Kiteboarding Hurricane Irene

12:02:04 AM, Monday, August 29, 2011

-- Holy!!!

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How Unrelated Wasps Succeed by Helping Others Breed

11:44:19 PM, Sunday, August 28, 2011

"Why do some animals help to rear the young of an unrelated individual without any apparent benefit to themselves?

Animals that choose not to reproduce, but instead help non-relatives to breed, represent a challenge to evolutionary theory. How do these animals pass on the genes that make them so altruistic, if they are not breeding themselves or rearing genetically-related offspring? Shouldn't these genes be removed by natural selection?

It's an evolutionary puzzle that University of Sussex research may now have shed new light upon through studying the reproductive behaviour of the paper wasp (Polistes dominulus).

According to Inclusive Fitness Theory, social animals can benefit in the reproductive stakes even if they don't breed themselves by helping to rear offspring produced by a related female, such as their sister or mother (ie social insects such as bees). This is because the offspring of these relatives will be their brothers and sisters, or nieces and nephews, and so will share at least some of their genes.

The paper wasp, however, does not fit this model, because wasps often help non-relatives to breed*. A relatively primitive species, the paper wasp sometimes rears its own young in a solitary nest, but often forms a social nest with other individuals, where one egg-laying female is dominant and the other wasps assist in rearing the offspring. Why would unrelated wasps help their competitors instead of breeding for themselves?"

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Canada Seeks Stealthy Snowmobile, For No Good Reason

11:12:26 PM, Sunday, August 28, 2011

"The Canadian government wants a stealth snowmobile. Just, apparently, because.

It’s not as if Canada has any alpine enemies to sneak up on with shadowy, frigid cavalry. But that’s not going to stop the Canadian Department of National Defence from spending a half million dollars on a prototype.

The secret to the intended stealth capabilities of the snowmobile: a hybrid engine and a quieter electric motor. According to a solicitation from the department, the vehicle has to be able to travel 15 kilometers in its electric mode at an average speed of 20 kilometers per hour. Alas, hybrid snowmobiles aren’t commercially available yet, but the department wants a prototype model by March 31.

Why Canada needs a stealth snowmobile is a question best not asked. The solicitation laments that current snowmobile engines are too loud for “missions where covertness may be required,” but doesn’t bother to list any.

Maybe it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The Canadian government has been bolstering its military strength in its arctic regions — which must come as a jarring contrast for Canadian veterans of Afghanistan. While there’s been breathless media hype about a Coming Arctic War, that hypothetical conflict is a naval struggle borne of new northern sea lanes, created by global warming. Snowmobiles need not apply..."

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Genetic Evidence Clears Ben Franklin

10:58:01 PM, Sunday, August 28, 2011

"The DNA evidence is in, and Ben Franklin didn't do it. Genetic tests on more than 1,000 Chinese tallow trees from the United States and China show the famed U.S. statesman did not import the tallow trees that are overrunning thousands of acres of U.S. coastal prairie from Florida to East Texas.

"It's widely known that Franklin introduced tallow trees to the U.S. in the late 1700s," said Rice University biologist Evan Siemann, co-author the new study in this month's American Journal of Botany. "Franklin was living in London, and he had tallow seeds shipped to associates in Georgia."

What Franklin couldn't have known at the time was that tallow trees would overachieve in the New World. Today, the trees are classified as an invasive species. Like Asian carp in the Great Lakes and kudzu vines in the eastern U.S., the trees are spreading so fast that they're destroying native habitats and causing economic damage.

Each tallow tree can produce up to a half million seeds per year. That fertility is one reason Franklin and others were interested in them; each seed is covered by a waxy, white tallow that can be processed to make soap, candles and edible oil.

Siemann, professor and chair of ecology and evolutionary biology at Rice, has spent more than 10 years compiling evidence on the differences between U.S. and Chinese tallow trees. For example, the insects that help keep tallow trees in check in Asia do not live in the U.S., and Siemann and his colleagues have found that the U.S. trees invest far less energy in producing chemicals that ward off insects. They've also found that U.S. trees grow about 30 percent faster than their Chinese kin..."

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Will the Space Station be Abandoned?

10:10:31 PM, Sunday, August 28, 2011

"Like the Mary Celeste, the International Space Station (ISS) could be floating empty, devoid of humans by November. However, unlike the Mary Celeste, we'll know exactly what happened to the crew.

In the wake of the Russian Progress vehicle crash shortly after launch on Aug. 24, a chain of events has been set into motion that could result in the decision not to fly astronauts into orbit. If this happens, the ISS will be temporarily mothballed before the end of the year to avoid landing astronauts during the harsh Kazakh winter.

Investigations are under way as to why the motor of the third stage of the Soyuz-U rocket switched off early, preventing Progress M-12M from reaching orbit. The unmanned cargo vehicle crashed minutes later in Siberia, 1,000 miles east of the launch site in Kazakhstan. Fortunately, there were no reported casualties on the ground.

So why are there concerns about getting astronauts into orbit when the failure happened to the rocket carrying an unmanned vehicle?

Well, the Soyuz-U rocket's third stage is almost identical to equipment used on the Soyuz-FG booster used to propel manned Soyuz vehicles to the ISS. Yes, those are the same taxi rides NASA now depends on to get U.S. astronauts to the orbiting outpost.

In fact, since the retirement of the shuttle fleet, it is currently the only human-rated ride into space on the planet.

According to Spaceflight Now, the Russian space agency Roscosmos is carrying out an inquiry into the agency's plans for their manned spaceflight program, space manufacturing quality and a board has been set up to recommend corrective actions..."

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Russian Space Station Cargo Ship Crashes

10:03:22 PM, Sunday, August 28, 2011

"A Russian supply ship carrying cargo for the International Space Station on Wednesday failed to reach orbit shortly after blast-off, with reports saying it may have crashed into the Earth.

The unmanned Progress-M-12M vessel was carrying several tonnes of supplies for the international crew on board the space station but failed to reach the correct orbit, Russian space agency Roskosmos said.

"According to preliminary information, on the 325th second, there was an operating problem with the propulsion system that led to its emergency shutdown," Roskosmos said in a statement.

"The Progress M-12M cargo craft was not placed in its assigned orbit," said the two-sentence statement.

The Interfax news agency quoted a source as saying it may have crashed into Siberia while RIA Novosti said it could have hit Russia's Altai region on the border with Mongolia and China.

RIA Novosti quoted a local official in the Gorni Altai region as saying a blast had been heard at a distance of 100 kilometers but there were no reports of casualties..."

-- Damn! With US shuttle gone this is not good news at all. Soyuz-U rocket's third stage is almost identical to equipment used on the Soyuz-FG booster used to propel manned Soyuz vehicles to the ISS.

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Sukhoi T-50

4:43:28 PM, Saturday, August 27, 2011

-- I got a feeling I'll be posting much more of this beast. Follow link for full size.

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The Wombats – Techno Fan

4:27:47 PM, Saturday, August 27, 2011
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Orange Goo At Alaskan Village Found To Be Fungal Spores, Not Eggs

4:11:13 PM, Saturday, August 27, 2011

"The orange goo that took over the shore of a remote Alaskan village is actually a mass of fungal spores — not microscopic eggs, as scientists at the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration first believed.

But researchers are not yet sure whether this particular type of rust fungus is one of the 7,800 species of rust fungi that have already been identified. For one thing, its spores have unusual spines covering their surface.

"At this point, the best identification we can give to as the origin of these spores is a rust fungus," says Steve Morton, Ph.D., who works in the NOAA lab in Charleston, S.C., that conducted the full analysis. "The spores are unlike others we and our network of specialists have examined; however, many rust fungi of the Arctic tundra have yet to be identified."

Samples of the orange substance were sent to labs at NOAA's Alaska Fisheries facility, which initially determined that the goo was actually a mass of microscopic eggs, and to NOAA's National Ocean Service Center for Coastal Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research in Charleston.

Scientists at the South Carolina facility who analyzed the microbiological phenomena with electron scanning microscopes and other equipment "determined that the substance is consistent with spores from a fungi that cause rust," according to a NOAA press release..."

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How 'Super Sand' Could Provide Drinking Water To Millions Of People

3:52:07 PM, Saturday, August 27, 2011

"Sand is a cheap and easy to find water filter. It's also not a very good water filter. But a new development--coating sand in graphite--could make it possible for everyone in the world to have easy access to clean water.

Nearly one billion people lack access to safe drinking water. There are creative ways to purify dirty water when a Brita isn't handy, to be sure--people living in areas with plentiful sand, for example, can pour water through sand and pebble-filled filters. But while the sand quickly filters water and removes large particles, it is, not surprisingly, ineffective at removing heavy metals, pathogens, and other toxins that find their way into dirty water.

A newly developed "coated sand," uses graphite oxide--a substance used in the chemical process for making pencil lead (or graphite)--to filter out the contaminants that regular sand can't touch. It could be cheap to produce and almost as plentiful as plain old sand.

When Rice University researchers ran two model contaminants (mercury and Rhodamine B dye) through the super sand, they found that the coated substance removed contaminants as well as commercially available active carbon filtration systems. The big difference: The super sand is cheap. Graphite is inexpensive (waste graphite from mining operations could even be used), and the coating process can occur at room temperature..."

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100+ CEOs Promise No Campaign Donations

10:12:18 PM, Thursday, August 25, 2011

"NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- You know who's really mad at Washington? Corporate America.

Led by Howard Schultz of Starbucks (SBUX, Fortune 500), more than 100 CEOs have signed a pledge to halt all political campaign contributions until lawmakers, as Schultz puts it, "stop the partisan gridlock in Washington, D.C."

Last week, he mounted a one-man bull rush against a political culture that has "chosen to put partisan and ideological purity over the well being of the people."

Schultz said he was going to stop writing checks, and he asked other CEOs to join him.

They have.

AOL's (AOL) Tim Armstrong, Frontier Communications' (FTR) Maggie Wilderotter, Zipcar's (ZIP) Scott Griffith, Whole Foods' (WFM) Walter Robb and Intuit's (INTU) Bill Campbell have all signed up..."

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Article: Cosmic Crashes May Give Habitable Planets the Boot

10:06:44 PM, Thursday, August 25, 2011

"Long-ago collisions between clouds of gas and dust could explain why many alien solar systems have planets with strange, highly tilted orbits — and why habitable worlds may be rare in the universe, a new study suggests.

Newly forming solar systems may be jostled by interactions with nearby clumps of matter, leading to systems in which alien planets have dramatically tilted orbits and the smaller (and potentially habitable) worlds are ejected, according to the study.

"We may be on the cusp of solving the mystery of why some planetary systems are tilted so much and lack places where life could thrive," said study lead author Pavel Kroupa, of the University of Bonn in Germany, in a statement. "Our work should help other scientists refine their search for life elsewhere in the universe."

Tilting a planet nursery

Most of the planets in our own solar system, including Earth, have relatively circular orbits and are lined up along a plane that isn't tilted much from the sun's equator. They also orbit in the same direction around the sun as our star spins.

But many other solar systems are not so neatly ordered, harboring planets that move in the opposite direction of their stars' spin on highly tilted orbits. The new study offers a possible explanation for these seemingly irregular traits..."

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Honeycomb Carbon Crystals Possibly Detected in Space

5:54:57 PM, Thursday, August 25, 2011

"NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has spotted the signature of flat carbon flakes, called graphene, in space. If confirmed, this would be the first-ever cosmic detection of the material -- which is arranged like chicken wire in flat sheets that are one atom thick.

Graphene was first synthesized in a lab in 2004, and subsequent research on its unique properties garnered the Nobel Prize in 2010. It's as strong as it is thin, and conducts electricity as well as copper. Some think it's the "material of the future," with applications in computers, screens on electrical devices, solar panels and more.

Graphene in space isn't going to result in any super-fast computers, but researchers are interested in learning more about how it is created. Understanding chemical reactions involving carbon in space may hold clues to how our own carbon-based selves and other life on Earth developed.

Spitzer identified signs of the graphene in two small galaxies outside of our own, called the Magellanic Clouds, specifically in the material shed by dying stars, called planetary nebulae. The infrared-sensing telescope also spotted a related molecule, called C70, in the same region – marking the first detection of this chemical outside our galaxy.

C70 and graphene belong to the fullerene family, which includes molecules called "buckyballs," or C60. These carbon spheres contain 60 carbon atoms arranged like a soccer ball, and were named after their resemblance to the architectural domes of Buckminister Fuller. C70 molecules contain 70 carbon atoms and are longer in shape, more like a rugby ball.

Fullerenes have been found in meteorites carrying extraterrestrial gases, and water has been very recently encapsulated in buckyballs by using new laboratory techniques. These findings suggest fullerenes may have helped transport materials from space to Earth long ago, possibly helping to kick-start life..."

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Scientists Find Underground River Beneath Amazon

5:28:10 PM, Thursday, August 25, 2011

"SAO PAULO — Brazilian scientists have discovered an underground river some 4,000 meters (13,000) feet deep, which flows from west to east like the country's famous waterway.

A statement this week from Brazil's National Observatory named the underground river Hamza and said it represents one of two different draining systems for the large rainforest region.

A team of scientists led by Elizabeth Pimentel came to the conclusion from studying 241 wells drilled by the state oil giant Petrobras in the Amazon region.

Even though the two rivers cover a similar path they have differences. The underground river flows at a far slower pace and empties into the ocean deep underground.

"It is likely that this river is responsible for the low level of salinity in the waters around the mouth of the Amazon," the statement said..."

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Vatican Admits Priests are Raping Nuns Around the World

4:04:39 PM, Thursday, August 25, 2011

"It's not just little kids who are endangered by Catholic priests -- Catholic nuns also have reason to fear. The Vatican has finally admitted that nuns all around the world have been sexually abused and even raped by priests. Africa has had the most problems, but many other countries have been involved as well, including India, Ireland, Italy, the Philippines and the United States.

Confidential Vatican reports obtained by the National Catholic Reporter, a weekly magazine in the US, have revealed that members of the Catholic clergy have been exploiting their financial and spiritual authority to gain sexual favours from nuns, particularly those from the Third World who are more likely to be culturally conditioned to be subservient to men.

The reports, some of which are recent and some of which have been in circulation for at least seven years, said that such priests had demanded sex in exchange for favours, such as certification to work in a given diocese.

In extreme instances, the priests had made nuns pregnant and then encouraged them to have abortions.

The US article was based on five documents, which senior women from religious orders and priests have presented to the Vatican over the past decade. They describe a particularly bad situation in Africa. In a continent devastated by Aids, nuns, along with early adolescent girls, are perceived by some as safe sexual targets. The reports said that the church authorities had done little to tackle the problem.

The Vatican reports cited countless cases of nuns forced to have sex with priests. Some were obliged to take the pill, others became pregnant and were encouraged to have abortions. In one case in which an African sister was forced to have an abortion, she died during the operation and her aggressor led the funeral mass. Another case involved 29 sisters from the same congregation who all became pregnant to priests in the diocese..."

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