Saturday, May 29, 2010

Man crosses English Channel with helium balloons.

From Yahoo! News:
In a goofy yet mesmerizing stunt, an American adventurer crossed the English Channel on Friday carried by a bundle of helium balloons, ending a quiet and serene flight by touching down in a French cabbage patch.

Jonathan Trappe, 36, of Raleigh, North Carolina, was strapped in a specially equipped chair below a bright cluster of balloons when he lifted off early Friday from Kent, in southeast England.

About five hours later, he lowered himself into a French field by cutting some of the balloons away.

"It was just an exceptional, quiet, peaceful experience," Trappe told Sky News television, which covered the adventure.

Asked why he went, Trappe replied: "Didn't you have this dream, grabbing on to a bunch of toy balloons and floating off? I think it's something that's shared across cultures and across borders — just this wonderful fantasy of grabbing on to toy balloons and floating into open space."

Friday, May 28, 2010

US toll passes 1,000 deaths in Afghanistan.

A sad milestone and a reminder that we're in the midst of two wars. From Army Times:
KABUL, Afghanistan — The American military death toll in Afghanistan reached 1,000 at a time when President Obama’s strategy to turn back the Taliban is facing its greatest test — an ambitious campaign to win over a disgruntled population in the insurgents’ southern heartland.

More casualties are expected when the campaign kicks into high gear this summer. The results may determine the outcome of a nearly nine-year conflict that became “Obama’s war” after he decided to shift the fight against Islamist militancy from Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan, where Afghan insurgents find sanctuary.

The grim milestone was reached in a roadside bombing just before the Memorial Day weekend.

The NATO statement did not identify the victim or give the nationality of the service member killed Friday in southern Afghanistan. U.S. spokesman Col. Wayne Shanks said the trooper was American — the 32nd U.S. war death this month by an Associated Press count.

Already the new focus on the once-forgotten Afghan war has come at a heavy price. More than 430 of the U.S. dead were killed after Obama took office in January 2009. The number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan has now surpassed the total in Iraq — roughly 94,000 in Afghanistan compared with 92,000 in Iraq, where the war is winding down.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Michelangelo hid dissected brains in Sistine Chapel.

From Huffington Post:
At the age of 17 he began dissecting corpses from the church graveyard. Between the years 1508 and 1512 he painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. Michelangelo Buonarroti, known by his first name the world over as the singular artistic genius, sculptor, and architect, was also an anatomist, a secret he concealed by destroying almost all of his anatomical sketches and notes.

Now, 500 years after he drew them, his hidden anatomical illustrations have been found -- painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, cleverly concealed from the eyes of Pope Julius II and countless religious worshipers, historians, and art lovers for centuries -- inside the body of God.

This is the conclusion of Ian Suk and Rafael Tamargo, in their paper in the current issue of the scientific journal Neurosurgery. Suk and Tamargo are experts in neuroanatomy at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland.

In 1990, physician Frank Meshberger published a paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association deciphering Michelangelo's imagery with the stunning recognition that the depiction in God Creating Adam in the central panel on the ceiling was a perfect anatomical illustration of the human brain in cross section. Meshberger speculates that Michelangelo surrounded God with a shroud representing the human brain to suggest that God was endowing Adam not only with life, but also with supreme human intelligence.

Now in another panel The Separation of Light from Darkness, Suk and Tamargo have found more. Leading up the center of God's chest and forming his throat, the researchers have found a precise depiction of the human spinal cord and brain stem.

Mystery solved on 500 million-year-old squid creature.

I'm pretty sure H.P. Lovecraft has already explained this creature. From One India:
A research by Canadian palaeontologists has shed new light on a hitherto unclassifiable 500 million-year-old squid-like carnivore known as Nectocaris pteryx.

Martin Smith of University of Toronto's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) and the Department of Natural History at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), said: "We think that this extremely rare creature is an early ancestor of squids, octopuses, and other cephalopods.

"This is significant because it means that primitive cephalopods were around much earlier than we thought, and offers a reinterpretation of the long-held origins of this important group of marine animals."

The new interpretation became possible with the discovery of 91 new fossils that were collected by the ROM from the famous Burgess Shale site (Yoho National Park) in the UNESCO World Heritage Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks, British Columbia over the past three decades, and examined by PhD student Martin Smith along with U of T EEB and Geology assistant professor and ROM palaeontologist Jean-Bernard Caron.

Lead author Smith said: "Previously, all knowledge of Nectocaris came from a lone specimen described in 1976. Due to the ambiguous characteristics evident on that specimen, Nectocaris has remained unclassified until now.

"Our study reveals that Nectocaris is similar to known members of the modern cephalopod group, which includes squid, octopus, cuttlefish and the nautilus, as well as common fossils such as ammonites and belemnites, which are now extinct."

[...] "Our findings mean that cephalopods originated 30 million years earlier than we thought, and much closer to the first appearance of complex animals in the 'Cambrian explosion.'"

Bakery worker fired for eating single hazelnut.

A British woman who worked at the same bakery for 17 years was sacked on the spot for eating a single nut.

The Bolton News said Susan Longworth slipped a chunk of chopped hazelnut into her mouth while sprinkling them on toffee cakes.

The peckish factory worker, 54, thought nothing of it until her furious boss called her into his office at Park Cakes Bakery in Lancashire, northwest England.

Within minutes gobsmacked Ms Longworth had been suspended and escorted from the premises. She was subsequently sacked.

"He said he was taking into consideration my honesty and the length of time I had been working there and I thought he was going to give me a warning," Ms Longworth told the Bolton News.

"I could not believe it when he said he was sacking me.

"Everybody is shocked by what has happened, people keep saying they cannot believe it.

"Most of all, I am just annoyed by what I have done for that company and this is how they have treated me after 17 years."

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

New crop circle contains "beautiful and profound" mathematical message.

The aliens are among us and they use ASCII. From The Independent:
It is perhaps little known that the beautiful county of Wiltshire, famed for Stonehenge and the white horses carved into its hills, is the most active area for crop circles in the world, with nearly 70 appearing in its fields in 2009.

It is unsurprising then, that the appearance of a phenomenally complex 300ft design carved into an expanse of rape seed on a Wiltshire hillside has caused excitement. But it's not just the eye-pleasing shape which has drawn attention to it. The intersected concentric pattern has been decoded by experts as a “tantalising approximation” of a mathematical formula called Euler’s Identity (e ^ ( i * Pi ) + 1 = 0), widely thought be the most beautiful and profound mathematical equation in the world.

The design (pictured above) appeared beside Wilton Windmill late on Friday night. Lucy Pringle, a founder of the Centre for Crop Circle Studies, was one of the first on the scene. She says: “What has happened in this particular crop circle is that there are 12 segments and within each segment there are 8 partly concentric rings. Each of these segments indicates a binary code based on 0 and 1. If you use an Ascii Table [computer calculation system], the pattern transposes itself into a tantalising approximation of Euler’s equation.”

Man infects himself with computer virus.

If you want your computer to make you sick, just go to Drudge Report. From Live Science:
University of Reading researcher Mark Gasson has become the first human known to be infected by a computer virus.

The virus, infecting a chip implanted in Gasson's hand, passed into a laboratory computer. From there, the infection could have spread into other computer chips found in building access cards.

All this was intentional, in an experiment to see how simple radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips like those used for tracking animals can host and spread technological diseases.

The research shows that as implantable bionic devices such as pacemakers get more sophisticated in the years ahead, their security and the safety of the patients whose lives depend on them will become increasingly important, said Gasson.

"We should start to think of these devices as miniature computers," Gasson said. And just like everyday computers, they can get sick.

Herbal supplements often contain lead, other contaminants.

From the NY Times:
Nearly all of the herbal dietary supplements tested in a Congressional investigation contained trace amounts of lead and other contaminants, and some supplement sellers made illegal claims that their products can cure cancer and other diseases, investigators found.

The levels of heavy metals — including mercury, cadmium and arsenic — did not exceed thresholds considered dangerous, the investigators found. However, 16 of the 40 supplements tested contained pesticide residues that appeared to exceed legal limits, the investigators found. In some cases, the government has not set allowable levels of these pesticides because of a paucity of scientific research.

Investigators found at least nine products that made apparently illegal health claims, including a product containing ginkgo biloba that was labeled as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease and a product containing ginseng labeled as a treatment to prevent diabetes and cancer. They also described a salesperson at a supplement specialty store who claimed that a garlic supplement could be taken instead of blood pressure medication.

Any product that claims to treat, cure, prevent or mitigate a disease is considered a drug and must go through strict regulatory reviews.

Another bird species is now extinct.

From BBC:
The Alaotra grebe is extinct, according to the latest assessment of the world's rarest birds.

The last known sighting of the bird was in 1985 and experts have now confirmed its demise, killed off by a combination of poaching and predatory fish.

The Malagasy species, which lived in Lake Alaotra, is the first confirmed bird extinction since 2008.

However, fortunes have improved for rare birds such as the Azores bullfinch and Colombian yellow-eared parrot.

The Alaotra grebe (Tachybaptus rufolavatus) was a medium-sized bird with small wings that inhabited Lake Alaotra and surrounding areas in Madagascar.

Due to its tiny wings, the bird was thought incapable of flying long distances, living a mainly sedentary lifestyle on the lake and in surrounding ponds and highland lakes.

Google's Pac-Man logo costs businesses $120 million.

But no business lost more than the law firm of Inky, Blinky, Pinky & Clyde. From NY Daily News:
On Friday, when Google embedded a playable Pac-Man game in its logo to celebrate the game's 30th anniversery, the Daily News predicted that productivity would take a serious hit as gaming enthusiasts stopped working to play.

According to a new study, we were right.

RescueTime, a company that helps businesses analyze how workers spend time on the job, took a random sample of its users and found that:

* Workers distracted by Google Pac-Man cost businesses a whopping 4.82 million hours of work -- an estimated loss of $120,483,800 (assumes the average Google user had a cost of $25/hour).

* That $120 million sum is more than the combined earnings of all Google employees -- including company founders Larry Page and Serge Brin -- for six weeks.

RescueTime also estimates that the average user spent 36 seconds more on Google on Friday than on an average day -- an uptick apparently caused by online Pac-Man fever.

Distillery turns whiskey into electricity.

Whiskey also turns sadness into happiness. From CNN:
Creating renewable energy from whisky might sound like a harebrained scheme conceived at the end of a long evening drinking the amber nectar.

But an independently-owned Scottish distillery is hoping that the installation of a new biogas generator will prove to be a lasting moment of environmental clarity and help solve their energy problems.

This month, Bruichladdich -- one of eight distilleries to be found on the Scottish isle of Islay -- will take delivery of an anaerobic digester which will start turning their whisky waste into electricity.

Mark Reynier, owner of Bruichladdich Distillery, hopes the digester will meet around 80 percent of its electricity needs and save the company up to £120,000 ($175,000) every year.

Reynier told CNN: "Our waste product is basically water left over after you've stripped all the alcohol out. It's called, rather unromantically, pot ale."

Every year, several hundred thousand liters of pot ale waste are taken away by a tanker and poured down a pipeline that feeds it into the Sound of Islay off the eastern coast of the island.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Researchers achieve quantum teleportation over 10 miles.

From PopSci:
Scientists in China have broken the record for quantum teleportation, achieving a distance of about 10 miles, according to a new study in Nature Photonics. That's a giant leap from previous achievements.

The feat brings us closer to communicating information without needing a traditional signal transmission, the researchers note.

Although it's called teleportation, no matter is really moved. Rather, the quantum state of one object is transferred to another object.

It works by entangling two objects, like photons or ions. The first teleportation experiments involved beams of light. Once the objects are entangled, they're connected by an invisible wave, like a thread or umbilical cord. That means when something is done to one object, it immediately happens to the other object, too. Einstein called this "spooky action at a distance."

Until now, this has only been achieved with particles that are at most a couple hundred feet apart. And those distances have been accomplished with fiber channels, which help preserve the photons' state.

In the latest experiment, researchers entangled two photons and zapped the higher-energy one through a special 10-mile-long free-space tunnel, instead of a fiber one. The distant photon was still able to respond to the changes in state of the photon left behind, an unprecedented achievement.

It worked because the team "maximally entangled" the photons, using spatial and polarization modes, according to Ars Technica. About 89 percent of the information was maintained, also an improvement over previous experiments.

New robot stands-in for office workers.

First they take our jobs. Then our families. Then our lives. From Orange:
Officer workers will soon be capable of being in two places at once - virtually - thanks to their very own robot.

Californian company Anybots has developed the 5ft robot called QB which can act as your stand-in if you're working from home, away on business or stuck in a meeting.

Controllable by internet from anywhere in the world, you simply log-in online and activate your QB which you park at your usual desk.

QB can even trudle around the office joining conversations with colleagues in real time.

A camera in the robot's head let's you see where it's going, and if you spot anyone you want to talk to you simply power over to them and engage in conversation through your headset.

An Anybots spokesman said: "When you're logged in, the robots eyes are glowing so your colleagues know you're there.

"They can just come up to you and ask questions, and you can answer back. If you're needed in a meeting or in the lab, just drive the robot there.

"The robots can be shared among as many people as you like. People who work from home will probably prefer to have their own private robot, which they might customise to represent themselves."

Anybots is currently working on an application so you can control your QB from you iPhone. Each QB will cost $15,000 and will be available from this autumn.

Umbilical cords cut too soon.

Or if you're Jewish like me, it's never cut. From Live Science:
Usually within the first minute of birth, the umbilical cord running between mother and infant is clamped. But this may be too fast, researchers say.

Waiting until the cord stops pulsing could give the newborn significant health benefits, suggests a review article in the most recent issue of the Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine.

"Ob-gyns and parents should think about giving the cord blood to the baby," said lead researcher Paul Sanberg of the University of South Florida. "It only takes a few minutes."

The umbilical cord carries nutrients and oxygen from mom-to-be's placenta to the developing infant's abdomen. (It leaves a life-long impression in the form of the belly button.) When the practice of immediate cord clamping first began about a half century ago, the value of cord blood, especially its stem cells, which can develop into a suite of other cells, was not known. But now we know that stem cells have many therapeutic properties, Sanberg told LiveScience.

"It is not just regular blood going in," he said. "It is nature's first stem cell transplant."

Common problems in newborns are usually related to their underdeveloped organs, which might be helped by the regenerative properties of stem cells, Sanberg theorized.

After reviewing the majority of research in the field, Sanberg and his colleagues concluded that delaying cord clamping could reduce the infant's risk of many illnesses, including respiratory distress, chronic lung disease, brain hemorrhages, anemia, sepsis and eye disease.

The risk of such problems, and thus the potential benefit of delaying cord clamping, is particularly significant for premature babies and those born malnourished or suffering from other complications.


Lame: 22,000 NYC cabbies ripped off passengers.

TV: 100 things we'll miss about LOST.

Ha: Funny test answers.

Sports: Phillies fan arrested for purposely vomiting on cop.

RUW: Computers can now detect sarcsam. Why, that's just greeeeat.

Health: Caffeine counteracts cognitive decline.

Awesome: Video gamers can control dreams.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Man gets sucked into sausage seasoning machine.

I'm glad the police mustard the strength to free him. From NY Daily News:
DANVERS, Mass. – Police said a cleaning man was taken to a hospital after being sucked into a machine at a sausage-making company in Danvers. The accident happened Thursday night as the man was cleaning the vacuum-type machine that is used to season the meat at DiLigui Sausage Co. Police said the man's head and shoulders became stuck in the machine after it somehow activated while being cleaned.

Lt. Carole Germano told The Salem News that the man — whose name was not released — was freed from the machine and showed no obvious sign of trauma, but was taken to a hospital as a precaution.