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The place where the world comes together in honesty and mirth.
Windmills Tilted, Scared Cows Butchered, Lies Skewered on the Lance of Reality ... or something to that effect.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Daily Drift

The place to be ...

Carolina Naturally is read in 191 countries around the world daily.

All right then! ...

Today is National Senior Health and Fitness Day

Don't forget to visit our sister blog!

Some of our readers today have been in:
Dambulla, Sri Lanka
Eldoret, Kenya
Cairo, Egypt
Luqa, Malta
Ulaanaabaataar, Mongolia
Kuanas, Lithuania
Guaynabo, Puerto Rico
Zurich, Switzerland
Monterrey, Mexico
Windsor, Canada
Windhoek, Namibia
Damascus, Syria
Lima, Peru
Istanbul, Turkey
Valencia, Venezuela
Hanoi, Vietnam
Kharkiv, Ukraine
Peshawar, Pakistan
Bogota, Colombia
Maribor and Ljubljana, Slovenia
Providencia and Valdiva, Chile
Sampaloc and Manila, Philippines
Hassi Messaoud and Algiers, Algeria
Cape Town and Pretoria, South Africa
Kuala Lumpur, Puchong, Selayang and Ipoh, Malaysia
Bialystok, Poznan, Gdansk, Zakopane and Waraw, Poland

And across the USA in cities such as:
Philadelphia, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Milwaukee, New York City, Atlanta, Spokane, Portland, Phoenix, Dallas, New Orleans, Chicago, Boulder, Boise, St. Louis, Nashville and Miami
(While we normally feature the not so well known places our readers hail from in the USA, today we thought we'd highlight a few of the better known places you can find our readers.)

Today in History

1453   Constantinople falls to Muhammad II, ending the Byzantine Empire.  
1660   Charles II is restored to the English throne, succeeding the short-lived Commonwealth.  
1721   South Carolina is formally incorporated as a royal colony of England.  
1790   Rhode Island becomes last of the original thirteen colonies to ratify the Constitution.  
1848   Wisconsin becomes the thirtieth state.  
1849   A patent for lifting vessels is granted to Abraham Lincoln.  
1862   Confederate general P.G.T. Beauregard retreats to Tupelo, Mississippi.  
1911   The first running of the Indianapolis 500.  
1913   The premier of the ballet Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) in Paris causes rioting in the theater.  
1916   U.S. forces invade the Dominican Republic.  
1922   Ecuador becomes independent.  
1922   The U.S. Supreme Court rules organized baseball is a sport not subject to antitrust laws.  
1942   The German Army completes its encirclement of the Kharkov region of the Soviet Union.  
1951   C. F. Blair becomes the first man to fly over the North Pole in single engine plane.  
1953   Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay become the first men to reach the top of Mount Everest.  
1974   President Richard Nixon agrees to turn over 1,200 pages of edited Watergate transcripts.  
1990   Boris Yeltsin is elected the president of Russia.

Non Sequitur


Ten Brands That Will Disappear in 2014

Is your favorite brand amongst the ones shown above? Prepare to say goodbye to them, if 24/7 Wall St. editor Douglas A. McIntyre's prediction is correct.
Each year, 24/7 Wall St. identifies 10 important brands sold in America that we predict will disappear before 2014. This year’s list reflects the brutally competitive nature of certain industries and the importance of not falling behind in efficiency, innovation or financing. [...]

We continue to use the same methodology in deciding which brands will disappear. The major criteria include:
  1. Declining sales and losses;
  2. Disclosures by the parent of the brand that it might go out of business;
  3. Rising costs that are unlikely to be recouped through higher prices;
  4. Companies that are sold;
  5. Companies that go into bankruptcy;
  6. Companies that have lost the great majority of their customers; and
  7. Operations with withering market share.
Each brand on the list suffers from one or more of these problems. Each of the 10 will be gone, based on our definitions, within 18 months.
Read the list and Douglas' analysis over at 24/7 Wall St: Here.

The truth is ...

Guess what?

The catholic bishop of NY is already paying for abortion insurance

The NYT dropped a little bombshell that went relatively unnoticed this long holiday weekend. It seems the catholic bishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, has been paying for insurance for some of his employees that covers abortions and contraceptives. Dolan has been leading the catholic cult’s fight against Obamacare requiring some religiously-affiliated employers to pay for health insurance that includes contraceptive coverage for its employees.
Aa the NYT notes, while the archdiocese of NY has admitted previously that some “local catholic institutions” have been paying for such health insurance plans, no one knew until now that the archdiocese was paying for them itself.
The cult, of course, claims that this is all happening under duress.  They’re just complying with local laws that they don’t like, they say.  But the problem for Dolan is that for years he’s been claiming that the Obamacare rules are “unprecedented.”  And apparently, they’re not.
In a letter to his fellow bishops, Dolan wrote back on March 2, 2012 that Obamacare was an “unprecedented intrusion from a government bureau.”
Cardinal Dolan (Credit: Cy White)
Cardinal Dolan 
Dolan went on to claim that “each of the ministries entrusted to us by jesus is now in jeopardy due to this bureaucratic intrusion into the internal life of the church.”
Which is interesting, since the New York archdiocese has been dealing with this “intrusion” at the local level for over a decade, and it doesn’t seem in jeopardy.
Dolan continues.  And this is where he really starts to dig himself a hole:
We’ll still have to pay and, in addition to that, we’ll still have to maintain in our policies practices which our cult has consistently taught are grave wrongs in which we cannot participate. And what about forcing individual believers to pay for what violates their religious freedom and conscience? We can’t abandon the hard working person of faith who has a right to religious freedom.
But ya are, Blanche.  Ya are participating in those grave wrongs already, and lightning hasn’t struck.  And you already “abandon[ed] the hard working person of faith” over a decade ago when you chose to comply with the local laws. Yet Dolan chose to pretend that he hadn’t.  He chose to mislead his flock into thinking that Obamacare’s rules were somehow new and dangerous, and that they would destroy the cult, when in fact the church was surviving just fine under similar rules for over ten years.
Dolan, the drama queen, continues:
[S]ome worry that we’ll have to face a decision between two ethically repugnant choices: subsidizing immoral services or no longer offering insurance coverage, a road none of us wants to travel.
Decision already faced, and Dolan chose to travel the road of ethical repugnance, and he’s still around to write about it.
Dolan also made similar claims in a Wall Street Journal op ed in January of 2012.  In this one, Dolan really stepped into it:
Coercing religious ministries and citizens to pay directly for actions that violate their teaching is an unprecedented incursion into freedom of conscience. Coercing cults and citizens to pay directly for actions that violate their teaching is an unprecedented incursion into freedom of conscience. Organizations fear that this unjust rule will force them to take one horn or the other of an unacceptable dilemma: Stop serving people of all faiths in their ministries—so that they will fall under the narrow exemption—or stop providing health-care coverage to their own employees.
Huh.  So if Obamacare makes Dolan pay for the insurance, he will have only two choices – to stop serving people of all faiths, or to stop offering health coverage.
Of course, there’s a third option – to do exactly what Dolan has chosen to do for ten years now.  Just pay for the insurance.
Cardinal Dolan lied when he wrote that there were only two options, because he himself was pursuing option #3.  And if he did it before, he can do it again.

Joseph Farah Laments Faux News’ Liberal Biases

Joseph Farah, the fellow who runs World (Wing)Nut Daily for fun and profit, wrote the other day in a piece – one of his so-called “daily commentaries” – called Faux News Stands Alone? that he greatly admires Roger Ailes of Faux News. Farah does have a few issues with Ailes though. What upsets Farah is that Ailes is not enough of a wingnut. In other words, his sin is one of omission: a lack of excess.
No Greek wisdom is to be found at WND; no moderation. Nossir.
Farah complains,
While it’s true that Faux News is often criticized and demonized by many in the press, it’s also true that Faux News acts like it is the only alternative medium in the U.S. It is far from it. It’s also true that Faux also has some of the same institutional problems that plague the euphemistically called “mainstream media” – problems of bias, political correctness and sacred cows.
He does not like that Faux News bills itself as “fair and balance” because, he says (without a trace of irony) that journalism is “not about ‘fair and balanced.’ It’s about seeking the truth.”
This, of course, gives Farah a chance to toot his own horn: “We have been fearless seekers of the truth ever since – for more than 17 years. So I think I have more than a little knowledge in this area.”
In fact, truth is a very low priority at WND, where the National Inquirer seems to be the business model. Yet Farah wants his readers to believe that he and his writers are a bunch of modern-day heroes:
The WND team is a collection of journalistic refugees from the “mainstream media,” which abandoned their watchdog role and their mission to expose corruption, fraud, waste and abuse in government.
Which brings us to the unforgivable lack of ideological purity exhibited by Faux News:
But there are some places Faux News won’t go. There are some stories Faux won’t cover. There are some things you just can’t say on Faux News – things that need to be said and reported.
While it’s true Faux provides a forum for wingnut voices, it is still heavily stacked against them. Think about it. There’s Sean Hannity and Mike Huckabee and Neil Cavuto. But on the other side of the spectrum there’s Greta Van Susteren, Geraldo Rivera, Sheppard Smith, Bill O’Reilly, Chris Wallace, Juan Williams, Lis Wiehl, Kirsten Powers, Jehmu Greene, Mara Liason, Judith Miller, Bob Beckel, Alan Colmes, Arthel Neville, Megyn Kelly, Greg Gutfeld and dozens more who are not – some of whom represent strong liberal points of view.
Can you imagine Bill O’Reilly and some of these others being accused of liberal points of view? I don’t recall ever hearing anything even resembling a liberal point of view from Bill-O.  But if you’re not certifiable, you’re not repugican these days.
But Farah isn’t finished with his absurdist fantasy:
Is Faux News vilified by the establishment press out of jealousy over ratings and because it provides a handful of wingnut voices with a platform? Yes.
But is it all America needs to get the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? No.
Really? A handful of wingnut voices? Really? You have to wonder what Farah has been smoking.
Farah wants you to believe that “the truth is the American government has never been at war with the free press like it is today. And that is because the American government, under Liberals, is moving closer to unconstitutional authoritarianism than perhaps ever before in its history.”
Clearly, Farah Rip van Winkled the shrub years. Or he is just exercising that repugican ability to ignore uncongenial facts.
So of course, we come to the inevitable point in Farah’s logic chain: “Meanwhile, it is imperative that Americans use all their skills of discernment in searching out truth in the media. I believe that search begins at WND.”
In other words, if you want only the finest in propaganda, go to World (Wing)Nut Daily. And buy something while you’re there. It takes a lot of money to put up all those Ten Commandments signs that condemn lying, after all.

Congress fixed the sequester ...

... for themselves ...

Kafka, meet Orwell

A peek behind the scenes of the modern surveillance state

Journeyman Pictures' short documentary "Naked Citizens" is an absolutely terrifying and amazing must-see glimpse of the modern security state, and the ways in which it automatically ascribes guilt to people based on algorithmic inferences, and, having done so, conducts such far-reaching surveillance into its victims' lives that the lack of anything incriminating is treated of proof of being a criminal mastermind:
"I woke up to pounding on my door", says Andrej Holm, a sociologist from the Humboldt University. In what felt like a scene from a movie, he was taken from his Berlin home by armed men after a systematic monitoring of his academic research deemed him the probable leader of a militant group. After 30 days in solitary confinement, he was released without charges. Across Western Europe and the USA, surveillance of civilians has become a major business. With one camera for every 14 people in London and drones being used by police to track individuals, the threat of living in a Big Brother state is becoming a reality. At an annual conference of hackers, keynote speaker Jacob Appelbaum asserts, "to be free of suspicion is the most important right to be truly free". But with most people having a limited understanding of this world of cyber surveillance and how to protect ourselves, are our basic freedoms already being lost?

High school teacher faces discipline for Informing students about their rights

Reason Hit & Run: "A high school social studies teacher in Batavia, Illinois, faces disciplinary action for informing students of their Fifth Amendment rights in connection with a survey asking about illegal drug use." 

Hello ...

Tuesday, May 28

E-waste porn ...

... a tour of Silicon Valley's Weird Stuff Warehouse
Ars Technica has a beautiful, mouth-watering gallery of the stuff for sale at Silicon Valley's Weird Stuff Warehouse, a high-tech surplus store of epic proportion:
"There is a need for a place you can walk around and get parts and older technology—or even newer technology," said Chuck Schuetz, the man behind the Weird Stuff Warehouse. Schuetz runs the store with his brother and his colleague, Dave McDougall. He let Ars take a tour of the place and snap a few photos, so come take a walk through the warehouse with us to check out the "weird stuff." Welcome to where technology goes to retire.

Did You Know The First Computer Mouse Was Wooden?

The computer mouse comes from humble beginnings and had a long road to the sleek, sometimes quirky, often high-tech and efficient tool we now use on a daily basis.

In 1963, Douglas Engelbart, working for the Stanford Research Institute, became the father of the modern mouse. He developed a gadget made with a wooden base using two wheels to roll back and forth. It was the first mouse that could fit into a user's hand.

How NASA might build its very first warp drive

How NASA might build its very first warp drive
A few months ago, physicist Harold White stunned the aeronautics world when he announced that he and his team at NASA had begun work on the development of a faster-than-light warp drive. His proposed design, an ingenious re-imagining of an Alcubierre Drive, may eventually result in an engine that can transport a spacecraft to the nearest star in a matter of weeks — and all without violating Einstein's law of relativity. We contacted White at NASA and asked him to explain how this real life warp drive could actually work.
The above image of a Vulcan command ship features a warp engine similar to an Alcubierre Drive. Image courtesy CBS.

The Alcubierre Drive

The idea came to White while he was considering a rather remarkable equation formulated by physicist Miguel Alcubierre. In his 1994 paper titled, "The Warp Drive: Hyper-Fast Travel Within General Relativity," Alcubierre suggested a mechanism by which space-time could be "warped" both in front of and behind a spacecraft.
How NASA might build its very first warp drive
Michio Kaku dubbed Alcubierre's notion a "passport to the universe." It takes advantage of a quirk in the cosmological code that allows for the expansion and contraction of space-time, and could allow for hyper-fast travel between interstellar destinations. Essentially, the empty space behind a starship would be made to expand rapidly, pushing the craft in a forward direction — passengers would perceive it as movement despite the complete lack of acceleration.
White speculates that such a drive could result in "speeds" that could take a spacecraft to Alpha Centauri in a mere two weeks — even though the system is 4.3 light-years away.
How NASA might build its very first warp drive
In terms of the engine's mechanics, a spheroid object would be placed between two regions of space-time (one expanding and one contracting). A "warp bubble" would then be generated that moves space-time around the object, effectively repositioning it — the end result being faster-than-light travel without the spheroid (or spacecraft) having to move with respect to its local frame of reference.
"Remember, nothing locally exceeds the speed of light, but space can expand and contract at any speed," White told io9. "However, space-time is really stiff, so to create the expansion and contraction effect in a useful manner in order for us to reach interstellar destinations in reasonable time periods would require a lot of energy."
And indeed, early assessments published in the ensuing scientific literature suggested horrific amounts of energy — basically equal to the mass-energy of the planet Jupiter (what is 1.9 × 1027 kilograms or 317 Earth masses). As a result, the idea was brushed aside as being far too impractical. Even though nature allowed for a warp drive, it looked like we would never be able to build one ourselves.
"However," said White, "based on the analysis I did the last 18 months, there may be hope." The key, says White, may be in altering the geometry of the warp drive itself.

A new design

In October of last year, White was preparing for a talk he was to give for the kickoff to the 100 Year Starship project in Orlando, Florida. As he was pulling together his overview on space warp, he performed a sensitivity analysis for the field equations, more out of curiosity than anything else.
How NASA might build its very first warp drive
"My early results suggested I had discovered something that was in the math all along," he recalled. "I suddenly realized that if you made the thickness of the negative vacuum energy ring larger — like shifting from a belt shape to a donut shape — and oscillate the warp bubble, you can greatly reduce the energy required — perhaps making the idea plausible." White had adjusted the shape of Alcubierre's ring which surrounded the spheroid from something that was a flat halo to something that was thicker and curvier.
He presented the results of his Alcubierre Drive rethink a year later at the 100 Year Starship conference in Atlanta where he highlighted his new optimization approaches — a new design that could significantly reduce the amount of exotic matter required. And in fact, White says that the warp drive could be powered by a mass that's even less than that of the Voyager 1 spacecraft.
That's a significant change in calculations to say the least. The reduction in mass from a Jupiter-sized planet to an object that weighs a mere 1,600 pounds has completely reset White's sense of plausibility — and NASA's.

Hitting the lab

Theoretical plausibility is all fine and well, of course. What White needs now is a real-world proof-of-concept. So he's hit the lab and begun work on actual experiments.
"We're utilizing a modified Michelson-Morley interferometer — that allows us to measure microscopic perturbations in space time," he said. "In our case, we're attempting to make one of the legs of the interferometer appear to be a different length when we energize our test devices." White and his colleagues are trying to simulate the tweaked Alcubierre drive in miniature by using lasers to perturb space-time by one part in 10 million.
Of course, the interferometer isn't something that NASA would bolt onto a spaceship. Rather, it's part of a larger scientific pursuit.
"Our initial test device is implementing a ring of large potential energy — what we observe as blue shifted relative to the lab frame — by utilizing a ring of ceramic capacitors that are charged to tens of thousands of volts," he told us. "We will increase the fidelity of our test devices and continue to enhance the sensitivity of the warp field interferometer — eventually using devices to directly generate negative vacuum energy."
He points out that Casimir cavities, physical forces that arise from a quantized field, may represent a viable approach.
And it's through these experiments, hopes White, that NASA can go from the theoretical to the practical.

Waiting for that "Chicago Pile" moment

Given just how fantastic this all appears, we asked White if he truly thinks a warp-generating spacecraft might someday be constructed.
"Mathematically, the field equations predict that this is possible, but it remains to be seen if we could ever reduce this to practice."
How NASA might build its very first warp drive
What White is waiting for is existence of proof — what he's calling a "Chicago Pile" moment — a reference to a great practical example.
"In late 1942, humanity activated the first nuclear reactor in Chicago generating a whopping half Watt — not enough to power a light bulb," he said. "However, just under one year later, we activated a ~4MW reactor which is enough to power a small town. Existence proof is important."
His cautious approach notwithstanding, White did admit that a real-world warp drive could create some fascinating possibilities for space travel — and would certainly reset our sense of the vastness of the cosmos.
"This loophole in general relativity would allow us to go places really fast as measured by both Earth observers, and observers on the ship — trips measured in weeks or months as opposed to decades and centuries," he said.
But for now, pursuit of this idea is very much in science mode. "I'm not ready to discuss much beyond the math and very controlled modest approaches in the lab," he said.
Which makes complete sense to us, as well. But thanks to these preliminary efforts, White has already done much to instill a renewed sense of hope and excitement over the possibilities. Faster-than-light travel may await us yet.

Alien Debris Found in Lunar Craters

A new look a relatively slow impacts on the moon opens the possibility that many minerals found there are not from the moon at all.

House of Straw Resistant to Tornadoes?

Contrary to what the Three Little Pigs learned about the stability of straw houses, they may be highly resistant to strong winds and even tornadoes.

As Pollinators Decline, Plants Could Go It Alone

There are three evolutionary paths for flowering plants when their pollinators decline: self-fertilize, woo pollinators harder, or die.

Random Photo

The mystery of the appendix

The appendix gets a lot of bad press. We often think of it as one of the most pointless parts of our body that lacks any real purpose or function. But this may actually be [...]

Mom's obesity surgery may help break cycle in kids

Obese mothers tend to have kids who become obese. Now provocative research suggests weight-loss surgery may help break that unhealthy cycle in an unexpected way - by affecting how their children's genes behave.
In a first-of-a-kind study, Canadian researchers tested children born to obese women, plus their brothers and sisters who were conceived after the mother had obesity surgery. Youngsters born after mom lost lots of weight were slimmer than their siblings. They also had fewer risk factors for diabetes or heart disease later in life.
More intriguing, the researchers discovered that numerous genes linked to obesity-related health problems worked differently in the younger siblings than in their older brothers and sisters.
Clearly diet and exercise play a huge role in how fit the younger siblings will continue to be, and it's a small study. But the findings suggest the children born after mom's surgery might have an advantage.
"The impact on the genes, you will see the impact for the rest of your life," predicted Dr. Marie-Claude Vohl of Laval University in Quebec City. She helped lead the work reported Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Why would there be a difference? It's not that mom passed on different genes, but how those genes operate in her child's body. The idea: Factors inside the womb seem to affect the dimmer switches that develop on a fetus' genes - chemical changes that make genes speed up or slow down or switch on and off. That in turn can greatly influence health.
The sibling study is "a very clever way of looking at this," said Dr. Susan Murphy of Duke University. She wasn't involved in the Canadian research but studies uterine effects on later health. She says it makes biological sense that the earliest nutritional environment could affect a developing metabolism, although she cautions that healthier family habits after mom's surgery may play a role, too.
It's the latest evidence that the environment - in this case the womb - can alter how our genes work.
And the research has implications far beyond the relatively few women who take the drastic step of gastric bypass surgery before having a baby. Increasingly, scientists are hunting other ways to tackle obesity before or during pregnancy in hopes of a lasting benefit for both mother and baby.
What's clear is that obesity is "not just impacting your life, it's impacting your child," Duke's Murphy said.
More than half of pregnant women are overweight or obese, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. But it's not just a matter of how much moms weigh when they conceive - doctors also are trying to stamp out the idea of eating for two. Gaining too much weight during pregnancy increases the child's risk of eventually developing obesity and diabetes, too.
What's too much? Women who are normal weight at the start of pregnancy are supposed to gain 25 to 35 pounds. Those who already are obese should gain no more than 11 to 20 pounds. Overweight mothers-to-be fall in the middle.
Sticking to those guidelines can be tough. The National Institutes of Health just began a five-year, $30 million project to help overweight or obese pregnant women do so, and track how their babies fare in the first year of life.
Called the LIFE-Moms Consortium, researchers are recruiting about 2,000 expectant mothers for seven studies around the country that are testing different approaches to a healthy weight gain and better nutritional quality. They range from putting pregnant women on meal plans and exercise programs, to weekly monitoring, to peer pressure from fellow parents trained to bring nutrition advice into the homes of low-income mothers-to-be.
It's best to get to a healthy weight before conceiving, noted Dr. Mary Evans of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, who oversees the project.
Just how much mom has to lose for a healthier baby is "obviously a research gap," she said.
Monday's research findings from Canada may shed some new light. Consider: Overweight mothers have higher levels of sugar and fat in the bloodstream, which in turn makes it to the womb.
Fetuses are "marinated, and they're differently marinated" depending on mom's weight and health, said Dr. John Kral of New York's SUNY Downstate Medical Center, who co-authored the Canadian study.
That may do more than overstimulate fetal growth. Scientists know that certain molecules regulate gene activity, attaching like chemical tags. That's what Laval University lead researcher Dr. Frederic Guenard was looking for in blood tests. He took samples from children born to 20 women before and after complex surgery that shrank their stomachs and rerouted digestion so they absorb less fat and calories. On average, they lost about 100 pounds.
Guenard compared differences in those chemical tags in more than 5,600 genes between the younger and older siblings. He found significant differences in the activity of certain genes clustered in pathways known to affect blood sugar metabolism and heart disease risk.
Only time will tell if these youngsters born after mom's surgery really get lasting benefits, whatever the reason. Meanwhile, specialists urge women planning a pregnancy to talk with their doctors about their weight ahead of time. Besides having potential long-term consequences, extra pounds can lead to a variety of immediate complications such as an increased risk of premature birth and cesarean sections.

Healthy habits die hard

Developing good habits is more important than self-control in meeting goals Stress and exhaustion may turn us into zombies, but a novel study shows that mindless behavior doesn’t just lead to overeating and shopping sprees [...]

The last man born in the 19th century

Last Thursday, Doc Sisnett of Barbados died at 113, leaving Japan's Jiroemon Kimura as the last living man to have been born in the 19th century. Twenty-one living women share the honor. 

A 35,000 year-old camp site unearthed in Kazakhstan

Archaeologists from the U.S., Germany, Japan and Australia have arrived to Kazakhstan to study a unique Stone Age site in Zhambyl region of Almaty oblast, according to local reports.
35,000 year-old camp site unearthed in Kazakhstan
Excavations at the Maibulak site [Credit: Web]
The Maibulak site, located 50km from Almaty, was first noted several years ago by the dean of history, archaeology and ethnology school of Al-Farabi Kazakh National University Zhaken Taimagambetov. 

The site in Zhetyssu is one of the few 'early man' sites in the world that has been preserved by a layer of soil. Excavations at the site have been in and out over the past 8 years. 

35,000 year-old camp site unearthed in Kazakhstan
Hearth. Cultural horizon III [Credit: Web]
"Maibulak is some kind of transition from Mousterian age to the Upper Palaeolithic. This is the time of transition from the Neanderthal man to Cro-Magnon. This period is very interesting for foreign researchers," Taimagambetov said.

According to the researchers, the site is over 35,000 years old. Scientists are already finding samples that may become a sensation. 

35,000 year-old camp site unearthed in Kazakhstan
Palaeolithic stone tools from Maibulak [Credit: Web]
"We are collecting the soil to perform laboratory tests. Information about climate of our planet in the ancient times is very important for many sciences, including ecology," the Ph.D. fellow of Colorado University Catherine Horton said.

Experts noted that such sites are a basis for the hypotheses that the territory of Kazakhstan was part of the "road to the East" during migration of the population around the world.



Ice Age horse fossil found near Las Vegas

Bones scratched from a hillside northwest of Las Vegas last year have been traced to an ice age horse that lived and died almost 14,000 years ago.
Ice Age horse fossil found near Las Vegas
Ice Age horse fossil found near Las Vegas
Researchers say this fossil, pulled from the hills north of Las Vegas last year, is the lower jaw and bottom teeth of an extinct ice age horse that roamed the area more than 13,000 years ago [Credit: San Bernadino County Museum]
Paleontologist Eric Scott from the San Bernardino County Museum in Redlands, Calif., announced the discovery Monday based on teeth and a lower jaw recovered in November.

It marks the first time the extinct horse, known as Equus scotti, has been definitively identified in Southern Nevada.

Adding to the excitement over the discovery is who helped make it. The first few fragments of teeth that led to the find were collected by a retired high school history teacher.

Pat Weidknecht was helping out on last year’s dig as a reward for her work as a volunteer site steward for the fossil-laden swath of public land along the Upper Las Vegas Wash.

“It’s like a little kid that’s been allowed to play in the dirt and he finds the gold ring,” Weidknecht said. “All I thought I was doing was digging up old bones.”

Scientists have been unearthing fossilized bones from ice age horses here and across the Southwest for years, but it’s rare to find just the right pieces to allow for species identification, Scott said.

Cue the hit 1972 song by the band America.

“You might say we’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name,” he joked. “Until now.”

Based on the teeth, Scott said this particular horse was probably about a year old when it died. And thanks to extremely detailed radiocarbon dating of the rock where the fossils were found, researchers can get pretty specific about when that happened: 13,375 years ago, give or take a century.

Scott described the horse as “big enough to ride” but not much of a Triple Crown threat. Equus scotti ran shorter and stockier than present day thoroughbreds.

Weidknecht said she teased Scott when he first told her what the fossilized bones might be. “I told him it should be called Equus patti.”

For the record, Scott notes that the extinct horse was not named for him. It was first described by another researcher with the same last name back in 1900.

Scott confirmed the find through painstaking comparisons with other fossilized horse teeth collected at the La Brea Tar Pits and other museums.

He suspects the horse was a female, but he will probably never know for sure.

News of the discovery comes just days after Nevada lawmakers in Congress introduced legislation to designate the fossil-rich hills north of Las Vegas as the state’s newest — and right now only — national monument.

If approved, Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument will take in 22,650 acres bordering Desert National Wildlife Refuge, the Las Vegas Paiute Indian Reservation and the cities of Las Vegas and North Las Vegas.

The measure mirrors a proposal that was introduced last year but failed to advance while the previous Congress was in session.

Thousands of fossils have already been pulled from the Upper Las Vegas Wash, and as many as 10,000 more may still await discovery.

Confirming that Equus scotti was here extends the known range of the horse and could help scientists better understand what killed it off. In that way, Scott said, this find could prove to be more important than other, more headline-grabbing discoveries in the wash.

In December, the same San Bernardino County team identified fossils from a saber-tooth cat. Later that month, University of Nevada, Las Vegas researchers announced the discovery of a bone from an extinct dire wolf.

“To me, this is why we need an ice age park,” said Weidknecht, who began keeping watch over the area about five years ago, after retiring from nearby Shadow Ridge High School.

Geologist and paleontologist Kathleen Springer heads up the San Bernardino County team, and she was the one who first spotted the site where the horse was eventually found way back in 2003, during an exhaustive survey of the Upper Las Vegas Wash.

She said the site was easy enough to see for someone who knew what to look for. For one thing, there was a giant tooth from a mammoth sticking right out of the ground.

“I was very excited,” Springer recalled. “I think this was the very first week we were out there. It might have even been the first day.

“We were finding fossils from the moment we had boots on the ground.”

They’re not done, either.

Springer expects her site to yield even more scientific treasures, including additional mammoth bones and maybe a few more pieces of the all-important horse.

“The site is not played out, that’s for sure,” Springer said.

Fourteen closely related crocodiles existed around 5 million years ago

Today, the most diverse species of crocodile are found in northern South America and Southeast Asia: As many as six species of alligator and four true crocodiles exist, although no more than two or three ever live alongside one another at the same time. 
14 closely related crocodiles existed around 5 million years ago
At least seven crocodile species lived alongside the
Urumaco region [Credit: UZH]
It was a different story nine to about five million years ago, however, when a total of 14 different crocodile species existed and at least seven of them occupied the same area at the same time, as an international team headed by paleontologists Marcelo Sánchez and Torsten Scheyer from the University of Zurich is now able to reveal.

The deltas of the Amazonas and the Urumaco, a river on the Gulf of Venezuela that no longer exists, boasted an abundance of extremely diverse, highly specialized species of crocodile that has remained unparalleled ever since.

Two new fossil crocodile species discovered

While studying the wealth of fossil crocodiles from the Miocene in the Urumaco region, the scientists discovered two new crocodile species: the Globidentosuchus brachyrostris, which belonged to the caiman family and had spherical teeth, and Crocodylus falconensis, a crocodile that the researchers assume grew to well over four meters long. 

14 closely related crocodiles existed around 5 million years ago
Crocodylus falconensis, a crocodile that assumably grew up to
well over four meters long [Credit: UZH]
As Sánchez and his team reveal, Venezuela's fossils include all the families of crocodile species that still exist all over the world today: the Crocodylidae, the so-called true crocodiles; the Alligatoridae, which, besides the true alligators, also include caimans; and the Gavialidae, which are characterized by their extremely long, thin snouts and are only found in Southeast Asia nowadays.

On account of the species' extremely different jaw shapes, the researchers are convinced that the different crocodilians were highly specialized feeders: With their pointed, slender snouts, the fossil gharials must have preyed on fish. 

"Gharials occupied the niche in the habitat that was filled by dolphins after they became extinct," Sánchez suspects. 

14 closely related crocodiles existed around 5 million years ago
Globidentosuchus brachyrostris belonged to the caiman family. With its spherical
teeth they likely specialized in shellfish, snails or crabs [Credit: UZH]
With its spherical teeth, however, Globidentosuchus brachyrostris most likely specialized in shellfish, snails or crabs. And giant crocodiles, which grew up to 12 meters long, fed on turtles, giant rodents and smaller crocodiles. 

"There were no predators back then in South America that could have hunted the three-meter-long turtles or giant rodents. Giant crocodiles occupied this very niche," explains Scheyer.

Andean uplift led to extinction

The unusual variety of species in the coastal and brackish water regions of Urumaco and Amazonas came to an end around 5 million years ago when all the crocodile species died out. The reason behind their extinction, however, was not temperature or climate changes -- temperatures in the Caribbean remained stable around the Miocene/Pliocene boundary. 

Instead, it was caused by a tectonic event: "The Andean uplift changed the courses of rivers. As a result, the Amazon River no longer drains into the Caribbean, but the considerably cooler Atlantic Ocean," explains Sánchez. 

With the destruction of the habitat, an entirely new fauna emerged that we know from the Orinoco and Amazon regions today. In the earlier Urumaco region, however, a very dry climate has prevailed ever since the Urumaco River dried up.

How Does a Baby Giraffe Sleep?

Duh! With its eyes closed, of course! Take a look at these cute photos of baby giraffes sleeping, using their own bodies as pillows for their heads, courtesy of their loooong necks (except the last one, whose head I think plopped to the ground in the sleep).
Next question: Do they wake up with a giant crick in their necks?

Even farm animal diversity is declining as accelerating species loss threatens humanity

The accelerating disappearance of Earth’s species of both wild and domesticated plants and animals constitutes a fundamental threat to the well-being and even the survival of humankind, warns the founding Chair of a new global [...]


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