Friday, July 26, 2013

Jumbo Viruses Hint At 'Fourth Domain' Of Life

Electron microscopy image of a Pandoravirus particle (edited using Adobe Photoshop artistic filters).

 (ISNS) -- The discovery of two new jumbo-sized viruses is blurring the lines between viral and cellular life and could point to the existence of a new type of life, scientists suggest.

The two large viruses, detailed in this week's issue of the journal Science, have been dubbed "Pandoraviruses" because of the surprises they may hold for biologists, in reference to the mythical Greek figure who opened a box and released evil into the world.

The discovery of Pandoraviruses is an indication that our knowledge of Earth's microbial biodiversity is still incomplete, explained study coauthor Jean-Michel Claverie, a virologist at the French National Research Agency at Aix-Marseille University. 

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Device Uses Handwriting to Detect Neurological Disorders

To help detect neurodegenerative diseases, researchers have built a system that records signals from hand muscles during handwriting.

This Research in Action article was provided to LiveScience in partnership with the National Science Foundation.

Each year, more than 50,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, a degenerative disorder that attacks the central nervous system, causing tremors, rigidity, slowness of movement and loss of balance. Detecting it can be difficult, however, especially in early stages. Now, to detect and study neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's, researchers have built a system that records signals from hand muscles during handwriting.

Motor neurons transmit electrical signals to muscles to make them contract. Electromyography (EMG) is a process that records and graphs such electrical activity to yield information about the condition of a subject's muscles and the nerve cells that control them. In the new detection system, a test subject attaches EMG surface electrodes to his or her hand and wears a glove to hold the electrodes in place. The subject then writes on a tablet, repeating simple, stereotyped hand movements that involve two basic motor components: firmly holding a pen by the fingers and moving the hand and the fingers to produce written text. The results are collected from both the tablet and the surface EMG electrodes.  

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Stunning 3D Rock Images Revealed in New Lab

This 3D model reveals the inside of an oolite – a rock containing sand grains coated in concentric layers of calcium carbonate.

 PRINCETON, N.J. — A geologist and an architect standing in a lab may sound like the start to a very nerdy joke, but a pair of these professionals have joined together to revolutionize the way scientists study structures, such as fossils, inside rocks.

Geologists use a variety of techniques to analyze fossils and other features trapped inside Earth's rocky layers. The most basic technique, dating back to the 19th century, involves slicing away layers of rock, taking pictures of each layer, and then recreating the full 3D shapes by connecting dots between images. But this method is tedious and prone to human error.

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Astronomers Have Been Predicting New Planets in our Solar System for Centuries


The theoretical planet Tyche's theoretical orbit. via

For every planet in our solar system there’s a hypothetical planet, some heavenly body that would explain some observed astronomical occurrence. It’s a compelling idea–that our Solar System is filled with unseen masses–which is probably why stories of new planets keep popping up. This week, the planet Tyche (pronounced ty-kee) has reappeared in social media circles. The supposed planet is theorized to be four times the mass of Jupiter and lurk in the outer Oort Cloud, orbiting 375 times farther from the Sun than Pluto. But so far, theories are all we have on this planet.

Astronomers have been predicting new planets based on mathematical models and observations almost as long as the telescope has been around. It’s how astronomers found Neptune–a body was predicted to orbit outside Uranus to explain its orbit. But some predictions haven’t produced as striking (or concrete) a result as Neptune.

Tyche isn’t a new hypothetical body. In the 1980s, astronomers theorized that the Sun had a companion. The idea was that if our star was part of a binary system with the unseen companion following a highly elliptical orbit, the sister star would periodically perturb comets in the Oort Cloud and send a shower of comets towards the inner solar system. Some of these icy rocks would slam into the Earth eradicating almost all life. This would explain Earth’s periodic mass extinctions. The Oort-lurking star was appropriately named Nemesis.

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Bee Colonies Are Dying From "Non-Lethal" Fungicides


Even if it won't cause World War III, bees are responsible for pollinating $30 billion worth of crops in the US alone, and if there aren't bees, there isn't food. So we have a more-than-vested interest in figuring out why bee colonies have been dying off for the last six years.

A new study tries to zero in on what's killing, shocking, perhaps soon agriculturally-crippling, numbers of bees. Published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, this latest research on what's behind colony collapse disorder finds it's a whole hell of a lot of things: chemicals not commonly thought to be overly hurtful to bees are dangerous;  chemicals are making bees more susceptible to parasites; and banning one class of pesticides is really just one part of the solution. Basically: it's all of chemically-intensive modern agriculture.

That last sentence may veer towards overstatement and oversimplification, but it's not really off the mark.

The researchers from the University of Maryland and the USDA found, after collecting pollen from hives on the East Coast that had been pollinating a variety of crops and giving it to healthy bees, is that those healthy bees become less able to resist a common bee parasite that is already implicated in colony collapse disorder. 

Come See Detroit, America’s Future


DETROIT — I KNOW an old woman who hasn’t opened her windows in a decade, afraid that what’s outside will climb inside. Inside, there is the stale odor of dead air. 

I know another woman who called me about a corpse lying outside her window for six and a half hours. This was because of cutbacks at the morgue. No dignity in death here. They do it better in Baghdad. 

The latest trend? When a person is murdered, he is thrown into an abandoned house, and it is set on fire. There are tens of thousands to choose from. 

I know of an 11-year-old boy who was shot, the bullet going clean through his arm. The cops stuffed him in the back of a squad car and rushed him to the hospital. That’s how we do it. There was no ambulance available. About two-thirds of the city’s fleet is broken on an average day. 

I know a cop who drives around in a squad car with holes in the floorboards. There is no computer, no air-conditioning, the odometer reading 147,000 miles. His bulletproof vest has expired. His pay has been cut 10 percent.
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The Most Dangerous Volcano in North America


When you live in Mexico, you get used to people in other countries thinking you are in a war-zone sort of apocalypse state. If it’s not narcos, it’s earthquakes, kidnappers, or chupacabras. These days, the thing for Americans to fear in Mexico is the volcano Popocatepetl, lovingly called Popo, which is chucking ash all over the place. Notice that many reports find it necessary to give Mexico City’s population alongside reports that it’s active. As if that number might drop significantly very soon.

Now, for those who live here it all seems silly. I didn’t even notice the ash – though some of these reports make you think it is piling up on the sidewalks. I have noticed the air quality is a little off for the middle of rainy season (when afternoon showers clean the skies). But all in all, the rumblings of our hulking neighbor hasn’t affected me. Far more annoying is the whole since-you-live-in-Mexico-you’ll-probably-be-dead-tomorrow attitude from friends and family.
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How We Got “Please” and “Thank You”

Why the line between politeness and bossiness is a linguistic mirage.

“A good thing to think about is what kind of face to make when you say please,” Ruth Krauss wrote in her magnificent final collaboration with Maurice Sendak. “That coat will be the last gift [your mother] gave you. You will regret the small thing you didn’t say for the rest of your life. Say thank you,” Cheryl Strayed counseled in her endlessly soul-stirring Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar. But how did these commonest of courtesies, “please” and “thank you,” actually originate? That’s precisely what anthropologist and activist David Graeber explores in one of the most absorbing semi-asides in his altogether illuminating Debt: The First 5,000 Years (public library):
Debt … is just an exchange that has not been brought to completion.
It follows that debt is strictly a creature of reciprocity and has little to do with other sorts of morality. . . . But isn”t that just the same old story, starting with the assumption that all human interactions must be, by definitions, forms of exchange, and then performing whatever mental somersaults are required to prove it? 
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Many Americans say Afghan war isn’t worth fighting

Only 28 percent of Americans say the war in Afghanistan has been worth fighting, the lowest number on record and clearly below the least-popular stretches of the Iraq war, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Overall support for U.S. military operations in Afghanistan has dropped 11 percentage points since March, a precipitous fall during a period marked by tension between U.S. officials and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a spring and summer resurgence in Taliban attacks, and the failure of ballyhooed peace talks with insurgents to get off the ground.

Americans sour on Afghan war 

The drop in approval was matched by an 11-point increase, to 67 percent, in those who say the war has not been worth fighting.

The numbers come as Congress has moved to cut President Obama’s budget request for operations in Afghanistan, and the administration is reportedly leaving open the possibility of withdrawing all troops by the end of next year, when combat forces are scheduled to pull out.
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Black Box Reveals Train Driver's Agony Moments After 120 MPH Crash

  • Train driver Francisco Jose Garzon 'formally detained' by Spanish police
    • The passenger train derailed outside city of Santiago de Compostela
    • All eight carriages of the Madrid to Ferrol train derailed
    • The train was carrying 218 passengers when it smashed into the wall
    • Many were travelling to the area on the eve of a Christian festival
    • Foreign Office confirmed a British citizen is among the injured
    • Driver posted picture of train speedometer at 125mph in March last year
    • Spanish PM has visited scene and declared three days official mourning 
The black box of the Spanish train which crashed killing at least 80 people recorded its driver begging controllers what to do in the moments after it hurtled off the tracks, yelling: 'I f***** up. I want to die.'

Francisco Jose Garzon, who was today 'formally detained' by Spanish police investigating the incident, was behind the controls when the Madrid to Ferrol high-speed rail link hurtled into a wall at 120mph near the city of Santiago de Compostela on Wednesday night.

The on-board recording device reveals Garzon's desperate pleas to the Alvia Trains control room as the magnitude of the smash dawned on him, Spanish newspaper El Mundo reported.

'I've derailed,' he told the rail company's nerve centre as the dust settled around the wreckage. 'What do I do? What am I supposed to do? I f***** up. I want to die.'

'I want to die': Minutes later Francisco Jose Garzon was photographed being helped from his train's mangled remains by a medic, blood oozing onto his blue uniform from a wound on his head 

Myth That Rape Rarely Causes Pregnancy Based on a Nazi Experiment That Never Happened


I’ve written before about how the myth that rape rarely causes pregnancy, trotted out most famously by former Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri, originates with a claim about a Nazi experiment in a 1972 essay by the obstetrician Fred Mecklenburg.  Mecklenburg was married to Marjory Mecklenburg, president of the National Right to Life Committee in the 1980s. In his essay, which appeared in a book financed by another anti-abortion group, Americans United for Life, Mecklenburg wrote thatthe Nazis tested the hypothesis that stress inhibits ovulation by selecting women who were about to ovulate and sending them to the gas chambers, only to bring them back after their realistic mock killing, to see what effects this had on their ovulatory patterns. An extremely high percentage of these women did not ovulate.”

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on the essay after the furor over Akin’s comment that women can stave off pregnancy after a “legitimate rape.” (Akin apologized but lost his next election.) Another former head of the National Right to Life Committee, Jack Wilke, had previously resurrected this canard, and stuck with it when the Los Angeles Times called to ask him about Akin last year.
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How America's Top Tech Companies Created the Surveillance State

They’ve been helping the government spy on people for a very long time. The cozy relationships go back decades.  

`With Edward Snowden on the run in Russia and reportedly threatening to unveil the entire “blueprint” for National Security Agency surveillance, there’s probably as much terror in Silicon Valley as in Washington about what he might expose. The reaction so far from private industry about the part it has played in helping the government spy on Americans has ranged from outraged denial to total silence. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, he of the teen-nerd hoodie, said he’d never even heard of the kind of data-mining that the NSA leaker described—then fell quiet. Google cofounder Larry Page declared almost exactly the same thing; then he shut up, too. Especially for the libertarian geniuses of Silicon Valley, who take pride in their distance (both physically and philosophically) from Washington, the image-curdling idea that they might be secretly in bed with government spooks induced an even greater reluctance to talk, perhaps, than the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which conveniently forbids executives from revealing government requests for information.

But the sounds of silence from the tech and telecom sectors are drowning out a larger truth, one that some of Snowden’s documents might well supply in much greater detail. For nearly 20 years, many of these companies—indeed most of America’s biggest corporate sectors, from energy to finance to telecom to computers—have been doing the intelligence community’s bidding, as America’s spy and homeland-security agencies have bored their way into the nation’s privately run digital and electronic infrastructure. Sometimes this has happened after initial resistance, and occasionally under penalty of law, but more often with willing and even eager cooperation. Indeed, the private tech sector effectively built the NSA’s surveillance system, and got rich doing it.

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PepsiCo to no longer call Naked juices 'natural'

NEW YORK (AP) — PepsiCo Inc. says it will no longer label its Naked juices as being ‘‘all natural,’’ after a lawsuit complained that the drinks contain ingredients that don’t fit that bill.

The company, based in Purchase, N.Y., is also paying $9 million to settle the lawsuit.

In an emailed statement, the company said it uses ‘‘an added boost of vitamins’’ in some of the drinks. But a lawsuit filed against the company noted that the vitamins are actually synthetic ingredients, including a fiber made by Archer Daniels Midland.

PepsiCo did not respond when asked whether those synthetic fibers are in fact included in the juices. The company’s statement said it will drop the use of the word ‘‘natural’’ until there is more regulatory guidance around the world.

The case highlights the confusion around the use of the word ‘‘natural’’ in in the industry. The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t currently have a definition for what constitutes a natural product. But it says that it doesn’t object to the term’s use if the food doesn’t have ‘‘added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances.’’

Notably, the FDA says it’s difficult to define a food product that is natural, since it has likely been processed and is no longer a ‘‘product of the earth.’’

Michele Simon, a public health lawyer and critic of food industry marketing practices, noted that there are numerous cases making their way through the legal system because of food companies’ use of the word natural. She said the PepsiCo case was notable because the company was in essence addressing the murkiness of the word with the settlement.
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It's 90 Degrees in Siberia and People Are Sunbathing


Your mental image of Siberia is probably a snowy, wind-whipped expanse, perhaps with a cluster of buildings to house those banished from Russian society. Not this week. This week, Norilsk, the northernmost large city in the world, the second largest city north of the Arctic Circle, and the site of one of those gulags, hit a balmy 32 degrees Celsius — about 90 Fahrenheit. It's normally in the mid-60s.

The online outlet The Siberian Times ("up-to-date information in English from across Siberia's six time zones") featured a photo of people sunbathing on the shores of Lake Baikal in its report on what may be a new record high.

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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Neuroscientists plant false memories in the brain

MIT study also pinpoints where the brain stores memory traces, both false and authentic.

Neuroscientists plant false memories in the brain  

MIT neuroscientists identified the cells (highlighted in red) where memory traces are stored in the mouse hippocampus.

The phenomenon of false memory has been well-documented: In many court cases, defendants have been found guilty based on testimony from witnesses and victims who were sure of their recollections, but DNA evidence later overturned the conviction.

In a step toward understanding how these faulty memories arise, MIT neuroscientists have shown that they can plant false memories in the brains of mice. They also found that many of the neurological traces of these memories are identical in nature to those of authentic memories.

“Whether it’s a false or genuine memory, the brain’s neural mechanism underlying the recall of the memory is the same,” says Susumu Tonegawa, the Picower Professor of Biology and Neuroscience and senior author of a paper describing the findings in the July 25 edition of Science. 

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The UFO Religion That Wants To Bring Back The Swastika

A woman celebrating  

Last Saturday, handfuls of people around the world celebrated the fourth annual “Swastika Rehabilitation Day,” an event dedicated to putting the Nazi symbol in a more positive light. The festivities included planes carrying swastika banners over New York City and revelers with swastika facepaint and signs designed to highlight the symbol’s pre-Hitler roots. Swastika Rehabilitation Day was sponsored by the Raelian movement, a religion based on the teachings of a French man named Claude Vorilhon (A.K.A Rael) who claims he learned the true origins of humanity during a “dramatic encounter with a human being from another planet” in 1973. 

“It’s been used for thousands of years as a symbol of well being and good luck, so when Westerners interpret it as meaning something ugly just because the Nazis used it, our society denies millions of people the right to live their religion freely,” Thomas Kaenzig, a “Raelian Guide” and president of the Pro-Swastika Alliance said in a statement announcing the plans for Swastika Rehabilitation Day last week. 

Photos of the Swastika Rehabilitation Day celebrations posted on a “Rehabilitate The Swastika” Facebook page show events in several locations around the world including Las Vegas, the Dominican Republic, San Francisco, Mexico, France, Italy, and Tel Aviv, among others. In a telephone conversation Tuesday, Kaenzig said “hundreds” of people participated in these events. There are also pictures of a plane carrying a banner with symbols depicting the equation “Swastika Equals Peace Plus Love” that the group said flew “along the Long Island coast line as well as up the Hudson river in New York City.” The banners also displayed a link to the Pro-Swastika Alliance website.
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How a Memory Game Can Multiply Your Brain’s Computing Power

n-back memory game 

When’s the last time you forgot your cell phone? What about your anniversary? We’ve all wished for a better memory at some point. And in those moments, what we’re generally referring to are our fact-based memory systems—the ones that store experiences and learned knowledge, the ones that can be strengthened by flash cards and mnemonic devices.

But there’s another type of memory that’s equally important, though less talked about: Working memory. Working memory holds items in the current moment, like digits in a phone number or lyrics to a song. It’s the mental capability that lets you keep multiple things in mind—say, competing goals for a project at work—and navigate a solution.

And it turns out working memory is fundamental to some of our most important cognitive abilities. People with a spacious working memory are, on average, better test-takers and better students, and they have more executive control and better problem-solving skills. A strong working memory is even correlated with greater lifetime earning potential.

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How Adding Iodine to Salt Boosted Americans’ IQ

morton salt iodine 

Iodized salt is so commonplace in the U.S. today that you may never have given the additive a second thought. But new research finds that humble iodine has played a substantial role in cognitive improvements seen across the American population in the 20th century.

Iodine is a critical micronutrient in the human diet—that is, something our bodies can’t synthesize that we have to rely on food to obtain—and it’s been added to salt (in the form of potassium iodide) since 1924. Originally, iodization was adopted to reduce the incidence of goiter, an enlargement of the thyroid gland. But research since then has found that iodine also plays a crucial role in brain development, especially during gestation.

Iodine deficiency today is the leading cause of preventable mental retardation in the world. It’s estimated that nearly one-third of the world’s population has a diet with too little iodine in it, and the problem isn’t limited to developing countries—perhaps one-fifth of those cases are in Europe (pdf), where iodized salt is still not the norm.

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What We Learned From the Korean War

Sixty years after the signing of a truce, it's clear that this conflict set the pattern for multiple American wars to come.


The demilitarized zone dividing the two Koreas, in Paju, about 55 km (34 miles) north of Seoul (Lee Jae Won/Reuters).
This week marks an important anniversary. Sixty years ago, on July 27, 1953, representatives of the United Nations, led by U.S. Army Lt. Gen William Harrison, met their North Korean counterparts in Panmunjom, Korea, to sign an armistice agreement ending the 37-month-long war. Negotiators had been discussing the agreement for nearly 25 of those months in 158 separate meetings. 

The document was not a peace treaty. It provided for a truce. The historic occasion had no mark of formality and no sense of finality. The representatives signed the agreement without speaking a single word to each other, and no one offered handshakes. The South Korean representatives refused to sign and did not join in the meeting. There surely was no ceremony comparable to the one on the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay in September 1945. The New York Times reported from the treaty site, "Outside the thin wooden walls there was the mutter of artillery fire - a grim reminder that even as the truce was being signed men were still dying on near-by hills and the fight would continue for twelve more hours."
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Secret Museum Hidden in an Abandoned Freight Elevator

Abandoned Freight Car Museum 1 

Unlike all of New York City’s flashy and well-known museums, this particular exhibition space is grungy, quirky and easy to miss. Located in an abandoned freight elevator on the edge of the Tribeca neighborhood in Manhattan, Museum measures just 80 square feet and is covered by a pair of unmarked, heavy iron doors when it’s closed. It contains collections of objects just as unconventional as the space itself.

As stark and unfussy as its name, Museum is intentionally hard to find. It’s only open to visitors on the weekend, but you can peer through a series of viewing windows to get a look at the contents 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Photographer Garrett Ziegler captured these images of the space and its humorous, oddball display pieces.

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So Can We Make A Whole Robot Person Yet?


Scientists announced the invention of the first functional electronic skin yesterday, a malleable field of pressure sensitive circuits thin enough to “wrap around irregular surfaces”. It seems like an announcement like this comes almost every few days. So, can we make a whole person yet? 

I mean, we have everything from brain-controlled robot arms to bionic eye implants to robot hearts, stinky cyber armpits to a robot jellyfish.  And then of course, there’s this guy. Way back in 2005 scientists were claiming it’d be possible to download your brain onto a computer by 2050, and it looks like the opposite, uploading information directly to that gooey mass of tapioca in your head, is just about there. (As long as the robot doing the surgery doesn’t get tense and have a swordfight in your cranium.)

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'Star Wars' Just Made A Contribution To Science

New geological research got an assist from Google Earth ... and Tatooine.  


Just northwest of Tozeur, Tunisia, lays a barren stretch of desert that's home to great swaths of sand and not much else. As the wind whips its way through that sand, it gives rise to large, crescent-shaped structures known as barchans. Barchans are something like movable mountains: they tend to migrate in the same direction as the desert winds, going, literally, where the wind takes them. Which has made them something of an enigma to scientists: How do you measure the movement of sand upon sand upon sand? How do you know how far the barchans are traveling when it's so hard to tell where the mounds end and the ground begins? 

Enter George Lucas. Because the land just northwest of Tozeur, Tunisia, it turns out, is also home to the set that served as the backdrop for Mos Espa, the early home of the young Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. And the site, according to a collective of scientists who have researched the matter, "now lies between the arms of a large 'pudgy' barchan dune."

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How Protecting Your Privacy Could Make You the Bad Guy


There’s a funny catch-22 when it comes to privacy best practices. The very techniques that experts recommend to protect your privacy from government and commercial tracking could be at odds with the antiquated, vague Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA).

A number of researchers (including me) recently joined an amicus brief (filed by Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society in the “Weev” case), arguing how security and privacy researchers are put at risk by this law.

However, I’d also like to make the case here that the CFAA is bad privacy policy for consumers, too. It’s not just something that affects hackers and academics.

The crux of a CFAA violation hinges on whether or not an action allows a user to gain “access without authorization” or “exceed authorized access” to a computer. The scary part, therefore, is when these actions involve everyday behaviors like clearing cookies, changing browser reporting, using VPNs, and even protecting one’s mobile phone from being identified.
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Florida's Radioactive Fountain of Youth May Prolong Life

Five hundred years after Ponce de Leon explored the area, locals swear by an artesian well with unusual properties.

Five hundred years ago in June, the Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de Leon started his journey back to Puerto Rico from Florida after becoming the first European to land on mainland America. 

After exploring the east coast of Florida, he circled the peninsula and explored the west coast, including modern-day Charlotte Harbor (see map), most likely the location he chose for his second voyage.

According to legend, the explorer set out in search of the fountain of youth, a fabled stream that would extend the life of anyone lucky enough to drink from it.

Thanks to the myth of Ponce de Leon's trip, Floridaknown for its large population of retireesis now awash in "fountains of youth." Dozens of bodies of water claim the title of the one legendary fountain, from mineral springs to deep-water wells, not to mention water from a variety of sources that is piped into various built structures.

Only one, however, is known to be radioactive. And, oddly, it might be actually extending life.

In Punta Gorda, a town on Charlotte Harbor, a blocky, green-tiled fountain abuts an empty lot near the harbor. A spigot juts out near the top to release water from the artesian well below. Each of the four sides features a picture of a ship, a tribute to Ponce de Leon.

On the side facing away from the street, a public health notice warns that the water "exceeds the maximum contaminant level for radioactivity."

The water from the well is also heavy in sulfates, which give it a distinctive smell of rotten eggs. This hasn't stopped the locals from drinking from it regularly.

"I drank out of that well every day," said Gussie Baker, a resident of Punta Gorda for all of her 78 years.
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How Strollers And Car Seats Train Kids To Be Passive, Uninquisitive, And Fat

How strollers and car seats train our kids to be passive, uninquisitive, and fat.

We know how to walk when we’re six weeks old, but we lack the muscle tone and coordination to actually do much about this — it’s like being given a bicycle, then told you’ll get the wheels in a few months.

Fortunately, at this age we also lack the verbal skills to yammer endlessly about life’s obvious injustices.

Then, at about a year old, we take our first step, whereupon several complex processes begin, starting with a long negotiation with gravity. We stand clinging to an adult’s pant leg, then release and start to pitch forward. One leg swings out, and then another, and — whoa! — we lurch a step or two. Fall, repeat. Writing in 1863, the polymath Oliver Wendell Homes made walking sound like ad copy for a new PlayStation 4 game: “Walking is a perpetual falling with a perpetual self recovery,” he wrote. “It is the most complex, violent, and perilous operation, which we divest of its extreme danger only by continual practice from a very early period of life.”

Once we work out basic mechanics of forward motion, walking becomes a vehicle for developing the mind. We explore and find things. We learn about landmarks and anchoring. We develop our working memory, since it’s essential that we keep our destination and routes in mind as we navigate the Scylla and Charybdis of multiple distractions. (“Memo to self: Ignore interesting old tissue under coffee table. Continue onward to sleeping dog and throw self on it.”.

Independent movement is also an essential part in our social and emotional development — it’s in part how we learn about establishing and carrying out plans of our own, of learning to be ourselves. A number of studies have arrived via different routes at the same conclusion: Independent mobility doesn’t just coincide with dramatic changes in our behavior. Walking actually causes our behavior and thoughts about the world to change. 

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South’s new heroes? Spies from North

Love thy enemy: A slew of recent South Korean films portraying spies from the rival North — including this year's hit movie 'Secretly, Greatly,' starring Lee Hyun-woo — have been embraced by young South Koreans, who have no memory of the Korean War. | AFP-JIJI.


They are handsome, daring, patriotic and multilingual elite fighters who dodge bullets while remaining loyal to their women and families. Meet the new heroes of South Korean cinema — North Korean spies.

Portrayed by Hollywood as merciless terrorists in films such as “White House Down,” South Korean film is increasingly depicting North Korean agents as conflicted action heroes whose personal struggles embody a divided Korean Peninsula.

Such films, unimaginable a few decades ago, have been embraced by young South Koreans who have no memory of the horrors of the Korean War and harbor less hostility toward their communist neighbor than older generations.
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Everything You Wanted To Know About Credit Card Numbers

Most of us carry credit cards and ATM cards. These, typically, have sixteen digits on the front. These digits are the unique account number for the card. For obvious reasons, just any sixteen digits will not work, they follow pattern.

Here's a fictitious card I made up:


The first few characters of the card number describe the type of card.

Some cards are Visa, some Mastercard, some are American Express …

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NASA Photos Show Outburst from Potential 'Comet of the Century'

These images from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope of Comet ISON were taken on June 13, 2013, when ISON was 312 million miles (502 million kilometers) from the sun. The lefthand image shows a tail of fine rocky dust issuing from the comet, blown back by the pressure of sunlight. The image at right shows a neutral gas atmosphere surrounding ISON, likely created by carbon dioxide fizzing off the comet at a rate of 2.2 million pounds per day.
Comet ISON Photos by Spitzer Space Telescope 

A comet that could put on a dazzling show when it zooms through the inner solar system later this year is already blasting out huge amounts of gas and dust, new observations by a NASA spacecraft show.

Images taken on June 13 by NASA's infrared Spitzer Space Telescope reveal that dust and carbon dioxide gas are streaming off Comet ISON, forming a tail about 186,400 miles (300,000 kilometers) long, researchers said.
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You Can Live Forever

Is immortality plausible? Or is it quack science? Two experts face off.  

Walter Bortz and Aubrey de Grey are both sights to behold. It’s a Friday morning—opening time—at The Tied House Brewery and CafĂ© in Mountain View, California. Flags emblazoned with the logos of local sports teams (San Francisco Giants, San Jose Sharks) dangle from the rafters, and colorful signs for house-made ales (New World Wheat Beer, Hoptopia IPA) adorn the yellow cinder-block walls, in typical microbrewery fashion.

Bortz appears first: tall, lean, tanned, in a white polo shirt and brown sport coat, with a shock of white hair. Three months ago, Bortz participated in his 10th Boston Marathon, and 43rd marathon overall. He is 83 years old. 

De Grey, 50, materializes next. He looks like some sort of steampunk shaman: long russet-gray hair, pulled back in a ponytail; equally long beard, with a footlong mustache to match; lavender striped shirt unbuttoned past his sternum; dark jeans; and what appear to be black Dr. Martens boots. De Grey is six feet, 150 pounds or so. Wraithlike. He has saved us a table near the window.

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Record 61 tons of silver recovered from shipwreck in Atlantic Ocean

In 1941, British cargo ship SS Gairsoppa was carrying the treasure to the United Kingdom when Nazis torpedoed it.


Odyssey Marine Exploration senior project managers Andrew Craig and Ernie Tapanes inspect the first silver bar recovered in 2013 from the SS Gairsoppa site, near Ireland. 

American deep-sea explorers recovered more than 61 tons of silver this month from a shipwreck nearly 3 miles beneath the ocean's surface — a world record.

Back in 1941, a British cargo ship, the SS Gairsoppa, was carrying the treasure from India to the United Kingdom when Nazis torpedoed the vessel nearly 300 miles off the coast of Ireland.


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Guess The World's Most Expensive City

While Edward Snowden can perhaps breathe a sigh of relief at being abale to avoid the humdrum beat of airport food for a while, he will be stepping out into the 2nd most expensive city in the world. Based on a survey of over 200 items, Moscow ranks 2nd in the world (with $8 cups of coffee and $4,600 average apartment rental costs), and Tokyo 3rd (with $5 newspapers and $7 coffees). But the most expensive city in the world will come as a surprise to most and likely create the need for a Google Maps search. With 40.5% of the population of this nation living in property and the average monthly rent a sky-high $6,500, this southern African country's capital is the most expensive city in the world (it would seem the Chinese arrival in resource-rich African nations - N'Djamena, Chad is 4th - has had its hot-money inflationary effects).

Most Expensive Cities In The World (using Mercer data)

Number 10. Sydney

Monthly rent (luxury apt.): $2,551
International newspaper: $6.20
Cup of coffee: $5.16
Gas (per liter): $1.51
A tight housing market has made Sydney an extremely expensive place for anyone to live. Few vacancies have driven rental prices higher, with the average rent on a luxury two-bedroom hitting more than $2,500 a month.

Prices for other goods aren't cheap either: Want a burger and a soda? That will cost you more than $9. A trip to the movies for two? Close to $40 -- and that's without popcorn.
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The Concept Of War May Be A More Modern Invention Than Previously Thought

New Study of Prehistoric Skeletons Undermines Claim That War Has Deep Evolutionary Roots*

When did war begin? Does war have deep roots, or is it a modern invention? A new analysis of ancient human remains by anthropologists Jonathan Haas and Matthew Piscitelli of Chicago’s Field Museum provides strong evidence for the latter view.


But before I get to the work of Haas and Piscitelli, I’d like to return briefly to my last post, which describes a study of modern-day foragers (also called hunter gatherers), whose behavior is assumed to be similar to that of our Stone Age ancestors. The study found that modern foragers have engaged in little or no warfare, defined as a lethal attack by two or more people in one group against another group. This finding contradicts the claim that war emerged hundreds of thousands or even millions of years ago.

Defenders of the Deep Roots Theory have leveled various criticisms at the forager study. [*See Clarification below.] They complain that foragers examined in the study—and modern foragers in general–have been pacified by nearby states. Or the foragers are “isolated,” living in remote regions where they rarely come into contact with other groups. In other words, these foraging societies are atypical.

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The Biggest Threat To National Security Is The Thumb Drive

Thumb Drive Wide 

How did we destroy Iranian nuclear facilities? With a thumb drive. And how did Snowden allegedly smuggle out the blueprints to the NSA? With a thumb drive.

No, it wasn't by some ultra secretive means of super-complex cyber code writing and cloud encryption by which good ol' Eddy breached America's security in arguably the most secure compound on the planet — nope — he simply walked in with a thumb drive, downloaded the NSA, and walked out.

Made in America 2.0: behind Google and Apple's sudden patriotism

Tech giants are making innovative electronics in the US again, but why?

American tech Tim Cook, Larry Page, Moto X, Eagle (Credit: TC Sottek) 
The Moto X is on its way. The long-anticipated Android phone — expected to be the first truly Google-influenced product from Motorola since Google acquired the company back in 2012 — is due to be unveiled in New York City on August 1st. Already, the physical design and basically all of the phone’s technical details have leaked. But there’s one aspect of the phone that Motorola was promoting months ahead of the leaks: that it’s made in America.

"the first smartphone ever assembled domestically."

"Available this summer, every Moto X sold in the USA will be assembled in Fort Worth, Texas, making it the first smartphone ever assembled domestically," wrote Motorola spokesperson Danielle McNally in May, following comments made to similar effect by Motorola CEO Dennis Woodside at the 2013 All Things D conference. In fact, Motorola’s assembly partner for the phone, a contract manufacturing company called Flextronics, said it planned to create 2,000 new jobs in the Fort Worth area. Even leaked images of the Moto X appear to contain a Texas flag design as the default wallpaper.
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The Pond at the North Pole

 A dramatic photo doesn't say quite as much about the state of the Arctic as it appears to  

The North Pole is supposed to be icy. It's where Santa and polar bears live, after all. 

But, right now, there's a small lake at the North Pole. Here's an image from the wide-angle camera trained on a weather buoy maintained by the North Pole Environmental Observatory.


Paired with the long-time decline in sea ice across the arctic due to global warming, it's easy to jump to the conclusion that the Arctic sea ice is in an epic freefall. I mean, when there is a pond at the North Pole, things have gotten bad, right? 

And generally speaking, sea ice extent seems to be under considerable pressure. There is less ice during the summer than there used to be. But the specific story about the pond at the North Pole presents us with a little more complex symbol of change. 

Yes, there is a meltwater pond at the north pole, and perhaps in some previous climate states, that would not have happened. But this is not the first time scientists have observed a melt pond at the North Pole, nor is it the largest.

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