Saturday, May 23, 2009

Race Fans Are Riskier Drivers

Kyle Petty (#42) and Dale Jarrett (#18) lead the pack as the 1993 Daytona 500, NASCAR's flagship event, gets underway. (Photo from How Stuff Works)

From Live Science:

After you finish watching the Indy 500 this Sunday, you may want to have your designated driver take you home. Not only should he be sober, but he also should have no interest in motor sports.

According to Australian researchers, being a race fan makes you more likely to not only speed in your own car but also to see little wrong with it.

Several factors have been found to influence a driver's attitude towards speeding and aggressive driving, including age, gender and what psychologists call "sensation seeking propensity." This thrill-seeking behavior may also be a result of a driver's environment.

Read more ....

Bolden Is Tapped to Run NASA

Photo: Former astronaut Charles Bolden Jr., shown at Beihang University in 2005, would be the first African-American to run NASA. His past ties to two big contractors for the agency have sparked opposition to the pick. SIPA/Newscom

From The Wall Street Journal:

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama picked former astronaut and retired Marine Corps Gen. Charles Bolden Jr. to head the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, but controversy over his background and NASA's future direction could complicate his job.

Gen. Bolden's nomination caps months of political maneuvering, which has left some major agency decisions in limbo. It also has become a flash point for a broad debate over how NASA should conduct future human space-exploration programs.

Gen. Bolden was a NASA official in the early 1990s and more recently worked for two major NASA contractors. His critics contend he's too closely tied to existing NASA programs.

Read more ....

Boys Have Sweeter Tooth Than Girls

Children's love of sweetness starts to wane as they hit their teens Photo: John Kernick

From The Telegraph:

Girls have a finer sense of taste than boys - but boys have a sweeter tooth, a new food study has found.

On average boys need 10 per cent more sourness and 20 per cent more sweetness in their grub to recognise how tasty it is.

However, boys prefer wild and extreme tastes compared to the muted flavours favoured by girls, the figures revealed.

Read more ....

No More Shuttles, No In-Space Fixes

Astronauts Michael Good, left, and Mike Massimino participate in the mission's fourth spacewalk to repair the Hubble Space Telescope May 17, 2009 in Space. The space shuttle Atlantis' mission is to overhaul the Hubble Space Telescope in order to extend its working life. NASA via Getty Pictures


NASA's future spacecraft won't have built-in ability to repair work

When the space shuttle Atlantis lands — planned for Saturday — it will cap off a mission to Hubble and mark the end of the servicing era.

The astronauts' fifth overhaul of the Hubble Space Telescope was the last planned mission to repair the telescope, or any satellite for that matter. And if NASA retires the space shuttle fleet in 2010 as planned, the agency will lose the ability to visit orbiting spacecraft and repair them in space.

"This is the last scheduled servicing mission of Hubble with the space shuttle, and what I think it's demonstrated is the extreme utility of having people working in space and accomplishing things that are different than what was expected," said astronaut John Grunsfeld, who has helped fix Hubble on three different missions, from space Wednesday.

Read more ....

Body Burners: The Forensics Of Fire

From New Scientist:

THE fire started with a match held under a cotton blanket close to the man's waist. Within 2 minutes, the flames had spread across the single bed he was lying on and were consuming his cotton sweatshirt and trousers.

Around a dozen onlookers were at the scene - including police, fire investigators and death investigators - yet all they did was watch. That was, after all, their job. The "victim" had in fact died some time ago, having previously donated his remains to medical research.

His body had reached a unique team led by Elayne Pope, a forensic scientist at the University of West Florida in Pensacola. Her group spends its time setting fire to corpses in a range of different circumstances, to work out exactly how the human body burns. They seem to be the only group carrying out such systematic studies in this area, and are certainly the only ones publishing their work.

Read more ....

Queuing Up For Dinner: Dolphins Enjoy Sardine Feeding Frenzy

Working as a team common dolphins head towards a bait ball in Port St. Johns, South Africa.

From The Daily Mail:

Like workers in a canteen the dolphins line up patiently as they look forward to a rather large and tasty lunch.

The aquatic mammals head to the South African coastline each year for the Sardine Run - an underwater migration where millions of fish head eastwards from their cool spawning waters near Cape Town in search of zooplankton.

The dolphins, alongside sword fish and sharks ambush them from below, while gannets and gulls hover above the waves waiting for their chance to pick up a morsel from above.

It is one of nature's greatest phenomena which takes place in June each year. Underwater photographer Alexander Safonov is looking forward to experiencing the awesome sight again after he captured it on camera in 2008.

Read more ....

The Impact of Computing : 78% More per Year, v2.0

(Click to Enlarge)

From The Futurist:

Anyone who follows technology is familar with Moore's Law and its many variations, and has come to expect the price of computing power to halve every 18 months. But many people don't see the true long-term impact of this beyond the need to upgrade their computer every three or four years. To not internalize this more deeply is to miss investment opportunities, grossly mispredict the future, and be utterly unprepared for massive, sweeping changes to human society. Hence, it is time to update the first version of this all-important article that was written on February 21, 2006.

Read more ....

Blue Whales Returning To Former Waters Off Alaska

This undated photo provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows blue whales in the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary in California. Scientists say the whales that use to cruise the Pacific Ocean from California to Alaska until commercial whalers nearly wiped out, could be re-establishing an old migration route from California to Alaska. Photo AP

From USA Today:

ANCHORAGE — Blue whales are returning to Alaska in search of food and could be re-establishing an old migration route several decades after they were nearly wiped out by commercial whalers, scientists say.

The endangered whales, possibly the largest animals ever to live on Earth, have yet to recover from the worldwide slaughter that eliminated 99% of their number, according to the American Cetacean Society. The hunting peaked in 1931 with more than 29,000 animals killed in one season.

The animals used to cruise from Mexico and Southern California to Alaska, but they had mostly vanished from Alaskan waters.

Read more ....

Friday, May 22, 2009

World's Observatories Watching 'Cool' Star

Photographed by the Hubble Telescope, the bright star inside this nebula (gas cloud) is a very young white dwarf. (Credit: Courtesy of Space Telescope Institute/NASA and the Hubble Heritage Team)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (May 20, 2009) — The Whole Earth Telescope (WET), a worldwide network of observatories coordinated by the University of Delaware, is synchronizing its lenses to provide round-the-clock coverage of a cooling star. As the star dims in the twilight of its life, scientists hope it will shed light on the workings of our own planet and other mysteries of the galaxy.

The dying star, a white dwarf identified as WDJ1524-0030, located in the constellation Ophiuchus in the southern sky, is losing its brightness as it cools, its nuclear fuel spent. It will be monitored continuously from May 15 to June 11 by WET, a global partnership of telescopes which was formed in 1986.

Read more ....

Innards of H1N1 Virus Resemble 'Flu Sausage'

From Live Science:

On March 28, one month before news of the swine flu outbreak headlined worldwide, a nine-year-old girl in Imperial County, California, ran a fever of 104.3°F. She had not rolled up her sleeve for this year’s flu vaccine, but that day she opened her mouth and stuck out her tongue for a cotton swab that scooped up mucous samples from her throat. Her mucus arrived at the Naval Health Research Center in San Diego where technicians tested it and classified the virus in it as “unsubtypable” influenza A – it was something new.

She recovered.

Read more ....

Cold And Wet: The Latest Theory About Mars

Rhythmic bedding in sedimentary bedrock within Becquerel crater on Mars is suggested by the patterns in this image from Nasa's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter released last December. Reuters

From The Independent:

Mars may have once been both cold and wet, researchers said today, suggesting a freezing Martian landscape could still have produced water needed to sustain life.

There has been debate over the issue because with some researchers believing water likely formed many features of the planet's landscape and others pointing to evidence indicating that early Mars was cold with temperatures well below the freezing point of water.

Using a computer model, Alberto Fairen of Universidad Autonoma in Madrid and colleagues showed that both could have been possible because fluids containing dissolved minerals would have remained liquid at temperatures well below 273 degrees Kelvin - the freezing point of pure water.

Read more ....

The New Generation DVD That Can Hold All Of Your Movies On Just One Disc

Different dimensions: Scientists are creating a DVD disc that can hold thousands of hours of film - but it could take up to 10 years before it goes on sale

From The Daily Mail:

A DVD that can store up to 2,000 films could usher in an age of three-dimensional TV and ultra-high definition viewing, scientists say.

The ultra-DVD is the same size and thickness as a conventional disc, but uses nano-technology to store vast amounts of information.

Scientists believe it could be on sale in five years and say it will revolutionise the way we store films, music and data.

Read more ....

Who Is Responsible For Averting An Asteroid Strike?

This NASA slide depicts the catastrophic collision of a massive comet or asteroid with earth 250 million years ago, which appears to be the reason 90 percent of all marine species and 70 percent of all land vertebrates abruptly died out. (NASA/Newscom/File)

From Christian Science Monitor:

Column: It's time to set aside political quibbles and form an international plan.

Asteroid hunters have good news – and a challenge – for the rest of us.After an extensive search for asteroids a kilometer or more across, engineer Steve Chesley says that “we can now say with confidence that no asteroids large enough to cause such a global calamity [as killing off the dinosaurs] are headed our way.”

But if one of them – or even a smaller, city-destroying rock – were detected on a collision course, would the world community be prepared to handle it? A conference of legal experts that discussed this question at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln last month answered it with a resounding “No.”

Read more ....

How Old School Effects Brought Schwarzenegger's T-800 Back From 1983

From Popular Mechanics:

How the new Terminator Salvation movie used 25-year old props to recreate the T-800. Warning, spoilers ahead.

When Arnold Schwarzenegger's face appears onscreen in Terminator Salvation, it's precisely as it should be: wide, menacing and trapped in 1983. If the first three Terminator films were a flipbook portrait of an action star entering middle age, the fourth installment resets the iconic actor's cinematic clock with a climactic fight scene that blends the latest digital effects with a prosthetic prop that's been shelved for a quarter-century. The result is the resurrection of the killer robot that launched a franchise—and a feat of time travel that's worth the price of admission.

Read more ....

New 'Broadband' Cloaking Technology Simple To Manufacture

This image shows the design of a new type of invisibility cloak that is simpler than previous designs and works for all colors of the visible spectrum, making it possible to cloak larger objects than before and possibly leading to practical applications in "transformation optics." (Credit: Purdue University)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (May 21, 2009) — Researchers have created a new type of invisibility cloak that is simpler than previous designs and works for all colors of the visible spectrum, making it possible to cloak larger objects than before and possibly leading to practical applications in "transformation optics."

Whereas previous cloaking designs have used exotic "metamaterials," which require complex nanofabrication, the new design is a far simpler device based on a "tapered optical waveguide," said Vladimir Shalaev, Purdue University's Robert and Anne Burnett Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Read more ....

Sports Drinks Trumped By Cereal and Milk

From Live Science:

Wheaties may very well be the breakfast of champions, according to a new study that finds that eating an unassuming bowl of any whole-grain cereal with milk is superior to chugging a designer sports drink after a workout to replenish muscle fuel and protein.

The study, published last week in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, demonstrates how sports drinks are largely unnecessary for recreational athletes.

Don't expect milk and cereal to replace sports drinks anytime soon, though. Mass marketing of these sweet sweat drinks ensures they will remain the beverage of choice for the Ironman wannabe in all of us.

Read more

Thursday, May 21, 2009

NOAA Sees Average 2009 Atlantic Hurricane Season

From Yahoo News/Reuters:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The 2009 Atlantic hurricane season will be fairly average with as many as seven hurricanes expected to form, U.S. government forecasters predicted on Thursday.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast nine to 14 named storms this season, with four to seven developing into hurricanes. One to three could be major ones of Category 3 or higher with winds above 110 miles per hour (177 km per hour), the agency said in its annual forecast.

Last year was one of the most active seasons on record, with 16 tropical storms and eight hurricanes.

Read more ....

In Chile, The Birds Are Dying, And No One Knows Why

Photo: Millions of dead sardines washed up on a beach in southern Chile. The cause of their death is under investigation. PATRICIO OLIVARES/FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

From The Miami Herald:

A series of environmental disasters in Chile have puzzled scientists. Some are blaming global warming.

SANTIAGO, Chile -- Chilean scientists are investigating three mysterious ecological disasters that have caused the deaths of hundreds of penguins, millions of sardines and about 2,000 baby flamingos in the past few months.

The events started to unfold in March, when the remains of about 1,200 penguins were found on a remote beach in southern Chile. Then came the sardines -- tons of them -- dead and washed up on a nearby stretch of coastline. The stench forced nearby schools to close, and the army was called in to shovel piles of rotting fish off the sand.

Read more

Why Reliance On Sniffer Dog Evidence May Throw Us Off The Scent In Trials

From The Guardian:

The role of sniffer dogs in the treatment of Kate and Gerry McCann as suspects in their daughter's disappearance drew sharp criticism. Research casts doubt on sniffer dogs' reliability and how much weight should be attributed to their evidence

Almost a decade ago, a man was convicted and imprisoned solely on the basis of sniffer dog evidence, but could it have been a miscarriage of justice?

On the night on 11 January 1999, the occupier of a house in Stoney Barton, Westleigh, Devon, discovered an intruder in his house and telephoned the police.

A police dog handler who attended the scene later gave evidence in court stating that the animal had gone straight from the house and stopped beside a car parked half a mile away.

Read more ....

Massive Asteroid Bombardment May Have Helped Life To THRIVE On Earth

Asteroids bombarded Earth 3.9billion years ago but may not have wiped out all life. In fact some bacteria may have thrived

From The Daily Mail:

A heavy bombardment by asteroids the size of Ireland actually helped life to THRIVE on Earth 3.9billion years ago, scientists have suggested.

Many experts had thought the violent pelting by massive asteroids during the period known as the Late Heavy Bombardment would have melted the Earth's crust and vaporized any life on the planet.

But new three-dimensional computer models developed by a team at the University of Colorado at Boulder shows much of Earth's crust, and the microbes living on it, could have survived and may have even flourished in the harsh conditions.

Read more ....

A Look Inside NASA's Custom Hubble Repair Toolkit

Hubble Drill: A high-speed, low-torque drill for removing Hubble's many screws during spacewalks. Michael Soluri/NPR


Fixing the most advanced telescope in space requires more than a trip to Home Depot

Earlier today, astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis released the Hubble Space Telescope back into orbit after a successful mission to repair and upgrade NASA's famous orbiting observatory.

The mission was intensive, especially considering almost all of the repairs that were performed during a series of TK spacewalks were on parts that were never intended to be serviced by astronauts in space. Equally intense (and beautiful) are the 180 tools NASA employed for the job--with 116 of them created specifically for this mission.

Read more ....

Europe's HIV Followed Holiday Routes

This map depicts the spread of HIV in Europe
(Image: Dimitrios Paraskevis et al., Retrovirology, 2009)

From New Scientist:

HIV's European tour may have begun in the Mediterranean. A new genetic map plotted from viruses in hundreds of people suggests that many European strains of HIV trace their ancestry to Greece, Portugal, Serbia and Spain.

Sun-seeking tourists from northern and central Europe might account for the pattern, the study's authors say.

The vast majority of the study's participants said they acquired their infections in their home country, so the patterns could be a vestige of HIV's emergence and early spread through Europe in the early 1980s, probably after arriving from the US.

Read more ....

New Way Of Treating The Flu

Dr. Robert Linhardt's new compound (green spheres) blocks both the N (pink spikes) and H (blue spikes) portion of the flu virus. The compound prevents the infection of the cell and the spread of the flu to other cell like no other compound before. (Credit: Melissa Kemp/Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (May 20, 2009) — What happens if the next big influenza mutation proves resistant to the available anti-viral drugs? This question is presenting itself right now to scientists and health officials this week at the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, as they continue to do battle with H1N1, the so-called swine flu, and prepare for the next iteration of the ever-changing flu virus.

Promising new research announced by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute could provide an entirely new tool to combat the flu. The discovery is a one-two punch against the illness that targets the illness on two fronts, going one critical step further than any currently available flu drug.

Read more ....

Why 'Terminator' Is So Creepy

The movie "Terminator Salvation" tells of the human resistance struggling to defeat Skynet and its robot army. Credit: Warner Bros.

From Live Science:

Hollywood and robotics researchers have long struggled with the "uncanny valley," where a movie character or robot falls into the unsettling gap between human and not-quite-human. One psychologist likes to demonstrate this by holding up a plastic baby doll and asking audiences if they think it's alive. They say no.

Then she takes out a saw and starts cutting the doll's head off, but quickly stops upon seeing the uncomfortable audience reactions.

"I think that part of their brain is thinking the doll is alive, and you can't shut that off," said Thalia Wheatley, a psychologist at Dartmouth College.

Similar sensations abound in the movie "Terminator Salvation," which tells the story of the artificial intelligence Skynet and its army of robots threatening to wipe out humanity in 2018. The uncanny twist comes when Skynet begins disturbing experiments that combine human flesh with robotic strength.

Scientists have begun to understand what happens in the human brain when it encounters the uncanny valley. And like the post-apocalyptic future of "Terminator," it's not pretty — a murky landscape where conflict rages upon confronting a challenge to our human identity.

Read more ....

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Hubble's Troubles Surprised Shuttle Crew

This NASA image shows the Hubble Space Telescope following grapple of the giant observatory by the shuttle's Canadian-built remote manipulator system on May 13. US astronauts aboard the shuttle Atlantis bid the Hubble telescope a wistful farewell Tuesday, ending a grueling revamp to equip the aging stargazer to explore the cosmos for years to come. (AFP/NASA/File)

From Yahoo News/Reuters:

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) – Years of training didn't prepare the shuttle Atlantis astronauts for the problems encountered during NASA's final servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope, the crew said on Wednesday.

With the refurbished telescope back in orbit, the seven shuttle astronauts took some time off and began preparing for Friday's homecoming at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

"It's amazing looking back at how hard things looked a couple of times -- more difficult than I ever expected -- and then to overcome and wind up with everything done in the way that it was. We were very successful," Atlantis commander Scott Altman told reporters during an in-flight news conference on Wednesday.

Read more ....

Unlikely Suns Reveal Improbable Planets

Brown Dwarf is a star so small—some are hardly more massive than a large planet—that it never lit up. Astronomers scarcely even bothered to look for planets around such runts. Yet they have now seen hints of mini solar systems forming around brown dwarfs and similarly unlikely objects. Ron Miller

From Scientific American:

Among the most poignant sights in the heavens are white dwarfs. Although they have a mass comparable to our sun’s, they are among the dimmest of all stars and becoming ever dimmer; they do not follow the usual pattern relating stellar mass to brightness. Astronomers think white dwarfs must not be stars so much as the corpses of stars. Each white dwarf was once much like our sun and shone with the same brilliance. But then it began to run out of fuel and entered its stormy death throes, swelling to 100 times its previous size and brightening 10,000-fold, before shedding its outer layers and shriveling to a glowing cinder the size of Earth. For the rest of eternity, it will sit inertly, slowly fading to blackness.

Read more ....

This Is A WOMAN'S World: Men Face Mass Extinction Because Male Genes Are Dying Out

The future? How an all female society may look like if scientists
predictions that men will die out are correct

From The Daily Mail:

Men are on the road to extinction as their genes shrink and slowly fade away, a genetic expert warned today.

The researcher in human sex chromosomes said the male Y chromosome was dying and could one day run out.

However readers shouldn't worry just yet - the change is not due to take place for another five million years.

Professor Jennifer Graves revealed the bleak future to medical students at a public lecture at the Royal College of Surgeons (RCSI) in Ireland.

But all is not lost. She said men may follow the path of a type of rodent which still manages to reproduce despite not having the vital genes that make up the Y chromosome.

'You need a Y chromosome to be male,' said Prof Graves.

Read more ....

Stone Age Superglue Found -- Hints at Unknown Smarts?

Ancient people in what is now South Africa whipped up a glue of powdered red ochre and acacia-tree gum to keep their tools (above, a replicated tool with adhesive made by scientists) intact, a May 2009 study says. The ancient people's understanding of chemistry may have required more smarts than we give our ancestors credit for, researchers added. Photograph courtesy Lyn Wadley

From The National Geographic:

Stone Age humans were adept chemists who whipped up a sophisticated kind of natural glue, a new study says.

They knowingly tweaked the chemical and physical properties of an iron-containing pigment known as red ochre with the gum of acacia trees to create adhesives for their shafted tools.

Archaeologists had believed the blood-red pigment—used by people in what is now South Africa about 70,000 years ago—served a decorative or symbolic purpose.

But the scientists had also suspected that the pigment may have been purposely added to improve glue that held the peoples' tools together.

Read more ....

Preparing To Peer Into A Black Hole

The Sagittarius A* supermassive black hole, as seen by the Chandra X-ray Observatory. Nobody has yet seen the black hole directly (Image: NASA)

From New Scientist:

LIKE a giant pale blue eye, the Earth stares at the centre of our galaxy. Through the glare and the fog it is trying to catch a glimpse of an indistinct something 30,000 light years away. Over there, within the sparkling starscape of the galaxy's core... no, not those giant suns or those colliding gas clouds; not the gamma-ray glow of annihilating antimatter. No, right there in the very centre, inside that swirling nebula of doomed matter, could that be just a hint of a shadow?

The shadow we're straining to see is that of a monstrous black hole, a place where gravity rules supreme, swallowing light and stretching the fabric of space to breaking point. Black holes are perhaps the most outrageous prediction of science, and even though we can paint fine theoretical pictures of them and point to evidence for many objects that seem to be black hole-ish, nobody has ever actually seen one.

Read more ....

EarthTalk: The Risks of Nanotech

Are There Nanoparticles on Your Lips?: Getty Images


The tiniest tech is growing fast, and largely unregulated.

Nanotechnology makes use of minuscule objects -- 10,000 times narrower than a human hair -- known as nanoparticles. Upwards of 600 products on store shelves today contain them, including transparent sunscreen, lipsticks, anti-aging creams, and even food products.

Global nanotechnology sales have grown substantially in recent years, according to Lux Research, author of the annual Nanotech Report. The final tally isn't in yet, but analysts have predicted 2008 sales to be $150 billion. The National Science Foundation says the industry could be worth $1 trillion by 2015, and directly employ two million workers.

Read more ....

Insight Into Evolution Of First Flowers

This flower from an avocado tree (Persea americana) shows the characteristics of ancient flowering-plant lineages. Its petals (colorful in most flowers) and sepals (usually a green outer layer) are combined into one organ. A new study led by University of Florida researchers provides insight into how the first flowering plants emerged from non-flowering plants and began evolving about 130 million years ago. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of Florida)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (May 19, 2009) — Charles Darwin described the sudden origin of flowering plants about 130 million years ago as an abominable mystery, one that scientists have yet to solve.

But a new University of Florida study, set to appear in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is helping shed light on the mystery with information about what the first flowers looked like and how they evolved from nonflowering plants.

Read more ....

From Live Science:

Real robot names such as Roomba and Asimo don't evoke as much fear as the fictional "Terminator." But consider that Roomba, the automated vacuum cleaner, is manufactured by iRobot, creator also of armed robot warriors for the U.S. military. And Asimo represents just the first wave of an incoming tsunami of robots that strive to look and act eerily human.

It goes beyond automated vacuums and mildly entertaining dance-bots. Japan and Korea plan to deploy humanoid robots to care for the elderly, while the United States already fields thousands of robot warriors on the modern battlefield. Meanwhile, plenty of people have enhanced their bodies technologically in ways that bring them closer to their robotic brethren.

Read more ....

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

GPS System 'Close To Breakdown'

From The Guardian:

Network of satellites could begin to fail as early as 2010

It has become one of the staples of modern, hi-tech life: using satellite navigation tools built into your car or mobile phone to find your way from A to B. But experts have warned that the system may be close to breakdown.

US government officials are concerned that the quality of the Global Positioning System (GPS) could begin to deteriorate as early as next year, resulting in regular blackouts and failures – or even dishing out inaccurate directions to millions of people worldwide.

Read more

Fossil Discovery Is Heralded

Image: A fossil discovery suggests humans may be descended from an animal that resembles present-day lemurs like this one. AP Photo/Karen Tam

From The Wall Street Journal:

In what could prove to be a landmark discovery, a leading paleontologist said scientists have dug up the 47 million-year-old fossil of an ancient primate whose features suggest it could be the common ancestor of all later monkeys, apes and humans.

Anthropologists have long believed that humans evolved from ancient ape-like ancestors. Some 50 million years ago, two ape-like groups walked the Earth. One is known as the tarsidae, a precursor of the tarsier, a tiny, large-eyed creature that lives in Asia. Another group is known as the adapidae, a precursor of today's lemurs in Madagascar.

Read more ....

Little Search Engines That Could

From Christian Science Monitor:

Four alternatives to Google for finding answers online.

All hail Google, the undisputed king of search. It’s hard to imagine other sites toppling the online giant – and few have the hubris to try.

Jimmy Wales, the mind behind Wikipedia, announced in late March that he was pulling the plug on Wikia Search, his attempt at a user-generated search engine. The project couldn’t attract enough users and money.

But Google isn’t perfect. While some call it simple, quick, and effective, others describe the site as incomplete, dull, and a lowest common denominator.

Here are four search alternatives to cut through the Web and find what you’re looking for.

Read more ....

Astronauts Finish Repairs On Hubble Space Telescope

In this image from NASA TV astronauts John Grunsfeld, left, and Andrew Feustel work to upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope during a spacewalk, Monday, May 18, 2009. This is the fifth and final repair mission for the 19-year-old telescope. (AP Photo/NASA TV)

From Yahoo News/AP:

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Spacewalking astronauts completed repairs to the Hubble Space Telescope on Monday, leaving it more powerful than ever and able to peer even deeper into the cosmos — almost to the brink of creation. The last humans to lay hands on Hubble outfitted the observatory with another set of fresh batteries, a new sensor for precise pointing and protective covers.

That equipment, along with other improvements made over the last five days, should allow the telescope to provide dazzling views of the universe for another five to 10 years.

"This is a very important moment in human history," Hubble senior project scientist David Leckrone said in Houston. "We will rewrite the textbooks at least one more time."

Read more ....

Nine Games Computers Are Ruining For Humanity

From New Scientist:

If we ever manage to build a working quantum computer, the first killer app might be online poker. Thanks to the counter-intuitive rules of quantum mechanics, players will be able to use mind-boggling strategies like betting and folding simultaneously (see Quantum poker: Are the chips down or not?).

Poker wouldn't be the first game to have been revolutionised by computers. Artificial intelligence researchers have taught computers to play a wide range of strategic games well enough to compete with skilful human players – and in a few cases, they've beaten them convincingly...

Read more ....

Weird New NASA Rovers Really Get Around

From Wired Science:

At some point on their five-year journey, Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity have both gotten their feet stuck in the soil, and NASA is taking notes for the design of the next generation of rovers.

In 2005, Opportunity spent five weeks spinning her wheels in a dune later dubbed “Purgatory.” Last week, Spirit sank into a sandpit scientists are calling “Troy,” and could stay there for weeks — or forever.

But rovers of the future may have an easier time of it. NASA scientists are building an army of prototypes with new and ever weirder ways to rove.

Read more ....

Future Of Personalized Cancer Treatment: New System Delivers RNA Into Cells

Photo: This is a PTD-DRBD fusion protein. (Credit: Dowdy Lab/UC San Diego)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (May 18, 2009) — In technology that promises to one day allow drug delivery to be tailored to an individual patient and a particular cancer tumor, researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, have developed an efficient system for delivering siRNA into primary cells. The work is published in the May 17 in the advance online edition of Nature Biotechnology.

"RNAi has an unbelievable potential to manage cancer and treat it," said Steven Dowdy, PhD, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and professor of cellular and molecular medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine. "While there's still a long way to go, we have successfully developed a technology that allows for siRNA drug delivery into the entire population of cells, both primary and tumor-causing, without being toxic to the cells."

Read more

Monday, May 18, 2009

Happiness Is ... Being Old, Male and Republican

Cindy McCain, wife of Republican presidential hopeful, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., looks on as he speaks at a news conference in Toledo, Ohio. Thursday. AP Photo

From Live Science:

Americans grow happier as they age, surveys find. And a new Pew Research Center survey shows the tendency is holding up as the economy tanks.

Happiness is a complex thing. Past studies have found that happiness is partly inherited, that Republicans are happier than Democrats, and that old men tend to be happier than old women.

And even before the economy got nasty, seniors were found to be generally happier than Baby Boomers. Some of that owes to the American Dream being lived by past generations, while Boomers work two jobs and watch the dream wither.

Read more ....

Brain's Organization Switches As Children Become Adults

The organizational structures in the human brain undergo a major shift during the transition from childhood to adulthood. Brain regions are represented by circles, with the outer color of the circle symbolizing where in the brain each region is physically located while the inner color represents the region's function. (Credit: Image courtesy of Washington University School of Medicine)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (May 17, 2009) — Any child confronting an outraged parent demanding to know "What were you thinking?" now has a new response: "Scientists have discovered that my brain is organized differently from yours."

But all is not well for errant kids. The same new study also provides parents with a rejoinder: While the overarching organization scheme differs, one of the most important core principals of adult brain organization is present in the brains of children as young as 7.

Read more ....

Cyber Millenials: High-tech And Highly Educated Young Adults Who Drink Way Too Much

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (May 17, 2009) — "Audience segmentation" refers to categorizing people by their behaviors, attitudes, opinions, or lifestyles. It is widely used in social-marketing efforts. A new study uses this method to find high-risk drinkers in the US, leading researchers to a group dubbed the Cyber Millenials: "the nation's tech-savvy singles and couples living in fashionable neighborhoods on the urban fringe."

"Marketing research provides a unique window on individuals as consumers that has rarely been used in alcohol-prevention efforts," explained Howard B. Moss, associate director for Clinical and Translational Research at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and corresponding author for the study.

Read more ....

Why We Mourn For Strangers

From Live Science:

In Tracy, California, several thousand people recently gathered in memory of 8-year-old Sandra Cantu, who was abducted on March 27. Police and volunteers combed the area looking for clues, while psychics offered information that was both contradictory and completely worthless.

Tragically, Cantu was found ten days later by farmworkers draining an irrigation pond near her home. She had been raped, killed, and stuffed in a suitcase. Melissa Huckaby, a local Sunday school teacher, has been arrested and charged with the girl's sexual assault and murder.

Strangers from around the world sent gifts, poems, and prayers to the Cantu family. They held candlelight vigils and signed online memorial pages. Tracy Police Chief Janet Thiessen commented at a memorial that "Sandra Cantu became our little girl, a child whose spirits touched us."

Read more ....

Venus figurine sheds light on origins of art by early humans

The figurine, found in 2008 in a cave in Schelklingen, southern Germany is thought to be the world's oldest reproduction of a human. Daniel Maurer / Associated Press

From The L.A. Times:

The 40,000-year-old carved figure of a voluptuous woman was excavated in Germany. It 'radically changes our views of the context and meaning of the earliest Paleolithic art,' its discoverer says.

A 40,000-year-old figurine of a voluptuous woman carved from mammoth ivory and excavated from a cave in southwestern Germany is the oldest known example of three-dimensional or figurative representation of humans and sheds new light on the origins of art, researchers reported Wednesday.

The intricately carved headless figure is at least 5,000 years older than previous examples and dates from shortly after the arrival of modern humans in Europe. It exhibits many of the characteristics of fertility, or Venus, figurines carved millenniums later.

Read more ....

My Comment: It is hard to believe that such a small carving is 45,000 years old. How did it survive? Was it carved by Homo Sapien or Neanderthal?

Growing Old With Autism

Noah Greenfeld, 42, who spent 15 years in a state mental facility, is now in an assisted living home near his parents in Los Angeles. Max S. Gerber for TIME

From Time Magazine:

Noah, my younger brother, does not talk. Nor can he dress himself, prepare a meal for himself or wipe himself. He is a 42-year-old man, balding, gaunt, angry and, literally, crazy. And having spent 15 years at the Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa, Calif., a state facility, Noah has picked up the con's trick of lashing out before anyone could take a shot at him.

Noah's autism has been marked by "three identified high priority maladaptive behaviors that interfere with his adaptive programming. These include banging his head against solid surfaces, pinching himself and grabbing others," according to his 2004 California Department of Developmental Services individual program plan (IPP). Remarkably, that clinical language actually portrays Noah more favorably than the impression one would get from a face-to-face meeting.

Read more ....

Space Station Module Handed Over

From The BBC:

Europe has rolled out its last major module for the space station.

The cylindrical Node 3 - to be known as "Tranquility" - was constructed by Thales Alenia Space in Turin, Italy.

Once attached to the station, it will house life support gear as well as being home to the Cupola, a giant "bay" window that was also built in Europe.

Node 3 will be shipped shortly to the Kennedy Space Center in the US, from where it will catch a ride to the station in the back of a shuttle.

The Endeavour orbiter flight, which will take up the Cupola as a co-passenger, is currently scheduled to lift-off in February 2010.

Read more ....

Scientists Put Psychic's Paranormal Claims To The Test

Arch-sceptic, conjuror and debunker James Randi first offered a cash prize in the 1960s to anyone who could prove a paranormal claim under controlled conditions. Photograph: Public Domain

From The Guardian:

The young female volunteer in front of me could not suppress an embarrassed giggle as she sat there wearing a ski mask, wraparound sunglasses, an oversized graduation gown and a pair of white socks, a large laminated sheet hung around her neck displaying her participant number.

Then things got even weirder. Professor Richard Wiseman knocked on the door to collect our volunteer. He accompanied her into a large room where she was instructed to sit in a chair facing the wall and do nothing for 15 minutes or so. Professional medium Mrs Patricia Putt was then brought into the room and sat down at a small table around 12 feet away. Sometimes Mrs Putt would request that a volunteer read a pre-specified short passage, as she had found from past experience that often "the Spirit enters and makes contact through the sound of the sitter's voice". After that, no talking was allowed whatsoever as our medium wrote down a "reading" describing the volunteer using her alleged paranormal abilities. At the end of the reading, Mrs Putt left the room and the volunteer was allowed to change back into somewhat more conventional garb and given a reminder to return later in the day for the all-important judging phase.

Read more ....

Sunday, May 17, 2009

17 Steps To The Moon And Back: Anatomy Of A Moonshot

Buzz Aldrin explores the lunar surface.

From Popular Mechanics:

The most remarkable thing about Apollo 11—considering the uncertainties of manned spaceflight and the mishaps that bedeviled NASA on previous and subsequent missions—was its nearly flawless execution, from liftoff to splashdown. “I had the sense that surely something would go awry sooner or later,” flight director Glynn Lunney says. “It was pretty much by the book.” Here are the critical events that had to go right, and what would have happened had they gone wrong.

Read more ....

Deep-Sea Eruption, Odd Animals Seen

© 2009 National Geographic; Video © Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

From National Geographic:

May 7, 2009—Scientists have caught a fast-growing, 12-story underwater volcano erupting—along with odd creatures evolved to survive its toxic emissions.

Scientists, witnessing and videotaping for the first time the eruption of an undersea volcano in the Pacific Ocean in the Northern Mariana Islands near Guam.

(onscreen: Video: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

The researchers, using the remotely operated vehicle, Jason, recorded the video in April, and sampled the eruption plume with an intake in one of its manipulator arms.

The deep-sea volcano, called NW Rota-1, was first observed erupting in 2004. Its been continuously spewing lava and highly acidic molten sulfur.

Read more ....

Inexpensive Plastic Used In CDs Could Improve Aircraft, Computer Electronics

CDs. The inexpensive plastic now used to manufacture CDs and DVDs may one day soon be put to use in improving the integrity of electronics in aircraft, computers and iPhones. (Credit: iStockphoto/José Luis Gutiérrez)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (May 17, 2009) — If one University of Houston professor has his way, the inexpensive plastic now used to manufacture CDs and DVDs will one day soon be put to use in improving the integrity of electronics in aircraft, computers and iPhones.

Thanks to a pair of grants from the U.S. Air Force, Shay Curran, associate professor of physics at UH, and his research team have demonstrated ultra-high electrical conductive properties in plastics, called polycarbonates, by mixing them with just the right amount and type of carbon nanotubes.

Read more ....