Saturday, January 31, 2009

Obama's Half Brother Busted For Pot Possession In Kenya

Click to enlarge the photoThe half brother of President Barack Obama, George Obama, was arrested by Kenyan police on charges of marijuana possession, CNN reported Saturday.

He was also accused by Kenyan police of resisting arrest. He is scheduled to appear in court Monday.

A reporter with CNN talked with George Obama in jail, and the president's brother denied the charges against him.

Barack and George Obama share the same father, who died in a car accident when George was six- years-old.

george obama arrested over marijuanaThe brothers met only once, a meeting in which the president described in his book, "Dreams Of My Father," as a "painful affair."

Reporters found George Obama last year living in a Kenyan slum with his mother's extended family.

via Obama's Half Brother Busted For Pot Possession In Kenya | AHN | January 31, 2009.

"George Obama has not even been aware of his famous brother until very close to the US elections and remained out of the spotlight until August 2008, when the Italian Vanity Fair published an article saying George Obama lived in poverty and his house was a shack.

George Obama was arrested in Kenya on a charge for possession of marijuana, according to police."I was brought up well. I live well even now. The magazines, they have exaggerated everything," was George Obama's outraged response to the publication." - noinvite

Inspector Augustine Mutembei, the officer in charge, said Obama was arrested on charges of possession of cannabis, known in Kenya as Bhang, and resisting arrest. He is scheduled to appear in court Monday, Mutembei said.

He is being held at Huruma police post in the capital of Nairobi.

CNN Correspondent David McKenzie talked with George Obama at the jail where he is being held. Speaking from behind bars, Obama denied the allegations.

"They took me from my home," he said, "I don't know why they are charging me." - cnn

Friday, January 30, 2009

Bad times are big times for bank heists. How do we fix the economy?

Times are tough - this we already know.

Millions of people are out of work, and millions more are inching dangerously close to the edge of the cliff as they juggle dwindling finances and mounting debt.

So some figure, why not rob a bank?

FBI officials say they've noticed an alarming rise in the number of local bank robberies - some committed by thieves who just want to pay their bills.

Since the start of the year, 29 banks have been robbed in eastern Pennsylvania and three counties in New Jersey, a 30 percent increase over last year, the FBI said. Twelve banks have been held up in Philadelphia alone.

Some of the suspects appear to be tried-and-true street thugs and drug addicts who flash a gun or a threatening note to get a quick score.

Others, though, have clean backgrounds and motives that might resonate with average folks.

2nd robber with gun at Third Federal"For the past couple of years, most of the note-job bandits were pathetic drug addicts. Now, we're just seeing guys who lost their jobs and need to pay their bills," said Special Agent Bastian Freund, a bank robbery coordinator for the FBI's Philadelphia Division.

Freund said three '09 bank robbery suspects who have been arrested by FBI agents confessed to pulling the heists because they "couldn't find work and had families to support. That doesn't make it right, but it's a different type of person than we're used to seeing."

William Glass has been charged by Philadelphia Police with using a threatening note to rob a Philadelphia Federal Credit Union, on 13th Street near Montgomery Avenue, in North Philadelphia, on Jan. 2.

Freund said that Glass told investigators he just wanted to pay his gas bill.

Similar trends are echoing across the country. ...

via Bad times are big times for bank heists | Philadelphia Daily News | 01/30/2009.

I don't really understand the economy or how to generate jobs.

Here is a simple explanation of the housing market problem:
For people who don't understand what is going on, here is the story in a nutshell. Decades ago, when you wanted to buy a house you went to local bank and applied for a mortgage. If the mortgage was less than three times your annual income and you had a good credit history, the bank would loan you the money and you would pay them interest and some principal every month for 30 years. Then Wall St. got a bright idea: buy up all the mortgages from the banks, collect a few thousand into a pool called a CDO (Collateralized Debt Obligation) and sell shares in it. The owner of each share would get a pro-rata share of the incoming monthly mortgage payments, analogous to what a bond owner gets.

What happened? It sounded like a great idea and soon all mortgages were sold and repackaged into shares. It didn't take long before the banks realized that they could issue mortgages of five, six, even eight times the buyer's annual income or sell them to people with terrible credit histories. After all, the shaky mortgages would soon be somebody else's headache. That's what happened. Lehman, Merrill, and others bought billions of dollars of mortgages that the homeowners had no hope of ever repaying on schedule and nobody wanted to buy shares in these worthless CDOs, so the brokers got stuck holding the bag with billions in worthless loans. - ask

That's just a small part of the story, of course. How do we fix things starting from where we are now?


Freddie Mac to rent foreclosed properties

Mortgage finance company Freddie Mac said it will allow some borrowers to rent out their homes after losing them to foreclosure.

The goal of the new policy, announced Friday, is to prevent properties from becoming vacant so they won't fall into disrepair.

Freddie Mac also said it will allow renters to remain in their homes even if their landlord enters foreclosure. The McLean, Va.-based company currently has about 8,500 properties in the foreclosure process, but many of those are vacant.

"Keeping foreclosed properties occupied and in better repair will support local property values and promote a faster recovery in the housing market," said Freddie Mac Chief Executive David Moffett.

Fannie Mae, which announced similar plans earlier this month, said it has stopped about 20,000 foreclosure sales and halted 6,300 evictions of owners or renters this winter.

Under Freddie Mac's new policy, tenants and former property owners need to demonstrate that they have enough income to pay the rental bill. Freddie Mac also said it would consider reinstating a mortgage for those borrowers who can qualify for a modified loan.

Washington-based Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were taken over by the government in September after mounting mortgage losses put them in distress that was a prelude to the broader financial crisis that hit Wall Street last year. Fannie and Freddie combined own or guarantee about half of the $10.6 trillion in outstanding U.S. home loan debt.

Both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac also said Friday they would extend a previously announced suspension of evictions through the end of February.

However, Freddie Mac hasn't explained how tenants will be notified of the policy and hasn't committed firmly enough to halting evictions, said Amy Marx, a staff attorney at Connecticut-based New Haven Legal Assistance.

"The only thing that Freddie Mac has agreed to do is to not send the sheriff to forcibly remove tenants," Marx wrote in an e-mail.

via Freddie Mac to rent foreclosed properties: Financial News - Yahoo! Finance.

Sounds like good news. I'm still waiting for a 2nd loan modification offer from Countrywide / Freddie Mac.  The first offer did not include a principle reduction. Not sure what is happening now. Countrywide's computers were down all day today and they couldn't tell me anything.

When you watch these ads, the ads check you out

Ten months ago I mentioned the possibility that cameras mounted in TVs were reading faces to obtain reactions to ads. I had no inside knowledge, just a gut feeling when I saw what I believed was a sensor on a gas pump TV. (See my post from March 2008.) Paranoia? Nope. While the gas pump TV people aren't admitting to anything other than a heat sensor, visit TruMedia Technologies Inc. and read this:
Watch an advertisement on a video screen in a mall, health club or grocery store and there's a slim — but growing — chance the ad is watching you too.

TruMedia... While the technology remains in limited use for now, advertising industry analysts say it is finally beginning to live up to its promise. The manufacturers say their systems can accurately determine gender 85 to 90 percent of the time, while accuracy for the other measures continues to be refined.The concept is reminiscent of the science-fiction movie "Minority Report," in which Tom Cruise's character enters a mall and finds that retinal scanners identify him and prompt personalized ads that greet him by name.

But this technology doesn't go nearly that far. It doesn't identify people individually — it simply categorizes them by outward appearances.

So a video screen might show a motorcycle ad for a group of men, but switch to a minivan ad when women and children join them, said Vicki Rabenou, the chief measurement officer of Tampa, Fla.-based TruMedia Technologies Inc., one of the leaders in developing the technology.

"This is proactive merchandising," Rabenou said. "You're targeting people with smart ads."

Because the tracking industry is still in its infancy, there isn't yet consensus on how to refer to the technology. Some call it face reading, face counting, gaze tracking or, more generally, face-based audience measurement.

Whatever it's called, advertisers are finally ready to try it, said advertising consultant Jack Sullivan, a senior vice president of Starcom USA in Chicago. "I think you're going to see a lot of movement toward it by the end of this year in the top 10 markets," he said.

Because face tracking might feel reminiscent of Big Brother, manufacturers are racing to offer reassurances. When the systems capture an image of who's watching the screen, a computer instantly analyzes it. The systems' manufacturers insist, however, that nothing is ever stored and no identifying information is ever associated with the pictures. That makes the system less intrusive than a surveillance camera that records what it sees, the developers say.

The idea still worries Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil-liberties group in San Francisco. Tien said it's not enough to say some system is "not as bad as some other technology," and argues that cameras that study people contribute to an erosion of privacy.

In general, the tracking systems work like this: A sensor or camera in or near the screen identifies viewers' faces by picking up shapes, colors and the relative speed of movement. The concept is similar to the way consumer cameras now can automatically make sure faces are in focus.

When the ad system pinpoints a face, it compares shapes and patterns to faces that are already identified in a database as male or female. That lets the system predict the person's gender almost immediately.

"The most important features seem to be cheekbones, fullness of lips and the gap between the eyebrows," said Paolo Prandoni, chief scientific officer of Quividi, a French company that is another player in face-tracking technology. Others include Studio IMC Inc. in New York.

The companies say their systems have become adept at determining a viewer's gender, but age is trickier: The software can categorize age only in broad ranges — teens, younger to middle-aged folks and seniors. There's moderate demand for ads based on ethnic information, but the companies acknowledge that determining ethnicity is more challenging than figuring out gender and age range.

Prandoni provided The Associated Press a limited version of Quividi's software, which uses an ordinary webcam to stream video to a computer. The trial version tracked gender only, using color-coded circles to distinguish male and female faces. ... Even the human brain can't always determine gender, age or ethnicity.

Still, "even if it gets to 70 percent accuracy, that's still giving you a wealth of information," said Mitchell, who teaches in the Wisconsin School of Business.

That information is certainly valuable to Bill Ketcham, the chief marketing officer of Adspace Networks Inc. His New York company sells video advertising on 1,400 video screens at 105 malls around the nation.

Adspace is testing six TruMedia systems at malls in Winston-Salem, N.C., Pittsburgh and St. Louis. The kiosks display a daily list of top 10 sales at the mall, as well as paid advertising that comes largely from movie studios and TV networks.

A 15-second video ad that replays across Adspace's national network can cost as much as $765,000 per month. So advertisers expect rigorous information about who sees the spots — information that face tracking can now provide, Ketcham said. ...

While advertisers like the face-tracking technology, another privacy advocate, Harley Geiger, questions whether it should be used on consumers without their knowledge. Geiger, staff counsel for the Center for Democracy & Technology in Washington, D.C., said advertisers should be telling consumers what details about them are being collected and for what purpose.

"With the technology proliferating, now or the short-term is the time to consider privacy protections," he said. "If you don't build it in at an early stage it becomes very difficult to build it into an already established system."  -

I never said anything about putting your chewing gum anywhere.

46 Of 50 States Could File Bankruptcy In 2009-2010

Here's a dramatic post:

There is a high chance a majority of the States within the United States of America could file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy.  ... It’s very possible you’ll see the end of the United States as we know it. If the Fed doesn’t bailout the States when their cash dries up and the banks don’t loan them money, then our States will be left in financial ruin. This would be a tragic and unprecedented event never experienced in the United States.

No State has ever filed bankruptcy, but it could be coming to a State near you this year.

We are on the brink of something far worse than the Great Depression. - freedomarizona

Republicans Choose First Black Party Chairman

Oh, I thought he said, "for those who stand indifference to us."  ;-) I don't think those who favor democratic ideals need to "get ready to get knocked over".  Divisive threats like that worked out so well for John McCain, if you recall. But congratulations anyway and yes, we would like to see something completely different.

Crazy Idea # 358: Straighten Your Own Teeth with Dental Floss Braces

I've never heard of anyone successfully correcting their own crooked teeth. Are there any orthodontists or dentists who can answer this?
I tried Invisalign braces a few years ago but had an allergic reaction to the plastic. I tried to get regular braces and one orthodontist said I do not have enough bone in my jaw so I can't get my teeth straightened.

I went to another a few years later who insisted I have my teeth cleaned first. I went to do that and had a dentist who I thought messed up the job on one tooth, so I never went back. Therefore, years later, my teeth are still crooked. I saw a picture of myself recently and I was pretty disgusted with my crooked teeth. So, I'm trying something new, "Dental Floss Braces".

I don't know what the dangers are of attempting to straighten your own teeth, but the pressure I feel when I rope my teeth together just right with the floss is similar to what I felt with the Invisalign process.


Perhaps Lingual Braces are best if you can afford them? The page I found says, "lingual braces are a good option for those who have sensitivity to plastic."

One person claims to have used dental floss braces successfully (but there are no before and after pictures).
Guess what: I straightened my own teeth by tying them together with dental floss. Instead of getting braces I straightened my own teeth (my hand to God). Does that mean I think other people could do the same? Are people who have crooked teeth somehow beneath me because they didn't take the initiative to straighten their own teeth when I have done so myself?

UPDATE: I don't recommend trying this. You can make your teeth completely fall out this way. I think you could also die of a blood clot if you really mess up.
"It's important to move the teeth gradually ... If you move the teeth too fast, it can result in severe loosening of the teeth or tooth loss." - enotalone

Yes, you can move your teeth with floss braces. Even a few hours with too much tension and you may feel your upper an lower teeth no longer match up... but consider what you have to learn to be a licensed orthodontist: first, you need 4 years of college, then another 4 years to become a dentist, then about 2 to 3 more years to become an orthodontist.  During that time, you learn how not to make people's teeth fall out, how not to kill them with infections, how to deal with many different specific problems that can lead to complications, and so on.

Entangled particles face sudden death

Two particles can become entangled so completely that a change in one immediately affects the other, no matter how far away it is. Until now, scientists have assumed such a marriage would endure forever.

But in a paper published today in the journal Science, two physicists show that entangled particles can suddenly and irrevocably lose their connection, a phenomenon called Entanglement Sudden Death, or ESD.

"The degree of information entangled can disappear faster than the information itself," said Joseph Eberly, a physicist at the University of Rochester, who, along with Ting Yu, co-authored the paper. "It's completely non-classical physics."

Story continues below ↓advertisement | your ad here

Entanglement is one of the stranger products of quantum mechanics, the area of physics that allows objects to fall through tables and postulates that teleportation is possible.

There are a variety of ways to entangle particles, depending on what kind of particles you're working with.

Particles of light, called photons, for example, can be entangled by shining high-energy beams on beta barium borate crystals. A high-energy photon breaks down into two lower-energy photons that, for example, may spin in opposite directions. If the spin of one photon is known, the spin of the other can be deduced, no matter how far apart the two become.

As those entangled particles move through the environment, other particles and fields degrade the connection — but some ties remain, it has long been thought.

Eberly describes the previous model of entangled particle decay like radioactive half-life — the period of time over which half of a given radioactive material will decay into other elements. No matter how much time passes, there will still be at least a tiny speck of radioactive material there.

What works for radioactive material does not work for entangled particles, say Eberly and Yu. Instead of slow decay, there is a sudden and abrupt death. The two particles remain, but the link between them is destroyed.

"This is a feature that people did not expect," said Bei Lok Hu, a professor of physcis at the University of Maryland. Even stranger, said Hu, is that suddenly disentangled particles can just as suddenly be reborn.

via Entangled particles face sudden death -

Boys With Unpopular Names More Likely to Break Law

Boys in the United States with common names like Michael and David are less likely to commit crimes than those named Ernest or Ivan.

David E. Kalist and Daniel Y. Lee of Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania compared the first names of male juvenile delinquents to the first names of male juveniles in the population. The researchers constructed a popularity-name index (PNI) for each name. For example, the PNI for Michael is 100, the most frequently given name during the period. The PNI for

David is 50, a name given half as frequently as Michael. The PNI is approximately 1 for names such as Alec, Ernest, Ivan, Kareem, and Malcolm.

Results show that, regardless of race, juveniles with unpopular names are more likely to engage in criminal activity. The least popular names were associated with juvenile delinquency among both blacks and whites.

The findings, announced today, are detailed in the journal Social Science Quarterly.

While the names are likely not the cause of crime, the researchers argue that "they are connected to factors that increase the tendency to commit crime, such as a disadvantaged home environment, residence in a county with low socioeconomic status, and households run by one parent."

"Also, adolescents with unpopular names may be more prone to crime because they are treated differently by their peers, making it more difficult for them to form relationships," according to a statement released by the journal's publisher. "Juveniles with unpopular names may also act out because they consciously or unconsciously dislike their names."

The findings could help officials " identify individuals at high risk of committing or recommitting crime, leading to more effective and targeted intervention programs," the authors conclude.

via Boys With Unpopular Names More Likely to Break Law | LiveScience.

UFO over Germany official - says air traffic control

UFO over Germany official - says air traffic control Crack Luftwaffe fighter pilots were scrambled in a UFO drama over German airspace, it emerged today (Thursday).

The mystery object was tracked moving across the entire country at high speed after being spotted by Germany's air traffic controllers on January 19.

Now an official report into the UFO sighting is being compiled by the country's air traffic safety office, the DFS.

Investigators have already checked and excluded conventional aircraft, weather balloons and freak atmospheric conditions.

"We have ruled out all the conventional possibilities - it is a mystery," said DFS spokesman Axel Raab.

German air force jets were put on red alert and there were dozens of reports of the object as it flew across southern Germany including several airports which were put on emergency standby.

It eventually vanished above Grafenwoehr, an area used by American troops on training exercises.

Raab said: "When it vanished from the radar we believed that whatever it was had crashed - but there was no crash site to be seen.

"It is a complete mystery. It confused radar operators because it kept flicking on and off the screen as if some of the time it just wasn't there. Then it simply vanished completely into thin air."

via Austrian Times – Home > Around the World > UFO over Germany official - says air traffic control.

Secret UFO archives opened

The Danish Air Force has opened its UFO archives, providing information on over 15,000 reported extraterrestrial sightings to the public UFO archives are now readily available to the public, detailing sightings from over the last 30 years. The Danish Air...

UFO archives are now readily available to the public, detailing sightings from over the last 30 years. The Danish Air Force published the archive online yesterday because it felt that ‘there was nothing secret in the files’.

The Air Force said that most of the sightings remained ‘unidentified’ because the details were not precise enough. However, some of the reports contained enough description to rule out the UFOs as aircraft, weather phenomenon or paper lanterns.

Not all of the sightings were centred over Denmark and one event over Greenland is attracting attention.

On the 5 January, 1981 at 12:50 a flaming, square disc was seen approximately 45 degrees over the frozen land near Thule Air Base. It then vanished as suddenly as it had appeared.

Coincidentally, radar stations at the American base recorded an unidentified flying object on its radar at 12:50.

Air Force Captain Thomas Petersen, who has an extensive knowledge of the files, commented that any unresolved sightings are handed over to the Scandinavian UFO Centre, if they request it.

He added that the Air Force's main mission was to defend Denmark against threat, 'and UFOs are not a known threat'.

via - Secret UFO archives opened.

Hospital calls in exorcist after ghost spotted

Staff at Derby's new City General, soon to be renamed the Royal Hospital, which is built on the original City General site, claim a black-clad figure wearing a cloak is stalking the corridors and wards. Senior manager Debbie Butler has now reportedly briefed the terrified employees via email, explaining that they have hired an exorcist to come and rid the £334 million hospital of their unwanted visitor.

She explained: "I'm not sure how many of you are aware that some members of staff have reported seeing a ghost. "I'm taking it seriously as the last thing I want is staff feeling uneasy."

She added: "I don't want to scare anyone any more than necessary, but felt it was best I made you all aware of the situation and what we are doing about it. "I've spoken to the Trust's chaplain and she is going to arrange for someone from the cathedral to exorcise the department."

One source told The Sun: "There have been dozens of sightings over recent weeks and people are scared witless. "Several have seen a male figure cloaked from had to toe in black darting between rooms and through walls - especially in departments near the morgue.

"It's affected morale so much that bosses decided they had to act."

The Catholic Church only uses exorcism as a last resort and the ritual must be pre-approved by a bishop. A spokesman for the Bishop of Derby said: "Any case such as this is put to the Bishop. "He would seek proper advice before taking action."

One theory is the figure could be the ghost of a Roman soldier killed on the spot where the original hospital was built in the 1920s. Developers ignored protests covering over part of one of Ancient Britain's main Roman Roads.

via Hospital calls in exorcist after ghost spotted - Telegraph.

See Black-Cloaked Entity, and here is another from Sacramento. I was just talking with someone last night about ghosts and the fact that I don't believe in them. I have seen one working late at night at my job, but to this day I assume it was a janitor in my peripheral vision. I assume I just got my brain wires crossed about which way it went, because when I went to check behind the door with no other exits, nothing was there.

Swollen Lymph Nodes for A Month?

I can't believe how long this illness, whatever it may be, is lasting. The one symptom that has remained constant is the swollen lymph nodes and the red spot on the middle inside of each of my bottom eyelids.  The sore throat, cough, headaches and body aches come and go.
Emedhealth: Several mechanisms can cause the lymph nodes to enlarge.

  • Infection: This can increase the number of white blood cells, which multiply in response to stimulation with a foreign substance (antigen)

I did have a bacterial infection in my lungs and in my eye. Those went away with antibiotics. Sore swollen lymph glands remain after a 5 day course of azithromycin. White blood cell counts all normal, tests for strep,  syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, all negative.

  • Virus: Immune reaction to a generalized infection in the body such as viral infections that can occur with the common cold as well as more serious infections such as HIV

Tests for mono and HIV are negative

  • Inflammation: Infiltration with inflammatory cells during infection or inflammation in a region of a given lymph node

Auto immune problem?

  • Cancer: Infiltration with malignant cells (metastases) brought to the node with the lymph flowing from an area of a certain type of cancer

  • Cancer of the Blood: Uncontrolled, malignant multiplication of lymphocytes as in lymphoma or leukemia

Feds allege plot to destroy Fannie Mae data

A fired Fannie Mae contract worker pleaded not guilty on Friday to charges he planted a virus designed to destroy all the data on the mortgage giant's 4,000 computer servers nationwide, according to federal prosecutors.

If the virus had been released as planned on Saturday, the Justice Department said the disruption could have cost millions of dollars and shut down operations for a week at the largest U.S. mortgage finance company.

Rajendrasinh B. Makwana, 35, of Glen Allen, Va., pleaded not guilty Friday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore to one count of computer intrusion, the U.S. attorney's office said.

Makwana's federal public defender did not immediately return a call seeking comment on the allegation.

Makwana, a citizen of India, was fired early on the afternoon of Oct. 24 from his job at Fannie Mae's data center in Urbana, about 35 miles from the company's Washington headquarters, according to court records. An affidavit states he was fired for erroneously writing programming instructions two weeks earlier that changed the settings on high-speed computers called servers that are connected to multiple network users.

Before surrendering his Fannie Mae badge and laptop computer at the end of the day Oct. 24, Makwana "intentionally and without authorization caused and attempted to cause damage to Fannie Mae's computer network by entering malicious code," according to an indictment returned Tuesday.

The code, if executed this Saturday as planned, "would have resulted in destroying and altering all of the data on Fannie Mae servers," the indictment states.

According to the affidavit signed by FBI Special Agent Jessica A. Nye Jan. 6, a Fannie Mae engineer discovered the malicious instructions by chance Oct. 29. The programming instructions were removed that day and did no harm, according to the affidavit.

Had the virus been released, "it would have caused millions of dollars of damage and reduced if not shut down operations" for at least a week, Nye wrote.

The damage would have included cleaning out and restoring all 4,000 servers, restoring and securing the automation of mortgages and restoring all data that was erased, the FBI agent wrote. - ap

I can't even begin to comprehend what would happen to our economy if all records of mortgage loans (even backups) were destroyed.

Volcano in Alaska could erupt within days

April 21, 1990 Mt. Redoubt Eruption!Mount Redoubt volcano in Alaska could erupt within days to weeks, say scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey, amazing the rest of us with their certainty.

Here's what makes them so sure: Magma rising toward the surface from beneath a volcano like Redoubt can cause earthquakes and other seismic rumblings. And seismic activity at Redoubt, which is 106 miles (170 km) southwest of Anchorage, has increased recently.

"If you're going to bring magma to the surface you've got to break rock, and every time rocks break at the subsurface beneath a volcano, that's an earthquake," said volcanologist Charles Mandeville of the American Museum of Natural History in New York. "They're recording a whole bunch of earthquakes almost continuously right now," he said, referring to scientists at the Alaska Volcano Observatory in Anchorage.

Ring of Fire

Location of Mount RedoubtThere are more than 40 active volcanoes in Alaska, many of which are situated on the Aleutian Islands in the Pacific Ocean. Redoubt's neighboring volcano Mount Augustine (located 177 miles, or 285 km southwest of Anchorage) last blew its top in 2006.

In fact, the Aleutian Island chain makes up the northern part of the Ring of Fire, which circles the Pacific Ocean and produces frequent activity along the coasts and interior regions of North and South American and Japan. The Ring of Fire is considered one of the most volcanically and seismically active regions in the world.

The Aleutian Islands are themselves the result of volcanic activity, forming as the Pacific plate dives beneath, or "subducts," the North American plate. More than 75 percent of the world's volcanoes lie along the Ring of Fire, where tectonic plates dive beneath other plates.

Need to vent

Mandeville, who has studied Mount Augustine volcano, said that the Alaska-based scientists are reporting both more earthquakes and higher intensity ones at Redoubt in the past eight hours. "The amount that the ground is actually shaking is increasing," Mandeville told LiveScience.

At this point, scientists from the Alaska Volcano Observatory are monitoring Redoubt around the clock. Redoubt rises to a height of 10,197 feet (3,108 meters). To predict a coming eruption, scientists also watch for certain gases, such as carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide, emanating out of a vent along the volcano, Mandeville said.

"It's in a period that we call restlessness," said U.S. Geological Survey Volcano Hazards Program Coordinator John Eichelberger, in a recent podcast. "We expect an eruption in a matter of days or weeks. The strongest evidence for this is small earthquakes indicative of the movement of gas pressurizing the interior of the volcano."

Predicting what might come includes looking at Redoubt's past.

The volcano last erupted explosively nearly 20 years ago, beginning in December 1989 and lasting for months, sending ash plumes 40,000 feet (12,000 meters) into the air and causing engine failure in a 747 jet, which eventually landed safely. Ash also interrupted commercial air traffic into and out of Anchorage. ... - livesci

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Rock reveals moon had liquid metal core

Astronaut Harrison H. SchmittOne of the most enduring mysteries stemming from the Apollo moon missions is why rocks brought back to Earth for analysis are magnetized.

There's no magnetic field on the moon today and scientists suspect it had always been too small to form a core like Earth's that could generate a field by the flow of liquid metal.

That left just one theory to account for lunar magnetism — successions of short-lived fields caused by shock waves from meteoroid impacts.

Last week, a team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology delivered a magnetic history of samples from one of the most ancient and pristine rocks in the Apollo collection. The finding rules out the theory of magnetization from impacts and suggests that the only other plausible explanation is that the moon, though small, did indeed have a liquid metal core.

"This rock was heated up only twice in its history," said MIT graduate student Ian Garrick-Bethell, lead author of a study published in Science. "When rocks cool, they lock in the magnetic fields around them. We found two magnetized events in its history."

Neither event happened quickly, such as what would be the case with a short-lived magnetic field stemming from an impact, Garrick-Bethell told Discovery News.

"Impacts that create (magnetic) fields are transient," he added. "They don't last long, not more than a day."

Samples of the rock, estimated to be 4.2 billion years old, show that the rock cooled twice in its history, first for millions of years and a second time for thousands of years.

The rock, retrieved by the Apollo 17 astronauts during the final foray to the moon in 1972, also shows no physical or mineralogical signs of being physically altered by impact events. ...

via Rock reveals moon had liquid metal core -

Global warming is 'irreversible'

Generating station in Sun Valley, CaliforniaA team of environmental researchers in the US has warned many effects of climate change are irreversible.

The scientists concluded global temperatures could remain high for 1,000 years, even if carbon emissions can somehow be halted.

The report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Colorado comes as President Obama announces a review of vehicle emission standards.

It appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The scientists have been researching global warming and the consequences for policymakers. ...

via BBC NEWS | Science & Environment | Global warming is 'irreversible'.

Enjoy the ice storms while we can, I guess.

UFO Flashback, Navy Nuclear Sub Encounters Flying V UFO

U.S. Navy Sailor: “I was assigned to USS Memphis (SSN-698), home port Titusville, FL. (Cape Canaveral.) Our mission was Special Assignments which meant we protected the Space Program. We would go to sea and patrol while the shuttle was on the pad.

“On October 24 and 25, 1989, my ship (submarine) was on patrol about 150 miles off the Florida coast. We were cruising at about 500 feet (below the ocean surface) when the submarine started experiencing electronics problems. The ship was malfunctioning, our tanks were blowing out of control, we were losing navigation ability and the communications area was totally lost. We went to all stop and tried to access what was happening. The controls in the (nuclear) reactor area started to malfunction. This presented a serious danger to our safety, so the captain ordered us to shut down the reactor, surface and go to diesel motors.

“When the ship surfaced, I went to my watch station. The ship was still experiencing electronic difficulties, but the mechanical devices such as diesel engines, cook stoves, and turbines were fine. It was raining and the entire sky was red like a red neon sign. I saw a large inverted V-shaped UFO off the port side. The executive officer told me to stand fast and he would speak to the captain. In a minute, the captain appeared on the tower and asked me for a distance to the craft. The laser range finder determined the closest point was 200 meters and the farthest point was 1,000 meters off the port. The UFO was not perpendicular to our ship, but at about a 45-degree angle. This huge vessel was over a half mile across. The UFO made a half circle around our ship and then passed across the stern causing our electronics systems to go crazy. We had permanent damage in communications and the sonar room.

“As the craft flew over the stern, I could see the rain stop under its red glow. The water seemed to rise almost a foot as the UFO passed over silently. When the UFO finished its swing across the stern, it paused - the sky got brighter red and it simply moved off at tremendous speed inside 15 seconds. When the UFO left, our boat returned to normal with the exception of the radio and sonar. We did a quick system check and the captain ordered us to return to reactor power and get underway.

“The captain took two petty officers, the executive officer, and myself into the wardroom. He told us to not spread any rumors until we had a chance to talk to Commander Submarine Fleet - Atlantic. We reached port in about 7 hours where I was taken into ‘protective custody.’ Two enlisted men and myself agreed we had witnessed a real UFO. I was the one who shot it with a laser range finder, so I was the only one that had its exact sizes. I shot that vessel as it hovered and I got solid readings - not spotty like I would on debris.

“We were in holding for about three hours when an officer from the U. S. Air Force arrived and gave us a line of bull about an exploding weather satellite. The Navy then transferred virtually everyone on the crew to new assignments. This included the captain, the executive officer and the entire crew. They were split up, which almost never happens unless one of them gets a promotion or a new command, neither of which happened. The military just split up a 4-year team. I was watching a program tonight that gave me the courage to share this.” - earthfiles

One of these airborne? ;-)

Project Orion Video: The Secret Story of the Atomic Spaceship

Orion_blastoffWorld renowned physicist Freeman Dyson's son, George Dyson, tells the spellbinding story of Project Orion, a massive, nuclear-powered spacecraft the size of the Empire State building fueled by atomic bombs with the power to destroy half of Planet Earth. The mission was to take us to Saturn in five years. With an insider's perspective and a cache of documents -many still classified-photos and film, Dyson brings this dusty Atomic Age dream of the early 1960's to life.

The project lives today in limbo at NASA possibly to be activated should an asteroid arrive with our name on it.

Posted by Casey Kazan.

Project Orion Video

via Project Orion Video: The Secret Story of the Atomic Spaceship -A Galaxy Classic.

Chasing A Star Named MIRA -- A Star’s Tail

Astronomers found a tail of carbon, oxygen, and other material trailing behind a dying star called Mira. People have watched the star break down for 400 years, but only recently have astronomers noticed that it is leaving material behind as it cruises through the universe at 80 miles per second. When viewed with ultraviolet imaging from a satellite, Mira displays a wake four times the diameter of the moon, material that may one day build new solar systems, such as carbon and oxygen.

An amazing new find by astronomers may show us a whole new planetary system being formed. Past the moon and Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, 350 light-years from Earth … a speeding bullet is hurling across space. This star is known as MIRA.

Astronomers have been studying it for 400 years -- scientists are now getting a good look at what it’s leaving behind.

“No star has ever shown a tail like this before,” Chris Martin, Ph.D., astronomer at the California Institute of Technology told Ivanhoe.

Dr. Martin is one of the first to witness the comet-like tail of MRA. He saw it streaking across the sky through the galaxy evolution explorer -- a satellite sensitive to ultraviolet light.

“We noticed around the star was this, a little bit of fluff that no one knew was there," Dr. Martin said.

As MIRA speeds along at 291 thousand miles an hour, it sheds carbon, oxygen and other important elements needed to form new stars, planets and possibly even life.

“We’re seeing this process of reseeding the gas between the stars with heavy elements that ultimately form new solar systems,” Dr. Martin said. ...

via Chasing A Star Named MIRA -- Astronomers Look At Ultraviolet Light To Find Star’s Tail.

Kary Mullis: Celebrating the scientific experiment

New pornography laws 'could make comic books illegal'

New pornography laws 'could make comic books illegal', say campaigners... The comic book campaigners claim that if the new rules are interpreted harshly, their hobby could be criminalised.

In a statement,, a comic fans' website, said of the rules outlawing sexual violence: "Isn't that how Batman, Punisher, Judge Dredd get anything done?

"A kick in the balls or a--- would constitute this, and a kick in the balls is a well trodden part of humour."

It added that the new law on images of children would make owning some comic books, and "particularly some forms of Manga" - the Japanese form often featuring young-looking cartoon characters - illegal.

The statement added: "Because this is a minefield for the law it then falls on the Police to enforce it, and it is their judgement that could lead to a prosecution.

Calling on comic book fans to lobby their MPs, the group added: "What is frightening about this law is that it gives [the Government] carte blanche to invade our lives, to shut down our comic shops and ultimately it could lead to censorship of books and films as well."

"We COULD get to a point where the police could legitimately visit your home or workplace, and sanctioned by an un-elected magistrate or judge go through your collection and if they find any comic book that they feel will cause sexual arousal or displays extreme violence then they could arrest you."

via New pornography laws 'could make comic books illegal', claim campaigners - Telegraph.

Und next, ve outlaw ze suggestively shaped rocks, tree branches, und mountains!

Estimated 1.3 million homes & businesses without power after ice storm

Line crew works to clear power lineHundreds of thousands of ice storm victims hunkered down in frigid homes and shelters Thursday, expecting to spend at least a week without power and waiting in long lines to buy generators, firewood, groceries and bottled water.

Utility companies in Missouri, Kentucky, Ohio, Arkansas and West Virginia warned that many of the estimated 1.3 million homes and businesses left without electricity wouldn't have power back before Saturday at the earliest, and at worst, as late as mid-February.

Utilities typically count 3 or 4 people per home so the outage in terms of people is significantly greater than 1.3 million homes and businesses. ...

via Long lines, wait for power after ice storm - Weather-

MS stem-cell treatment 'success'

Nerve cells in MSStem-cell transplants may control and even reverse multiple sclerosis symptoms if done early enough, a small study has suggested.

Not one of 21 adults with relapsing-remitting MS who had stem cells transplanted from their own bone marrow deteriorated over three years.

And 81% improved by at least one point on a scale of neurological disability, The Lancet Neurology reported.

Further tests are now planned, and a UK expert called the work "encouraging".

MS is an autoimmune disease which affects about 85,000 people in the UK.

It is caused by a defect in the body's immune system, which turns in on itself, causing damage to the nerves which can lead to symptoms including blurred vision, loss of balance and paralysis. ...

via BBC NEWS | Health | MS stem-cell treatment 'success'.

Man dies in fetish accident

Ralph Santiago

Ralph Santiago was discovered collapsed in the men’s lavatory following a seedy sex session that involved watching internet porn and sniffing toxic vapours.

Shocked colleagues raised the alarm after turning up for work early in the morning and finding the lifeless guard dressed in the tight latex suit and diving mask.

Police analysis of his laptop showed the oddball had been surfing fetish-themed websites alone in the toilets while he was supposed to be on duty.

Speaking at the inquest in Reading, Berks, Mr Santiago’s girlfriend, Hannele Vaher, said she knew about his weird sexual habits.

She said: “He had fetishes. I knew about these but didn’t participate. I know he inhaled poppers but do not know what kind.”

She also said her partner had no suicidal tendencies but did like to dress in latex while inhaling drugs. Mr Santiago, from Surbiton, Surrey, was found at Aquis House, in Reading, Berks, at 7am on July 22 last year.

He had started work at 6.30pm the previous evening. No drugs were detected in the security worker’s body but toxicologists confirmed he had inhaled a vapour which made him suffocate.

The coroner recorded a verdict of misadventure. - thesun, getreading

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Win Something Random When This Blog Hits 1/2 Million Visitors...

I see from the Blog Stats (right side bar) that this site is about to reach 1/2 million visitors.

When it does reach 500,000, be the first to email me and win a prize.

What will it be? A piano? A postage stamp? An alien in a jar?

I don't know yet.

UPDATE:  2/1/2009  The prize will be mailed today. Congratulations to Kevin in Waltham, MA who won a free Xenophilia (the Band) CD and a 50 million year old shark tooth.  Kevin writes:
I found your blog a few months ago and it's turning into one of the first I check when I fire up my reader.  Keep it up!

Secondhand Smoke is Making Me Sick and Angry

Also called: Environmental tobacco smoke, Passive smoking, Tobacco smoke pollution

You don't have to be a smoker for smoking to harm you. You can also have health problems from breathing in other people's smoke. Secondhand smoke is the combination of smoke that comes from the burning end of a cigarette, cigar or pipe and the smoke exhaled by the smoker. Secondhand smoke contains more than 50 substances that can cause cancer. Health effects of exposure to secondhand smoke include lung cancer, nasal sinus cancer, respiratory tract infections and heart disease.

There is no safe amount of secondhand smoke. Children, pregnant women, older people and people with heart or breathing problems should be especially careful.

via MedlinePlus: Secondhand Smoke.

1/28/2009:  I feel so crappy right now, and I am  mad as hell. I am sore all over, I have swollen glands, headache, and sore throat. I had another blood test today, this time for mono.  I have been sick for a month and I've missed week after week  of work. I believe the reason is my unhealthy environment at home.

I have a shared attic space in my condo, and I am unable to escape secondhand smoke from my neighbor. I've tried everything. No contractor can seal the shared attic. The management company won't do anything. The neighbor feels he has the right based on his lease. The Home Owners Association won't do anything.

If someone attacks you physically, you can fight back physically, or you can run. You can call the police, even for noise complaints. Do you know how rare it is to die from noise!?  If someone damages your throat and lungs night after night with over 50 cancer causing chemicals in your own home causing you to cough up blood, have pus coming out of your eye from secondary infections, however, no one gives a rat's ass.

After a month of this BS there could already be permanent damage to my long term health. My next step is to fight this by filing a complaint via my county health department. I may also sue the owners and the HOA for failing to uphold the regulations concerning neighbor nuisances. Damn I'm so mad. I spend so much of my time and hard earned money on my health and it is all shot by this.

Scientists Zero In on Earth's Original Animal

trichoplax, a placozoanBy Robin Lloyd, LiveScience Senior Editor

Sea sponges have been thought by some scientists to be the most primitive living animals, the closest living things to approximate Earth's original animal, down at the base of the tree of life for the animal kingdom.

But the squishy things are now being pushed aside by a group of amoeba-shaped creatures called Placozoans, according to a new analysis which shows the fairly simple but still multi-cellular animals are closer to the base of the tree, researchers say. weirder result follows from the fact that the analysis finds that corals, jellyfish, sponges, comb jellies and Placozoans (aka the "lower" animals) evolved in parallel to "higher" animals including flatworms, insects, mollusks and chordates (which includes all animals with backbones, ranging from frogs to apes and humans).

Nervous systems are found in both groups (among the lower animals, jellyfish have nervous systems), so the new arrangement means that these systems must have evolved twice in the history of animal evolution, said Rob DeSalle, a biologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York who did the analysis along with Sergios-Orestis Kolokotronis, also at the museum.

DeSalle said the finding is unsurprising to him.

"Things in organisms that look alike a lot of times aren't really derived from a common ancestor," he said. "The nervous system of cnidarians [a lower animal group that includes corals, jellyfish and hydras], and Bilateria [the higher animals group that includes humans] are constructed with the same molecules and often times using the same genes. But it is possible that the cnidarians' nervous system really is not the same nervous system found in Bilaterians."

Many lower animals other than jellyfish lack nervous systems, DeSalle said, but they could have the rudiments of a nervous system and we just haven't seen them. "Placozoans and sponges both have genes for nervous systems in their genomes," he said. "They just don't do it. They don't make it."

... Most of us have little experience with Placozoans. They form into sheets on rocks and corals in temperate seas and "are really cool to watch and they move by undulating. There are no muscles," DeSalle said.

Placozoans were discovered about 100 years ago growing on side of a laboratory aquarium in Germany, DeSalle said, and have subsequently been discovered living in the wild.

... A number of other recent studies, using cluster computers to crunch big matrices of data to arrive at the best explanation for animal evolution, have tackled the question of the details of the ancestry of all animals and also found Placozoans at the base of the animal tree of life. But DeSalle said the new tree is strong because it included some key species that other analyses omitted, as well as considering a large number of traits and finding very strong support.

... The new tree also underscores the fact that evolution does not proceed along a straight line, counter to many cartoons. And it's pretty common to find things evolving more than once, DeSalle said. ... - livesci

Longevity from Calorie-Restriction Diet Questioned

Those of you on the anti-aging caloric-restriction diet hoping to add a few years onto your life might want to put down your fork before reading further, lest you choke on your six-pea-and-lettuce-leaf lunch.

Research published this month in the Journal of Nutrition found that naturally chubby mice lived longer on a reduced-calorie diet, but naturally lean mice did not, demonstrating for the first time that that calorie restriction effects vary greatly not only between species but also within species.

The study implies that a caloric-restricted diet could be pointless and even harmful for humans who are naturally on the lean side.

Big payoff for critters

With the majority of Americans overweight or obese, it's not clear exactly who is following this ascetic diet. But when studies over the past 30 years revealed that worms, fruit flies and mice were living up to twice as long on diets with 30 percent or more fewer calories, a significant number of our own species decided to turn themselves into guinea pigs and reduce their caloric intake to about 1,500 kilocalories a day, about 500 kcal fewer than the recommended intake for a non-active adult.

Studies performed on our pioneering brethren have shown significant gains in lowering blood pressure and metabolism rates and cholesterol and triglycerides levels, all positive signs. Studies on monkeys possibly living longer also gave them strength to continue with the diet in ways that their celery stalk snacks could not.

Yet all along there have been cracks in this longevity theory. Yes, many species of animals in the laboratory live longer when on a caloric-restricted diet. The big exception, though, is the housefly, which dies faster when starved. So one question to ask is whether you are more like a fruit fly or a housefly?

Also, while some laboratory mice can live longer on a restricted diet, the progeny of wild-caught mice reap little to no benefit from fewer calories. This led scientists to think that maybe the animals gaining the most extra years from calorie restriction are those animals bred to study calorie restriction.

A team led by Raj Sohal of the University of Southern California's School of Pharmacy tested the diet on two types of mice: mice bred to be fat on a normal diet and mice bred to be lean. Only the chubby variety of mice, albeit lean in this study, lived longer on the caloric-restricted diet. The naturally lean mice forwent all that delicious cheese for naught.

Among human it is clear that some of us are naturally chubbier or leaner given the same amount of caloric intake and energy expenditure. Thus those of us who don't pack on pounds easily—perhaps the very type of person attracted to the caloric-restricted diet—might starve themselves in vain.

The most significant finding from this study, however, is that the diet lowered the metabolic rates of both types of mice. The leading theory has been that a slower metabolic rate—and the subsequent lower rate of oxygen consumption and lower rate of free-radical production—was the cause for the increased longevity. This theory is now up in the air. -livesci

Druids in row over boy's skeleton

Charlie A decision is due to be made over the future of a skeleton found near an ancient stone circle 80 years ago.

Druids have called for the remains of the three-year-old child to be reburied at Avebury, Wiltshire, out of respect.

But archaeologists insist the skeleton - currently on display at the Alexander Keiller museum - should be kept available for research and testing.

Public consultation on whether the remains should reburied ends this weekend.

English Heritage and the National Trust are due to make the decision on whether to rebury the skeleton later this year. ...

via BBC NEWS | UK | England | Wiltshire | Druids in row over boy's skeleton.

Honey Bees Can Tell The Difference Between Different Numbers At A Glance

The remarkable honey bee can tell the difference between different numbers at a glance. A fresh, astonishing revelation about the 'numeracy' of insects has emerged from new research by an international team of scientists from The Vision Centre, in Australia.In an exquisitely designed experiment, researchers led by Dr. Shaowu Zhang, Chief Investigator of The Vision Centre and Australian National University and Professor Hans Gross and Professor Juergen Tautz of Wurzburg University in Germany, have shown that bees can discriminate between patterns containing two and three dots – without having to count the dots.

And, with a bit of schooling, they can learn to tell the difference between three and four dots.

However at four, bee maths seems to run out: the team found their honeybees couldn't reliably tell the difference between four dots and five or six. ...

via Honey Bees Can Tell The Difference Between Different Numbers At A Glance.

Liberia worms swarm 'emergency'

Caterpillars consuming leaves in Liberia, file pic from 22 January 2009Liberia's president has declared a state of emergency in response to a plague of crop-destroying army worms.

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf said all possible resources would be used to fight the insects, which have spread to next-door Guinea and are nearing Sierra Leone.

Some 400,000 residents in 80 villages had been affected, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said.

The "worms" - which are actually caterpillars - are among the world's most destructive agricultural pests.

Guinea has started spraying, and Sierra Leone has announced it will mobilise chemicals and personnel to its border.

Worst in decades

Liberia has already appealed for international help to carry out aerial spraying against tens of millions of the invading insects.

It is the West African country's worst infestation of armyworm in three decades.

via BBC NEWS | Africa | Liberia worms swarm 'emergency'.

Peer reveals 'cello scrotum' hoax

CelloA top doctor has admitted her part in hoodwinking a leading medical journal after inventing a medical condition called "cello scrotum".

Elaine Murphy - now Baroness Murphy - dreamt up the painful complaint in the 1970s, sending a report to the British Medical Journal.

She came clean when the hoax resurfaced in the 2008 Christmas edition.

A BMJ spokesman said the inclusion and subsequent debunking of "cello scrotum" had "added to the gaiety of life".

The spoof was inspired by a similar report of a phenomenon called "guitar nipple", which happened when the edge of the guitar was pressed against the breast, causing irritation.

"We thought it highly likely to be a spoof, and decided to go one further by submitting a similar phenomenon in cellists, " wrote Murphy - and her husband, in the latest edition of the journal.

"Anyone who has ever watched a cello being played would realise the physical impossibility of our claim.

"Somewhat to our astonishment, the letter was published."

Baroness Murphy, formerly a professor at Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital in London, did not sign the 1974 letter herself, fearing that she might get into trouble.

Her husband John, now chairman of a Suffolk brewery, signed it instead.

Scrotal flak

The couple said that they had been "dining out" on the hoax for years, but decided to confess after seeing "cello scrotum" referenced in an article last month in the journal.

A spokesman for the BMJ said that, 34 years on, no-one faced the sack for failing to spot the implausible condition.

He said: "We did, actually, get a letter from another doctor at the time pointing out how unlikely it was.

"We may have to organise a formal retraction or correction now. Once these things get into the scientific literature, they stay there for good. But it all adds to the gaiety of life."...

via BBC NEWS | Health | Peer reveals 'cello scrotum' hoax.

Ah, to be immortalized for your contribution to science...

Surrounded by friends? It's all in your genes

Are you a social butterfly, or do you prefer being at the edge of a group of friends? Either way, your genes and evolution may play a major role, U.S. researchers reported on Monday.

While it may come as no surprise that genes may help explain why some people have many friends and others have few, the researchers said, their findings go just a little farther than that.

"Some of the things we find are frankly bizarre," said Nicholas Christakis of Harvard University in Massachusetts, who helped conduct the study.

"We find that how interconnected your friends are depends on your genes. Some people have four friends who know each other and some people have four friends who don't know each other. Whether Dick and Harry know each other depends on Tom's genes," Christakis said in a telephone interview.

Christakis and colleague James Fowler of the University of California San Diego are best known for their studies that show obesity, smoking and happiness spread in networks.

For this study, they and Christopher Dawes of UCSD used national data that compared more than 1,000 identical and fraternal twins. Because twins share an environment, these studies are good for showing the impact that genes have on various things, because identical twins share all their genes while fraternal twine share just half.

"We found there appears to be a genetic tendency to introduce your friends to each other," Christakis said.

via NewsDaily: Surrounded by friends? It's all in your genes.

I've never been the type to introduce my friends to each other on purpose, but I always appreciated my friends who are that type of person.

Helium Rains Inside Saturn, Jupiter And Other Jovian Planets, Research Suggests

Models of how Saturn and Jupiter formed may soon take on a different look. By determining the properties of hydrogen-helium mixtures at the millions of atmospheres of pressure present in the interior of Saturn and Jupiter, physicists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have determined the temperature at a given pressure when helium becomes insoluble in dense metallic hydrogen.

The results are directly relevant to models of the interior structure and evolution of Jovian planets.

Hydrogen and helium are the two lightest and most common elements in the universe. Because of their ubiquitous nature, they are critical in cosmological nucleosynthesis and are essential elements of stars and giant planets. Hydrogen by itself in the observable universe provides clues to the origin and large-scale structures of galaxies.

However, scientists have struggled to determine what conditions are needed for the two elements to mix.

Using first-principle molecular dynamics simulations, Miguel Morales, a DOE Stewardship Science graduate fellow from David Ceperley's group at the University of Illinois worked with LLNL's Eric Schwegler, Sebastien Hamel, Kyle Caspersen and Carlo Pierleoni from the University of L'Aquila in Italy to determine the equation of state of the hydrogen-helium system at extremely high temperatures (4,000-10,000 degrees Kelvin), similar to what would be found in the interior of Saturn and Jupiter.

via Helium Rains Inside Saturn, Jupiter And Other Jovian Planets, Research Suggests.

Natural Selection Not The Only Process That Drives Evolution?

Evolution may be a random process than Darwin believed.
Why have some of our genes evolved rapidly? It is widely believed that Darwinian natural selection is responsible, but research led by a group at Uppsala University, suggests that a separate neutral (nonadaptive) process has made a significant contribution to human evolution.

Their results have been published January 27 in the journal PLoS Biology.

The researchers identified fast evolving human genes by comparing our genome with those of other primates. However, surprisingly, the patterns of molecular evolution in many of the genes they found did not contain signals of natural selection. Instead, their evidence suggests that a separate process known as BGC (biased gene conversion) has speeded up the rate of evolution in certain genes. This process increases the rate at which certain mutations spread through a population, regardless of whether they are beneficial or harmful.

"The research not only increases our understanding of human evolution, but also suggests that many techniques used by evolutionary biologists to detect selection may be flawed," says Matthew Webster of the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Microbiology at Uppsala University.

BGC is thought to be strongest in regions of high recombination, and can cause harmful mutations can spread through populations. The results lead to the provocative hypothesis that, rather than being the result of Darwinian selection for new adaptations, many of the genetic changes leading to human-specific characters may be the result of the fixation of harmful mutations. This contrasts the traditional Darwinistic view that they are the result of natural selection in favour of adaptive mutations.

via Natural Selection Not The Only Process That Drives Evolution?.

Screen Actors Guild Awards: And the SAG Award winners are...

Meryl Streep

Meryl Streep reacting after winning the award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role for "Doubt" at the 15th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles January 25, 2009.Accepting the award, Meryl – who wore black trousers to the ceremony - said: “I didn't even buy a dress. I'm really, really shocked.Meryl said: "There is no such thing as the best actress. There is no such thing as the greatest living actress. I am in a position where I have secret information that I know this to be true. I am so in awe of the work of the women this year – nominated, not nominated – so proud of us girls. Everybody wins when we get parts like this”Sean Penn was named Best Actor for his role in ‘Milk’ - which tells the story of Harvey Milk, California's first openly gay elected official - and took the opportunity to talk about how important the movie is to him.

He said: “As actors, we don't play gay/straight, we play human beings. This is a story about equal rights for all human beings.”

The cast of ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ – made by British director Danny Boyle – won the Outstanding Cast prize, which is seen as a foreshadow of the prestigious Best Picture awards at the Oscars.

via Screen Actors Guild Awards: And the SAG Award winners are... - Nachrichten English-News - WELT ONLINE.

I didn't see Milk, but I saw Doubt with my friend Ricky Berger, at Ricky's suggestion. Ambiguity is a form of energy and in this movie Streep plays a character which after a full length movie it is impossible to tell if she is a crazy villain or an intuitive hero.

Postmaster General: Mail Days May Need to Be Cut

One "futurist" writing 100 years ago said mail would be delivered by pneumatic tubes physically connecting all houses. Still an interesting idea.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

'Rain' of dead birds on central NJ lawns explained; Federal culling program killed up to 5,000 black carcasses of dead starlings still pepper the snowy roads and lawns of central New Jersey's rural Griggstown community three days after federal officials used a pesticide to kill as many as 5,000 of the birds.

Many residents Monday were still getting over their shock from the sudden spate of deaths. Some were unaware that the deaths resulted from an intentional culling and that the pesticide used was harmless to people and pets.

"It was raining birds," said Franklin Township Mayor Brian Levine. "It got people a little anxious."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture called local police last week and the Somerset County Health Department to warn them that a culling program was under way, but there was no notice that dead birds could fall from the sky, Levine said.Carol Bannerman, a USDA spokeswoman, said a bird-specific pesticide called DRC-1339 was used to kill the starlings. It is harmless to people and other animals, she said.

Bannerman said the starlings had to be killed because they were plaguing an area farm, where they were eating feed meant for cattle and chickens and defecating in feeding bowls.

"We're very sorry that it played out the way that it did," Bannerman said. She said the USDA will try to do a better job of notifying the public in the future.

Federal employees dispensed the pesticide on Friday. Birds that ingest it usually die within three days, Bannerman said, so the die-off should have run its course by Monday.

The DRC-1339 pesticide is commonly used to protect farms and feedlot operations from European starlings, which are considered an invasive species by the USDA. One hundred starlings brought to the U.S. in 1890 have grown into the nation's most numerous bird species, Bannerman said.

via 'Rain' of dead birds on central NJ lawns explained; Federal culling program killed up to 5,000 --

Humans have grown to be the nation's most numerous primate species.

Dalai Lama to fund 'neuroscience of compassion'

dalailamaT.JPGThe Dalai Lama is teaming up with Stanford University and a multi-millionaire professor to launch a new research centre dedicated to compassion and altruism.

"His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, provided $150,000 in seed money for the center -- the largest sum he has ever given for a scientific venture -- and has agreed to return to Stanford for a future visit," reads a Stanford press release.

The Dalai Lama's contribution is small change compared to the $2 million raised so far to fund the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, but other Buddhist and Catholic groups have opened their pocketbooks. Centre director Jim Doty, a Stanford neurosurgeon who amassed a $75 million fortune working in business, knows a thing or two about altruism. He's already pledged $25 million of that to charities, including a $5.4 million gift to Stanford.

It seems the centre's goals involve not only investigating how the brain deals with compassion and altruism, but also leveraging those findings to improve people's lives.

Doty hopes the centre's research will help understand and combat childhood bullying and recidivism among prisoners. He also wonders whether the benefits of intense mediation can be more easily achieved by healthcare and corporate workers to prevent burnout, depression and anxiety.

These are all great aims, but I wonder if the centre will run into opposition from other scientists for its connection to a religious figure like the Dalai Lama.

Several years ago, the Dalai Lama gave a keynote address at the Society for Neuorscience's annual meeting, amid criticism from some members of the society. More than 1000 people signed an on-line petition questioning his credentials, though some of the opposition was probably tied to his political views on Tibetan independence. ...

via Dalai Lama to fund 'neuroscience of compassion' - Short Sharp Science - New Scientist.

Study Finds High-Fructose Corn Syrup Contains Mercury

Almost half of tested samples of commercial high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) contained mercury, which was also found in nearly a third of 55 popular brand-name food and beverage products where HFCS is the first- or second-highest labeled ingredient, according to two new U.S. studies.

HFCS has replaced sugar as the sweetener in many beverages and foods such as breads, cereals, breakfast bars, lunch meats, yogurts, soups and condiments. On average, Americans consume about 12 teaspoons per day of HFCS, but teens and other high consumers can take in 80 percent more HFCS than average.

"Mercury is toxic in all its forms. Given how much high-fructose corn syrup is consumed by children, it could be a significant additional source of mercury never before considered. We are calling for immediate changes by industry and the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] to help stop this avoidable mercury contamination of the food supply," said the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy's Dr. David Wallinga, a co-author of both studies.

In the first study, researchers found detectable levels of mercury in nine of 20 samples of commercial HFCS. The study was published in current issue of Environmental Health.

In the second study, the agriculture group found that nearly one in three of 55 brand-name foods contained mercury. The chemical was most common in HFCS-containing dairy products, dressings and condiments.

The use of mercury-contaminated caustic soda in the production of HFCS is common. The contamination occurs when mercury cells are used to produce caustic soda.

"The bad news is that nobody knows whether or not their soda or snack food contains HFCS made from ingredients like caustic soda contaminated with mercury. The good news is that mercury-free HFCS ingredients exist. Food companies just need a good push to only use those ingredients," Wallinga said.

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