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Windmills Tilted, Scared Cows Butchered, Lies Skewered on the Lance of Reality ... or something to that effect.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Daily Drift

The Cute Factor ...!

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Today is - Homemade Bread Day


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Today in History

473 - The future Zeno I is named associate emperor by Emperor Leo I.
1800 - Congress held 1st session in Wash DC in uncompleted Capitol building
1855 - David Livingstone becomes the first European to see Victoria Falls in what is now present-day Zambia-Zimbabwe.
1869 - Suez Canal (Egypt) opens, links Mediterranean & Red seas
  Garden officially opens
1928 - Notre Dame finally lost a football game after nearly 25 years
1959 - De Beers firm of South Africa announces synthetic diamond
1966 - Leonids meteor shower peaks (150,000+ per hour)
1968 - NBC cuts to show "Heidi" and misses Raider's rally to beat Jets, 43-32
1970 - British newspaper Sun puts 1st pinup girl on pg 3 (Stephanie Rahn)
1991 - 1st TV condom ad aired 

Non Sequitur


A Sailor’s Dying Wish

When EM2 Bud Cloud reconciled himself to the fact that he didn't have much longer to live, all he wanted to do was go down to the Navy shipyard and see the USS Dewey, his old ship when he was in the Navy himself, back in Hawaii in 1941. His daughter, a Marine Corps veteran, called to arrange a visit. It was much more than she expected.
After we were all out of the van directly in front of the Dewey, shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries, Petty Officer Simon introduced himself and said as the ship’s Sailor of the Year he had the honor of pushing Bud’s wheelchair for the day. Unbeknownst to us, they’d decided to host Bud aboard the Dewey, not at the Dewey. And so they carried him aboard. None of us expected him to go aboard the ship. I’d told him we were going down to the base and would have the chance to meet and greet a few of the Sailors from the new Dewey. He was ecstatic. The day before, he asked every few hours if we were “still going down to visit the boys from the Dewey,” and “do they know I was on the Dewey, too?”

Once aboard, we were greeted by the CO, CDR Jake Douglas, the XO and a reinforced platoon-sized group of Sailors. To say it was overwhelming is an understatement. These men and women waited in line to introduce themselves to Bud. They shook his hand, asked for photos with him, and swapped stories. It was simply amazing.

They didn’t just talk to him, they listened.
When Cloud left, they piped him ashore. It was a day Cloud talked about for the rest of his life -which was 13 days. The Sailors of the USS Dewey were there to provide a burial with honors. Go read the whole story.

Did you know ...

Just how stressed are you?

Richard Cohen's racial gaffe about Bill Di Blasio's family isn't the worst thing about that WaPo column

Justices Thomas and Scalia Violate Judicial Ethics By Headlining Wingnut Fundraisers

Of all the public officials in government, one would expect those serving in the justice system would be above partisanship to avoid the appearance of bias in their official roles as judges. America’s judicial system has rules to assure the public that the men and women sitting in judgment of American citizens and deciding the constitutionality of laws are ethical, and they apply to all judges except those serving in the highest court in the land. It is likely that Supreme Court justices are exempt from ethics standards because they go through an intensive vetting process just to be nominated, and then are subjected to a strident Senate confirmation process before being sworn in to interpret the U.S. Constitution as it applies to laws and issues affecting the entire nation. It is troubling when Supreme Court justices give the appearance of overt bias in their decisions on a consistent basis because they are appointed for life, and with no clear code of conduct to adhere to, the temptation to actively promote one exclusive political ideology with impunity may be difficult to avoid; for two current conservatives on the High Court, it has proven impossible.
For three years, at least, there have been nagging questions about Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia’s close ties to wingnut organizations and their funding mechanism the Koch Brothers, but without a rigorous code of ethics in place there was little chance they would be held to account for, or forced to stop, using their positions on the Court to promote the Koch brothers’ wingnut agenda. Two days ago, Clarence Thomas was at it again when he appeared at a Federalist Societyfundraiser” as a featured speaker that two other High Court justices, Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito also attended. It is a violation of Canon 4C of the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges who are forbidden from being “a speaker, a guest of honor, or featured on the program” of a fundraising event, but because Thomas, a federal judge, sits on the nation’s highest court he is exempt, apparently, from adhering to any code of conduct. Just when it appeared no-one in a position of authority would take action and demand Thomas be held accountable for his recurring ethical violations, a lone elected representative once again spoke out for the American people.
Congressional representative Louise Slaughter is mounting another attempt to hold Thomas, and all High Court justices, to the same ethical standards as every other federal judge and initiated a petition to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts to hold Thomas to account for defying the judicial Code of Conduct.  Representative Slaughter is joined by Common Cause, and the Alliance for Justice, in appealing to Chief Justice Roberts’ to address Thomas’ unethical conduct, and filed a formal ethics complaint with the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals against Judge Sykes, who interviewed Thomas as the feature attraction at the Federalist Society’s black-tie fundraiser. Judge Sykes is bound to the Code of Conduct as a federal judge, and Slaughter and company are demanding that “Thomas would be as well – if only the Supreme Court was bound by an ethical code.” In 2011, Chief Justice Roberts claimed that the code “plays the same role” for the Supreme Court as it does for other federal judges and other justices have said they adhere to it, but Thomas and Antonin Scalia have set themselves above ethics rules because they are, after all, Koch brother properties.
The vice president for policy and litigation for Common Cause, Arn Pearson, said “Justice Thomas is among several members of the high court who’ve made a habit of flouting judicial ethics by headlining Federalist Society fundraisers, and he gets away with it because the Court has exempted itself from the Code, but that doesn’t make it right.” Likely, Pearson is alluding to more than conservatives on the Court fundraising for the Federalist Society because it is well-documented that Scalia and Thomas are devotees of the Koch brothers ideological bent and notoriously attended a secret Koch billionaire policy meeting in 2010 with advocates for Citizens United prior to ruling that corporations have the right to buy Republican politicians and influence legislation with unrestricted campaign contributions. In a press release on Wednesday, Representative Slaughter said “The guidelines contained in the Code exist to ensure the public has faith that judicial decision-making is based on the facts and the law, not politics and outside interests.” Obviously, Thomas and Scalia’s judicial decisions are not based on facts, or the law, but on directions from political activists the Koch brothers and their libertarian ideology that is inherently contrary to the public faith and their interests.
It is highly unethical for Supreme Court Justices to regularly attend Federalist Society functions and then vote on matters of the highest importance to the entire nation, but it is criminal that two staunch wingnut political agitators (Thomas and Scalia) get to decide the fate of the nation as seen through the Koch brothers’ libertarian lenses. Thomas’ wife, Ginni, is a highly-paid wingnut operative and teabag advocate that drove Clarence to “accidentallyconceal his wife’s wingnut belief-tank income on financial disclosures for several years with impunity. Back in August, Democrats led by Representative Slaughter introduced legislation to hold Thomas and Scalia, and all High Court justices, to the same Code of Conduct as other federal judges, but it went nowhere in the repugican-controlled House because they were Hell-bent and duty-bound to protect the Supreme Court rubber-stamp on Koch brother and ALEC legislation pushed through the House and repugican state legislatures.
The American people have been besieged, beleaguered, and battered by the wingnut Supreme Court as a result of their Citizens United ruling, and if the U.S. Congress is not going to act, then it is up to the people to demand that Chief Justice John Roberts reins in the Koch acolytes Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia. At the least, they should be harshly admonished for pandering to corporatist conservatives, and if there were real justice in America, they should be summarily impeached to rid this nation of two of the most corrupt and severely unethical Supreme Court Justices in the nation’s history. The people deserve better than the likes of Scalia and Thomas, and to preserve what little credibility the High Court has with the people, the least Roberts can do is figuratively beat down the Koch surrogates and send a message that just because the Kochs own the repugican cabal, they do not own the Supreme Court. Unfortunately for America, with Scalia and Thomas ruling according to the will of the Koch brothers, their decisions adversely affect every American, and it is likely why the American people have lost trust in the transparency and neutrality of the Highest Court in the land.

Did Obama Break his Word?

Nobody bothered to look at the facts

Obama has been getting grief over his "You can keep your insurance" pledge. The media have been
filled with stories about people across the country who are having their insurance policies terminated,
ostensibly because they did not meet the requirements of the ACA. While this has led many to say that
Obama was lying, there is much less here than meets the eye.

First, the ACA grand-fathered all the policies that were in place at the time the law was enacted.
This means that the plans in effect at the time that President Obama was pushing the bill could still be offered even if they did not meet all the standards laid out in the ACA.

The plans being terminated because they don't meet the minimal standards were all plans that insurers
introduced AFTER the passage of the ACA. Insurers introduced these plans knowing that they would
not meet the standards that would come into effect in 2014. Insurers may not have informed their clients
at the time they sold these plans that they would not be available after 2014 because they designed a
that did not comply with the ACA. 

Obama Promises He Will Veto the Latest House repugican Trick to Destroy the ACA

House repugicans are wasting more time voting on a bill that is disguised as a fix to the ACA, but it really an act of sabotage. President Obama has already promised he will veto the bill.
In a statement released by OMB, the White House said,
The Administration strongly opposes House passage of H.R. 3350 because it threatens the health care security of hard working, middle class families. The Nation is experiencing the slowest growth in health spending in the last 50 years. Since 2008, growth in private health insurance spending stayed between three and four percent – significantly lower than earlier this decade when growth reached almost 12 percent. With health care costs rising at such low rates, this bill would be a major step back.
H.R. 3350 rolls back the progress made by allowing insurers to continue to sell new plans that deploy practices such as not offering coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, charging women more than men, and continuing yearly caps on the amount of care that enrollees receive. The Administration supports policies that allow people to keep the health plans that they have. But, policies that reverse the progress made to extend quality, affordable coverage to millions of uninsured, hardworking, middle class families are not the solution. Rather than refighting old political battles to sabotage the health care law, the Congress should work with the Administration to improve the law and move forward.
If the President were presented with H.R. 3350, he would veto it.
The Upton bill is just more of the same from House repugicans. The only difference is that they have changed their pitch to make it appear as if they are saving health insurance choices for the American people. What the legislation really does is it cuts off the ACA’s lifeline, by allowing insurance companies to sell low cost junk insurance to existing and new customers.
The bill is nothing more than a stealth move to repeal the ACA. This is all part of John Boehner’s master plan to deny the American people healthcare. Boehner and company are going to wrap their attempts to repeal Obamacare in the language of saving it. By Boehner’s own admission this legislation is an attempt to fracture and break the Democratic Obamacare coalition.
It’s not a fix to the law. It is a death sentence. The administrative fix that President Obama announced yesterday took the wind out of the sails of Boehner’s latest act of healthcare sabotage. House repugicans are wasting one of the few remaining legislative days that they have left this year on a show vote that is designed to play politics on the ACA.
The Upton bill is a sham and if it managed to somehow get through Congress, President Obama would veto it faster than Boehner can light his first morning cigarette.

Mitch McConnell Is Less Popular Than the Affordable Care Act in Kentucky

Things are so bad for Mitch McConnell in Kentucky that a new DFM Research poll found that the Senate Minority Leader has a higher unfavorable rating than the Affordable Care Act.
The poll is loaded with bad news for McConnell. McConnell’s approval rating is 35% in the state. This puts McConnell just two points ahead of President Obama in the red state. (Rand Paul doesn’t fare much better than McConnell. His approval rating is 41%.) 33% of Kentuckians rated McConnell’s leadership during the government shutdown as fail. Twenty eight percent rated his leadership as poor which means that a total of 61% of those polled are very unhappy with the way McConnell handled the government shutdown.
The 2014 race for McConnell’s seat looks like a dead heat. McConnell leads Allison Lundergan Grimes 41%-40% with 19% unsure. Unlike McConnell, Grimes has a split approval rating at 25% to 25% approve/disapprove. Things are so bad for McConnell in Kentucky that he has a higher unfavorable rating than the Affordable Care Act. Fifty five percent have an unfavorable view of McConnell compared to 48% on the ACA.
Obamacare still remains very unpopular in the state with a 65% unfavorable rating, but Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear is the most popular political figure in the state with a 50% favorable rating and a 29% unfavorable rating. Kentucky is another state where repugicans have been successful in demonizing Obamacare, but the ACA and the governor who implemented it are both more popular than Mitch McConnell.
McConnell is so desperate to run against Obamacare that he recently refused to talk about anything else during a press conference in Kentucky, but these numbers reveal that he might be better off keeping his mouth shut. McConnell is sinking like a rock in Kentucky, but because of his red state advantage he is still tied with his Democratic challenger.
It is becoming clear at this point time that Kentucky voters don’t want to send  McConnell back to the Senate for another term. However, it is going to take a great deal of work for Alison Lundergan Grimes to convince voters to reject the long term incumbent.
The fact that Mitch McConnell is more disliked than the ACA tells you everything that you need to know about how he could lose his seat in 2014. This poll is the clearest sign yet that Kentucky voters are seriously considering ditching Mitch.

The Truth Be Told

TSA Program costs $200 Million a Year; Does It Work?

A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) addresses one the programs the TSA uses in airport security checks, called Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT). The program employees 3,000 "behavior detection officers" at 176 airports. They are trained to look for 94 signs of stress in passengers waiting to go through security checks. Display a certain number of them, and you'll be pulled out for further screening and questioning. The SPOT program went into effect in 2007. How's it working out?
For the report, GAO auditors looked at the outside scientific literature, speaking to behavioral researchers and examining meta-analyses of 400 separate academic studies on unmasking liars. That literature suggests that "the ability of human observers to accurately identify deceptive behavior based on behavioral cues or indicators is the same as or slightly better than chance (54 percent)." That result holds whether or not the observer is a member of law enforcement.

It turns out that all of those signs you instinctively "know" to indicate deception usually don't. Lack of eye contact for instance simply does not correlate with deception when examined in empirical studies. Nor do increases in body movements such as tapping fingers or toes; the literature shows that people's movements actually decrease when lying. A 2008 study for the Department of Defense found that "no compelling evidence exists to support remote observation of physiological signals that may indicate fear or nervousness in an operational scenario by human observers."

Despite the academic literature, the TSA actually began testing the SPOT program in 2003—not with an eye toward finding out if it worked, but with an eye toward seeing if it was practical to run in a major airport. In 2007, the program went live and travelers underwent screening. Once the program was set up in 2007, the TSA did hire an outside consultant to evaluate the system's effectiveness. The resulting study, published in 2011, found some effectiveness in using the SPOT criteria. Due to various weaknesses in the study design and implementation, however, GAO doesn't dub it a reliable guide to evaluating SPOT.
That "some effectiveness" does not mean terrorists identified, but an increase in finding people carrying drugs or skirting immigration laws. Read more about the SPOT program at Ars Technica

Photographer Looks at the World of His Autistic Son

Timothy Archibald is a photographer in San Francisco. We’ve previously featured one of his humorous works: chickens dressed as famous historical figures.
But he’s got another project that’s more serious. Mr. Archibald’s son, Eli, has autism. He looks at the world differently than most other people. Mr. Archibald decided to try to capture images that would expose this inner world.
He calls the project “Echolilia.” You can see photos from it here. It was a collaborative project. Mr. Archibald decided that the only way to get inside the mind of his son was to let him co-direct the shoots. In an interview, Mr. Archibald explains how it helped him learn more about Eli:
But more functionally, when I saw the images we could create together—with his input, that’s when it got exciting. It didn’t look like my photographs…it looked better and more fascinating and had this “shock of the new”. And me, being the greedy photographer, wanted more of them. Who wouldn’t want fascinating photographs?
But…that said, what did we learn? I think it was an internal change…something you can’t really quantify, but you know it when you feel it and use it in your day-to-day living. On the most superficial level, we created a shared visual vocabulary. But deeper than that, I think we learned what made each other tick.

Why Do Goths Stay Goth Long after Punks and Ravers Have Moved on?

Punks, ravers and members of other youth subcultures may grow up and become more ordinary and mainstream. But according to a sociologist, goths tend to stay more closely identified with their subculture longer. Middle-aged goths are common. Why?
Dr. Paul Hodkinson, a sociologist at Surrey University, began studying goths in the late 1990s. Here’s how he defines them:
Hodkinson says that although the aesthetic and clothing are important, the primary tenets of involvement in this subculture mean being "thoroughly passionate about goth music and style, and some goths would tell you they have an interest in the dark side of life, and a natural tendency towards a degree of angst".
Goths, Dr. Hodkinson argues, tend to form close social bonds and have a high view of education. This makes it more likely that goths will develop financially rewarding careers and be able to maintain their social connections.

High School Football Player is a 400-lb Running Back

How do you stop a 400-lb running back rushing at you? The answer is simple: you don't.
Meet Tony Picard, a White Swan High School senior from Yakima, Washington, who may just be the biggest running back in the history of football. Picard, who at 6'4" and 400-lb is even bigger than famous football player William "Refrigerator" Perry of the Chicago Bears, started out as a lineman, but he was faster than one expected.
White Swan coach Andrew Bush once saw Picard play basketball and realized that the teen was agile in spite of his size. Bush switched him to running back and gave him a simple instruction: don't fumble.
"It's so much fun to have him go out [on the field] as a captain and see him shaking hands before the game," said Bush to Jack McNeel of Indian Country, "They're just kind of staring, like 'Oh my gosh, you've got to be kidding me!'" Bush added that most teams will sacrifice five guys to stop Picard, which left the rest of the White Swan team open to make plays.
Read the rest over at Indian Country

The creationists' last stand

In Texas, the same old fight: wingnut christians are desperately trying to excise evolution, reproductive health and much science in general from school textbooks.

What is China censoring today?

According to a recent study by ProPublica, images insta-censored on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo include pics of corrupt politician Bo Xilai yawning, archive images of the Korean war, and the lead singer of underground rock group Happy Avenue.

Kleargear.com bills woman $3500 for posting a negative review

A woman paid for items from kleargear.com but never received them, so she wrote a bad review of the site on ripoffreport.com. Three years later she received a $3500 bill from Kleargear, stating that she'd violated the 'non-disparagement clause' to which she agreed when she paid for the items.
Non-Disparagement Clause
In an effort to ensure fair and honest public feedback, and to prevent the publishing of libelous content in any form, your acceptance of this sales contract prohibits you from taking any action that negatively impacts KlearGear.com, its reputation, products, services, management or employees.
Should you violate this clause, as determined by KlearGear.com in its sole discretion, you will be provided a seventy-two (72) hour opportunity to retract the content in question. If the content remains, in whole or in part, you will immediately be billed $3,500.00 USD for legal fees and court costs until such complete costs are determined in litigation. Should these charges remain unpaid for 30 calendar days from the billing date, your unpaid invoice will be forwarded to our third party collection firm and will be reported to consumer credit reporting agencies until paid.

The Daring Escape From the Eastern State Penitentiary

In 1944-45, 12 inmates at Eastern State Penitentiary in Pennsylvania dug a tunnel with spoons to make their escape. Bank robber Willie Sutton took credit for the scheme, although burglar Clarence “Kliney” Klinedinst was the one with the trade skills to get it done. The caper was ingenious, not only for its engineering, but also for the fact that no one snitched and the guards did not find it.
Working in two-man teams of 30 minute shifts, the tunnel crew, using spoons and flattened cans as shovels and picks, slowly dug a 31-inch opening through the wall of cell 68, then dug twelve feet straight down into the ground, and another 100 feet out beyond the walls of the prison. They removed dirt by concealing it in their pockets and scattering it in the yard a la The Great Escape. Also like The Great Escape, the ESP tunnel was shored up with scaffolding, illuminated, and even ventilated. At about the halfway point, it linked up with the prison’s brick sewer system and the crew created an operable connection between the two pipelines to deposit their waste while ensuring that noxious fumes were kept out of the tunnel. It was an impressive work of subversive, subterranean engineering, the likes of which can only emerge from desperation. As a testament to either clever design or the ineptitude of the guards, the tunnel escaped inspection several times thanks to a false panel Kliney treated to match the plaster walls of the cell and concealed by a metal waste basket.
Did they escape? Yes, they did, although freedom for the twelve inmates lasted between a couple of minutes and a couple of months. For at least one, it would not be his last prison escape. Prison employees filled in the escape route, and Eastern State was closed permanently in 1971. But that's not the end of the story. The public was still fascinated by the famous escape, so in 2005 a crew of archaeologists went to find the tunnel that prison officials hoped would be hidden forever. Read the entire story at Smithsonian's Design Decoded blog.

Bad Review from 1863 Finally Retracted

This newspaper retraction took 150 years to see print, but like they say, better late than never. The Patriot News of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, published a bad review of a local speech which they referred to as "silly remarks" that "deserved the veil of oblivion." That speech was later known as the Gettysburg Address, delivered by President Abraham Lincoln at the dedication of the new Soldier's National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Yesterday, the newspaper published an apology for its earlier review, using the style of the Address as a framework for its own mea culpa.
Seven score and ten years ago, the forefathers of this media institution brought forth to its audience a judgment so flawed, so tainted by hubris, so lacking in the perspective history would bring, that it cannot remain unaddressed in our archives.
They even went so far as to offer the possibility that the 1863 opinion was the result of "strong drink." The paper could be forgiven the original remarks: after all, the president himself said that "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here," which also turned out to be wrong. 

Daily Comic Relief


The new flu

After stumping her doctors, a sick Taiwanese woman turned out to be infected with a strain of bird flu never before seen in humans. She survived, and nobody else appears to be infected, but you might want to get used to thinking about H6N1.

Quantum Smashed

An artistic rendition of a 'bound exciton' quantum state used to prepare and read out the state of the qubits Quantum 'world record' smashed

A fragile quantum memory state persists at room temperature for a record 39 minutes - overcoming a barrier to ultrafast computers.

Sweden and Switzerland Launch Joint Awareness Program to Help Tourists Tell the Two Countries Apart

Sweden and Switzerland are two countries somewhere in Europe--or so I've heard. They are, it turns out, not the same place, nor interchangeable.
Chinese tourists, however, are not always aware of this:
The problem largely stems from the fact that both nations' names are written similarly in Mandarin - Ruidian (Sweden) and Ruishi (Switzerland) – which begin with the same symbol, according to the Swedish Consul General Victoria Li in China.
The Swedish and Swiss consulates in Shanghai want to find a solution to this problem. So they've jointly launched a contest, inviting people to think of funny ways to tell the countries apart. The winner gets a 12-day trip to both countries. Afterward, the winner must report back on his or her findings.
How would you tell them apart?

Old Sow

The Sarlacc of Canada
The Saint Croix River forms part of the boundary between the US state of Maine and the Canadian province of New Brunswick. The river empties into Passamaquoddy Bay, where it encounters a strong Atlantic current. Where the two opposing currents meet--slightly over the Canadian side of the sea border--you can find Old Sow. It’s the largest tidal whirlpool in the Western hemisphere.
Depending on the weather and the sea, Old Sow can be as large as 250 feet across and have a 12-foot drop down its Sarlaac-like mouth.
You can visit, but you should ask local boatmen when it’s active. Old Sow is a tidal whirlpool, so it appears only during the right tidal conditions. If you take the ferry from Deer Island, New Brunswick to Eastport, Maine, you may get a good look at it. You can also take a boat and earn an official certificate from the Old Sow Whirlpool Survivors’ Association.

Volcano blows smoke rings

Sicily's Mount Etna volcano is currently erupting. The series of explosions began on October 26, but on November 11, the mountain did something rare and nifty. Over the course of several hours it blew out dozens of perfect smoke rings, each hundreds of feet in diameter, including the one pictured here.
It's not the first time Etna has done this. Nobody knows exactly how the rings form, but people have been photographing smoke rings coming from Etna since at least 1970. Volcanologist and tour guide Tom Pfeiffer took this picture, as well as several others that you can see at his Volcano Discovery website. He suspects that the smoke rings are formed when eruptions alter the shape of volcanic vents.

Mars Evolution

The more we learn about the planet Mars, the more fascinating it becomes. Evidence beamed to Earth from our rovers tells us what Mars was like in its distant past. Billions of years ago, it has an atmosphere and water -necessary ingredients for life as we know it. This animation from The Mars Underground imagines what it might have been like.
The animation shows how the surface of Mars might have appeared during this ancient clement period, beginning with a flyover of a Martian lake. The artist's concept is based on evidence that Mars was once very different. Rapidly moving clouds suggest the passage of time, and the shift from a warm and wet to a cold and dry climate is shown as the animation progresses. The lakes dry up, while the atmosphere gradually transitions from Earthlike blue skies to the dusty pink and tan hues seen on Mars today.
As we watch the gradual transition, it occurs to me: could we be looking at the future of Earth? Not that it would look like this; there's a lot of stuff going on really fast here on Earth. 



Oldest Big Cat Species Yet

Scientists who study the origins of cats have a puzzle to solve: genetic studies indicate that the big cats (lions, tigers, jaguars, and leopards) split off from other cat species about 10.8 million years ago and the oldest common ancestor to today's big cats lived in Asia over 6 million years ago, while paleontologists have fossils going back only 3.8 million years, and they were from Africa. But in 2010, American Museum of Natural History paleontologist Jack Tseng found a collection of cat bones in Tibet that were hard to place. Three years of study later, Tseng and his team have announced a new cat species, Panthera blytheae, from fossils that range from 4 to 6 million years old. The discovery rearranged the cat family tree.
This new tree firmly anchors the origin of the big cats in central Asia. It also says that the group is even older than previously thought, diverging from other cats 18.7 million years ago.

The clouded leopards then split off from the other pantherines 16.4 million years ago, and moved into Southeast Asia. The remaining lineages diverged into two main branches around 10.2 million years ago. One spread into the rest of southern and eastern Asia, and gave rise to P.blytheae, the snow leopard and the tiger. The other spread west into the Middle East, Africa and the Americas, giving rise to the lion, leopard, jaguar, cave lion and American lion.  
Studying prehistoric cats is difficult (as is studying modern cats) because they look so much alike, especially without skin or fur. It is thought that the new cat P. blytheae hunted prey like ancient horses, antelope, and sheep -just like their descendants do today. Read the rest of the story at Not Exactly Rocket Science.

The New Kings of Disguise

Chameleons are over. When it comes to unlocking the secrets of camouflage, scientists are turning to the octopus.

At the age of 21, snorkeling the clear, blue waters off Panama’s coast, Roger Hanlon caught his first glimpse of it. As he scanned for vibrant sea life, his tall frame cast a shadow on an octopus below. Sensing danger, the creature blasted water at Hanlon before dashing off, its skin changing colors as it moved. First terrified, then intrigued, Hanlon chased the 1-pound mollusk for the next 20 minutes. “I just marveled at its changeable camouflage,” he says. “It moved along, fully exposed but really hard to see.”
Since then, Hanlon has spent more than 30 years tracking and filming thousands of octopuses, squid, and cuttlefish—collectively known as cephalopods—as they change the pattern, color, and even texture of their skin in waters around the globe. A senior researcher at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., Hanlon knows cephalopods’ tricks better than anyone else in the world. And now, he’s on the cusp of unlocking the secret of their chameleon-like talents.
Armed with a $6 million grant from the U.S. Office of Naval Research, Hanlon and a team of engineers are building technology that will duplicate the cephalopods’ spectacular abilities. What could humans do with such talent? Imagine pattern-shifting clothes or cars that regulate their temperature by changing color. Thanks to Hanlon’s work, that’s just around the corner.

The New Chameleons

As disappearing acts go, cephalopods are unparalleled. Instead of settling for one mode of camouflage, they’ve mastered just about all of them. This is in part because they live in the planet’s most visually diverse environments—coral reefs and kelp forests—where patterns of light and color vary more than even in tropical rainforests. But Hanlon suspects that their abilities evolved not because they have so much to hide against but because there’s so much to hide from.
“Cephalopods, being soft-bodied and nutritious, occupy that point in the food web that’s right in the middle,” says Hanlon. The creatures find themselves on the menu of virtually every ocean predator: birds, fish, dolphins, and plenty of others. And each of these predators has different visual powers. Some see ultraviolet light. Others detect polarized light. Still others have flawless nighttime vision. Cephalopods effectively have to hide from the most sophisticated eyes in the world. “We’re not looking at something humdrum that works against one or two predators in one or two habitats,” says Hanlon. Instead, cephalopods are wielders of ├╝ber-camouflage: an omni-disguise that’s evolved to fool every possible prying eye.
Speed also matters. In just over two seconds, an octopus can completely transform from the stony, rugged hues of a rock to a smooth, ghostly white. But how does it access such a wide palette? The trick is in the skin: An octopus can expand and contract sacs of red and yellow pigments called chromatophores, which are dotted across its body but have uninterrupted nerve connections to its brain. Upon receiving a signal from those nerves, radial muscles pull outward on a sac, stretching from an inconspicuous speck to a flat, colorful disc. Meanwhile, underlying cells called iridophores have the ability to reflect cooler blues and greens from ambient light. Between these layers, the animals have the entire spectrum covered.
But camouflage for a cephalopod is about more than just a color scheme—the creatures can change shape too. Cuttlefish splay and ruche their arms, protruding small studs from their skin, until they resemble floating algae. Some octopuses transform themselves into rolling rocks or coconuts by walking on two arms while wrapping the others around themselves. And the most talented charlatan of them all, the mimic octopus, seems to imitate an entire toxic menagerie. Pulling its arms back into a flat leaf, it suddenly resembles a flounder. By hiding six arms and its head in a burrow, it passes for a sea snake.
The cephalopods are so good at hiding that Hanlon’s first challenge is finding them. Throughout the years, he’s perfected the art. He tracks some species by looking for the graveyards of their prey. “Octopuses are litterbugs,” he says. “They’ll gather crabs and clams and leave the shells around.” Once he’s marked a den, Hanlon will pull an early shift, staking out the territory until the owner comes back. “It’s very labor-intensive. I’ve gone through a lot of volunteer divers who spend their morning watching a stupid rock.”
Yet for Hanlon, the work is gratifying. He knows cephalopods could be the key to understanding camouflage in all species. And the creatures themselves still dazzle him. “They’re charismatic, interesting, and colorful, and they do things we don’t expect. That’s fun science.”

Finding a Pattern

A cuttlefish called the Pajama Squid.
Back in the lab, Hanlon and his team have placed cuttlefish on checkerboards, sand beds, and other surfaces of different patterns and colors, conducting plenty of analysis along the way. But of all the cephalopods’ abilities, Hanlon thinks that replicating background is the most important. While many visual predators have poor color vision, almost all of them are good at detecting mismatched patterns.
And for all the astonishingly varied backgrounds that cephalopods can mimic, Hanlon believes that their disguises come in just a few basic types. In 1998, he accumulated hundreds of cuttlefish photos and started sorting them into piles based on pattern. “Much to my surprise, I came up with just a few piles,” he says. More than a decade, thousands of photos, and several quantitative measurements later, “the same three pattern templates hold,” he says. In uniform mode, the animal’s entire body takes on the same uniform brightness, like a sandy floor. In mottled mode, the body displays small repetitive patches of light and dark, like a gravel bed. And in disruptive mode, it has bigger patches that sharply contrast with each other, presented in different scales, shapes, and orientations. This variation helps to break up the animal’s recognizable outline. Of course, there are plenty of minor differences, but it’s the low total number of patterns that intrigues him. “I don’t care if it’s two or 10, but I’m sure it’s not 55 or 1,000. That’s already a counterintuitive notion.”
A cuttlefish displaying a disruptive pattern.
Hanlon’s three-pattern hypothesis also explains how cephalopods can disappear from view within tenths of a second without needing “a brain the size of a Volkswagen,” since the animals can simply rely on one rule for each pattern type. For example, Hanlon’s team has shown that a cuttlefish will don its disruptive suit if it sees a light patch that’s sharply contrasted to the darkness around it. Rather than parsing through all the visual information surrounding it, the cuttlefish susses out a few key clues to determine the dress code.
But perhaps the strangest thing about their ability is that, while cephalopods can mimic the entire spectrum of colors, they themselves are color-blind. In 2008, Hanlon, along with fellow researchers Lydia Mathger and Steven Roberts, found a big clue: light-sensitive pigments called opsins dotted all over the creatures’ skin. Opsins are typically found in eyes and are essential for vision. The discovery raises the tantalizing possibility that these animals could sense light in a novel way. “Maybe there’s sensing going on in the skin, independently of the central nervous system,” says Hanlon.
As Hanlon probes these skin pigments further, his collaborators will take the biological principles and give them an engineering spin. Their plan is to develop materials that can sense light and change color with the same speed and efficiency as a living cephalopod—by using distributed light sensors that can coordinate brightness and color without needing a central “brain,” or processing unit. Understanding how the living animals do it will be critical. “The engineers are invariably astounded by the weirdness of it all, but once they get some numbers, they’re impressed by how efficient [the ability] is,” Hanlon says.
The potential applications are as diverse as they are exciting. “Think about townships with water towers or industrial plants with chemicals in holding tanks,” says Hanlon. “When they heat up or become too cold, they become a problem.” A light-sensitive coating that could change color to control how much heat it absorbs would solve that problem. Our favorite gizmos could benefit too. A squid’s skin is just as vibrant and dynamic as an iPhone but runs on far less energy. “If we work out how biological systems handle light and add that to our technology,” says Hanlon, “the efficiency’s going to go right up.”

Animal Pictures