Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Honda Improves BMI

I have no sound on the work computer atm, so IDK what they are saying.

The research wing of Honda Motor has co-developed a brain machine interface (BMI) system that allows a person to control a robot through thought alone.

The system, which was developed with the Japanese government-affiliated Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International and precision equipment maker Shimadzu, builds on previous work announced three years ago towards a possible future where devices can be controlled by thought.

In 2006 Honda and ATR researchers managed to get a robotic hand to move by analyzing brain activity using a large MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scanner like that found in hospitals.

The latest work is a step more advanced and measures the electrical activity in a person's brain using electroencephalography (EEG) and blood flow within the brain using near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) to produce data that is then interpreted into control information. It requires no physical movement.

The system was not demonstrated on Tuesday but Honda did release a video of experiments. It shows a controller sitting in a chair with a large hemispheric scanner over his head, like the sit-down hair dryers you find in hair salons.

Both the EEG and NIRS techniques are established but the analyzing process for the data is new. Honda said the system uses statistical processing of the complex information to distinguish brain activities with high precision without any physical motion.

In the video, the controller is shown one of four cards -- right hand, left hand, foot and tongue -- and asked to visualize making a corresponding movement. After being shown the card for the right hand he visualizes moving that hand but physically remains completely still. After an indeterminable period Honda's Asimo robot, to which the system is hooked-up, raises its right hand.

Honda claims a 90 percent success rate using this method to correctly analyze thoughts.

If this works out we're one step closer to a very, very SFnal world.

Monday, March 30, 2009

New Compnonent to the Permian Extinction?

The largest mass extinction in the history of the earth could have been triggered off by giant salt lakes, whose emissions of halogenated gases changed the atmospheric composition so dramatically that vegetation was irretrievably damaged. At least that is what an international team of scientists have reported in the most recent edition of the "Proceedings of the Russian Academy of Sciences" (Dokladi Earth Sciences). At the Permian/Triassic boundary, 250 million years ago about 90 percent of the animal and plant species ashore became extinct. Previously it was thought that volcanic eruptions, the impacts of asteroids, or methane hydrate were instigating causes. The new theory is based on a comparison with today's biochemical and atmospheric chemical processes. "Our calculations show that airborne pollutants from giant salt lakes like the Zechstein Sea must have had catastrophic effects at that time", states co-author Dr. Ludwig Weißflog from the Helmholtz-Center for Environmental Research (UFZ). Forecasts predict an increase in the surface areas of deserts and salt lakes due to climate change. That is why the researchers expect that the effects of these halogenated gases will equally increase.

The team of researchers from Russia, Austria, South Africa and Germany investigated whether a process that has been taking place since primordial times on earth could have led to global mass extinctions, particularly at the end of the Permian. The starting point for this theory was their discovery in the south of Russia and South Africa that microbial processes in present-day salt lakes naturally produce and emit highly volatile halocarbons such as chloroform, trichloroethene, and tetrachloroethene. They transcribed these findings to the Zechstein Sea, which about 250 million years ago in the Permian Age, was situated about where present day Central Europe is. The Zechstein Sea with a total surface area of around 600.000 km2 was almost as large as France is today. The hyper saline flat sea at that time was exposed to a predominantly dry continental desert climate and intensive solar radiation - like today's salt seas. "Consequently, we assume that the climatic, geo-chemical and microbial conditions in the area of the Zechstein Sea were comparable with those of the present day salt seas that we investigated," Weißflog said.

n their current publication the authors explain the similarities between the complex processes of the CO2-cycle in the Permian Age as well as between global warming from that time and at present. Based on comparable calculations from halogenated gas emissions in the atmosphere from present-day salt seas in the south of Russia, the scientists calculated that from the Zechstein Sea alone an annual VHC emissions rate of at least 1.3 million tonnes of trichloroethene, 1.3 million tonnes of tetrachloroethene, 1.1 million tonnes of chloroform as well as 0.050 million tonnes of methyl chloroform can be assumed. By comparison, the annual global industrial emissions of trichloroethene and tetrachloroethene amount to only about 20 percent of that respectively, and only about 5 percent of the chloroform from the emissions calculated for the Zechstein Sea by the scientists. Incidentally, the industrial production of methyl chloroform, which depletes the ozone layer, has been banned since 1987 by regulation of the Montreal Protocol.

"Using steppe plant species we were able to prove that halogenated gases contribute to speeding up desertification: The combination of stress induced by dryness and the simultaneous chemical stressor "halogenated hydrocarbons" disproportionately damages and destabilize the plants and speeds up the process of erosion," Dr. Karsten Kotte from the University of Heidelberg explained.

Based on both of these findings the researchers were able to form their new hypothesis: At the end of the Permian Age the emissions of halogenated gases from the Zechstein Sea and other salt seas were responsible in a complex chain of events for the world's largest mass extinction in the history of the earth, in which about 90 percent of the animal and plant species of that time became extinct.

According to the forecast from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), increasing temperatures and aridity due to climate change will also speed up desertification, increasing with it the number and surface area of salt seas, salt lagoons and salt marshlands. Moreover, this will then lead to an increase in naturally formed halogenated gases. The phytotoxic effects of these substances become intensified in conjunction with other atmospheric pollutants and at the same time increasing dryness and exponentiate the eco-toxicological consequences of climate change.

The new theory could be like a jigsaw piece that contributes to solving the puzzle of the largest mass extinction in the history of the earth. "The question as to whether the halogenated gases from the giant salt lakes alone were responsible for it or whether it was a combination of various factors with volcanic eruptions, the impact of asteroids, or methane hydrate equally playing their role still remains unanswered," Ludwig Weißflog said. What is fact however is that the effects of salt seas were previously underestimated.

If they are presenting this as the singular cause of the PT Extinction, then I do believe that they are mistaken. They state that they are unsure whether it was the singular killer or part of the mob that was raised and led by the Siberian Traps. I ssupect this is just yet another reason why the Permian Extinction was such a monster. More later.

ISS: Space Beauty

Friday, March 27, 2009

Vyazniki Biotic Assemblage of the Terminal Permian

A. G. Sennikov1 Contact Information and V. K. Golubev1 Contact Information
(1) Paleontological Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences,
Profsoyuznaya ul. 123, Moscow, 117997, Russia

Received: 30 January 2006

Abstract A new unique and diverse biotic assemblage of the terminal Permian has recently been discovered in the town of Vyazniki (Central Russia). The Vyazniki terrestrial community is transitional between Permian and Triassic ones and represents the last, so far unknown stage of the global ecological crisis of the continental biota at the Permian-Triassic boundary. The successive development of land biotic crisis in the Late Permian, which was followed by mass extinction at the Permian-Triassic boundary, and long, successive postcrisis development and specialization of new Triassic groups as well as rearrangement and diversification of the biotic assemblage composition and community structure suggest predominance of intrinsic, biotic causes of this crisis, realized in destabilization, alteration, and new stabilization of continental communities and ecosystems.

The authors interpret that the Vyazniki Biotic Assemblage as an example of the transition from Permian to Triassic faunas or in the very least a post gorgonopsid-pareiasaur assemblage. That may be true, but I suspect that this may be a case of a local fauna only that may have spread as the opportunity presented itself. It may represent a refugium too.

They also suggest that Russia may have a contiguous Upper Permian to Lower Triassic geological set of stages.

More later.

Japan to North Korea: Launch and We'll Shoot It Down

Japan gave its military the green light on Friday to shoot down any incoming North Korean rocket, with tensions high ahead of a planned launch that the US and allies say will be an illegal missile test.

Japanese and US warships have already deployed ahead of the April 4-8 window, when the secretive North has said it will launch a communications satellite -- warning that shooting it down would be seen as an act of war.

But South Korea, Japan and the United States have all warned the North that any launch would be unacceptable, amid fears the regime is actually intending to test a long-range missile that could reach North America.

Russia -- which with the two Koreas, China, Japan and the US is part of a six-party forum working on the North's nuclear disarmament -- urged Pyongyang not to carry out the launch, saying there was no need to "ignite passions".

The security council in Japan, officially pacifist since the end of World War II, decided ahead of time to shoot down any incoming missile that could hit its territory rather than wait until a launch.

"The security council this morning decided to issue a destruction order in advance," said Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada. "We will do our best to handle any flying object from North Korea."

Now. How will the whack jobs react?

The Japanese have the same missile we used to knock-out that satellite, btw. It would be useful if they did it instead of us because then it would not be an excuse to start something with South Korea, or so goes my 30 second mental analysis.

paleo Query: Basal Most, Earliest Archosaur?

While pondering the alternate Permian that we are working on, I was wondering...what is the basal most archosaur? I know its supposed to have appeared prior to the PT Extinction absed on a passing reference. However, what is it? What fossil has been identified as the basal most archosaur and how derived in that sucker relative to other diapsids?

Can anyone point me to a paper?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

WTF?! Over!

Rep. Michele Bachmann has introduced a bill that would prohibit the president from signing on to a global currency, despite congressional testimony from Obama administration officials that they would reject any proposal to replace the dollar.

In hearings earlier this week, the Republican congresswoman called on Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to denounce the idea that the United States might adopt any other currency. Both men did.

Bachmann's bill, introduced Wednesday, proposes a constitutional amendment "to prohibit the President from entering into a treaty or other international agreement that would provide for the United States to adopt as legal tender in the United States a currency issued by an entity other than the United States."

During Tuesday's hearing, Bachmann pointed to recent remarks from Russia and China as part of the basis for her concern — comments suggesting that countries which have used the dollar as their reserve currency might begin to consider other sources. But those decisions, which would be made by foreign governments, would be unaffected by any congressional legislation, and would have no impact on U.S. currency decisions.

Is she completely out to lunch? Does she even have a clue what a reserve currency is?

I mean, I'm no economist or expert on that sort of thing, but ... damn Teh Stoopid is loose and infectious again.

If Not For Mother Nature and Her Pesky Crustaceans!

It is another nail in the coffin of using ocean fertilisation to cool the planet. Early results from the latest field experiment suggest the technique will fail.

"I think we are seeing the last gasps of ocean iron fertilisation as a carbon storage strategy," says Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution at Stanford University.

Earlier this month, the controversial Indian-German Lohafex expedition fertilised 300 square kilometres of the Southern Atlantic with six tonnes of dissolved iron. The iron triggered a bloom of phytoplankton, which doubled their biomass within two weeks by taking in carbon dioxide from the seawater. Dead bloom particles were then expected to sink to the ocean bed, dragging carbon along with them.

Instead, the bloom attracted a swarm of hungry copepods. The tiny crustaceans graze on phytoplankton, which keeps the carbon in the food chain and prevents it from being stored in the ocean sink. Researchers from the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research reported that the copepods were in turn eaten by larger crustaceans called amphipods, which serve as food for squid and fin whales.


Lohafex researchers say the results suggest that using iron fertilisation to increase the ocean carbon sink would rely on a complex chain of events, making it difficult to control. The Southern Ocean is thought to be the planet's largest ocean carbon sink. But most of the northern half of the region is low on silicic acid, ruling it out as an option for carbon fertilisation.

The researchers tried to provoke a second bloom by fertilising the same patch of ocean three weeks later, with no success – most probably because the water was already saturated in iron.

"It seems that if it is possible to fertilise enough ocean to make a difference to climate, we would need to turn vast ocean ecosystems into giant plankton farms," says Caldeira.

So much for that idea...

2050: Who Won't Be Latino on Cinco De Mayo?

University of Washington demographers who analyzed 2000 census data contend that because of the way the census was structured many Hispanics or Latinos were eventually lumped into a category called "some other race." So many were placed in that category that it was the third-largest group behind whites and blacks in the census. This led to mistaken reports last year that whites, as opposed to non-Hispanic whites, were projected to be a minority in the U.S. by 2050. Actually, whites – including Hispanic whites – are expected to comprise upwards of 70 percent of the population in 2050.

"The truth is many people probably can't accurately report the origins of their ancestors," said Anthony Perez, lead author of a new study and a UW post-doctoral fellow in sociology and the university's Center for Studies in Demography and Ecology. His co-author is Charles Hirschman, a UW professor of sociology and former president of the Population Association of America. The research appears in the March issue of the journal Population and Development Review.

"We have a fair degree of knowledge about where our parents and grandparents came from," said Perez. "But with every generation the number of our ancestors doubles and it is difficult to know the ethnic and racial details of all of them. Many people might have more ethnic or racial groups in their backgrounds than they imagine."

Most Americans, except for recent immigrants, probably descended from multiple geographic, ethnic and racial origins, and the United States was multi-ethnic and multi-racial from the start, the researchers contend.

"With the exception of indigenous people, everyone came from somewhere else. They were immigrants," said Perez. "Frontier societies absorbed many indigenous people and we also have a long history of interracial unions between Americans of European and African descent. It is not just Barack Obama, but most of us are a bunch of 'mutts' from different cultures and backgrounds."

All of this led to what is called Americanization, or the blending away of the specific ancestries that people brought with them. Typically Americanization begins with immigrants coming to the U.S., settling in neighborhoods with their compatriots and retaining their ethnic roots. But within a generation, they or their children learn English, intermarry with other Americans of different backgrounds and their ancestral ties begin to fade. With several more generations, most Americans begin to lose track of their increasingly complex family trees.

This blending has dramatically transformed Native Americans and Hawaiian-Pacific Islanders, most of whom acknowledge multiracial heritage. At the same time, very few whites and blacks acknowledge common ancestry on censuses and surveys.

"The low levels of racial mixture reported by whites and blacks represent an astounding loss of memory or a reluctance to acknowledge such mixing," said Perez. "One-fifth of African-Americans identified multiracial origins in the 1910 census and researchers think that number probably is low. Yet in Census 2000, just 2 percent of blacks and 0.4 percent of white acknowledge shared ancestry. The blurring of memories over many generations, the stigma of race mixing and a long history of segregation and political polarization have probably contributed to the amnesia of shared ancestry among many white and black Americans.

"Whites are notoriously inconsistent about the specifics of ethnic identity. We don't put a lot of stock in their answers because they often change their minds on follow-up questions. There also is inconsistency between parents and their children. The majority of whites have multiple ancestries and some will pick theirs on the basis of cuisine, a favorite relative or trends. And who isn't Irish on St. Patrick's Day?" he said.

heh. Avrora's friends are 2 mixed black-white kids (Brady and Savanna), three Latino kids (Stefano, Erica and Brianna), two African American girls (Maya and Emani (sp)), and two white boys (Nicholas and Ty). Her nemesis/rival is another blonde pasty girl like herself. I find myself delighted by that fact. The kids are really charming and I suspect that her dating pool is, when vetted by a shotgun, going to be similar.

What label will be on my grandkids? I do know: Bairds. Beyond that? DK, DC. :D

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

New State of Matter Found?

Hallmarks of an exotic state of matter called a supersolid have been spotted in a gas of ultracold rubidium atoms. In the same piece of matter, researchers found signs of the seemingly disparate properties of both solidity and superfluidity, the frictionless flow of atoms.

Reporting March 18 at a meeting of the American Physical Society, Dan Stamper-Kurn described two telltale signs that suggest this weird state of matter may indeed be a supersolid. The new matter is “a gas, which is superfluid, and also shares properties of a solid,” said Stamper-Kurn, of the University of California, Berkeley. If confirmed, a rubidium supersolid could help scientists better understand the properties of this strange state of matter.

“What we’ve seen is an ability to describe a peculiar state of nature,” comments Paul Grant, a former visiting scholar at Stanford University and IBM research staff member emeritus. If the researchers are able to extend their “interesting basic physics” results to come up with new ideas and applications, Grant says, “there may be a Nobel Prize there.”

A supersolid is defined by two seemingly contradictory properties. The atoms inside it are arranged in a crystalline, regular pattern, like any solid, but at the same time, the atoms are able to flow through the supersolid in an unrestricted way.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Russia Orthodox Church Deacon: Xenophobia is KEWL

The increasing number of marriages between ethnic Russians and members of other nationalities and faiths threatens the survival of the Russian nation and should be actively opposed by the Russian Orthodox Church and all those concerned about the fate of this community, according to Deacon Andrey Kurayev.

In an interview posted on the “Russkaya nedelya” portal today, the influential churchman says that such marriages helped expand the membership of the Russian nation “when our faith was strong” but now threaten it because the faith of most Russians who enter into such unions is “weak.”

And that means that in contrast to a century ago when most such marriages led the non-Orthodox partner to convert to Christianity and the non-Russian to re-identify with the dominant ethnic community, now that means that it is often the case that the trends are going in the opposite direction.

That is serious, Kurayev argues, because the number of interethnic marriages in Moscow alone has risen from one in six at the end of Soviet times to one in four now, and they have changed in their composition as well, with the share of ethnic Russian women marrying members of Caucasus and Central Asian nationalities rising significantly.

Although Kurayev devotes most of his argument to religious and ethnic values, he makes it clear that he is concerned about the racial consequences of such marriages. “If defending a population of white bears,” he says, “is considered permissible, “then why should anyone be gladdened by the disappearance of anthropological differences?”

Moreover, he continues, “geneticists have calculated that the last blonde on our planet will be born 150 years from now somewhere in Finland”

If xenophobia is kewl, so too is outright stupidity.

James and I have pointed out why the "beige planet" isn't going to happen.

However, I have encountered this with a relative of my wife's. She really didn't like the idea that Lyuda had married a nonSlav and moved away from her homeland (not in that order). She even offered to take in Lyuda and Avrora if they'd come back (and ditch me). That individual and I have reached some accommodation since then, but ... it's still a sticky bit.

I've known more than a few Ukrainian men to have the same grumbles over Lyuda, too, but they're just sore looooooooooooooooooooooooosers. ahem. ;)

I have to admit that Avrora does not think of herself as Ukrainian or Russian, even though she's 3/8's and 1/8 respectively. She's Pure Product of America in her precocious lil mind. It's her California, darnit!

FWIW, she's also 1/8 Italian, 1/8 Irish, 1/8 German, and a plethora tof Scottish, French and other traces...possibly even Native American since we were pre 1700 exiles here.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Triceratops Gregariousness Confirmed?

Until now, Triceratops was thought to be unusual among its ceratopsid relatives. While many ceratopsids—a common group of herbivorous dinosaurs that lived toward the end of the Cretaceous—have been found in enormous bonebed deposits of multiple individuals, all known Triceratops (over 50 in total) fossils have been solitary individuals. But a new discovery of a jumble of at least three juveniles the badlands of the north-central United States suggests that the three-horned dinosaurs were not only social animals, but may have exhibited unique gregarious groupings of juveniles.

"This is very thrilling," says Stephen Brusatte, an affiliate of the American Museum of Natural History and a doctoral student at Columbia University. "We can say something about how these dinosaurs lived. Interestingly, what we've found seems to be a larger pattern among many dinosaurs that juveniles lived and traveled together in groups."

In 2005, Brusatte and colleagues found and excavated a site that contained multiple Triceratops juveniles in 66-million-year-old rocks in southeastern Montana. The geological evidence suggests that at least three juveniles were deposited at the same time by a localized flood, and this suggests that they were probably living together when disaster struck. This find indicates that Triceratops juveniles congregated in small herds, a social behavior increasingly identified in other dinosaur groups, such as Psittacosaurus, a small cousin of Triceratops that lived in Asia.

"We don't know why they were grouped together or how much time they spent together," says Joshua Mathews of the Burpee Museum of Natural History and Northern Illinois University, who led the project. "Herding together could have been for protection, and our guess is that this wasn't something they did full time."

Y'know, I could have sworn that Triceratops was confirmed to have lived in herds if not large ones...but what the heck, maybe not.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


I can't believe I stayed up to watch that.

Oh well, Amanda's reaction ought to be very, very amusing.

Well, it's done. Maybe someday I'll write up what I would have done instead. lol

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Chimps Working Hard for Their Honey

Via Nat Geo.

Nifty Anomalocaris Page

I was looking for a rendering of Hurdia and found this website. Go look!

Hurdia victoria: Yet Another Anomalocarid

Hurdia victoria was originally described in 1912 as a crustacean-like animal. Now, researchers from Uppsala University and colleagues reveal it to be just one part of a complex and remarkable new animal that has an important story to tell about the origin of the largest group of living animals, the arthropods. The findings are being published in this week's issue of Science.

The fossil fragments puzzled together come from the famous 505 million year old Burgess Shale, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in British Columbia, Canada. Uppsala researchers Allison Daley and Graham Budd at the Department of Earth Sciences, together with colleagues in Canada and Britain, describe the convoluted history and unique body construction of the newly-reconstructed Hurdia victoria, which would have been a formidable predator in its time.

Although the first fragments were described nearly one hundred years ago, they were assumed to be part of a crustacean-like animal. It was not then realised that other parts of the animal were also in collections, but had been described independently as jellyfish, sea cucumbers and other arthropods. However, collecting expeditions from in the 1990s uncovered more complete specimens and hundreds of isolated pieces that led to the first hints that Hurdia was more than it seemed. The last piece of the puzzle was found when the best-preserved specimen turned up in the old collections at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington DC. This specimen was first classified as an arthropod in the 1970s and 80s, and then as an unusual specimen of the famous monster predator Anomalocaris.

The new description of Hurdia shows that it is indeed related to Anomalocaris. Like Anomalocaris, Hurdia had a segmented body with a head bearing a pair of spinous claws and a circular jaw structure with many teeth. But it differs from Anomalocaris by the possession of a huge three-part carapace that projects out from the front of the animal's head.

"This structure is unlike anything seen in other fossil or living arthropods," says Ph.D. student Allison Daley, who has been studying the fossils for three years as part of her doctoral thesis.

"The use of the large carapace extending from the front of its head is a mystery. In many animals, a shell or carapace is used to protect the soft-parts of the body, as you would see in a crab or lobster, but this structure in Hurdia is empty and does not cover or protect the rest of the body. We can only guess at what its function might have been."

This has been quite the year for anomalocarids, hasn't it? Any renditions up and about yet? Found one.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Just How Basal ARE Feathers for Dinosaurs?

An Early Cretaceous heterodontosaurid dinosaur with filamentous integumentary structures

Xiao-Ting Zheng1, Hai-Lu You2, Xing Xu3 & Zhi-Ming Dong3

1. Shandong Tianyu Museum of Nature, Lianhuashan Road West, Pingyi, Shandong, 273300, China
2. Institute of Geology, Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences, 26 Baiwanzhuang Road, Beijing 100037, China
3. Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 142 Xiwai Street, Beijing 100044, China

Correspondence to: Hai-Lu You2 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to H.-L.Y. (Email: youhailu@gmail.com).

Top of page

Ornithischia is one of the two major groups of dinosaurs, with heterodontosauridae as one of its major clades. Heterodontosauridae is characterized by small, gracile bodies and a problematic phylogenetic position1, 2. Recent phylogenetic work indicates that it represents the most basal group of all well-known ornithischians3. Previous heterodontosaurid records are mainly from the Early Jurassic period (205–190 million years ago) of Africa1, 3. Here we report a new heterodontosaurid, Tianyulong confuciusi gen. et sp. nov., from the Early Cretaceous period (144–99 million years ago) of western Liaoning Province, China. Tianyulong extends the geographical distribution of heterodontosaurids to Asia and confirms the clade's previously questionable temporal range extension into the Early Cretaceous period. More surprisingly, Tianyulong bears long, singular and unbranched filamentous integumentary (outer skin) structures. This represents the first confirmed report, to our knowledge, of filamentous integumentary structures in an ornithischian dinosaur.

1. Shandong Tianyu Museum of Nature, Lianhuashan Road West, Pingyi, Shandong, 273300, China
2. Institute of Geology, Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences, 26 Baiwanzhuang Road, Beijing 100037, China
3. Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 142 Xiwai Street, Beijing 100044, China

Link at the top is to the paper. First seen at Chinleana, but also at Not Exactly Rocket Science and on Yahoo News.

Since I first came across them, I have found the heterodontosaurs to be absolutely fascinating. The fact that they are now in Laurasia and made it to the Cretaceous, is just plain kewl. After all, here's a dinosaur that had freakin canines! (well, sorta canines) After ceratopsians, they're my favorites.

Why is the dating so loosely constrained?

For the phylogeny geeks:

Solid State Lasers Reach Militarily Useful Power Threshold

Reaching new heights with its scalable building block approach for compact, electric laser weapons, Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE:NOC) has produced the most powerful light ray yet created by an electric laser, measured at more than 105 kilowatts (kW).

The company claimed ownership of this record by completing the final demonstration milestone of the U.S. military's Joint High Power Solid State Laser (JHPSSL) program, Phase 3. The achievements included turn-on time of less than one second and continuous operating time of five minutes, with very good efficiency and beam quality. Last year, Northrop Grumman reported reaching a JHPSSL Phase 3 power level of 15.3kW in March and a power level of 30kW in September.

"Our modular JHPSSL design makes it straightforward to scale laser weapon systems to mission-required power levels for a variety of uses, to include force protection and precision strike missions for air-, sea- and land-based platforms," said Dan Wildt, vice president of Directed Energy Systems for Northrop Grumman's Aerospace Systems sector.

"This achievement is particularly important because the 100kW threshold has been viewed traditionally as a proof of principle for 'weapons grade' power levels for high-energy lasers. In fact, many militarily useful effects can be achieved by laser weapons of 25kW or 50 kW, provided this energy is transmitted with good beam quality, as our system does. With this milestone, we have far exceeded those needs."

The next step is to weaponize this demonstrator. That could be done in as little as 5 years, but I doubt it will. While there are countermeasures for lasers, they're a lot less effective than people think. It will also take time and up the cost of the per round firings. It will be possible to saturate a defense like this, but it's going to be expensive to do that too. The goal ought to be to make these weapons smaller (if those tiles are like the oens here at work, that demonstrator is 9 ft by 9 ft) and make them ubiquitous across all major combat fighting vehicles. Then you have a chance of saying "if it flies, it dies." OTOH, even with the truck version they are talking about now, aircraft are going to have issues if they come above the horizon...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Elephant Shark's Fascinating Genome (with color vision too!)

he elephant shark, a primitive deep-sea fish that belongs to the oldest living family of jawed vertebrates, can see color much like humans can.

This discovery, published in the March 2009 issue of Genome Research, may enhance scientists' understanding of how color vision evolved in early vertebrates over the last 450 million years of evolution.

"It was unexpected that a 'primitive' vertebrate like the elephant shark had the potential for color vision like humans. The discovery shows that it has acquired the traits for color vision during evolution in parallel with humans," said Byrappa Venkatesh, Ph.D., who with David Hunt, Ph.D., headed the research team responsible for this surprising discovery.

Dr. Venkatesh is a scientist at Singapore's Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB), while Dr. Hunt is based at the Institute of Ophthalmology at University College London (UCL).

The research team found that the elephant shark had three cone pigments for color vision and, like humans, it accomplished this through gene duplication.

Dr. Venkatesh said that the finding underscores the research utility of the elephant shark, which IMCB scientists proposed in 2005 as a valuable reference genome to understand the human genome.

In a separate paper titled, "Large number of ultraconserved elements were already present in the jawed vertebrate ancestor," published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution in March 2009, the research team reported that they had discovered that the protein sequences in elephant shark were evolving at a slower rate than in other vertebrates.

This finding indicates that the elephant shark had retained more features of the ancestral genome than other vertebrates belonging to the same evolutionary tree and hence was a useful model for gaining insight into the ancestral genome, in which the human genome also has its roots.

heh. heh. heh. Anyone see the scary bit? :) Lots of kewl bits set though.

China: Importing Nations Should Shoulder China's Carbon Pollution

China appealed Monday to exclude its giant export sector in the next treaty on climate change, saying rich countries buying its products should bear responsibility for emissions in manufacturing.

"It is a very important item to make a fair agreement," senior Chinese climate official Li Gao said during a visit to Washington.

Climate envoys from China, Japan and the European Union were holding talks with US President Barack Obama's administration as the clock ticks to a December conference in Copenhagen meant to draft a post-Kyoto Protocol deal.

But hopes were fading of reaching a comprehensive treaty, with the United States still working out the scope of its new commitment to fighting global warming under Obama.

Developed nations demand that growing developing countries such as China and India take action under the new treaty. They had no obligations under the Kyoto Protocol, leading Obama's predecessor George W. Bush to reject it.

Some statistics say China has now surpassed the United States as the top emitter of carbon emissions blamed for global warming. But Li said that up to 20 percent of China's emissions were from producing exports.

"We are at the low end of the production line for the global economy," Li told a forum.

"We produce products and these products are consumed by other countries, especially the developed countries. This share of emissions should be taken by the consumers but not the producers," he said.

Ok. Easily done. It's called a carbon tariff. China won't like it. Not one bit. It'd be interesting to see their reaction though. ;)

Collapse of the State Still Weighs on the Russian Mind

The Russian Federation is likely to break apart into as many as 30 pieces by the middle of this century as that country’s accelerating demographic decline leads some of its smaller nationalities to take steps to try to ensure their own survival, according to a leading Moscow scholar.

In an interview posted online today, Anatoly Antonov, a professor of sociology, the family and demography at Moscow State University, says that widely believed assertions by government officials that Russia has been able to increase the birthrate “do not correspond to reality” (www.utro.ru/articles/2009/03/17/803591.shtml).

On the one hand, he continues, these assertions reflect the fundamental ignorance of many in government and out of the nature of demographic trends in Russia. And on the other, they serve as a self-serving justification for not doing what the country must do if it is to avoid disaster in the relatively near future.

Antonov says that the recent uptick in births reflects the echo of the baby boom of the late 1980s but that beginning in 2010, the number of women entering the prime child-bearing age cohort will decline significantly because far fewer were born in the 1990s. And as a result, the decline in the country’s population will begin to accelerate.

He argues that if nothing is done – and because the Russian government has no one in it who understands the need for action now, including the compelling need to make housing more available to young married couples, that possibility strikes him as unlikely – the population of the Russian Federation in its current borders will fall to 38 million by 2080.
Instead, what is likely to happen, the Moscow demographer continues, is that in 2015, five years after the collapse in the number of births begins, “bureaucrats will recognize the extent of the catastrophe and begin to shout that this financial crisis undermined the realization of all their plans.”

But by then, he suggests, it may be too late: “From 2010 to 2025, every succeeding generation of people entering marriage age will be ever smaller in comparison with the preceding one,” and “all this will produce an unbelievable contraction in the present coefficient of births” so that by 2025, half the population will not want children, and only 15 percent more than one.

Not much time to comment today. Meeting day! bleh!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Sinornithomimus dongi Herd? Flock? Found

Like teenagers at the mall, young dinosaurs may have wandered in herds—fending for themselves while adults were busy nesting, according to a new report on one of the world's best preserved fossil sites.

About 90 million years ago a herd of more than 25 birdlike dinosaurs got stuck in the mud at the edge of a drying lake and perished together in modern-day China, said study co-leader Paul Sereno, a University of Chicago paleontologist.

Nearly complete skeletons of the plant-eaters were found at the Gobi desert site—some stacked on top of each other.

The dig site is etched with an ancient tragedy, said Sereno, who is also a National Geographic explorer-in-residence. (The National Geographic Society owns National Geographic News.)

Plunge and scratch marks are preserved in the long-hardened mud, showing the young dinosaurs' futile attempts at escape.

The dinosaurs' flailing likely attracted predators that feasted on the meatiest parts of the young—the hips, Sereno said. Only hip bones are missing from the fossilized bodies.

Again, no time to comment...

(well, it was a herbivore!)

Hesperonychus elizabethae: NorAm's Itsy Bitsy Raptor

Massive predators like Albertosaurus and Tyrannosaurus rex may have been at the top of the food chain, but they were not the only meat-eating dinosaurs to roam North America, according to Canadian researchers who have discovered the smallest dinosaur species on the continent to date. Their work is also helping re-draw the picture of North America's ecosystem at the height of the dinosaur age 75 million years ago.

"Hesperonychus is currently the smallest dinosaur known from North America. But its discovery just emphasizes how little we actually know, and it raises the possibility that there are even smaller ones out there waiting to be found," said Nick Longrich, a paleontology research associate in the University of Calgary's Department of Biological Sciences. "Small carnivorous dinosaurs seemed to be completely absent from the environment, which seemed bizarre because today the small carnivores outnumber the big ones," he said. "It turns out that they were here and they played a more important role in the ecosystem than we realized. So for the past 100 years, we've completely overlooked a major part of North America's dinosaur community."

In a paper published today in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Longrich and University of Alberta paleontologist Philip Currie describe a new genus of carnivorous dinosaur that was smaller than a modern housecat and likely hunted insects, small mammals and other prey through the swamps and forests of the late Cretaceous period in southeastern Alberta, Canada. Weighing approximately two kilograms and standing about 50 centimetres tall, Hesperonychus elizabethae resembled a miniature version of the famous bipedal predator Velociraptor, to which it was closely related. Hesperonychus ran about on two legs and had razor-like claws and an enlarged sickle-shaped claw on its second toe. It had a slender build and slender head with dagger-like teeth.

"It was half the size of a domestic cat and probably hunted and ate whatever it could for its size – insects, mammals, amphibians and maybe even baby dinosaurs," Longrich said. "It probably spent most of its time close to the ground searching through the marshes and forests that characterized the area at the end of the Cretaceous."

Fossilized remains of Hesperonychus, which means “western claw,” were collected in 1982 from several locations including Dinosaur Provincial Park. The most important specimen, a well-preserved pelvis, was recovered by legendary Alberta paleontologist Elizabeth (Betsy) Nicholls, after which the species is named. Nicholls was the curator of marine reptiles at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller and earned her MSc and PhD degrees at U of C. She passed away in 2004. The fossils remained unstudied for 25 years until Longrich came across them in the University of Alberta’s collection in 2007. Longrich and Currie focused on fossilized claws and a well-preserved pelvis for their description.

"The claws were thought to come from juveniles- they were just so small. But when we studied the pelvis, we found the hip bones were fused, which would only have happened once the animal was fully grown", Longrich said. "Until now, the smallest carnivorous dinosaurs we have seen in North America have been about the size of a wolf. Judging by the amount of material that was collected, we believe animals the size of Hesperonychus must have been quite common on the landscape."



Even in the small critter niches.

Meet Predator X: a new pliosaur from Svalbard.

A giant fossil sea monster found in the Arctic and known as "Predator X" had a bite that would make T-Rex look feeble, scientists said Monday.

The 50 ft (15 meter) long Jurassic era marine reptile had a crushing 33,000 lbs (15 tonnes) per square inch bite force, the Natural History Museum of Oslo University said of the new find on the Norwegian Arctic archipelago of Svalbard.

"With a skull that's more than 10 feet long you'd expect the bite to be powerful but this is off the scale," said Joern Hurum, an associate professor of vertebrate paleontology at the museum who led the international excavation in 2008.

"It's much more powerful than T-Rex," he said of the pliosaur reptile that would have been a top marine predator. Tyrannosaurus Rex was a top land carnivore among dinosaurs.

The scientists reconstructed the predator's head and estimated the force by comparing it with the similarly-shaped jaws of alligators in a park in Florida.

"The calculation is one of the largest bite forces ever calculated for any creature," the Museum said of the bite, estimated with the help of evolutionary biologist Greg Erickson from Florida State University.

Predator X's bite was more than 10 times more powerful than any modern animal and four times the bite of a T-Rex, it said of the fossil, reckoned at 147 million years old. Alligators, crocodiles and sharks all now have fearsome bites.

The teeth of the pliosaur, belonging to a new species, were a foot (30 cms) long. The scientists reconstructed the reptile from a partial skull and 20,000 fragments of skeleton.

The pliosaur, estimated to have weighed 45 tonnes, was similar to but had more massive bones than another fossil sea monster found on Svalbard in 2007, also estimated at 50 feet long and the largest pliosaur to date.

"It's not complete enough to say it's really bigger than 15 meters," Hurum said of the new fossil.

No time to comment...just plain kewl.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


Really good news coming. Hint up on Monday. Full blown double announcements soon. I am hoping more than double. *EFG* with a frakkin blink tag.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

ESA Continues ExoMars Development Despite Concerns

The European Space Agency is proceeding with development of its ExoMars mission with an eye toward a 2016 launch, despite questions of funding and international participation that still loom over the program.

ExoMars was conceived as a way for the European Space Agency (ESA) to beef up its rover knowledge and experience. According to a presentation by ExoMars Project Scientist Jorge Vago to the Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group in Arlington, Va., last week, the mission's primary technology objectives include entry, descent and landing with a large payload on Mars, demonstrating multikilometer mobility with a rover, and automatic drilling of the Martian surface down to a depth of two meters.

Hope that they get the funding...I also hope NASA gets enough funding for a rover during the same time frame.

LANL Maps Science Paper Downloads (kewl or creepy?)

Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists have produced the world's first Map of Science—a high-resolution graphic depiction of the virtual trails scientists leave behind when they retrieve information from online services. The research, led by Johan Bollen, appears this week in PLoS ONE (the Public Library of Science).

"This research will be a crucial component of future efforts to study and predict scientific innovation, as well novel methods to determine the true impact of articles and journals," Bollen said.

While science is of tremendous societal importance, it is difficult to probe the often hidden world of scientific creativity. Most studies of scientific activity rely on citation data, which takes a while to become available because both the cited publication and the publication of a particular citation can take years to appear. In other words, citation data observes science as it existed years in the past, not the present.

Bollen and colleagues from LANL and the Santa Fe Institute collected usage-log data gathered from a variety of publishers, aggregators, and universities spanning a period from 2006 to 2008. Their collection totaled nearly 1 billion online information requests. Because scientists typically read articles online well before they can be cited in subsequent publications, usage data reveal scientific activity nearly in real-time. Moreover, because log data reflect the interactions of all users—such as authors, science practitioners, and the informed public—they do not merely reflect the activities of scholarly authors.

Whenever a scientist accesses a paper online from a publisher, aggregator, university, or similar publishing service, the action is recorded by the servers of these Web portals. The resulting usage data contains a detailed record of the sequences of articles that scientists download as they explore their present interests. After counting the number of times that scientists, across hundreds of millions of requests, download one article after another, the research team calculated the probability that an article or journal accessed by a scientist would be followed by a subsequent article or journal as part of the scientists' online behavior. Based on such behavior, the researchers created a map that graphically portrays a network of connected articles and journals.

Bollen and colleagues were surprised by the map's scope and detail. Whereas maps based on citations favor the natural sciences, the team's maps of science showed a prominent and central position for the humanities and social sciences, which, in many places, acted like interdisciplinary bridges connecting various other scientific domains. Sections of the maps were shaped by the activities of practitioners who read the scientific literature but do not frequently publish in its journals.

The maps furthermore revealed unexpected relations between scientific domains that point to emerging relationships that are capturing the collective interest of the scientific community—for instance a connection between ecology and architecture.

"We were surprised by the fine-grained structure of scientific activity that emerges from our maps," said Bollen.

According to Bollen, future work will focus on issues involved in the sustainable management of large-scale usage data, as well the production of models that explain the online behavior of scientists and how it relates to the emergence of scientific innovation. This information will help funding agencies, policy makers, and the public to better understand how best to tap the ebb and flow of scientific inquiry and discovery.

We Iz In Ur Logz Trackin Ur Science! 43@r Uz!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Ecomorphological Selectivity Among Marine Teleost Fishes During the KT Extinction

Matt Friedman

Committee on Evolutionary Biology, University of Chicago, 1025 East 57th Street, Chicago, IL 60637 and Department of Geology, Field Museum, 1400 South Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL 60605


Despite the attention focused on mass extinction events in the fossil record, patterns of extinction in the dominant group of marine vertebrates—fishes—remain largely unexplored. Here, I demonstrate ecomorphological selectivity among marine teleost fishes during the end-Cretaceous extinction, based on a genus-level dataset that accounts for lineages predicted on the basis of phylogeny but not yet sampled in the fossil record. Two ecologically relevant anatomical features are considered: body size and jaw-closing lever ratio. Extinction intensity is higher for taxa with large body sizes and jaws consistent with speed (rather than force) transmission; resampling tests indicate that victims represent a nonrandom subset of taxa present in the final stage of the Cretaceous. Logistic regressions of the raw data reveal that this nonrandom distribution stems primarily from the larger body sizes of victims relative to survivors. Jaw mechanics are also a significant factor for most dataset partitions but are always less important than body size. When data are corrected for phylogenetic nonindependence, jaw mechanics show a significant correlation with extinction risk, but body size does not. Many modern large-bodied, predatory taxa currently suffering from overexploitation, such billfishes and tunas, first occur in the Paleocene, when they appear to have filled the functional space vacated by some extinction victims.

A little more data...

HPC Giggle Factor

Joint think-tank from Russia and Belarus developed new high-density blade for SKIF supercomputers.

New blade will have capacity of 0.5-5 peta-flops, in other words, it will perform up to 5x1015 operations per second – 10-100 times more than existing SKIF supercomputer can perform.

New supercomputer’s blade hosts two multi-core processors Intel Xeon; memory with capacity between 6 and 12 gigabytes and unit for communication with other boards – all packed with very high density. Such density is impossible with common coolers, and scientists suggested a solution.

.5 to 5 petaflops from two Intel Xeons....

This is one of those point and laugh moments, folks.

Amazonian Amphibian Diversity Traced to Andes

Colorful poison frogs in the Amazon owe their great diversity to ancestors that leapt into the region from the Andes Mountains several times during the last 10 million years, a new study from The University of Texas at Austin suggests.

This is the first study to show that the Andes have been a major source of diversity for the Amazon basin, one of the largest reservoirs of biological diversity on Earth. The finding runs counter to the idea that Amazonian diversity is the result of evolution only within the tropical forest itself.

"Basically, the Amazon basin is a 'melting pot' for South American frogs," says graduate student Juan Santos, lead author of the study. "Poison frogs there have come from multiple places of origin, notably the Andes Mountains, over many millions of years. We have shown that you cannot understand Amazonian biodiversity by looking only in the basin. Adjacent regions have played a major role."

Santos and Dr. David Cannatella, professor of integrative biology, published their findings this month in the journal PLoS Biology.

The tale of how the tropics became so diverse is a rather complicated one indeed.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Caribbean Paleo Blog

All about Cenozoic vertebrate paleontology...in the caribbean! How kewl is that?

China's Real Space Plans

Everybody has a chip on their shoulder about something—many people have a whole bag of chips (or should that be a circuit board of chips?) I certainly have several, including people who won’t stand on the right and walk on the left on Washington Metro escalators (tourists!), drivers who don’t use turn signals, and just about any popular media article about the Chinese space program. The reason that media reports on China’s space program bug me is that they often seem to be out of phase with what is already known based upon Chinese reports and statements. That is still true, even as reporting on China’s human spaceflight program transitions from inaccurate stories about lunar ambitions to more accurate stories about Chinese space station plans.

The latest case in point concerns recent reports that China is beginning development of a new space station. The Chinese revealed the space station design on a New Year holiday television broadcast, around the same time that their first lunar robotic spacecraft smashed into the lunar surface. This was reported in numerous places in the western media as if it was a great revelation and a change in Chinese plans. The reality is that these plans, and the space station’s overall design, have been publicly known for nearly six months. Despite the way some in the western media have reported it, nothing has changed. In fact, popular media reporting about China’s future space plans seems more to reflect Western biases and fears than it does what the Chinese government is actually saying and doing. This is not a case of Chinese statements being unreliable; it’s a case of the Western media being inattentive.

I've known Dwayne for almost a decade now, iirc. He turns a mean phrase when it comes to space related matters, especially space history. He discusses China's real space plans (station, not moon) over at the Space Review: he also lambastes media for making silly claims about it too.

NASA Returns to the Moon with Lunar Recon Orbiter

NASA's upcoming robotic mission to the Moon will set some basic signposts for human exploration there far into the future, while giving Earthbound scientists a much better view of the distant past.

Developed by the U.S. space agency's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate as a source of detailed maps for the Moon base already in development, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) will join orbiters from China, India and Japan in producing the best look ever at Earth's natural satellite.

Exploration planners at NASA headquarters here and at the Constellation program office in Houston will use data from the 12-month mapping mission to begin picking a site for the human outpost that is the current U.S. human-exploration goal by 2020.

Scientists looking at the same data, which will offer unprecedented detail of terrain, slopes and solar illumination across the entire surface of the Moon, will begin gaining new answers to questions about its origins in a shattering collision between Earth and a Mars-size body, and the subsequent history of the inner Solar System.

Among the first questions to be answered will be how much the lunar surface has changed since the 1960s, when the Apollo program mapped the areas where the first astronauts landed.

"We want to image some of the area mapped by the Apollo program with our high-resolution camera in order to see how many impacts have occurred there in the past 30 years, and that will help us to improve the understanding of the meteor flux onto the Moon," says Richard Vondrak, LRO project scientist and deputy director of the Solar System Exploration Div. at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

That data and the reams to follow as LRO maps the full lunar surface with its seven instruments will join a growing body of new knowledge about the Moon that started with the European Space Agency's Smart-1 mission in 2004-06 and continues with data collected by Japan's Kaguya (Selene), China's Chang'e and India's Chandrayaan-1.

Part of what I find so damned kewl about all this is that there is such an international fleet of orbiters right now. There's a palatable sense of competition and cooperation going on here. I tend to favor competing over cooperating on projects primarily because it breeds better results. With some cooperation, it gets even better. However, abandoning competition often breeds outright failure or massive disappointment.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Kepler to Launch (Now That's Resolution)

NASA's Kepler mission to answer the question of how common Earth-like planets are in the galaxy is set for a March 6 liftoff from Pad 17-B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

There are two launch windows: 10:49 to 10:52 p.m. and 11:13 to 11:16 p.m. EST. The 2,320-pound spacecraft from Ball Aerospace will be lofted by a United Launch Alliance Delta II 7925-10L into an Earth-trailing orbit from which it can view some 100,000 sun-like stars in the Cygnus-Lyra region of the Milky Way.

Putting it a 10th of an astronomical unit - 9 million miles - behind Earth will keep the spacecraft free of the planet's gravitational field and assure that it will have uninterrupted viewing. The total mission cost is $591 million.

Principal Scientist William Borucki of NASA Ames Research Center pushed for a planet survey for decades but had to wait for advances in photometric technology to catch up with his vision.

Planets are virtually invisible next to very bright suns, so detecting them requires an instrument with high sensitivity. Kepler's photometer can detect changes in brightness of just 20 parts per mission, which should make it perfect for spotting the planets as they pass in front of their host stars.

The spacecraft's telescope has a 1.4-meter (4.6-foot) primary mirror with a 0.95-meter aperture and a very wide 105-degree field of view. Its target stars were chosen from 4.3 million suns within its viewing area.

Kepler's imaging system uses 42 charge-coupled devices with a total of 95 million pixels. Hubble's Wide Field & Planetary Camera 2 has 4 CCDs and 640,000 pixels.

See what I mean? Over three orders of magnitude in pixels more! I hope everything works well!

The Undead Pseudogene

Researchers have discovered that a long-defunct gene was resurrected during the course of human evolution. This is believed to be the first evidence of a doomed gene – infection-fighting human IRGM – making a comeback in the human/great ape lineage. The study, led by Evan Eichler's genome science laboratory at the University of Washington and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, is published March 6 in the open-access journal PLoS Genetics.

The truncated IRGM gene is one of only two genes of its type remaining in humans. The genes are Immune-Related GTPases, a kind of gene that helps mammals resist germs like tuberculosis and salmonella that try to invade cells. Unlike humans, most other mammals have several genes of this type. Mice, for example, have 21 Immune-Related GTPases. Medical interest in this gene ignited recently, when scientists associated specific IRGM mutations with the risk of Crohn's disease, an inflammatory digestive disorder.

In this latest study, the researchers reconstructed the evolutionary history of the IRGM locus within primates. They found that most of the gene cluster was eliminated by going from multiple copies to a sole copy early in primate evolution, approximately 50 million years ago. Comparisons of Old World and New World monkey species suggest that the remaining copy died in their common ancestor.

The gene remnant continued to be inherited through millions of years of evolution. Then, in the common ancestor of humans and great apes, something unexpected happened. Once again the gene could be read to produce proteins. Evidence suggests that this change coincided with a retrovirus insertion in the ancestral genome.

"The IRGM gene was dead and later resurrected through a complex series of structural events," Eichler said. "These findings tell us that we shouldn't count a gene out until it is completely deleted."

kewl! After I learned about pseudogenes (aka 'fossil' genes) fairly recently - yes, my genetics knowledge is not what I'd like it to be! - I guessed that this might be possible.

One of the other bits that I am hypothesizing is that, if the basal archosaurs were endothermic and the birds retain that, then there is a strong case that the crocodilians have a corresponding pseudogene (or pseudogenes) related to metabolism that can be hunted for. If it was found, it would confirm a lot about the evolution of archosaurs. This could be one of those awesome intersections of disciplines.

Oh, on the original article, Not Exactly Rocket Science also has a write up.

I Can Always Tell...

...when it's time for midterms or finals. My traffic to the blog climbs from around 300/day to well over 400 and sometimes past 500. As of last night it was 449 for the previous 24 hours. That brings me to 56,769 visitors since July 22 and 144,666 since July 22, 2006 when I started tracking.

I get the undergrad surge!

Yucca Mountain Project to be Shuttered?

For two decades, a ridge of volcanic rock 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas known as Yucca Mountain has been the sole focus of government plans to store highly radioactive nuclear waste.

Not anymore.

Despite the $13.5 billion that has been spent on the project, the Obama administration says it's going in a different direction.

It slashed funding for Yucca Mountain in its recently announced budget.

And on Thursday, Energy Secretary Steven Chu told a Senate hearing that the Yucca Mountain site no longer was viewed as an option for storing reactor waste, brushing aside criticism from several Republican lawmakers.

Instead, Chu said the Obama administration believes the nearly 60,000 tons of used reactor fuel can remain at nuclear power plants while a new, comprehensive plan for waste disposal is developed.


Obama's 2010 budget calls for scrapping all spending on Yucca Mountain except for what is needed to answer questions from the NRC on the license application "while the administration devises a new strategy toward nuclear waste disposal."


Now I'm torn here.

There have been some less than reassuring bits coming out of the Yucca Mountain Project. There are a few geology 'hmmms.' However, some of that is equivocal.

On the other hand, this is a case of without this, the nuke industry restart will stall at best. Nuclear waste needs a long term solution. In 4, 8 years we're not likely to have a replacement for burying it, unless Dr Chu has an ace up his sleeve. (which I doubt) Since this is one of the known technology ways we can fight global warming, it's rather depressing that Obama has decided to go this route.

Someone's gonna get 'screwed.' NM has already taken in the WIPP. NV, being one of the least populated and uninhabitable states, needs to pony up.

However, my irritation and depression from this decision aside: Senator McCain, knock-off the "Mr Chu" bit. While Chu doesn't have PhD-itis, if you want to be formal with him, the man's damn well earned his doctorate and a Nobel Prize. Some modicum of respect is required and has been freakin earned. Dr Chu it ought to be. Or should we start referring to you as 'Mr McCain' from now on?

Mexican Cretaceous Sea Turtle Fossil Found

Paleontologists on Thursday unveiled the oldest fossil remains of a sea turtle that lived 72 million years ago in northern Mexico, the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) said.

"It is the oldest sea turtle of its kind and it belongs to the chelonia family. The oldest specimen of this species up to now was 65 million years old and was found in New Jersey, United States," the INAH said in a statement.

The fossils of seven sea turtles were found at different sites in Coahuila, the state that Mexican scientists call "the paradise of paleontology."

I presume that this is a oldest modern sea turtle...

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Oldest Domesticated Horses Found

An international team of archaeologists has uncovered the earliest known evidence of horses being domesticated by humans. The discovery suggests that horses were both ridden and milked. The findings could point to the very beginnings of horse domestication and the origins of the horse breeds we know today. Led by the Universities of Exeter and Bristol (UK), the research is published on Friday 6 March 2009 in leading academic journal Science.

The researchers have traced the origins of horse domestication back to the Botai Culture of Kazakhstan circa 5,500 years ago. This is about 1,000 years earlier than thought and about 2,000 years earlier than domestic horses are known to have been in Europe. Their findings strongly suggest that horses were originally domesticated, not just for riding, but also to provide food, including milk.

Through extensive archaeological fieldwork and subsequent analysis, using new techniques, the team developed three independent lines of evidence for early horse domestication. Their findings show that in the fourth millennium BC horses in Kazakhstan were being selectively bred for domestic use. They also show horses were being harnessed, possibly for riding, and that people were consuming horse milk.

Analysis of ancient bone remains showed that the horses were similar in shape to Bronze Age domestic horses and different from wild horses from the same region. This suggests that people were selecting wild horses for their physical attributes, which were then exaggerated through breeding.

The team used a new technique to search for 'bit damage' caused by horses being harnessed or bridled. The results showed that horses had indeed been harnessed, suggesting they could have been ridden.

Using a novel method of lipid residue analysis, the researchers also analysed Botai pottery and found traces of fats from horse milk. Mare's milk is still drunk in Kazakhstan, a country in which horse traditions run deep, and is usually fermented into a slightly alcoholic drink called 'koumiss'. While it was known that koumiss had been produced for centuries, this study shows the practice dates back to the very earliest horse herders.

Lead author Dr Alan Outram of the University of Exeter said: "The domestication of horses is known to have had immense social and economic significance, advancing communications, transport, food production and warfare. Our findings indicate that horses were being domesticated about 1,000 years earlier than previously thought. This is significant because it changes our understanding of how these early societies developed."

Ridden and milked. It makes me wonder if there were not multiple independent attempts at domesticating animals based on what was locally available. Horses, goats, cattle, etc all in different places and then trade, as people came in contact with one another, spread the varieties around. It'd be interesting if there were some way to test, genetically, if those horses are related to our horses. Or if it was an separate attempt from the lineage that survives today.

Come Join The Accented Discussion!

Noel Maurer, economist exemplar and general good guy, has an interesting discussion started up on the accents that his readers have: it started as discussing the Brooklyn accent. I strongly recommend that anyone that can, go participate. Noel's pretty forgiving of looking silly, so don't be shy. Right now it seems to be confined to Yanqi and Canucks, but I know I have Brits and others that read my blog, too.

If you find linguistics interesting, by all means go take a look.

Russia Working on ASATs to Match US, China?

Russia is working to develop anti-satellite weapons to match efforts by other nations, a deputy defense minister was quoted as saying Thursday.

Gen. Valentin Popovkin said Russia continues to oppose a space arms race but will respond to moves made by other countries, according to Russian news reports.

"We can't sit back and quietly watch others doing that, such work is being conducted in Russia," Popovkin was quoted as saying.

Russia already has some "basic, key elements" of such weapons, but refused to elaborate, Popovkin said.

Popovkin, who previously was the chief of Russian military Space Forces, reportedly made the statement at a news conference in response to a question about U.S. and Chinese tests of anti-satellite weapons.

How much of this is Russian me-too-ism, IDK. However, it ought to be noted that the Soviet Union had a very functional coorbital ASAT system and some satellite blinding lasers (supposedly): how much is still viable, IDK, but possibly not much at all. It ought to be noted that the power needed for blinding lasers (temporary blinding) is not much. It's more a pointer-tracker accuracy problem than a laser output issue: it's just like shining a spot light in someone's face...just further away.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Basal Theropods Had Bird Hands

Two handprints pressed into the mud of an ancient lakeshore 198 million years ago has given paleontologists new insights into the anatomy and evolution of early carnivorous dinosaurs. The theropod who crouched down had a bird-like forelimb structure with palms that always faced inwards, says lead researcher Andrew Milner, which indicates that they stopped using their forelimbs for walking early in their evolutionary history.

The handprints discovered in Utah are part of a larger track that clearly show the hind feet and, occasionally, the dragging tail. But at one point, Milner said, the theropod apparently stopped and crouched to rest. At that point, between the footprints, is the clear circular impression of the ischium or pelvis, “basically a butt print,” Milner said. And to each side of the tracks are the handprints, which are mirror images of each other. They clearly show the third digit pressed into the ground and traces of the second digit, with the claw curling inward. The hands were positioned as they would be for “holding on to a basketball rather than dribbling it,” [Los Angeles Times], comments paleontologist Tom Holtz, who wasn’t involved in the research.

The new study, published in the journal PLoS ONE, indicates that the unidentified species of theropod couldn’t turn the palms of its hands face down or face up like a human, but could bend them back against the arm similar to how a bird folds its wings. Jerry Harris, who coauthored the paper, said being able to fold the hands against the arms evolved before feathery wings — and at a time earlier than the period normally associated with theropods.

Sarah at Gombessa Girl has two posts on the subject. She knows the people involved and helped out to some extent it seems. Some interesting evolutionary implications here. I wonder how the "birds are not dinosaurs!!!" crowd are going to react? heh.

More Hardy's Paradox Observations

In quantum mechanics, a vanguard of physics where science often merges into philosophy, much of our understanding is based on conjecture and probabilities, but a group of researchers in Japan has moved one of the fundamental paradoxes in quantum mechanics into the lab for experimentation and observed some of the 'spooky action of quantum mechanics' directly.

Hardy's Paradox, the axiom that we cannot make inferences about past events that haven't been directly observed while also acknowledging that the very act of observation affects the reality we seek to unearth, poses a conundrum that quantum physicists have sought to overcome for decades. How do you observe quantum mechanics, atomic and sub-atomic systems that are so small-scale they cannot be described in classical terms, when the act of looking at them changes them permanently?

In a journal paper published in the New Journal of Physics, 'Direct observation of Hardy's paradox by joint weak measurement with an entangled photon pair', today, Wednesday, 4 March, authored by Kazuhiro Yokota, Takashi Yamamoto, Masato Koashi and Nobuyuki Imoto from the Graduate School of Engineering Science at Osaka University and the CREST Photonic Quantum Information Project in Kawaguchi City, the research group explains how they used a measurement technique that has an almost imperceptible impact on the experiment which allows the researchers to compile objectively provable results at sub-atomic scales.

The experiment, based on Lucien Hardy's thought experiment, which follows the paths of two photons using interferometers, instruments that can be used to interfere photons together, is believed to throw up contradictory results that do not conform to our classical understanding of reality. Although Hardy's Paradox is rarely refuted, it was only a thought experiment until recently.

Using an entangled pair of photons and an original but complicated method of weak measurement that does not interfere with the path of the photons, a significant step towards harnessing the reality of quantum mechanics has been taken by these researchers in Japan.

Summoning Alden...Where are you these days? Still at CERN or ...?

Giggle Factor: Panarin Claims US to Collapse By 2011

If you're inclined to believe Igor Panarin, and the Kremlin wouldn't mind if you did, then President Barack Obama will order martial law this year, the U.S. will split into six rump-states before 2011, and Russia and China will become the backbones of a new world order.

Panarin might be easy to ignore but for the fact that he is a dean at the Foreign Ministry's school for future diplomats and a regular on Russia's state-guided TV channels. And his predictions fit into the anti-American story line of the Kremlin leadership.

"There is a high probability that the collapse of the United States will occur by 2010," Panarin told dozens of students, professors and diplomats Tuesday at the Diplomatic Academy — a lecture the ministry pointedly invited The Associated Press and other foreign media to attend.

The prediction from Panarin, a former spokesman for Russia's Federal Space Agency and reportedly an ex-KGB analyst, meshes with the negative view of the U.S. that has been flowing from the Kremlin in recent years, in particular from Vladimir Putin.

Putin, the former president who is now prime minister, has likened the United States to Nazi Germany's Third Reich and blames Washington for the global financial crisis that has pounded the Russian economy.

Panarin didn't give many specifics on what underlies his analysis, mostly citing newspapers, magazines and other open sources.

He also noted he had been predicting the demise of the world's wealthiest country for more than a decade now.

But he said the recent economic turmoil in the U.S. and other "social and cultural phenomena" led him to nail down a specific timeframe for "The End" — when the United States will break up into six autonomous regions and Alaska will revert to Russian control.

Panarin argued that Americans are in moral decline, saying their great psychological stress is evident from school shootings, the size of the prison population and the number of gay men.

Turning to economic woes, he cited the slide in major stock indexes, the decline in U.S. gross domestic product and Washington's bailout of banking giant Citigroup as evidence that American dominance of global markets has collapsed.

"I was there recently and things are far from good," he said. "What's happened is the collapse of the American dream."

Panarin insisted he didn't wish for a U.S. collapse, but he predicted Russia and China would emerge from the economic turmoil stronger and said the two nations should work together, even to create a new currency to replace the U.S. dollar.

I can't help thinking that this is more wish fulfillment and projection going on here. This guy is obviously very disturbed on some fundamental level that he's mistaking what he wants for what is. I really want to annex Mexico and return to an expansionist foreign policy, of sorts, but I also recognize that this is not a realistically likely scenario. However, this guy...oy. The fact that he's in the position he's in and the Russians seem to be at least pretending to listen to him...huh, that's all I'll say. At best, huh.
Asked for comment on how the Foreign Ministry views Panarin's theories, a spokesman said all questions had to be submitted in writing and no answers were likely before Wednesday.

Oh that is sooooo Russian.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Global Warming's Effect on Tropical Lizards

From geckos and iguanas to Gila monsters and Komodo dragons, lizards are among the most common reptiles on Earth. They are found on every continent except Antarctica. One even pitches car insurance in TV ads. They seemingly can adapt to a variety of conditions, but are most abundant in the tropics.

However, new research that builds on data collected more than three decades ago demonstrates that lizards living in tropical forests in Central and South America and the Caribbean could be in serious peril from rising temperatures associated with climate change.

In fact, those forest lizards appear to tolerate a much narrower range of survivable temperatures than do their relatives at higher latitudes and are actually less tolerant of high temperatures, said Raymond Huey, a University of Washington biology professor.

"The least heat-tolerant lizards in the world are found at the lowest latitudes, in the tropical forests. I find that amazing," said Huey, lead author of a paper outlining climate warming's threat to lizards published in the March 4 Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The Royal Society is Great Britain's national academy of science.

It has often been assumed that tropical organisms are much better at dealing with high temperatures than those in colder climates because the lowland tropics are always warm. But that assumption is only true to a point, Huey said, because those in the tropical forest experience a much narrower range of temperatures during the year and are rarely, if ever, exposed to extreme high temperatures.

A lizard in Washington, for example, might experience a temperature range of 40 degrees or more between summer and winter, while one in Puerto Rican forests might only experience a range of 20 to 25 degrees.

Forest conditions tend to keep lizards living there at temperatures that allow them to function at or close to their physical peak. A temperature change of just a few degrees can reduce their physical performance greatly.

Lizards are ectotherms, regulating their body temperature by exchanging heat with their surroundings. Huey originally collected data on body temperatures of lizards in a Puerto Rican forest in 1973, and later measured how fast they can sprint at various body temperatures. Sprinting relates directly to survivability because it affects a lizard's ability to hunt or elude predators.

He found that even at the coolest and warmest parts of the day the forest lizards functioned at least at 90 percent of their maximum ability, because the temperatures varied so little and were optimal then for these lizards. Subsequent laboratory work by Huey and others tested the sprinting speeds for more than 70 species of lizards at varying body temperatures.

"In the 1970s a bunch of us were running around the Caribbean with thermometers taking lizard body temperatures for reasons totally unrelated to climate warming. But we can use our data from a third a century ago as a baseline to now predict how lizards at different latitudes would respond to climate change," Huey said.

His co-authors are Curtis Deutsch of the University of California, Los Angeles; Joshua Tewksbury of the UW; Laurie Vitt of the University of Oklahoma; Paul Hertz of Barnard College; Héctor Álvarez Pérez of the University of Puerto Rico; and Theodore Garland Jr. of the University of California, Riverside. The work was funded by the National Science Foundation and the UW Program on Climate Change.

Huey's lizard studies in the early 1970s included a species called Anolis gundlachi that lived in a forest at about 1,000 feet elevation near El Verde, Puerto Rico. The shaded forest was an ideal environment for Anolis gundlachi, but was too cool for another species, A. cristatellus, that favored the warmer conditions found in unforested habitats nearby.

But since the early 1970s, Huey said, the average temperature in the forest has risen from just less than 80 degrees Fahrenheit to nearly 83.5 F, which should be stressfully warm for A. gundlachi and almost warm enough for A. cristatellus. Scientists believe the tropics could warm by another 5 degrees F by the end of this century.

"That may not sound like much, but we think gundlachi is going to get hammered because it will suffer heat stress from the warmer temperatures," Huey said.

No time to comment. This is one of the more subtle potential changes that may happen though.