Monday, January 30, 2006

Stumbling Tourist Smashes Rare China Vases

"CAMBRIDGE, England - A visitor to a British museum tripped on his shoelace, stumbled down a stairway and fell into a display of centuries-old Chinese vases, shattering them into 'very small pieces,' officials said Monday.

The three Qing dynasty vases, dating from the late 17th or early 18th century, had been donated to the Fitzwilliam Museum in the university city of Cambridge in 1948 and were among its best-known artifacts. They sat on the window sill beside the staircase for 40 years.

'It was a most unfortunate and regrettable accident, but we are glad that the visitor involved was able to leave the museum unharmed,' museum director Duncan Robinson said.

The museum declined to identify the man who tripped on a loose shoelace Wednesday.

Asked about the porcelain vases, Margaret Greeves, the museum's assistant director, said: 'They are in very, very small pieces, but we are determined to put them back together.'

The museum declined to say what the vases were worth. "

Friday, January 27, 2006

Why screaming doesn't make you deaf - LiveScience -

"As you scream for your favorite sports team, special brain cells kick in to protect your auditory system from the sound of your own voice, a new study suggests.

These cells dampen your auditory neurons' ability to detect incoming sounds. The moment you shut up, the inhibition signal stops and your hearing returns to normal, so you can then be deafened by the screams of the guy next to you.

Scientists call this signal a corollary discharge. In crickets, on which the study was done, it's sent from the motor neurons responsible for generating loud mating calls to sensory neurons involved in hearing. The signal is sent via middlemen called interneurons."

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Chimps more like humans than apes - LiveScience -

"While you might think of yourself as smarter than the average ape, beware: Those distant relatives of ours have a knack for evolving more quickly than we do. And by revealing this through DNA analysis, scientists have provided support for a controversial hypothesis that chimpanzees are more closely related to humans than to other species of great apes with which they're currently classified.

The findings were announced today in a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers generally agree that humans and chimps diverged from a common ancestor about 5 million to 7 million years ago.

Chimps are lumped with gorillas and orangutans in the same family, Pongidae, whereas humans are in the family Hominidae.

But a study in 2003 found that 99.4 percent of important DNA sites are the same in chimps and humans. Other researchers have since concluded that there are crucial differences in the genetic software of the two species, however. Only a few months ago was the full chimp DNA sequence unraveled.

Chimps evolving faster
In the new study, scientists examined how quickly each species evolves. The figure they work with is called a molecular clock. It involves the rate at which DNA base pairs match up incorrectly, creating genetic errors called substitutions. These are the mutations that cause changes in a species over time.

Our clock began to slow down about 1 million years ago, and today it is 3 percent slower than that of the chimp and 11 percent slower than in the gorilla, concludes the study, led by Soojin Yi, a biologist at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The upshot: There seem to be fewer changes to the software of life in humans over time than in chimpanzees, and even fewer still than in the other apes.

This slower clock correlates with a longer time needed to reach sexual maturity — almost twice as long for humans as gorillas. Scientists call this "generation time." In order for mutations to cause lasting change in a species, they must pass on to the next generation.

Since well before modern times, humans have taken almost twice as long to reach sexual maturity as other apes, Yi said.

"A long generation time is an important trait that separates humans from their evolutionary relatives," said Navin Elango, a graduate student working with Yi. "We used to think that apes shared one generation time, but that's not true. There's a lot more variation."

"I think we can say that this study provides further support for the hypothesis that humans and chimpanzees should be in one genus, rather than two different genus' because we not only share extremely similar genomes, we share similar generation time," Yi said.

Humans slow but smart
Given our evolutionary snail's pace, you might be wondering why, in just a few million years, we got so smart while chimps lagged.

"Even though mutations per se may arise in fewer numbers in humans than in chimpanzees, those that matter will quickly spread," Yi told LiveScience. "Mutations that are advantageous to the human, such as intelligence, probably are under strong natural selection," meaning individuals either latch on to the good stuff or perish.

However, Yi and her colleagues looked only at mutations in non-functional regions of DNA, changes that don't affect evolution. "If we looked at only those mutations that are selected, it is possible we may see different results," she said."

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Vatican Marks 500th Anniversary of Guards

"Five hundreds years ago, mercenaries marched from Switzerland to Rome to aid Pope Julius II, and the Vatican is readying concerts, exhibits and celebrations to mark the half millennium of the Swiss Guards, who still protect the pontiff.

The Vatican No. 2, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, will celebrate Mass Sunday in the frescoed Sistine Chapel for current guards and their families, and afterward Pope Benedict XVI will offer a special blessing to an honor corps in St. Peter's Square.

It is the launch of six months of commemorations in Italy and Switzerland that will culminate with a symbolic re-enactment of the march from Switzerland to Rome of the first 150 Swiss mercenaries to fight Pope Julius II's temporal battles in 1506."

Location, location, location

"DUBLIN - It's about the size of a garden shed, has no electricity and a toilet with no sewage outlet.

But such is Ireland's property boom that the grandly named Neptune Cottage in county Wicklow has been put on the market for 120,000 euros ($145,100) -- all 200 square feet of it.

'They don't come up that often, which is why it's generating so much interest,' said Roisin O'Grady, an assistant at auctioneers Hassett ( who put the property on the market.

The tiny timber-framed hut would not be tranquil -- it backs on to the Dublin-Rosslare rail line -- but does face the beach at Kilcoole, Wicklow, about 25 miles outside Dublin.

It measures 15 feet 6 inches by 12 feet 8 inches and is divided into two little rooms, one with a kitchen and a bed while the 'living room' sleeps three, on a sofa and a divan bed, O'Grady said.

The property has a felt roof, uses bottled gas for cooking and heating and only has an outside chemical toilet.

Ireland has one of the fastest growing economies in the euro area and the boom has fueled a surge in construction. The cost of homes tripled between 1997 and 2004."

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Space Probe Heads To Pluto - Finally | January 19, 2006 14:49:50

"NASA scientists hoped the third time would be the charm for their $700 million unmanned mission to Pluto, and, give or take a half dozen ten-minute delays, it was.

A piano-sized spacecraft blasted off Thursday on a 3-billion mile journey to study Pluto, the solar system's last unexplored planet, and examine a mysterious zone of icy planetary objects at the outer edges of the planetary system.

The New Horizons probe lifted off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 2 p.m., quickly reaching speeds as it pushed away from Earth of 36,000 mph, nearly 100 times faster than a jetliner.

'We have ignition and liftoff of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft on a decade long voyage to visit the planet Pluto and then beyond,' said NASA commentator Bruce Buckingham.

It was the swiftest spacecraft ever launched and was expected to reach Earth's moon in nine hours and Jupiter in just over a year.

To reach Pluto, New Horizons had to launch by Feb. 14 or the flight would have been delayed to next year, reports CBS News Space Consultant Bill Harwood. But Jan. 28 was a better deadline, to take advantage of Jupiter's gravity for a planned 2007 flyby that will boost the probe's velocity by 9,000 mph and get it to Pluto by 2015. After Jan. 28, the arrival date would have begun slipping and by the end of the launch window, an additional five years would have been required to reach the target."

Discovery of ancient quarry rewrites HK's human history

"As Asia's trade and finance hub born out of small fishing villages in less than 200 years, Hong Kong is far less attractive to archaeologists than it is to businessmen and bankers.

A newly-discovered ancient quarry at Sai Kung in eastern Hong Kong, however, has roused interests of anthropologists, who announced Saturday that the human history on the territory can be traced back to 30,000 years ago rather than the conventionally- believed 6,000 or 7,000 years ago. "

Russia in grip of new cold war

"The schools are shut, traffic has ebbed and life has taken a more cautious pace over the sheet ice. There is little you can do but shuffle on, tape up your windows and buy a thicker hat. Temperatures in Moscow yesterday plunged to -28C. Three people froze to death and 14 were taken seriously ill. But, as ever, it will get worse for this city of 12 million.

Weather forecasters predict that tonight and tomorrow temperatures will plunge to as low as -37C, the coldest in the capital since 1979. Moscow's record low is -42.1, set 66 years ago. One Russian news website ran the headline 'The Day After Tomorrow - in Moscow', referring to the Hollywood film about global warming in which the United States is enveloped overnight in a new ice age."

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Tahlequah Daily Press--'Snail mail' a vanishing art form

"BTW, LOL, ROFL, IMISU2 aren�t acronyms for civil libertarian groups, nor are they examples of car tag numbers.

They're typical of the language people use in the digital information age.

For those who aren't savvy in digital-speak, they mean "by the way," "laughing out loud," "rolling on the floor laughing" and "I miss you, too."

The art of composing a thoughtful missive to send via the postal service has been all but lost in this age of instant messaging, coast-to-coast walkie-talkie phones and e-mail.

This is Universal Letter Writing Week, which Dr. Stanley J. Drake, founder of the International Society of Friendship and Goodwill, is credited for instituting as a way of reconnecting and rediscovering the joy of penning missives to loved ones."

CBS News | Retraining The Brain

"It is hard to tell by watching her, but 4-year old Harper Thomas is participating in what may be a medical revolution. So are Betty and Ernie Radez, aged 87 and 85, respectively.

All three are using cutting edge therapies to rewire their brains. Treating serious medical conditions with neither drugs nor surgery.

'Everybody thinks that the answers to the ills of humankind lie with pharmacology, gene therapy or stem cells, right?' asks neuroscientist Dr. Michael Merzenich.

'That's where the answers are, but another set of answers is coming from a surprising source; right? It's the use, it's the understanding of the process of the brain,' Merzenich tells CBS News correspondent John Blackstone.

Merzenich is a leading developer of therapies based on what's called brain plasticity, which he defines as, 'the capacity of the brain to change itself. It actually changes physically, functionally, in ways that you can measure.' "

Friday, January 13, 2006

Photos document snowflake diversity - LiveScience -

"Through rain and sleet and dead of night and all that, your letters next winter can be delivered bearing snowflakes artfully photographed by a physicist who weathers those same storms to study nature's crystal magic.

Starting in October, the U.S. Postal Service will issue a set of four stamps featuring pictures of snowflakes taken by Kenneth Libbrecht, a professor of physics at the California Institute of Technology.

For years, Libbrecht has been studying the physics of snowflakes, looking at the different patterns of crystal growth and snowflake formation."

Click the title link to read more and see snowflake photographs.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Beam weapons almost ready for battle - -

Beam weapons almost ready for battle - - "There is a new breed of weaponry fast approaching -- and at the speed of light, no less. They are labeled 'directed-energy weapons,' and they may well signal a revolution in military hardware -- perhaps more so than the atomic bomb.

Directed-energy weapons take the form of lasers, high-powered microwaves and particle beams. Their adoption for ground, air, sea, and space warfare depends not only on using the electromagnetic spectrum, but also upon favorable political and budgetary wavelengths too.

That's the outlook of J. Douglas Beason, author of the recently published book 'The E-Bomb: How America's New Directed Energy Weapons Will Change the Way Wars Will Be Fought in the Future.' Beason previously served on the White House staff working for the president's science adviser under both the Bush and Clinton administrations."

Tuesday, January 10, 2006 - News - MARS IN 3HRS - News - MARS IN 3HRS: "SCIENTISTS believe they can reach the final frontiers of space using a Star Trek-style 'hyperdrive'.

They say it is possible to build a device which will propel a spacecraft to Mars in just three hours - and the next solar system in less than three months.

The design is based on ideas of a German physicist who modified Albert Einstein's theories.

Burkhard Heim said it was possible to create a multidimensional world in which the forces of gravity and electromagnetism are fused together.

Testing the idea would require a huge ring rotating above a super-conducting coil to generate an intense magnetic field.

A large enough current and magnetic field should cause the ring to rise and gather speed. A paper drawing on the theory last year won the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics' Future Flight prize.

At least one space propulsion scientist thinks it may be possible to make the idea reality.

Roger Lenard, of Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, runs a powerful X-ray generator known as the Zmachine.

He told New Scientist magazine that it could 'probably generate the necessary field intensities and gradients'."

Friday, January 06, 2006

Dolphins displaced by Katrina get new home - Science -

"Sixteen dolphins from a marine park that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina -- including several that were swept out to the Gulf of Mexico and later rescued -- have been moved to a resort in the Bahamas.

The dolphins, which have been housed at temporary locations around the country, were transported to Mobile, Ala., and loaded onto an airplane for the final stage of their trip, officials said.

Another dolphin was left behind because she is ill, said Stacey Coltraine, a former trainer of the dolphins, and will be flown to the Bahamas when she is healthy."

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Earliest Mayan writing found in pyramid - Science -

"Newly discovered hieroglyphs show that the Maya were writing at a complex level 150 years earlier than previously thought.

The glyphs, which date to about 250 B.C., were found on preserved painted walls and plaster fragments in the pyramidal structure known as Las Pinturas, in San Bartolo, Guatemala.

Las Pinturas also yielded the previously oldest samples of Mayan writing, dating back to 100 B.C. "

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Surprising Complexity of Walking

"Next time someone tells you to watch your step, tell them you already are.

Placing your foot down when walking was thought to be a predetermined process: lift foot, decide where to put it based on what's on the ground, and if nothing moves, land it down on the original target. Scientists thought this procedure requires no immediate visual information once the foot was lifted off the ground.

But a new study has found that continuous visual guidance mechanisms may be needed for accurate foot placement.

"We have demonstrated that vision can be used in an online fashion to fine-tune foot placement during a step," said Raymond Reynolds, of the Institute of Neurology, Queen Square, London. "It was previously thought that vision was used to plan the step in advance but not necessarily monitor its ongoing progress.'"

Click the title to read the entire article

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Rovers Still Exploring Mars After 2 Years

"The warranty expired long ago on NASA's twin robots motoring around Mars. These two golf cart-sized vehicles were only expected to last three months.

In two years, they have traveled a total of seven miles. Not impressed? Try keeping your car running in a climate where the average temperature is 67 below zero and where dust devils can reach 100 mph.

'These rovers are living on borrowed time. We're so past warranty on them,' says Steven Squyres of Cornell University, the Mars mission's principal researcher. 'You try to push them hard every day because we're living day-to-day.'

The rover Spirit landed on Mars on Jan. 3, 2004, and Opportunity followed on Jan. 24. Since then, they've set all sorts of records and succeeded in the mission's main assignment: finding geologic evidence that water once flowed on Mars."