Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Chilean Mummies Reveal Signs of Arsenic Poisoning

chilean mummy face 

As expected, the team detected arsenic in the mummy's hair and in the soil. They also discovered skin conditions indicative of arsenic poisoning.

People of numerous pre-Columbian civilizations in northern Chile, including the Incas and the Chinchorro culture, suffered from chronic arsenic poisoning due to their consumption of contaminated water, new research suggests.

Previous analyses showed high concentrations of arsenic in the hair samples of mummies from both highland and coastal cultures in the region. However, researchers weren't able to determine whether the people had ingested arsenic or if the toxic element in the soil had diffused into the mummies' hair after they were buried.

In the new study, scientists used a range of high-tech methods to analyze hair samples from a 1,000- to 1,500-year-old mummy from the Tarapac√° Valley in Chile's Atacama Desert. They determined the high concentration of arsenic in the mummy's hair came from drinking arsenic-laced water and, possibly, eating plants irrigated with the toxic water. [See Photos of the Mummy and Excavation Site

"In Chile, you have these sediments that are rich in arsenic because of copper-mining activities in the highlands," which expose arsenic and other pollutants, said lead study author Ioanna Kakoulli, an archaeological scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles. "When it rains, the arsenic can leach out into the rivers."

For the rest of the story: http://www.livescience.com/44838-chilean-mummies-show-arsenic-poisoning.html

30 Years After Chernobyl’s Meltdown, Gripping Photos Expose the Human Fallout

On April 26, 1986, operators in this control room of reactor #4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant committed a fatal series of errors during a safety test, triggering a reactor meltdown that resulted in the world's largest nuclear accident to date. [Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, Ukraine 2011]

Part of the mystery and terror of the Chernobyl disaster is the invisibility of the threat. The explosion at the Vladimir Ilyich Lenin nuclear power plant released more radiation than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, and one might never know they were being poisoned until months, even years later. Veteran photographer Gerd Ludwig’s spent 20 years photographing the area, chronicling the ongoing consequences of the radioactive release.

“You don’t see it, you don’t feel it, you don’t smell it, you don’t taste it, but it’s there,” he says. “It’s around you, and that makes many people oblivious to the danger.”

Ludwig has photographed the benighted reactor and the 18-mile exclusion zone surrounding it nine times in the last two decades. The photo book he’s crowdfunding, The Long Shadow of Chernobyl, gathers the deeply affecting images he took and shows why the disaster, which occurred on April 26, 1986, remains relevant.

“I want to give a voice to those people that suffered this tragedy and still are suffering,” Ludwig says.
The book, which started life on the iPad, is divided into four categories: the compromised reactor; the abandoned town of Pripyat about a mile away; the contaminated villages farther out; and the medical and emotional impact of the disaster in places like Belarus and Ukraine. The photos recount the still-unfolding narrative of the meltdown but remain fixed on the people involved: A man and child hospitalized with cancer, a 93-year-old woman who defied an evacuation order to live out her life at home, the tourists who venture among the ruins.

Beyond the looming threat of radiation, visits present a host of practical and bureaucratic hurdles and usually are limited to a few days at most. Accessing the reactor intensifies the risk, and the hassle, and Ludwig reckons he’s gone deeper into the belly of the beast than any other Western photographer.

He first entered in 1993 on assignment for National Geographic. During another visit in 2005, he took advantage of the administrative confusion caused by the Orange Revolution to extend his stay to nearly two weeks. By the time he visited in 2011 and 2013, he was using Kickstarter and arts grants to help cover his expenses.

For the rest of the story: http://www.wired.com/2014/04/gerd-ludwig-chernobyl/#slide-id-721461

Monday, April 14, 2014

How Japan Copied American Culture and Made it Better


If you’re looking for some of America’s best bourbon, denim and burgers, go to Japan, where designers are re-engineering our culture in loving detail

A couple of years ago I found myself in a basement bar in Yoyogi, a central precinct of Tokyo, drinking cold Sapporo beers with big foamy heads while the salarymen next to me raised their glasses to a TV displaying a fuzzy, obviously bootlegged video of an old Bob Dylan concert. The name of the bar, My Back Pages, is the title of a Dylan song. Dylan is, in fact, the bar’s reason for being: Japanese fans come here to watch his concert videos, listen to his tapes and relive the ’60s in America, a time and place almost none of them witnessed firsthand. As I heard yet another version of “Mr. Tambourine Man” roaring over the speakers, with some drunk Japanese fans now singing along, I thought how strange this phenomenon was.

The American presence in Japan now extends far beyond the fast-food franchises, chain stores and pop-culture offerings that are ubiquitous the world over. A long-standing obsession with things American has led not just to a bigger and better market for blockbuster movies or Budweiser, but also to some very rarefied versions of America to be found in today’s Japan. It has also made the exchange of Americana a two-way street: Earlier this year, Osaka-based Suntory, a Japanese conglomerate best known for its whiskey holdings, announced that it was buying Beam Inc., thus acquiring the iconic American bourbon brands Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark.

In Japan, the ability to perfectly imitate—and even improve upon—the cocktails, cuisine and couture of foreign cultures isn’t limited to American products; there are spectacular French chefs and masterful Neapolitan pizzaioli who are actually Japanese. There’s something about the perspective of the Japanese that allows them to home in on the essential elements of foreign cultures and then perfectly recreate them at home. “What we see in Japan, in a wide range of pursuits, is a focus on mastery,” says Sarah Kovner, who teaches Japanese history at the University of Florida. “It’s true in traditional arts, it’s true of young people who dress up in Harajuku, it’s true of restaurateurs all over Japan.”

For the rest of the story: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/how-japan-copied-american-culture-and-made-it-better-180950189/?no-ist

A Pyramid in the Middle of Nowhere Built To Track the End of the World

A Pyramid in the Middle of Nowhere Built To Track the End of the World 
A huge pyramid in the middle of nowhere tracking the end of the world on radar. An abstract geometric shape beneath the sky without a human being in sight. It could be the opening scene of an apocalyptic science fiction film, but it's just the U.S. military going about its business, building vast and other-worldly architectural structures that the civilian world only rarely sees. 

The Library of Congress has an extraordinary set of images documenting the Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex in Cavalier County, North Dakota, showing it in various states of construction and completion. And the photos are awesome.

A Pyramid in the Middle of Nowhere Built To Track the End of the World  

A Pyramid in the Middle of Nowhere Built To Track the End of the World 

Taken for the U.S. government by photographer Benjamin Halpern, the particular images seen here show the central pyramid—pyramid, obelisk, monument, megastructure: whatever you want to call it—that served as the site's missile control building. Like the eye of Sauron crossed with Giza, it looks in all directions, its all-seeing white circles staring endlessly at invisible airborne objects across the horizon.

For the rest of the story: http://gizmodo.com/a-pyramid-in-the-middle-of-nowhere-built-to-track-the-e-1562753133?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+gizmodo%2Ffull+%28Gizmodo%29

Swarms of Genetically-Modified Mosquitoes Will Take a Bite Out of Dengue Fever

Swarms of Genetically-Modified Mosquitoes Will Take a Bite Out of Dengue Fever

In order to fight dengue fever, which is spread by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, counterforces of genetically-modified mosquitoes are being released in unprecedented numbers in Jacobina, Brazil. 

The mosquitoes are all non-biting males that have been modified to carry two genes that makes them and their progeny dependent on the antibiotic tetracycline, the absence of which in the wild will prevent the next generation from reproducing.

“It is like a live insecticide,” Aldo Malavasi, the president of the Brazilian company Moscamed that’s raising and testing the GM mosquitoes in Jacobina, told The Global Post. The other newly-added gene is a marker that shows up on a special light so the spread of the GM mosquitoes can be monitored.

So sure: mosquitoes, chemical failsafes, and a lab-grown species separated out by gender. The comparisons to Jurassic Park stop there, but it's good to get these things out of the way.

The dengue virus has been a big problem in Brazil and around the world. Last year the country reported 1.4 million cases of the disease, for which no vaccine exists, and worldwide, cases of dengue have experienced a 30-fold jump since the 1960s. It infects an estimated 390 million people per year across the globe, and in its most severe form, dengue haemorrhagic fever can lead to shock, acute pain, coma, and death.

Obviously there are concerns about releasing a genetically-modified animal into the wild. “They are even harder to recall than plants are if anything goes wrong,” Helen Wallace, director of GeneWatch, said.

But the initial trials of fighting mosquitos with GM mosquitos thus far have been positive. After a series of contained evaluations, GM mosquitoes were first released into the great Brazilian outdoors in the February of 2011. In the December of that year, Dr. Margareth Capurro of the University of Sao Paulo lead another suppression trial that gave more evidence that genetic modification was working where mosquito nets and pesticides weren't.

For the rest of the story: http://motherboard.vice.com/read/swarm-of-genetically-modified-mosquitoes-to-take-a-bite-out-dengue-fever

What Should You Do In Case Of A Nuclear Explosion?

That won't do. 

Funny question in the headline, yes?

But since President Obama worries more about the threat of terrorists' improvised nuclear device going off in a major American city than anything Russia can throw at us, I was wondering if the government had deigned to share with us citizens any tips for, you know, surviving something their own intelligence points to as the likeliest unlikely Black Swan event.

Well, no. And yes.

No — very few people in Washington, D.C., who work for the government have any idea what they would do if a 10-kiloton nuclear device exploded at the intersection of 16th and K streets.

You can always look to movies to figure this stuff out, right? And in movies, since nuclear radiation is BAD, the thing to do is to get away from it as quickly as possible. In the movies, electronics are fried, too, the response is chaotic, and hundreds of thousands of people die.

Interestingly enough, though, the government has done quite a bit of work to figure out what exactly would happen if a suitcase nuke — which, I know, doesn't really exist, but, for the sake of this example, bear with me — actually did explode a few blocks from the White House.

For the rest of the story: http://theweek.com/article/index/259829/if-a-nuclear-bomb-exploded-in-downtown-washington-what-should-you-do

Glow-in-the-dark roads make debut in Netherlands


Light-absorbing glow-in-the-dark road markings have replaced streetlights on a 500m stretch of highway in the Netherlands.

Studio Roosegaarde  promised us the design back in 2012, and after cutting through rather a lot of government red tape we can finally see the finished product.

One Netherlands   news report said, "It looks like you are driving through a fairytale," which pretty much sums up this extraordinary project. The design studio like to bring technology and design to the real world, with practical and beautiful results.

Back in October 2012, Daan Roosegaarde, the studio's founder and lead designer, told us: "One day I was sitting in my car in the Netherlands, and I was amazed by these roads we spend millions on but no one seems to care what they look like and how they behave. I started imagining this Route 66 of the future where technology jumps out of the computer screen and becomes part of us."

For the rest of the story: http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2014-04/11/glow-in-the-dark-highway-launches
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