Saturday, February 21, 2009

As The World's Languages Disappear, Basque Revives

From McClatchy:

ST. JEAN DE LUZ, France — The world is losing languages at an alarming rate, a United Nations agency reported Thursday, with thousands of tongues expected to disappear by the end of this century.

Yet amid the losses, one community — the Basque people, who live in the mountainous region of southern France and northern Spain — is reviving a language that many once feared would die out.

In St. Jean de Luz, a seaside town near the Spanish border at the western edge of the Pyrenees, efforts are under way to revitalize the Basque language, which 30 years ago was rarely heard outside mountain villages. Among a population of about 3 million in the Basque region, which comprises seven provinces in Spain and France, an estimated 700,000 people speak Basque today.

Bilingual signs dot the roads and mark storefronts, and an annual festival celebrates the Basque language, music and culture. Public and private schools full of children and adults learn Basque.

Read more ....

It's All Systems Go For Europa

Europa, dwarfed by Jupiter, is in the center of this image taken by the Cassini spacecraft on Dec. 7, 2000. "Europa is tremendously exciting," a NASA official said. NASA

From The L.A. Times:

NASA unveils plans for a 20-year project to send a spacecraft to Jupiter's ice-covered moon in a search for life.

NASA announced plans Wednesday to embark on a mammoth 20-year project to send a spacecraft to Jupiter's ice-covered moon Europa as its next flagship mission to search for life elsewhere in the solar system.

The mission, which could cost as much as $3 billion, will be managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La CaƱada Flintridge. It will focus on the possibility that in the gigantic ocean thought to be hidden under the moon's thick cover of ice is a habitable zone where rudimentary forms of life could exist.

Read more ....

Arctic Sea Ice Underestimated For Weeks Due To Faulty Sensor

From Bloomberg:

A glitch in satellite sensors caused scientists to underestimate the extent of Arctic sea ice by 500,000 square kilometers (193,000 square miles), a California- size area, the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center said.

The error, due to a problem called “sensor drift,” began in early January and caused a slowly growing underestimation of sea ice extent until mid-February. That’s when “puzzled readers” alerted the NSIDC about data showing ice-covered areas as stretches of open ocean, the Boulder, Colorado-based group said on its Web site.

Read more ....

Update: Sea Ice Sensor Degradation Hits Cryosphere Today -- Watts Up With That?

Cosmic Stage Set for Comet Lulin's Fly-By

Comet Lulin as photographed by amateur astronomer Jack Newton in Arizona.
Jack Newton/NASA

From FOX News/

A recently discovered comet is making its closest approach to Earth in the next few days and offers anyone with binoculars or a small telescope a chance to see some frozen leftovers of our solar system's making.

Comet Lulin has, as expected, crossed the threshold to naked-eye visibility for people with dark, rural skies. It hovers just inside that envelope of visibility, however, and is not likely visible from cities, where the glare of urban lights can drown out all but the brightest night-sky objects.

Read more ....

Atlantis Revealed At Last... Or Just A Load Of Old Googles?

False hopes: Google said the grid-like markings, thought to reveal the location of mythical underwater city Atlantis, are an artifact of its map making process

From The Daily Mail:

For centuries the story of Atlantis has captured the imagination - a fabled city of great beauty, culture and wealth that was suddenly swallowed up by the ocean.

Its location - or at least the source of the legend - remained a tantalising mystery. Was it really in the Mediterranean and not in the Atlantic at all?

Some claim its ruins lie beneath the waves off the coast of Cornwall. Others say they've been found in the Black Sea.

Read more ....

NASA's Kepler Mission To Seek Other Earths

Artist's concept of Kepler in space. (Credit: NASA/JPL)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Feb. 20, 2009) — NASA's Kepler spacecraft is ready to be moved to the launch pad today and will soon begin a journey to search for worlds that could potentially host life.

Kepler is scheduled to blast into space from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., aboard a Delta II rocket on March 5 at 7:48 p.m. Pacific Time (10:48 p.m. Eastern Time). It is the first mission with the ability to find planets like Earth -- rocky planets that orbit sun-like stars in a warm zone where liquid water could be maintained on the surface. Liquid water is believed to be essential for the formation of life.

Read more ....

Most Wars Occur in Biodiversity Hotspots

Photo from My Daily Clarity

From Live Science:

More than 80 percent of the world's major armed conflicts from 1950-2000 occurred in regions identified as the most biologically diverse and threatened places on Earth.

Scientists compared major conflict zones with the Earth's 34 biodiversity hotspots identified by Conservation International (CI). The hotspots are considered top conservation priorities because they contain the entire populations of more than half of all plant species and at least 42 percent of all vertebrates, and are highly threatened.

Read more ....

Pentagon Official: U.S. Is Not Developing Space Weapons

The USS Lake Erie launches a Standard Missile-3 at a non-functioning National Reconnaissance Office satellite as it traveled in space at more than 17,000 mph over the Pacific Ocean on Feb. 20, 2008. Credit: Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Navy

From Live Science:

STRASBOURG, France - The United States is not developing space weapons and could not afford to do so even if it wanted to, an official with the Pentagon's National Security Space Office said Thursday.

Pete Hays, a senior policy analyst at the space office who is also associate director of the Eisenhower Center for Space and Defense Studies, said U.S. policy on space weaponry has remained pretty much the same over the last 30 years despite the occasionally heated debate on the subject during the administration of former U.S. President George W. Bush.

Read more ....

Friday, February 20, 2009

Lessons In Survival

Illustration by Josh Cochran for Newsweek

From Newsweek:

The science that explains why elite military forces bounce back faster than the rest of us.

In a laboratory, it's extremely difficult to study why some people are better at bouncing back than others because it's so hard to simulate the real stresses and strains of life. Scientists can show people scary pictures or movies to trigger their reactions and measure how they recover, but it's hardly the same as a mugger in an alley or a grizzly bear on a hiking trail. Dr. Andy Morgan of Yale Medical School set out to find a real-world laboratory where he could watch people under incredible stress in reasonably controlled conditions.

He ended up in southeastern North Carolina at Fort Bragg, home of the Army's elite Airborne and Special Forces. This is where the Army's renowned survival school is located. It's also where they believe in something called stress inoculation. Like vaccines, a small challenge or dose of a virus in your system prepares and defends you against a bigger challenge. In other words, they expose you to pressure and suffering in training so you'll build up your immunity. It's a kind of classic psychological conditioning: the more shocks to your system, the more you're able to withstand.

Read more

Why Would A Chimpanzee Attack A Human?

A DANGEROUS COUSIN: This chimp from the Knoxville Zoo bears its teeth to visitors, who observe from behind glass. Chimpanzees have been known to bite off fingers from behind bars. FLICKR/THE GUT

From Scientific American:

After a chimp mutilated a Connecticut woman's face, some are questioning the wisdom of keeping wild animals as pets

Earlier this week, a 14-year-old, 200-pound (90-kilogram) pet chimpanzee in Stamford, Conn., left a woman in critical condition after attacking her—mutilating her face and hands. The owner, Sandra Herold, who tried to stop the attack, was also injured and briefly hospitalized. The victim remains in critical condition.

The chimp, Travis, who was shot and killed by police officers at the scene, was apparently a friendly fixture around the neighborhood. He appeared in television commercials and had a sapiens-level CV that included using a computer, bathing and sipping wine from a stemmed glass, according to The New York Times. Reports, however, are starting to surface that Travis might have bitten another woman in 1996 and that Herold had been warned by animal control that her pet could be dangerous.

Read more ....

Telescope Spies Cataclysmic Blast

Photo: Main facts of the Fermi Mission:
Spacecraft was launched in June 2008 on a five-year mission
It is looking at the Universe in the highest-energy form of light
Fermi is 2.8m (9.2ft) high and 2.4m (8.2ft) in diameter
The spacecraft orbits at an altitude of 565km (350 miles)
It could pick up about 200 cosmic explosions each year

From The BBC:

Astronomers have recorded the most powerful radiation blast from deep space yet detected.

The event was observed by Nasa's recently launched Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope and reported in the online edition of the journal Science.

The source of the blast is assumed to be the catastrophic implosion of a star, to create a black hole.

Scientists say the spectacle's energy release was equivalent to thousands of ordinary exploding stars.

Read more ....

Lost In Space: 8 Weird Pieces Of Space Junk

From Wired:

Humans have ventured into space over the last 50 years, and all manner of junk has been left behind. From tiny bolts to whole space stations, people have discarded lots of stuff up there. Much of it eventually dies a fiery death as it falls through Earth's atmosphere, but some larger debris poses risks for astronauts and spacecraft that could collide with it. Here are some of the quirkier items left in space:

1. Spatula

While spreading some goo as a test of heat-shield repair materials, spacewalking astronaut Piers Sellers accidentally lost a spatula he had been using. The mishap took place during the space shuttle Discovery's 2006 STS-121 flight to the International Space Station, on a mission to test new safety techniques after the 2003 Columbia disaster. "That was my favorite spatch," Sellers reportedly said. "Don’t tell the other spatulas."

Read more ....

New Atlas Shows Dying Languages Around The World

Click On The Image To Enlarge (Image from Thinking Shift)

From Yahoo News/AP:

PARIS – Only one native speaker of Livonian remains on Earth, in Latvia. The Alaskan language Eyak went extinct last year when its last surviving speaker passed away.

Those are just two of the nearly 2,500 languages that UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, says are in danger of becoming extinct or have recently disappeared. That's out of a total of 6,000 world languages.

In a presentation Thursday of a new world atlas of endangered languages, linguists stressed the list is not restricted to small or far-flung countries. They also sought to encourage immigrants to treasure their native languages.

Read more ....

How Steroids Work

From Live Science:

A $252 million contract to play baseball causes "an enormous amount of pressure ... to perform at a high level every day," according to Alex Rodriguez. The New York Yankees' third baseman provided details this week about the anabolic steroids he used from 2001 to 2003 after he had signed a record-setting deal with his former team, the Texas Rangers.

Here is what most of us know about anabolic steroids: they make muscles grow faster, there are harmful side effects to our health, most sports leagues have banned them, and they are illegal without a prescription.

But how do they actually work? Does an athlete just pop a few pills and then wait for the Popeye-spinach effect? Let's dig a little deeper into the science of steroids.

Read more ....

Easter Island’s Controversial Collapse: More To The Story Than Deforestation?

The famous stone sculptures on Easter Island where Dr. Stevenson and Rapanui scientist Sonia Haoa have worked with Earthwatch volunteers for the last 20 years to uncover new twists in the story of Easter Island. (Credit: Charles H. Whitfield)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Feb. 18, 2009) — Easter Island (Rapa Nui) has gained recognition in recent years due in part to a book that used it as a model for societal collapse from bad environmental practices—ringing alarm bells for those concerned about the health of the planet today. But that’s not the whole story, says Dr. Chris Stevenson, an archaeologist who has studied the island—famous for its massive stone statues—with a Rapa Nui scientist, Sonia Haoa, and Earthwatch volunteers for nearly 20 years.

The ancient Rapanui people did abuse their environment, but they were also developing sustainable practices—innovating, experimenting, trying to adapt to a risky environment—and they would still be here in traditional form if it weren’t for the diseases introduced by European settlers in the 1800s.

Read more ....

Inside FIRST Robotics 2009: Robots Are Now Ready To Rumble

From Popular Mechanics:

On Tuesday, high school robotics teams from around the country concluded the six-week build period ahead of next month’s regional FIRST Robotics Competitions. Popular Mechanics dropped in on the Pirates of George Westinghouse High, in Brooklyn, as they made their final pre-shipment adjustments.

The tension brimmed outside Room 254, the home base of George Westinghouse High School’s FIRST robotics team, the Pirates. Six weeks of late-night work sessions, capped by a sleepless holiday weekend of final tweaks and modifications, had put the Brooklyn students at wits’ end. It was less than 24 hours before the construction deadline, when Fed-Ex would arrive to ship the robot to the scene of New York City’s regional competition—and an overweight robot threatened to send them over the edge.

“Welcome to 2009,” Nadav Zeimer, the team’s coach, declared as two Pirates argued over how best to position the robot on the scale. “Yet another year of too much weight.”

Read more ....

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Britain’s Lessons From The Winter of 2008-2009

Stonehenge saw it’s heaviest snow in many years (Photo from Watts Up With That)

From Watts Up With That:

The UK has been experiencing the coldest winter in several decades, and hopefully policymakers have learned a few basic lessons from this. Here is my wish list, which seem painfully obvious.

1. Britain can’t rely on global warming to stay warm in the winter.
2. Britain can’t rely on solar power to stay warm in the winter. There just isn’t enough sun (which is why it is cold in the winter.)
3. Britain can’t rely on wind power to stay warm in the winter. During the coldest weather the winds were calm (which is one reason why the air temperatures were so low.)
4. Britain can’t rely on Russian natural gas to stay warm. The gas supply was cut off for weeks due to politics.

Read more ....

Was Einstein Wrong?: A Quantum Threat To Special Relativity

From Scientific American:

Entanglement, like many quantum effects, violates some of our deepest intuitions about the world. It may also undermine Einstein's special theory of relativity

Key Concepts

* In the universe as we experience it, we can directly affect only objects we can touch; thus, the world seems local.
* Quantum mechanics, however, embraces action at a distance with a property called entanglement, in which two particles behave synchronously with no intermediary; it is nonlocal.
* This nonlocal effect is not merely counterintuitive: it presents a serious problem to Einstein's special theory of relativity, thus shaking the foundations of physics.

Our intuition, going back forever, is that to move, say, a rock, one has to touch that rock, or touch a stick that touches the rock, or give an order that travels via vibrations through the air to the ear of a man with a stick that can then push the rock—or some such sequence. This intuition, more generally, is that things can only directly affect other things that are right next to them. If A affects B without being right next to it, then the effect in question must be indirect—the effect in question must be something that gets transmitted by means of a chain of events in which each event brings about the next one directly, in a manner that smoothly spans the distance from A to B. Every time we think we can come up with an exception to this intuition—say, flipping a switch that turns on city street lights (but then we realize that this happens through wires) or listening to a BBC radio broadcast (but then we realize that radio waves propagate through the air)—it turns out that we have not, in fact, thought of an exception. Not, that is, in our everyday experience of the world.

We term this intuition "locality."

Quantum mechanics has upended many an intuition, but none deeper than this one. And this particular upending carries with it a threat, as yet unresolved, to special relativity—a foundation stone of our 21st-century physics.

Read more ....

Earth-Like Planet Could Be Discovered Within Three Years

Artist's impression of a newly discovered planet orbiting a red star.
Photo: Reuters/Sydney Morning Herald

From The Guardian:

Galaxy has billions of planets that support life forms, says leading astronomer.

A planet similar to Earth could be discovered in a distant solar system within three years, according to a leading astronomer.

Planets that support life forms could be common in the universe, and about 100bn of them may exist in our own galaxy, said Dr Alan Boss, a researcher at the Carnegie Institute for Science in Washington.

He told a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago yesterday that, according to his calculations, there is roughly one Earth-like planet for every star that is similar to our own sun.

The US space agency, Nasa, is due to launch a space telescope, called Kepler, dedicated to searching for planets that are similar to, or smaller than Earth. It will join the European Space Agency's Corot telescope, which spotted a large "super Earth" earlier this month.

Read more ....

AAAS: 'One Hundred Billion Trillion' Planets Where Alien Life Could Flourish

Dr Alan Boss, of the Carnegie Institution in Washington DC, said there could be as many Earths as there are stars in the universe Photo: REUTERS

From The Telegraph:

There could be one hundred billion trillion Earth-like planets in space, making it "inevitable" that extraterrestrial life exists, according to a leading astronomer.

Life on Earth used to be thought of as a freak accident that only happened once.

But scientists are now coming to the conclusion that the universe is teeming with living organisms.

The change in thinking has come about because of the new belief there are an abundant number of habitable planets like Earth.

Alan Boss, of the Carnegie Institution in Washington DC, said there could be as many Earths as there are stars in the universe - one hundred billion trillion.

Because of this, he believes it is "inevitable" that life must have flourished elsewhere over the billions of years the universe has existed.

Read more ....

Black Hole Confirmed In Milky Way

From BBC:

There is a giant black hole at the centre of our galaxy, a 16-year study by German astronomers has confirmed.

They tracked the movement of 28 stars circling the centre of the Milky Way, using two telescopes in Chile.

The black hole, said to be 27,000 light years from Earth, is four million times bigger than the Sun, according to the paper in The Astrophysical Journal.

Black holes are objects whose gravity is so great that nothing - including light - can escape them.

According to Dr Robert Massey, of the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), the results suggest that galaxies form around giant black holes in the way that a pearl forms around grit.

Read more ....

Oh, Hubble, Can This Really Be the End?

Hubble Space Telescope

From Wired Science:

The spectacular collision between two satellites on Feb. 10 could make the shuttle mission to fix the Hubble Space Telescope too risky to attempt.

Before the collision, space junk problems had already upped the Hubble mission's risk of a "catastrophic impact" beyond NASA's usual limits, Nature's Geoff Brumfiel reported today, and now the problem will be worse.

Read more ....

'Eco-house' Based On Medieval Architecture Could Be Home Of The Future

Eco-house: The unusual dome-like design is based on a Medieval technique, originating in Spain, known as 'timbrel vaulting' Photo: MASONS NEWS SERVICE

From The Telegraph:

Energy bills will be a thing of the past in the 'eco-house' of the future thanks to a combination of the latest renewable energy technology and building techniques from hundreds of years ago.

The zero carbon building, developed by University of Cambridge architects as a prototype for future living, is based on a 600-year-old Medieval design that retains heat from the sun while cooling naturally in the summer.

Any extra energy needs are provided by solar panels on the roof and a woodchip boiler.

The unusual dome-like design is based on a Medieval technique, originating in Spain, known as "timbrel vaulting".

Read more ....

Fearing A 'Cyber Katrina

Fearing 'Cyber Katrina,' Obama Candidate for Cyber Czar Urges a ''FEMA for the Internet' -- Business Week

For all the fears of sophisticated digital intrusions preoccupying many computer security professionals, President Obama’s leading candidates for “cyber czar” also are focusing on an all-too-human vulnerability: The nation’s inability to respond to a full-fledged Internet-borne crisis for lack of a central cyber commander.

Former White House cybersecurity official Paul B. Kurtz, in his first public remarks since becoming an advisor to President Obama’s transition team following the election, describes his biggest worry: A “cyber Katrina” in which fragmented bureaucracies and companies fail to share critical information and coordinate responses to cyber intruders attempting to disrupt power grids, financial markets, or any number of now-plausible scenarios involving a Web shutdown. One recent fear is the cascading effects of even a partial Internet blackout that could add to economic anxieties. There’s such electronic insecurity afoot, some are even beginning to suggest building an entirely new global computer infrastructure.
“The bottom line is, is there a FEMA for the Internet? I don’t think there is,” Kurtz told an audience of security professionals at a Feb. 18 Black Hat security conference in Virginia.

Read more ....

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

How Big Can Rats Get?

Photo: Giant rat with one-inch-long teeth has been caught in the southern Chinese province of Fujian. Photo: HTTP://NEWS.163.COM

Giant Rat Caught In China -- The Telegraph

A giant rat with one-inch-long teeth has been caught in the southern Chinese province of Fujian.

The rat, which weighed six pounds and had a 12-inch tail, was caught at the weekend in a residential area of Fuzhou, a city of six million people on China's south coast.

The ratcatcher, who was only named as Mr Xian, said he swooped for the rodent after seeing a big crowd of people surrounding it on the street.

He told local Chinese newspapers that he thought the rat might be a valuable specimen, or a rare species, and had to muster up his courage before grabbing its tail and picking it up by the scruff of its neck.

Read more ....

My Comment: A few years ago I saw a rat the size of a cat (in Montreal). I had to look at it a few times for it to register in my brain that what I was looking at was in fact a rat.

I am still scarred after all of these years.

The Browser Wars -- A Graphical Depiction

(Click The Above Image To Enlarge)

From Cool Infographics:

Great timeline infographic depicting the rise and fall of different browsers portrayed as knights marching across a field. The data set used is available here.

Read more ....

Anti-Freeze Chemicals 'Could Indicate Life On Mars'

Mars: Perchlorates are rare on earth but they make up one per cent of Mars's soil Photo: GETTY

From The Telegraph:

Life could exist on Mars thanks to chemicals found on the red planet which can prevent water turning into ice, experts have claimed.

The low temperatures on the red planet mean any water would usually be frozen rather than running.

But salts called perchlorates are abundant in the soil of the planet, where temperatures often fall below zero, and can act as a natural anti-freeze.

This suggests there could be liquid water below the surface - increasing the chances of life being able to exist there.

Perchlorates are rare on earth but they make up one per cent of Mars's soil.

They were discovered last year by the robotic arm of NASA's Phoenix lander.

Read more ....

Alaska Is a Frontier for Green Power

The turbine manufacturer Northern Power Systems has units in eight Alaska villages, including Toksook Bay, above, and is pursing projects in 45 others. Stefan Milkowski for The New York Times

From The New York Times:

TOKSOOK BAY, Alaska — Beyond the fishing boats, the snug homes and the tanks of diesel fuel marking this Eskimo village on the Bering Sea, three huge wind turbines tower over the tundra. Their blades spin slowly in a breeze cold enough to freeze skin.

One of the nation’s harshest landscapes, it turns out, is becoming fertile ground for green power.

As interest in cleaning up power generation grows around the country, Alaska is fast becoming a testing ground for new technologies and an unlikely experiment in oil-state support for renewable energy. Alaskans once cast a wary eye on anything smacking of environmentalism, but today they are investing heavily in green power, not so much to reduce emissions as to save cash.

In remote villages like this one, where diesel to power generators is shipped by barge and can cost more than $5 a gallon in bulk, electricity from renewable sources like wind is already competitive with power made from fossil fuels. In urban areas along the state’s limited road system, large wind and hydroelectric projects are also becoming attractive.

Read more

Engineers Create Intelligent Molecules That Seek And Destroy Diseased Cells

White Blood Cells (Photo from Franklin Institute)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Feb. 18, 2009) — Current treatments for diseases like cancer typically destroy nasty malignant cells, while also hammering the healthy ones. Using new advances in synthetic biology, researchers are designing molecules intelligent enough to recognize diseased cells, leaving the healthy cells alone.

"We basically design molecules that actually go into the cell and do an analysis of the cellular state before delivering the therapeutic punch," said Christina Smolke, assistant professor of bioengineering who joined Stanford University in January.

Read more ....

Idea Of Infinity Stretched Back To Third Century B.C.

From Live Science:

CHICAGO - The first mathematical use of the concept of actual infinity has been pushed back some 2,000 years via a new analysis of a tattered page of parchment on which a medieval monk in Constantinople copied the third century B.C. work of the Greek mathematician Archimedes.

Infinity is one of the most fundamental questions in mathematics and still remains an unsolved riddle. For instance, if you add or subtract a number from infinity, the remaining value is still infinity, some Indian philosophers said. Mathematicians today refer to actual infinity as an uncountable set of numbers such as the number of points existing on a line at the same time, while a potential infinity is an endless sequence that unfolds consecutively over time.

Read more ....

AIDS Top Killer Disease In China Last Year: Govt

From Reuters:

BEIJING (Reuters) - The AIDS virus became the top deadly infectious disease in China last year for the first time, killing 6,897 people in the first nine months of 2008, the official news agency Xinhua said on Tuesday.

The number of people infected with the HIV/AIDS virus doubled during that period, Xinhua said, citing a report posted on the Ministry of Health website.

Xinhua said there were a total of 264,302 HIV/AIDS cases by the end of September last year and 34,864 people have died of the disease so far.

United Nations figures estimate that 700,000 people in China were HIV positive by the end of 2007.

Read more ....

Dolphin Stays For Three Days With Mate Wounded In Shark Attack - Before Escorting It To Humans For Help

Chunks of Nari's neck were literally bitten off as his flesh was torn right down to the muscle by the shark in these horrific injuries

From The Daily Mail:

A dolphin badly injured in a shark attack has been escorted by a mate into the care of human hands.

Nari sustained a hideous wound across his head and back, and when he went missing, wildlife experts feared he had died.

The 12-year-old dolphin failed to turn up for his ritual feeding off the coast of Queensland - but so did his older companion Echo.

But after three days the pair turned up with the rest of the group.

Mr Trevor Long, a dolphin expert from Sea World on the Gold Coast, said: 'We didn't see Nari again until the third day, when he turned up with Echo at his side.

Read more ....

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Strange Green Comet Passing by Earth Next Week

Feb. 1: Comet Lulin as photographed by amateur astronomer Jack Newton in Arizona.
Jack Newton/NASA

From FOX News:

WASHINGTON — An odd, greenish backward-flying comet is zipping by Earth this month, as it takes its only trip toward the sun from the farthest edges of the solar system.

The comet is called Lulin, and there's a chance it can be seen with the naked eye — far from city lights, astronomers say. But you'll most likely need a telescope, or at least binoculars, to spot it.

The best opportunity is just before dawn one-third of the way up the southern sky. It should be near Saturn and two bright stars, Spica and Regula.

On Monday at 10:43 p.m. EST, it will be 38 million miles from Earth, the closest it will ever get, according to Donald Yeomans, manager of NASA's Near Earth Object program.

Read more ....

Deadly Bacteria Defy Drugs, Alarming Doctors

A new category of bugs becomes more resistant to treatment, and their toll -- which already includes a Brazilian beauty queen -- is expected to rise.

From the L.A. Times:

When Ruth Burns had surgery to relieve a pinched nerve in her back, the operation was supposed to be an "in-and-out thing," recalled her daughter, Kacia Warren.

But Burns developed pneumonia and was put on a ventilator. Five days later, she was discharged -- only to be rushed by her daughter to the hospital hours later, disoriented and in alarming pain.

Seventeen days after the surgery, the 67-year-old nurse was dead.

Burns had developed meningitis -- an infection of the fluid that surrounds the spinal cord and brain. The culprit wasAcinetobacter baumannii, a bug that preys on the weak in hospitals. Worse, it was a multi-drug-resistant strain.

Read more ....

Prosecution Drops Some Charges Against the Pirate Bay

From The Danger Room:

STOCKHOLM — Prosecutors dropped half of the charges in the landmark trial of The Pirate Bay file sharing site Tuesday, leaving observers stunned and prompting questions about the government's preparedness in the long-awaited criminal proceeding.

"I will drop all charges that relate to producing infringing copies and will hence restrict the prosecution to the act of making works available to the public," prosecutor Hakan Roswall announced at the opening of the second day of the trial. "When I talk about making something available to the public I mean making available torrent files."

At an intermission, Roswall refused to clarify the change of heart to reporters. "As you can see I have a lot of other things to think about," he said. "There will be new adjusted charges distributed on paper tomorrow, Wednesday."

Read more ....

Race For 'God Particle' Heats Up

Lyn Evans says the magnet incident was a real setback for Cern

From The BBC:

Europe's particle physics lab, Cern, is losing ground rapidly in the race to discover the elusive Higgs boson, or "God particle", its US rival claims.

The particle, whose existence has been predicted by theoreticians, would help to explain why matter has mass.

Finding the Higgs is a major goal of Cern's Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

But the US Fermilab says the odds of its Tevatron accelerator detecting the famed particle first are now 50-50 at worst, and up to 96% at best.

Both machines hope to see evidence of the Higgs by colliding sub-atomic matter at very high speeds. If it exists, the Higgs should emerge from the debris.

Read more ....

Hansen On “Death Trains” And Coal And CO2

From Watts Up With That?

NASA’s Dr. James Hansen once again goes over the top. See his most recent article in the UK Guardian. Some excerpts:

“The trains carrying coal to power plants are death trains. Coal-fired power plants are factories of death.”

And this:

Clearly, if we burn all fossil fuels, we will destroy the planet we know. Carbon dioxide would increase to 500 ppm or more.

Only one problem there Jimbo, CO2 has been a lot higher in the past. Like 10 times higher.

Read more ....

IBM Files Patent for Bullet Dodging Bionic Body Armor

From Tech Fragments:

IBM has filed a patent (US 7484451) for Bionic Body Armor, that could essentially allow us to dodge bullets like Neo in The Matrix. The armor would scan areas for incoming projectiles and when one is detected the system would deliver a shock to the muscles causing a swift reflexive action away from the projectile. Here's what the patent describes the body armor as:

Read more ....

My Comment: Body armor of the future .... now.

How Astronomers Search for Ice Age Aliens

Some astrobiologists think plants on other worlds could have
purple, not green, chlorophyll. FNC/NASA

From FOX News/Space:

Could an alien astronomer have detected life on Earth during an ice age?

Recent work has calculated how past climate extremes affected the light reflected from vegetation out into space. The results could give hope to our own search for life on distant worlds.

From far away, our planet is a single faint speck of light in the sky. Although we have sent radio messages out to potential extraterrestrial listeners, none of these signals have traveled more than a few tens of light years.

Read more ....

Stem Cells In Hair Follicles Point To General Model Of Organ Regeneration

Deep roots. For a hair follicle to begin a new phase of growth, an elusive group of cells called the hair germ (bright red) must be activated. This progression of images shows that the hair germ begins proliferating (green) before other cells do, suggesting a two-step mechanism. (Credit: Image courtesy of Rockefeller University)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Feb. 16, 2009) — Most people consider hair as a purely cosmetic part of their lives. To others, it may help uncover one of nature’s best-kept secrets: the body’s ability to regenerate organs. Now, new research from Rockefeller University gets to the root of the problem, revealing that a structure at the base of each strand of hair, the hair follicle, uses a two-step mechanism to activate its stem cells and order them to divide.

The mechanism provides insights into how repositories of stem cells may be organized in other body tissues for the purpose of supporting organ regeneration.

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Blacksmithing 101: How To Make A Forge And Start Hammering Metal

PM editors Roy Berendsohn (left) and Mike Allen (right) have framed houses and built race cars—but forge steel in the garage? That was something new.

From Popular Mechanics:

PM's home and auto editors took a weekend out to teach themselves how to heat and hammer metal the old-fashioned way. They started by ordering an anvil and making their own blacksmith forge. The sparks flew from there. Click here to download an updated version of the forge plans published in Popular Mechanics in 1941.

If you want to work with metal, there’s one thing you have to confront: You need heat. With it, you can make the toughest metal submit to your will. Without it, you’ll never gain full mastery over this stubborn material.

Over the years, I have been frustrated by my inability to work hot steel. I’ve bolted metal together, welded it and soldered it. But I couldn’t shape it, and so large swaths of the mechanical realm were off-limits to me.

But blacksmithing never felt alien. My father is a metallurgist, descended from generations of 19th-century blacksmiths and born in Germany to shipbuilders whose forges scattered sparks over the shores of the Elbe River and the North Sea. I grew up in rural Connecticut among Yankee mechanics who could forge anything, machine anything, build anything, fix anything—and I’ve been trying to live up to those old-timers’ standards all my life. It wasn’t hard to finally decide to take another step, and teach myself some blacksmithing skills.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Women Less Tolerant Of Each Other Than Men Are, Study Finds

From Telegraph:

Women are less tolerant of each other than men are, according to a new study which may explain why some women prefer to have a male boss.

The research, published in the US journal Psychological Science, found that women formed a negative view of their peers much quicker than men did.

The team from Emmanuel College in Boston asked male and female college students to rate their room-mates under different scenarios.

When asked to judge how they would rate their room-mates if they carried out a single fictional act of negative behaviour, after they had been otherwise completely trustworthy, women were far more likely to be critical of them.

Men, on the other hand, were much more tolerant.

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Empathy Partly Based On Genes, Mouse Study Shows

New research demonstrates that a highly social strain of mice can learn to associate a sound played in a specific cage with something negative simply by hearing a mouse in that cage respond with squeaks of distress. (Credit: iStockphoto/Brandon Laufenberg)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Feb. 16, 2009) — The ability to empathize with others is partially determined by genes, according to new research on mice from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU).

In the study, a highly social strain of mice learned to associate a sound played in a specific cage with something negative simply by hearing a mouse in that cage respond with squeaks of distress. A genetically different mouse strain with fewer social tendencies did not learn any connection between the cues and the other mouse's distress, showing that the ability to identify and act on another's emotions may have a genetic basis.

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Infectious Superbug Invades Beaches

From Live Science:

CHICAGO — Add the MRSA "superbug" to the list of concerns you bring to the beach nowadays, a research doctor said today.

It's still safe to go in the water, especially if you shower thoroughly before and after swimming, but antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a strain of bacteria that can cause staph infections that are difficult to treat with traditional anti-infection drugs such as methicillin, can be caught when you take a dip in ocean water, said Dr. Lisa Plano of the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine.

MRSA stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or multiple-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. It has become a deadly and growing problem in hospitals in recent years.

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Last Week's Satellite Collision Is Now Called A "Catastrophic Event"

Image: This image provided by the European Space Agency shows and artist impression of catalogued objects in low-Earth orbit viewed over the Equator. Scientists are keeping a close eye on orbital debris created when two communications satellites _ one American, the other Russian _ smashed into each other hundreds of miles above Siberia Feb. 10, 2009. (AP Photo/ESA)

"Catastrophic" Space Crash Spews Debris -- CBS News

Space Junk Generated From Satellite Collision Could Threaten Other Satellites For 10,000 Years, Experts Say

(CBS/AP) The crash of two satellites has generated an estimated tens of thousands of pieces of space junk that could circle Earth and threaten other satellites for the next 10,000 years, space experts said Friday.

One called the collision "a catastrophic event" that he hoped would force the new U.S. administration to address the issue of debris in space.

Russian Mission Control chief Vladimir Solovyov said Tuesday's smashup of a derelict Russian military satellite and a working U.S. Iridium commercial satellite occurred in the busiest part of near-Earth space - some 500 miles (800 kilometers) above Earth.

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Our Eyes Constantly Flicker To Stop Us Going Blind, Experts Discover

Scientists believe flickering eye movements 'refresh' images on the retina

From The Daily Mail:

Unconscious flickering eye movements once thought to be random 'motor noise' may in fact be necessary to stop us going blind, a study has shown.

The imperceptible jumps and jiggles known as 'microsaccades' mean that a really steady stare is impossible.

Even when trying to fix a gaze on a stationary target, the eyes are always moving.

Experts have long dismissed these movements as the accidental result of spurious nerve signals. But new research shows they are actively controlled by the same brain region used to scan newspaper columns or track a moving object.

Scientists now think microsaccades provide a vital function by 'refreshing' images on the retina which would otherwise fade away.

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World's Greatest Hacker Says Obama's BlackBerry Can Be Breached

Jan. 29: President Obama checks his BlackBerry as he walks along the West Wing Colonnade towards the Oval Office at the White House in Washington. Photo AP

From FOX News:

There's a new "holy grail" for hackers — President Obama's super-secure BlackBerry.

Despite warnings from his advisers, the president insisted on keeping his beloved PDA, which now has specially designed superencrypting security software.

But that just makes cracking into it more challenging — and, yes, it can be done, says the world's most famous hacker.

"It's a long shot, but it's possible," Kevin Mitnick told "You'd probably need to be pretty sophisticated, but there's people out there who are."

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Biotechnology's Potential Barely Exploited: Scientists

This picture released by the Seoul research institute Maria BioTech shows human embryonic stem cells. New research tools will bring a boom in biotechnology that will unlock the enormous potential of using synthetic life to cure disease and develop environmentally friendly fuels, scientists say. (AFP/HO/File)

From Yahoo News/AFP:

CHICAGO (AFP) – New research tools will bring a boom in biotechnology that will unlock the enormous potential of using synthetic life to cure disease and develop environmentally friendly fuels, scientists say.

"If you look at all the things biology can do with technology, we have not yet scratched the surface," said Drew Endy, assistant professor of bioengineering at Stanford University.

The past 35 years of biotech development have introduced a number of "tremendous applications," particularly in the area of bioengineered drugs, Endy said at the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science here.

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Doomed: Why Wikipedia Will Fail

From Ars Technica:

A cyberlaw professor argues that Wikipedia is doomed. The online encyclopedia will need to choose between being "high quality" and "open," but both choices are fraught with risk.

Law professor Eric Goldman loves Wikipedia, but he's also convinced that the site contains the "seeds of its own destruction." In other words, not to put too fine a point upon it, Wikipedia will fail.

Goldman made his provocative point at the Silicon Flatirons conference this weekend in Boulder, Colorado, standing at a heavy wooden podium in a multiuse room that had been donated to the University of Colorado by a graduating class back in the 1960s. Those students could not have foreseen Wikipedia at the time, but by 2008, everyone gathered in that room—from corporate vice presidents to think tank bosses to academics—had made use of the collaborative online encyclopedia.

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Secret of Successful Kissing

Droolly Smooches! : RebeccaJBuckley (CC Licensed)

From PopSci:

It's in the drool, fool.

Can drooling make you a better kisser? Scientific evidence suggests that wet, sloppy smooches pack a bigger biochemical punch than dry kisses and thus may be more likely to lead to sex and reproduction, says Rutgers University researcher Helen Fischer, who spoke today at the AAAS conference in Chicago.

Men are particularly prone to sloppy kissing, she notes, possibly because males tend to have a poor sense of smell and taste and aggressive face sucking may be an unconscious effort to gauge a partner's estrogen levels and fertility cycle. It may also be an unwitting effort to transmit testosterone, which can be found in saliva and can increase sexual attraction. Alternatively, it may also be just plain gross. (That would be my unscientific conclusion.)

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Galaxy Has 'Billions Of Earths'

From The BBC:

There could be one hundred billion Earth-like planets in our galaxy, a US conference has heard.

Dr Alan Boss of the Carnegie Institution of Science said many of these worlds could be inhabited by simple lifeforms.

He was speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago.

So far, telescopes have been able to detect just over 300 planets outside our Solar System.

Very few of these would be capable of supporting life, however. Most are gas giants like our Jupiter; and many orbit so close to their parent stars that any microbes would have to survive roasting temperatures.

But, based on the limited numbers of planets found so far, Dr Boss has estimated that each Sun-like star has on average one "Earth-like" planet.

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Scientists Map the 10 Billion Neurons of Human Cerebral Cortex & Find A Central Switchboard

Image from The Daily Galaxy

From The Daily Galaxy:

The study of the human brain is one of the most fascinating, and incredibly meta, subjects in existence. The almost Escherian experiments of one brain studying another brain (which is thinking about being studied by the first) have up to now been held back by one thing: the brain's owner is kind of using it so you can't poke too hard. Now a new scanning technique has allowed scientists to probe deeper than ever into the secrets of the mind.

Read more ....