Blogging from Asheville, NC circa Feb. 2003, when we were dorks.

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Even in absurdity, sacrament.
Even in hardship, holiness.
Even in doubt,
faith.
Even in chaos,
realization.
Even in paradox,
blessedness.

jay's books:

Digging the Immaterial Rainbow Over Crossroads One for the Nameless

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Mon 22 Jan 07

The Universe As Magic Roundabout

...[T]ime doesn't really exist. That is to say, there are no discrete measurements of time that can be observed in nature, and that our concepts of it are dependent upon the relative motions of mass and energy. His latest effort continues along these lines, arguing that our linear concept of time - firmly established with the introduction of the Christian calendar - has, effectively, blinkered us from the possibility of a cyclic universe. At this point, Lynds' critics are sure to be thinking that he's up to his old tricks again, but he introduces some very solid arguments, employing no less than the second law of thermodynamics to support his claims.

filed under: scitechblog blogged: 07.41 Mon, 22 Jan '07

Thu 18 Jan 07

Remotely Activated Nanoparticles Destroy Cancer

The first in a new generation of nanotechnology-based cancer treatments will likely begin clinical trials in 2007, and if the promise of animal trials carries through to human trials, these treatments will transform cancer therapy. By replacing surgery and conventional chemotherapy with noninvasive treatments targeted at cancerous tumors, this nanotech approach could reduce or eliminate side effects by avoiding damage to healthy tissue. It could also make it possible to destroy tumors that are inoperable or won't respond to current treatment.

filed under: scitechblog blogged: 12.02 Thu, 18 Jan '07

Thu 18 Jan 07

How 'thinkers' see the future

People's fascination for religion and superstition will disappear within a few decades as television and the internet make it easier to get information, and scientists get closer to discovering a final theory of everything, leading thinkers argue today.

The web magazine Edge (www.edge.org) asked more than 150 scientists and intellectuals: "What are you optimistic about?" Answers included hope for an extended human life span, a bright future for autistic children, and an end to violent conflicts around the world.

Philosopher Daniel Denett believes that within 25 years religion will command little of the awe it seems to instil today. The spread of information through the internet and mobile phones will "gently, irresistibly, undermine the mindsets requisite for religious fanaticism and intolerance".

filed under: scitechblog blogged: 07.58 Thu, 18 Jan '07

Wed 17 Jan 07

Queer to the bone

Is there a homosexuality gene? Although biologists are still far from answering this question, scattered evidence for a possible gene influencing sexual orientation has recently encouraged scientists to map out a guide to future research. Because many possibilities for such a gene exist, scientists... have recently developed some theoretical guidelines and testable predictions for explaining the evolutionary causes of homosexuality.

filed under: scitechblog blogged: 07.52 Wed, 17 Jan '07

Wed 20 Dec 06

Jungle Boogie

52 new species found in Borneo's 'Lost World'

More than 50 new species of animals and plants that have never been seen before have been discovered in a 'Lost World' on the island of Borneo in just 18 months, say scientists.

Among them are two tree frogs, a whole range of plants and trees and 30 brand new types of fish including a tiny one less than a centimetre long and a catfish with an adhesive belly that allows it to stick to rocks.

filed under: scitechblog blogged: 16.47 Wed, 20 Dec '06

Tue 19 Dec 06

Farewell to the Baiji

After surviving 20 million years, China's goddess of the river is driven to extinction.

For 20 million years, the white-fin dolphin, or baiji, swam China's longest river, the Yangtze. But a few years of breakneck development, overfishing and a massive increase in shipping have reduced sightings of this shy, graceful creature to zero.

A recent expedition failed to spot a single Lipotes vexillifer, and now conservationists fear the almost-blind, long-beaked animal is gone for good, the first big aquatic mammal to become extinct due to human activity.

"We have to accept the fact that the baiji is extinct. It is a tragedy, a loss not only for China, but for the entire world..."

filed under: scitechblog blogged: 16.10 Tue, 19 Dec '06

Thu 14 Dec 06

Meet the chewing squid

Hey baby you have a nice mouth...

A squid that chews. Among the 80,000 organisms – encompassing 354 families, genera and species – that Census deep-sea investigators collected from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge was the reference specimen or holotype for a new species of squid: Promachoteuthis sloani. Although collection easily damages the soft cephalopods, the hard beaks are unique to each species, including that of the new squid, which looks quite capable of chewing its food.

filed under: scitechblog blogged: 12.55 Thu, 14 Dec '06

Wed 13 Dec 06

All but Ageless, Turtles Face Their Biggest Threat

(that would be humans)

Researchers estimate that at least half of all turtle species are in serious trouble, and that some of them, like the Galapagos tortoise, the North American bog turtle, the Pacific leatherback sea turtle and more than a dozen species in China and Southeast Asia, may effectively go extinct in the next decade if extreme measures are not taken. “People love turtles, people find them endearing, but people take turtles for granted,” Mr. Cover said. “They have no idea how important turtles are to the ecosystems in which they, and we, live.”

filed under: scitechblog blogged: 20.51 Wed, 13 Dec '06

Tue 12 Dec 06

The Coming Era of Magical Physics

In the past year several scientific claims that apparently contradict "known" physical laws have been making headline news. Some are so contradictory to personal experience that their application would seem like "magic" if we were not already in an age of remarkable discoveries.

filed under: scitechblog blogged: 20.35 Tue, 12 Dec '06

Mon 11 Dec 06

Another Science Linkdump

Distance no worries for spooky particles
Two species cooperate to hunt
Magnetic field puts bats on track
Do galaxies follow Darwinian evolution?
Scientists say the global energy crisis can be solved by using the desert sun
WTF!!!: The tiny magnetite compass in the human nose
Scuze Me: Deadly Ocean Burp
If the experiment works, a signal could be received before it's sent
Sea urchins are part-human
Did evolution make our eyes stand out?
"Global Carbon Project" Reports Accelerating Carbon Dioxide Emissions

filed under: scitechblog blogged: 08.10 Mon, 11 Dec '06

Sun 10 Dec 06

Human Evolution: Still Kickin' It

Study Detects Recent Instance of Human Evolution

filed under: scitechblog blogged: 18.35 Sun, 10 Dec '06

Sat 09 Dec 06

Icy Jaws!

Mysterious Arctic sharks found in Québec

filed under: scitechblog blogged: 11.19 Sat, 09 Dec '06

Wed 06 Dec 06

Unique Marvel of Ancient Greek Technology Gives Up New Secrets

Windows LXVIII: The most sophisticated mechanical device of ancient Greece may finally be giving up its secrets. Researchers have long known the so-called Antikythera mechanism was a calendar of sorts that represented the positions of the sun and moon using a series of gears. In its complexity it outshined all other objects for a thousand years following its creation sometime around the second century B.C. Now an international consortium of researchers has probed the machine's corroded fragments with sophisticated x-ray and light imaging tools to uncover the true sophistication of this geared wonder.

filed under: scitechblog blogged: 14.42 Wed, 06 Dec '06

Tue 05 Dec 06

Critter Linkdump

Elephants can recognize their mirror images

Giant Snails Invade Island

Observe the Beauty of the Glasswing Butterfly

Humpback Whales have a Vocal Repetoire of 622 Sounds

Your Kitty is Bilingual

Who is the Most Important Organism?

A Species of Lionfish is Visibly Evolving

A Hapless Expedition to Track the Endangered Yangtze River Dolphin?

filed under: scitechblog blogged: 08.11 Tue, 05 Dec '06

Thu 30 Nov 06

Build Yer Own Stinkin' Universe!

Is this a joke? No, say a bunch of physicists. One day, it may be possible for a person to create a universe!

This is not going to happen tomorrow. Not even close. But according to Columbia University physics professor Brian Greene, it is theoretically not impossible (which is his way of saying the possibilities are not zero) that one day, a person could build a universe.

The very idea is so startling it's hard to know what this means.

Think about it this way: One day (far off, no doubt), it may be possible to go into a laboratory on Earth, create a "seed" -- a device that could grow into a universe -- and then there would have to be a way to get that seed, on command, to safely expand into a separate, infinite, unexplorable but very real alternate universe.

Got that?

filed under: scitechblog blogged: 08.42 Thu, 30 Nov '06

Wed 29 Nov 06

Humpback whales have 'human' brain cells

Humpback whales have a type of brain cell seen only in humans, the great apes, and other cetaceans such as dolphins, U.S. researchers reported on Monday.

This might mean such whales are more intelligent than they have been given credit for, and suggests the basis for complex brains either evolved more than once, or has gone unused by most species of animals, the researchers said.

The finding may help explain some of the behaviors seen in whales, such as intricate communication skills, the formation of alliances, cooperation, cultural transmission and tool usage, the researchers report in The Anatomical Record.

filed under: scitechblog blogged: 20.16 Wed, 29 Nov '06

Tue 28 Nov 06

Cyborg metaphysics

Sure, we can fabricate an artificial intelligence, but I say only natural selection (again, not 'random' selection) and biological engineering can produce a non-human intelligence equal to or superior to ours -- that is, capable of insight into the i-set, and maybe far better at computation to boot. But that's outside our discussion.

Surely, at a minimum, we will one day create machines so well routinized that a person might not realize they were communicating with one in a Q&A, like circus animals which can be trained to ape human characteristics.

filed under: scitechblog blogged: 14.50 Tue, 28 Nov '06

Mon 27 Nov 06

The Physics of Friendship

Applying a mathematical model to the social dynamics of people presents difficulties not involved with more physical – and perhaps more rational – applications. The many factors that influence an individual’s fate to meet an acquaintance and decide to become a friend are impossible to capture, but physicists have used techniques from physical systems to model social networks with near precision.

By modeling people’s interactions based on how particles bounce off each other in an enclosed area, physicists Marta Gonzalez, Pedro Lind and Hans Herrmann found that the characteristics of social networks emerge “in a very natural way.” In a study recently published in Physical Review Letters, the scientists compared their model to empirical data taken from a survey of more than 90,000 U.S. students regarding friendships, and found similarities indicating that this model may serve as a novel approach for understanding social networks.

filed under: scitechblog blogged: 16.12 Mon, 27 Nov '06

Wed 22 Nov 06

In the beginning: scientists get ready to hunt for God particle

Inside the collider vanishingly small protons, the particles at the heart of every atom, will be propelled to nearly the speed of light and slammed into other protons hurtling the other way. By the time they collide each proton will pack as much punch as a 400-tonne train travelling at 120mph. Every second an estimated 800m head-on collisions are expected, each unleashing a shower of subatomic debris for scientists to sift through.

Although the elusive Higgs particle may be created in collisions every day it will take enormous skill to spot them. Their existence is fleeting, each lasting less than a thousandth of a billionth of a billionth of a second.

Scientists will use the enormous 7,000-tonne Atlas detector, which sits inside a cavern large enough to house the nave of Westminster Abbey, to pick up other particles that can only be created when a Higgs boson vanishes from existence.

Other experiments will veer sharply into what has previously been the realm of science fiction. Some scientists believe the universe has more dimensions than the ones we know about. In one extra dimension gravity is believed to be exceptionally strong. If the collider momentarily wedges extra dimensions open, it could release a powerful tug of gravity that compresses matter so much it creates a miniature black hole.

Cern officials are keen to point out that there is no reason to be alarmed by artificial black holes. "You should not deduce that we are ready to build a black hole and Cern along with the planet will disappear, although this is a letter I receive every week," said Robert Aylmar, head of Cern.

filed under: scitechblog blogged: 12.38 Wed, 22 Nov '06

Tue 21 Nov 06

Rare lightshow seen in deep ocean

Many deep sea animals have light-producing organs on their bodies but observation of these lights in action has been very rare. Normally these lights are seen as flashes which have been stimulated by the agitation of water by boats or submarines.

Dr Julian Partridge, expert in animal vision from the University of Bristol, explained: “People tend to think of bioluminescence as something that happens at the surface of the sea, because that is where they usually see it. But in the deep oceans, this light is all many animals ever see because sunlight is too dim.

“Millions deep sea of animals have evolved visual systems for communication using only brief flashes of dim light. It is often not known why the animals produce light, but the squirting of luminescent material is likely to be a defence mechanism.”

filed under: scitechblog blogged: 14.06 Tue, 21 Nov '06

Mon 20 Nov 06

The Hubble Challenges Dogmatic Creationism

If God or Allah created all of this, He did so an incredibly long time ago. If Man is the reason for Creation, why has intelligent Man’s existence only been for the last few thousand years? If Time since creation was a kilometre long piece of rope, intelligent Man is represented only by the last half-CENTIMETRE. If Man is the purpose of creation, why did it take so long to create Man? And what’s with all the over-the-top elaborate sky decorations? Surely some painted white dots on a big canvas hung around the Earth would have sufficed?

Thanks should go to Hubble for opening our eyes. If only some men would open theirs. Being a Christian or being a Muslim means being different. Being a Human means being the same.

filed under: scitechblog blogged: 11.10 Mon, 20 Nov '06

Thu 16 Nov 06

Panspermia redux redux: Searching for 'our alien origins'

In July 2001, a mysterious red rain started falling over a large area of southern India.

Locals believed that it foretold the end of the world, though the official explanation was that it was desert dust that had blown over from Arabia.

But one scientist in the area, Dr Godfrey Louis, was convinced there was something much more unusual going on.

Not only did Dr Louis discover that there were tiny biological cells present, but because they did not appear to contain DNA, the essential component of all life on Earth, he reasoned they must be alien lifeforms.

"This staggering claim is that this is possibly extraterrestrial. That is a big claim I know, but all the experiments are supporting this claim," said Dr Louis.

His remarkable work has set in motion a chain of events with scientists around the world debating the origin of these mysterious cells.

filed under: scitechblog blogged: 12.08 Thu, 16 Nov '06

Wed 15 Nov 06

Giant snails invade island

A nocturnal survey last weekend found hundreds of thousands of African snails - which are often about the size of a human hand - swarming the central parish of St George, the country's agricultural heartland, where farmers complained of damage to sugar cane, bananas, papayas and other crops.

"We saw snails riding on each other's backs and moving in clusters..."

filed under: scitechblog blogged: 12.25 Wed, 15 Nov '06

Mon 13 Nov 06

Panspermia redux: did life begin in space? (yes, we're in it)

Interstellar clouds of gas are impregnated with organic molecules, the chemical ingredients of life. In just two years of work with the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope, astronomers have discovered eight new organic molecules near the center of the Milky Way, bolstering theories that key chemical precursors of life were first forged in deep space.

All eight of the new carbon-containing molecules are relatively large, composed of 6 to 11 atoms each. One of the molecules, acetamide, is particularly exciting because it contains a peptide bond, the essential bond for connections between amino acids. "No one has ever found an amino acid in space," says Jan M. Hollis of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "I've actually written several papers about not finding them."

filed under: scitechblog blogged: 12.11 Mon, 13 Nov '06

Fri 10 Nov 06

The Birth of a Volcanic Island

Right before the photographer's eyes! Check it out!

filed under: scitechblog blogged: 06.47 Fri, 10 Nov '06

Thu 09 Nov 06

Global climate efforts 'woeful'

Efforts to help developing nations adapt to the impacts of climate change have been called "woefully inadequate" by a UN-commissioned report.

Rich countries have focused on ways to reduce carbon emissions but have largely ignored helping poor nations cope with the consequences, it says.

The findings appear in the UNDP's Human Development Report 2006.

The authors say farmers whose crops are reliant on rainfall are already having to cope with unpredictable weather.

The report, called Beyond Scarcity: Power, Poverty and the Global Water Crisis, says climate change "now poses what may be an unparalleled threat to human development".

filed under: scitechblog blogged: 09.11 Thu, 09 Nov '06

Tue 07 Nov 06

Birds have brilliant brains (but of course!)

The insult of 'bird-brain' is generally applied to scatty people who cannot hold much in their heads.

But it seems this may be doing an injustice to our feathered friends.

Scientists have discovered that the common pigeon actually has an astonishingly good long-term memory.

In tests they found a single bird can memorise 1,200 pictures.

The team said that, despite clear physical differences between birds and other animals, there are important similarities in the way their memories work.

filed under: scitechblog blogged: 10.28 Tue, 07 Nov '06

Fri 03 Nov 06

Accelerating Loss of Ocean Species Threatens Human Well-Being

The study reveals that every species lost causes a faster unraveling of the overall ecosystem. Conversely every species recovered adds significantly to overall productivity and stability of the ecosystem and its ability to withstand stresses.

“Whether we looked at tide pools or studies over the entire world’s ocean, we saw the same picture emerging,” says lead author Boris Worm of Dalhousie University. “In losing species we lose the productivity and stability of entire ecosystems. I was shocked and disturbed by how consistent these trends are - beyond anything we suspected.”

The four-year analysis is the first to examine all existing data on ocean species and ecosystems, synthesizing historical, experimental, fisheries, and observational datasets to understand the importance of biodiversity at the global scale.

filed under: scitechblog blogged: 20.08 Fri, 03 Nov '06

Thu 02 Nov 06

Imagine Earth without people

Humans are undoubtedly the most dominant species the Earth has ever known. In just a few thousand years we have swallowed up more than a third of the planet's land for our cities, farmland and pastures. By some estimates, we now commandeer 40 per cent of all its productivity. And we're leaving quite a mess behind: ploughed-up prairies, razed forests, drained aquifers, nuclear waste, chemical pollution, invasive species, mass extinctions and now the looming spectre of climate change. If they could, the other species we share Earth with would surely vote us off the planet.
“15,589 Number of species threatened with extinction”

Now just suppose they got their wish. Imagine that all the people on Earth - all 6.5 billion of us and counting - could be spirited away tomorrow, transported to a re-education camp in a far-off galaxy. (Let's not invoke the mother of all plagues to wipe us out, if only to avoid complications from all the corpses). Left once more to its own devices, Nature would begin to reclaim the planet, as fields and pastures reverted to prairies and forest, the air and water cleansed themselves of pollutants, and roads and cities crumbled back to dust.

"The sad truth is, once the humans get out of the picture, the outlook starts to get a lot better," says John Orrock, a conservation biologist at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in Santa Barbara, California. But would the footprint of humanity ever fade away completely, or have we so altered the Earth that even a million years from now a visitor would know that an industrial society once ruled the planet?

filed under: scitechblog blogged: 08.02 Thu, 02 Nov '06

Wed 01 Nov 06

Part Of Human Brain Functions Like A Digital Computer

Can you spot the peeps running on Windows? Snark aside, I've been saying this for a long time...

A region of the human brain that scientists believe is critical to human intellectual abilities surprisingly functions much like a digital computer, according to psychology Professor Randall O’Reilly of the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The finding could help researchers better understand the functioning of human intelligence.

In a review of biological computer models of the brain appearing in the Oct. 6 edition of the journal Science, O’Reilly contends that the prefrontal cortex and basal ganglia operate much like a digital computer system.

“Many researchers who create these models shun the computer metaphor,” O’Reilly said. “My work comes out of a tradition that says people’s brains are nothing like computers, and now all of a sudden as we look at them, in fact, in a certain respect they are like computers.”

Digital computers operate by turning electrical signals into binary “on and off states” and flexibly manipulating these states by using switches. O’Reilly found the same operating principles in the brain.

filed under: scitechblog blogged: 16.08 Wed, 01 Nov '06

Tue 31 Oct 06

Knowing the Universe in Detail (Except for That Pesky 96 Percent of It)

You might wonder just exactly what kind of triumph “precision cosmology” represents when 96 percent of the universe is unknown dark stuff. Stars and people we know about. But the best guess for dark matter is that it is some kind of subatomic particle that will be discovered someday.

Dark energy was a complete surprise. How often do you toss a handful of gravel into the air and the rocks speed up as they leave your hand and disappear into the sky? The leading contender for an explanation is a fudge factor representing the repulsive force of empty space that Einstein danced in and out of his equations 75 or so years ago. But no one really knows.

Apparently we now know enough to say that the universe is precisely “preposterous,” in the words of Sean Carroll, a physicist and blogger at the California Institute of Technology. Michael Turner, a cosmologist at the University of Chicago, likes to say, “We know much, but we understand little.”

filed under: scitechblog blogged: 20.13 Tue, 31 Oct '06

Tue 31 Oct 06

Knowing the Universe in Detail (Except for That Pesky 96 Percent of It)

You might wonder just exactly what kind of triumph “precision cosmology” represents when 96 percent of the universe is unknown dark stuff. Stars and people we know about. But the best guess for dark matter is that it is some kind of subatomic particle that will be discovered someday.

Dark energy was a complete surprise. How often do you toss a handful of gravel into the air and the rocks speed up as they leave your hand and disappear into the sky? The leading contender for an explanation is a fudge factor representing the repulsive force of empty space that Einstein danced in and out of his equations 75 or so years ago. But no one really knows.

Apparently we now know enough to say that the universe is precisely “preposterous,” in the words of Sean Carroll, a physicist and blogger at the California Institute of Technology. Michael Turner, a cosmologist at the University of Chicago, likes to say, “We know much, but we understand little.”

filed under: scitechblog blogged: 20.13 Tue, 31 Oct '06

Mon 30 Oct 06

Scientist Extols Power of Silence

Perhaps more striking is what's missing. There is no sound of airplane traffic, campground generators or overchatty hikers - all sounds that Hempton says are disturbing the peace at national parks across the country.

The abundance of quiet in this small spot led Hempton to place a small reddish-brown rock on a moss-covered log here last year, designating the remote spot in western Washington's Hoh Rain Forest "One Square Inch of Silence."

The acoustic ecologist's hope is that by protecting this tiny spot from man-made sound, a much larger part of the park will reap benefits.

"Quiet is going extinct," Hempton said. "I wanted to find a quiet place and hang on to it and protect it."

National park officials like the concept.

"We're certainly aware of the need to take whatever measures we can to maintain the natural quiet," said park Superintendent Bill Laitner, who hiked to the spot with Hempton earlier this year. "We are so strapped for resources that there's just no way we can ... do this kind of research on our own."

filed under: scitechblog blogged: 20.12 Mon, 30 Oct '06

Mon 30 Oct 06

The Elephant and The Event Horizon

Let’s say Alice is watching a black hole from a safe distance, and she sees an elephant foolishly headed straight into gravity’s grip. As she continues to watch, she will see it get closer and closer to the event horizon, slowing down because of the time-stretching effects of gravity in general relativity. However, she will never see it cross the horizon. Instead she sees it stop just short, where sadly Dumbo is thermalised by Hawking radiation and reduced to a pile of ashes streaming back out. From Alice’s point of view, the elephant’s information is contained in those ashes.

There is a twist to the story. Little did Alice realise that her friend Bob was riding on the elephant’s back as it plunged toward the black hole. When Bob crosses the event horizon, though, he doesn’t even notice, thanks to relativity. The horizon is not a brick wall in space. It is simply the point beyond which an observer outside the black hole can’t see light escaping. To Bob, who is in free fall, it looks like any other place in the universe; even the pull of gravity won’t be noticeable for perhaps millions of years. Eventually as he nears the singularity, where the curvature of space-time runs amok, gravity will overpower Bob, and he and his elephant will be torn apart. Until then, he too sees information conserved.

Neither story is pretty, but which one is right? According to Alice, the elephant never crossed the horizon; she watched it approach the black hole and merge with the Hawking radiation. According to Bob, the elephant went through and floated along happily for eons until it turned into spaghetti. The laws of physics demand that both stories be true, yet they contradict one another. So where is the elephant, inside or out?

filed under: scitechblog blogged: 13.04 Mon, 30 Oct '06

Sat 28 Oct 06

Science and the desire for power

Earlier this month, physicists in Copenhagen announced they had successfully teleported information through a half a meter of space to a large object. The experiment, the first to transport information from light and matter, is said to be a revolutionary step in the field of quantum teleportation. But while it's one thing to teleport atomic data, it's quite another to teleport an entire human being.

filed under: scitechblog blogged: 17.04 Sat, 28 Oct '06

 

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