Archive for August, 2012

The War of Art

Timelapse video of artist Patrick Vale drawing the view of the Manhattan skyline from the Empire State Building.

Photo: Ant Hadleigh

It’s the stuff nightmares are made of — a giant spider slowly killing a snake snared in its web.

“The snake was probably a few feet long and the spider about the size of your hand,” Mr Hadleigh said.

Mr Hadleigh, who runs rainforest tours in Cape York and his own kitesurfing business Australian Kite Surfari, said he had witnessed some amazing things in the tropics but this took the cake.

“It’s definitely one of the most interesting things I’ve seen. I never would have thought that the web would have been strong enough to hold a snake that size,” he said.

The backyard battle lasted several hours before the snake finally succumbed to the spider’s deadly venom, he said.

“The snake kept on trying to reach up and attack the spider and every time the spider would just run up to the top of the web.”

“You could see the spider just chewing into the snake and the part the spider was eating had gone all black. It was pretty disgusting.”

Israeli scientists have uncovered messages transmitted underground – not by enemy agents, but by garden pea plants.

The Ben-Gurion University team discovered that plants can transmit distress signals to each other through their roots. An injured plant “communicates” to a healthy one, which in turn relays the signal to neighboring plants, possibly enhancing the other plants’ ability to deal with stress in the future, according to the study, recently published in the periodical PLoS (Public Library of Science One ).

The researchers, headed by plant biologist Ariel Novoplansky of the Mitrani Department of Desert Ecology, exposed five garden pea plants to drought conditions. They found that the stressed plant closes its leaves to prevent water loss. Meanwhile its roots release signals that caused neighboring plants, which were not exposed to drought conditions, to react as if they had been. The study, “Rumor Has It …: Relay Communication of Stress Cues in Plants,” shows the unstressed plants transmitted the information on to other healthy plants.

Preliminary results indicate that plants that receive the distress signals will survive better if exposed to drought at a later stage in their life.

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A Cheetah and Tiger Sculpted from Wire Coathangers by David Mach sculpture mutiples animals

A Cheetah and Tiger Sculpted from Wire Coathangers by David Mach sculpture mutiples animals

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An illustration of sugar molecules.

Astronomers have made a sweet discovery: simple sugar molecules floating in the gas around a star some 400 light-years away, suggesting the possibility of life on other planets.

The discovery doesn’t prove that life has developed elsewhere in the universe—but it implies that there is no reason it could not. It shows that the carbon-rich molecules that are the building blocks of life can be present even before planets have begun forming.

Scientists use the term “sugar” to loosely refer to organic molecules known as carbohydrates, which are made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen.

 The molecules that the team detected in space are the simplest form of sugar, called glycoaldehyde, explained lead astronomer Jes Jørgensen of Denmark’s Copenhagen University.

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The filmmaker Laura Poitras profiles William Binney, a 32-year veteran of the National Security Agency who helped design a top-secret program he says is broadly collecting Americans’ personal data.

Would you please…

And not just any book, have it teach you something worthwhile.

Audiobooks count too people!

Colored Thread Installations by Gabriel Dawe thread installation color

Colored Thread Installations by Gabriel Dawe thread installation color

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1) a Southern African ethic or humanist philosophy focusing on people’s allegiances and relations with each other.

Ubuntu:I am what I am because of who we all are. (From a definition offered by Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee.)

Archbishop Desmond Tutu offered a definition in a 1999 book:A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, based from a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.

Tutu further explained Ubuntu in 2008: One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.

2. a computer operating system based on the Debian Linux distribution and distributed as free and open source software, using its own desktop environment. It is named after the Southern African philosophy of Ubuntu (“humanity towards others”).

3. a municipality in the Pixley ka Seme District Municipality of the Northern Cape province of South Africa.

4. Ubuntu Cola: a soft drink certified by The Fairtrade Foundation. Made with Fairtrade sugar from Malawi and Zambia, Ubuntu Cola is the first UK cola to be Fairtrade certified. It is available for sale in the United Kingdom, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Ireland, The Netherlands, Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, Switzerland and online.

Art by: Alex Grey

Image: Artist's illustration of the alien solar system Kepler-47

A new study shows that planetary systems can form and survive in the chaotic environment around pairs of stars.

A team reports in Science the discovery of two planets orbiting a pair of stars – a so-called binary.

Gravitational disturbances generated by stellar pairs are thought to be very severe for any orbiting planets.

Nasa’s Kepler space telescope found two small planets around a pair of low-mass stars.

Such systems have particular significance for science fiction fans. In the Star Wars films, Luke Skywalker’s home planet of Tatooine orbits a binary star.

The planetary system, known as Kepler-47, is located roughly 5,000 light-years away, in the constellation Cygnus.

It contains a pair of stars whizzing around each other every 7.5 days. One star is Sun-like, while the other is about one-third the size of its neighbour and 175 times fainter.

Circling the stars is an inner planet about three times larger in diameter than the Earth, and an outer planet that is just slightly larger than Uranus.

The inner planet – dubbed Kepler-47b – takes 49 days to complete an orbit, while the outer planet – Kepler-47c – takes 303 days.

The orbit of the outer planet places it in the so-called “habitable zone”, the region around a star where it is neither too cold nor too hot for liquid water to persist on the surface of a planet.

While the outer world is probably a gas-giant planet and thus not suitable for life, its discovery establishes that these “circumbinary” planets can, and do, exist in habitable zones.

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Turn on all the lights!

What Earth looked like from between 13 billion years ago to how it will likely look 250 million years in the future.

Harvard scientists use 1,024-core supercomputer to produce a partial simulation of the life of the universe, modelling thousands of individual stars and galaxies with a Arepo, new software for cosmological simulations of galaxy formation across billions of years.

Bio-scaffolds go electric <i>(Image: Charles M. Lieber and Daniel S. Kohane)</i>

They beat like real heart cells, but the rat cardiomyocytes in a dish at Harvard University are different in one crucial way. Snaking through them are wires and transistors that spy on each cell’s electrical impulses. In future, the wires might control their behaviour too.

Versions of this souped-up, “cyborg” tissue have been created for neurons, muscle and blood vessels. They could be used to test drugs or as the basis for biological versions of existing implants such as pacemakers. If signals can also be sent to the cells, cyborg tissue could be used in prosthetics or to create tiny robots.

“It allows one to effectively blur the boundary between electronic, inorganic systems and organic, biological ones,” says Charles Lieber, who leads the team behind the cyborg tissue.

Artificial tissue can already be grown on three-dimensional scaffolds made of biological materials that are not electrically active. And electrical components have been added to cultured tissue before, but not integrated into its structure, so they were only able to glean information from the surface.

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It sounds like every student’s dream: research published today in Nature Neuroscience shows that we can learn entirely new information while we snooze. Anat Arzi of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, and her colleagues used a simple form of learning called classical conditioning to teach 55 healthy participants to associate odours with sounds as they slept. They repeatedly exposed the sleeping participants to pleasant odours, such as deodorant and shampoo, and unpleasant odours such as rotting fish and meat, and played a specific sound to accompany each scent.

It is well known that sleep has an important role in strengthening existing memories, and this conditioning was already known to alter sniffing behaviour in people who are awake. The subjects sniff strongly when they hear a tone associated with a pleasant smell, but only weakly in response to a tone associated with an unpleasant one.

But the latest research shows that the sleep conditioning persists even after they wake up, causing them to sniff strongly or weakly on hearing the relevant tone — even if there was no odour. The participants were completely unaware that they had learned the relationship between smells and sounds. The effect was seen regardless of when the conditioning was done during the sleep cycle. However, the sniffing responses were slightly more pronounced in those participants who learned the association during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage, which typically occurs during the second half of a night’s sleep.

Arzi thinks that we could probably learn more complex information while we sleep. “This does not imply that you can place your homework under the pillow and know it in the morning,” she says. “There will be clear limits on what we can learn in sleep, but I speculate that they will be beyond what we have demonstrated.”

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Imagine that!

“Sometimes a misfit is just a well-made part for a machine that’s yet to be built.”

Thomas A Anderson

Unusual Long Exposure Firework Photographs by David Johnson long exposure light fireworks color

Unusual Long Exposure Firework Photographs by David Johnson long exposure light fireworks color

Unusual Long Exposure Firework Photographs by David Johnson long exposure light fireworks color

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Nico looking in a mirror

A robot named Nico could soon pass a landmark test – recognising itself in a mirror.

Such self-awareness would represent a step towards the ultimate goal of thinking robots.

Nico, developed by computer scientists at Yale University, will take the test in the coming months.

The ultimate aim is for Nico to use a mirror to interpret objects around it, in the same way as humans use a rear-view mirror to look for cars.

“It is a spatial reasoning task for the robot to understand that its arm is on it not on the other side of the mirror,” Justin Hart, the PhD student leading the research told BBC News.

So far the robot has been programmed to recognise a reflection of its arm, but ultimately Mr Hart wants it to pass the “full mirror test”.

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Scientists Clear Path to the Fountain of Eternal Youth

Researchers at Johns Hopkins have discovered an efficient and totally safe method to turn adult blood cells “all the way back to the way [they were] when that person was a 6-day-old embryo.” The discovery could be the key to cure the incurable—from heart attacks to severed spinal cord to cancer—and open the door, some day, to eternal youth.

Scientists believe that stem cell therapy could change medicine forever. However, these therapies are impossible to implement on a large scale because you can’t acquire embryonic stem cells without having to use actual human embryos—an extremely controversial undertaking. The alternative has always been to use the stem cells found in umbilical cords—which is why rich people use umbilical cord storage facilities to guarantee future treatments for their kids—or use viruses to reprogram adult cells. These viruses can successfully return adult cells to their stem cell state, but the procedure opens the door to numerous complications as a result of potential DNA mutations. And those mutations could lead to cancer.

But this new method changes everything. To start with, it uses normal adult blood cells from the patient, so there’s not need to keep umbilical cords in storage. It also doesn’t use any virus reprogramming, so it’s completely safe. It’s also very efficient: researchers successfully transformed about 50 to 60 percent of adult blood cells into embryonic stem cells that can then be turn into any type of cell—a heart muscle cell, a bone cell, a nerve cell, anything.

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