and benign sources of energy and how to lessen the damage we're doing to the global climate system.

Those twin issues are the "greatest challenge facing modern science," according to Nobel laureate Steven Chu, the gifted physicist who has been nominated to head the Department of Energy. He will be at the center of the effort to deal with these vexing problems, and his nomination signals a new day in that effort.

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Our Unconscious Brain Makes The Best Decisions Possible

From E! Science News:

Researchers at the University of Rochester have shown that the human brain—once thought to be a seriously flawed decision maker—is actually hard-wired to allow us to make the best decisions possible with the information we are given. The findings are published in today's issue of the journal Neuron. Neuroscientists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky received a 2002 Nobel Prize for their 1979 research that argued humans rarely make rational decisions. Since then, this has become conventional wisdom among cognition researchers

Contrary to Kahnneman and Tversky's research, Alex Pouget, associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester, has shown that people do indeed make optimal decisions—but only when their unconscious brain makes the choice.

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Caffeine Works Better For Men

From Live Science:

Caffeine affects men more strongly than women, new research reportedly shows.

However, the same study found that while decaf coffee perks up both of the sexes, it affects women more.

The results come from a University of Barcelona study of caffeine's effects on 668 university students, with an average age of 22. Measurements were taken before and after the caffeine was ingested. Tests were carried out at between 11 am to 1 pm, as well as between 4pm to 6pm, to check for differences caused by the time of day.

"Although both the men and women saw an improvement in their activity levels with the coffee, which increased in later measurements, we observed a greater impact among the males," researcher Ana Adan told Spain’s Scientific Information and News Service (SINC).

"Numerous studies have demonstrated the stimulant effects of caffeine, but none of these have looked at their effects in terms of the consumer's gender," she added.

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Top 10 Places Already Affected by Climate Change

CLIMATE CHANGE: The effects of climate change are beginning to appear around the globe, including the conflict in Darfur. © Lynsey Addario/Corbis

From Scientific American:

Cities deep underwater, frozen continents, the collapse of global agriculture: so far, much of the discussion about climate change has focused on these distant, catastrophic effects of a superheated world. What's less talked about is how global warming is making itself felt already. Even the modest temperature rise we've already experienced has set in motion fundamental shifts—and the further warming we can expect in the next few decades has the potential to set off dramatic changes.

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New Type Of Laser Discovered

Quantum cascade lasers are small and efficient sources of mid-infrared laser beams, which are leading to new devices for medical diagnostics and environmental sensing. (Credit: Frank Wojciechowski)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Dec. 24, 2008) — A Princeton-led team of researchers has discovered an entirely new mechanism for making common electronic materials emit laser beams. The finding could lead to lasers that operate more efficiently and at higher temperatures than existing devices, and find applications in environmental monitoring and medical diagnostics.

"This discovery provides a new insight into the physics of lasers," said Claire Gmachl, who led the study. Gmachl, an electrical engineer, is the director of the Mid-Infrared Technologies for Health and the Environment (MIRTHE) center. The phenomenon was discovered in a type of device called quantum cascade laser, in which an electric current flowing through a specially designed material produces a laser beam. Gmachl's group discovered that a quantum cascade laser they had built generated a second beam with very unusual properties, including the need for less electrical power than the conventional beam. "If we can turn off the conventional beam, we will end up with a better laser, which makes more efficient use of electrical power," said Gmachl.

Read more ....

Slow Starvation of Brain Triggers Alzheimer's

A 3-D image of brain atrophy differences in mild cognitive impairment (MCI) patients and mild Alzheimer's disease patients. Alzheimer's patients show far more damage overall, especially in cortical areas of the brain. Credit: Dr. Liana G. Apostolova, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA

From Live Science:

A slow starvation of the brain over time is one of the major triggers of the biochemistry that causes some forms of Alzheimer's, according to a new study that is helping to crack the mystery of the disease's origins.

An estimated 10 million baby boomers will develop Alzheimer's in their lifetime, according to the Alzheimer's Association. The disease usually begins after age 60, and risk rises with age. The direct and indirect cost of Alzheimer's and other dementias is about $148 billion a year.

Robert Vassar of Northwestern University, the study's lead author, found that when the brain doesn't get enough of the simple sugar called glucose — as might occur when cardiovascular disease restricts blood flow in arteries to the brain — a process is launched that ultimately produces the sticky clumps of protein that appear to be a cause of Alzheimer's.

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Scientists Seek Ways To Ward Off Killer Asteroids

Artist's rendition released by NASA shows an asteroid belt in orbit around a star. Between 500 and 1,000 massive asteroids cross the Earth's path regularly and any one of them could cause a global catastrophe, space experts warned Tuesday, urging quick preventive measures. (AFP/NASA-HO/File)

From Yahoo News/McClatchy:

WASHINGTON — A blue-ribbon panel of scientists is trying to determine the best way to detect and ward off any wandering space rocks that might be on a collision course with Earth.

``We're looking for the killer asteroid,'' James Heasley , of the University of Hawaii's Institute for Astronomy , last week told the committee that the National Academy of Sciences created at Congress' request.

Congress asked the academy to conduct the study after astronomers were unable to eliminate an extremely slight chance that an asteroid called Apophis will slam into Earth with devastating effect in 2036.

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Aubrey de Grey Google Tech Talk On Defeat Of Aging

From Future Pundit:

A friend points out that Aubrey de Grey's October 8, 2007 Google Tech Talk on the defeat of aging has only 402 views. That's a waste of a valuable talk on a very important topic. So here's a post to begin to remedy this waste:

Aubrey and Dave Gobel co-founded the Methuselah Foundation accelerate the defeat of the aging process. Toward this goal Aubrey proposes Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) to reverse the aging process and repair our bodies to save us from the ravages of aging.

If you are new to SENS and or just haven't heard a recent talk by Aubrey on this topic then watch his lecture.

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Bionic 'Sex Chip' That Stimulates Pleasure Centre In Brain Developed By Scientists

The chip could stimulate the orbitofrontal cortex, which is associated with
the pleasure felt when eating and having sex

From The Daily Mail:

Scientists are developing an electronic 'sex chip' that works by stimulating the pleasure centres in the brain.

The technology, which creates tiny shocks deep in the brain, has already been used in America to treat Parkinson's disease.

Now researchers are focusing on the orbitofrontal cortex, which is associated with feelings of pleasure caused by eating and sex.

A research survey conducted by Morten Kringelbach, a fellow at Oxford University, found the orbitofrontal cortex could be a 'new stimulation target' to help people with anhedonia - an inability to experience pleasure from such activities.

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Bees Acts As Bodyguards For Flowers By Protecting Them From Munching Insects

Photo: A bee hovers above a flower - their buzz scares off other insects such as caterpillars

From The Daily Mail:

Flowers use bright colours and strong scents to attract honeybees to their pollen. But the stripy insects also defend them from other insects, according to a new study in Current Biology.

Their buzzing noise warns off others such as caterpillars who would otherwise munch on the blooms undisturbed.

The researchers, led by Jürgen Tautz from Biozentrum Universität Würzburg, Germany, found many caterpillars possess fine sensory hairs on the front portions of their bodies that enable them to detect air vibrations, such as the sound of an approaching predatory wasp or honeybee.

'These sensory hairs are not fine-tuned,' Mr Tautz said.

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TOP TEN SPACE PHOTOS: Most Viewed Of 2008

From National Geographic:

10. Supernova Creates "Ribbon" in Space

Like a ribbon trailing from a parade float, a streamer of hydrogen gas seems to waft across the stars in an image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.

Released in July, this festive shot of a supernova remnant was National Geographic News's tenth most viewed space photo of 2008.

Bright stripes within the ribbon—which is actually the shock wave from the stellar explosion—appear where the wave is moving edge-on to Hubble's line of sight.

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Science And The Holidays

From Scientific American:

From greening your Christmas tree to what oil producers could learn from the story of Hanukkah, your guide to the science of the holiday season

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Peripheral Artery Disease: Pain When Walking Can Be Reduced With Moderate Exercise, Study Suggests

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Dec. 25, 2008) — You probably know that poor diet and lack of exercise can lead to dangerous deposits of fatty plaques in arteries. But it is not just the heart that is affected – blood flow can be blocked to the legs too, leading to pain when walking, immobility and even in extreme cases, amputation.

Approximately 20% of us will suffer from this peripheral artery disease (PAD) once we are 65 or over, and with risk factors including smoking, diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure it is on the rise. Surgical intervention can sometimes help, but the prognosis is not good.

Encouragingly, new research by Ronald Terjung et al. published in The Journal of Physiology shows that regular, moderate exercise can go a long way to relieving the symptoms of PAD, and by some unexpected mechanisms.

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Chocolate, Wine And Tea Improve Brain Performance

Chocolate, wine and tea enhance cognitive performance. (Credit: iStockphoto/Silvia Jansen)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Dec. 24, 2008) — All that chocolate might actually help finish the bumper Christmas crossword over the seasonal period. According to Oxford researchers working with colleagues in Norway, chocolate, wine and tea enhance cognitive performance.

The team from Oxford’s Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics and Norway examined the relation between cognitive performance and the intake of three common foodstuffs that contain flavonoids (chocolate, wine, and tea) in 2,031 older people (aged between 70 and 74).

Participants filled in information about their habitual food intake and underwent a battery of cognitive tests.Those who consumed chocolate, wine, or tea had significantly better mean test scores and lower prevalence of poor cognitive performance than those who did not. The team reported their findings in the Journal of Nutrition.

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Spirituality Spot Found in Brain

From Live Science:

What makes us feel spiritual? It could be the quieting of a small area in our brains, a new study suggests.

The area in question — the right parietal lobe — is responsible for defining "Me," said researcher Brick Johnstone of Missouri University. It generates self-criticism, he said, and guides us through physical and social terrains by constantly updating our self-knowledge: my hand, my cocktail, my witty conversation skills, my new love interest ...

People with less active Me-Definers are more likely to lead spiritual lives, reports the study in the current issue of the journal Zygon.

Most previous research on neuro-spirituality has been based on brain scans of actively practicing adherents (i.e. meditating monks, praying nuns) and has resulted in broad and inconclusive findings. (Is the brain area lighting up in response to verse or spiritual experience?)

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Apollo 8: A Picture Of The Earth From The Moon 40 Years Ago

Apollo 8 "Earth Rise" (Click The Above Image To Enlarge)

Top 10 Scientific Discoveries For 2008

From Time Magazine:

1. Large Hadron Collider

Jean-Pierre Clatot / AFP / Getty

Good news! The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) — the massive particle accelerator straddling the Swiss-French border — didn't destroy the world! The bad news: The contraption didn't really work either. In September, the 17-mile collider was switched on for the first time, putting to rest the febrile webchatter that the machine would create an artificial black hole capable of swallowing the planet or at least a sizeable piece of Europe — a bad day no matter what. No lucid observer ever thought that would really happen, but what they did expect was that the LHC would operate as advertised, recreating conditions not seen since instants after the Big Bang and giving physicists a peek into those long-vanished moments. Things looked good at first, until a helium leak caused the collider to shut down after less than two weeks. Repairs are underway and the particles should begin spinning again sometime in June.

For the other 9, read more ....