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

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Daily Drift

Eight Days To Go ....

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Today in History

1399 Tamerlane's Mongols destroy the army of Mahmud Tughluk, Sultan of Delhi, at Panipat.
1861 The Stonewall Brigade begins to dismantle Dam No. 5 of the C&O Canal.
1886 At a Christmas party, Sam Belle shoots his old enemy Frank West, but is fatally wounded himself.
1903 Near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Orville and Wilbur Wright make the first successful flight in history of a self-propelled, heavier-than-air aircraft.
1927 U.S. Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg suggests a worldwide pact renouncing war.
1938 Italy declares the 1935 pact with France invalid because ratifications had not been exchanged. France denies the argument.
1939 In the Battle of River Plate near Montevideo, Uruguay, the British trap the German pocket battleship Graf Spee. German Captain Langsdorf sinks his ship believing that resistance is hopeless.
1943 U.S. forces invade Japanese-held New Britain Island in New Guinea.
1944 The German Army renews the attack on the Belgian town of Losheimergraben against the defending Americans during the Battle of the Bulge.
1944 U.S. approves end to internment of Japanese Americans. U.S. Major General Henry C. Pratt issues Public Proclamation No. 21, declaring that Japanese American "evacuees" from the West Coast could return to their homes effective January 2, 1945.
1948 The Smithsonian Institution accepts the Kitty Hawk – the Wright brothers' plane.
1950 The French government appoints Marshal de Lattre de Tassigny to command their troops in Vietnam.
1952 Yugoslavia breaks relations with the Vatican.
1965 Ending an election campaign marked by bitterness and violence, Ferdinand Marcos is declared president of the Philippines.
1981 Red Brigade terrorists kidnap Brigadier General James Dozier, the highest-ranking U.S. NATO officer in Italy.
1989 The Simpsons, television's longest-running animated series, makes its US debut.
1989 Fernando Color de Mello becomes Brazil's first democratically elected president in nearly 30 years.
1990 Jean-Bertrand Aristide wins Haiti's first free election.
2002 Congolese parties of the inter Congolese Dialogue sign a peace accord in the Second Congo War, proviidn for transitional government and elections within two years.
2010 Mohamed Bouazizi immolates himself, the catalyst for the Tunisian revolution and the subsequent Arab Spring.

Non Sequitur


Xmas Countdown Xmas Stories

The Dime
Bobby was getting cold sitting out in his back yard in the snow. Bobby didn't wear boots; he didn't like them and anyway he didn't own any. The thin sneakers he wore had a few holes in them and they did a poor job of keeping out the cold. Bobby had been in his backyard for about an hour already. And, try as he might, he could not come up with an idea for his mother's Xmas gift. He shook his head as he thought, "This is useless, even if I do come up with an idea, I don't have any money to spend."
Ever since his father had passed away three years ago, the family of five had struggled. It wasn't because his mother didn't care, or try, there just never seemed to be enough. She worked nights at the hospital, but the small wage that she was earning could only be stretched so far.
What the family lacked in money and material things, they more than made up for in love and family unity. Bobby had two older and one younger sister, who ran the house hold in their mother's absence. All three of his sisters had already made beautiful gifts for their mother. Somehow it just wasn't fair. Here it was Xtmas Eve already, and he had nothing.
Wiping a tear from his eye, Bobby kicked the snow and started to walk down to the street where the shops and stores were. It wasn't easy being six without a father, especially when he needed a man to talk to. Bobby walked from shop to shop, looking into each decorated window.
Everything seemed so beautiful and so out of reach.
It was starting to get dark and Bobby reluctantly turned to walk home when suddenly his eyes caught the glimmer of the setting sun's rays reflecting off of something along the curb. He reached down and discovered a shiny dime. Never before has anyone felt so wealthy as Bobby felt at that moment.
As he held his new-found treasure, a warmth spread throughout his entire body and he walked into the first store he saw. His excitement quickly turned cold when the salesperson told him that he couldn't buy anything with only a dime.
He saw a flower shop and went inside to wait in line. When the shop owner asked if he could help him, Bobby presented the dime and asked if he could buy one flower for his mother's Xmas gift. The shop owner looked at Bobby and his ten cent offering.
Then he put his hand on Bobby's shoulder and said to him, "You just wait here and I'll see what I can do for you." As Bobby waited he looked at the beautiful flowers and even though he was a boy, he could see why mothers and girls liked flowers.
The sound of the door closing as the last customer left, jolted Bobby back to reality. All alone in the shop, Bobby began to feel alone and afraid. Suddenly the shop owner came out and moved to the counter.
There, before Bobby's eyes, lay twelve long stem, red roses, with leaves of green and tiny white flowers all tied together with a big silver bow. Bobby's heart sank as the owner picked them up and placed them gently into a long white box.
"That will be ten cents young man," the shop owner said reaching out his hand for the dime. Slowly, Bobby moved his hand to give the man his dime. Could this be true? No one else would give him a thing for his dime!
Sensing the boy's reluctance, the shop owner added, "I just happened to have some roses on sale for ten cents a dozen. Would you like them?"
This time Bobby did not hesitate, and when the man placed the long box into his hands, he knew it was true. Walking out the door that the owner was holding for Bobby, he heard the shop keeper say, "Merry Xmas son."
As he returned inside, the shop keeper's wife walked out. "Who were you talking to back there and where are the roses you were fixing?"
Staring out the window, and blinking the tears from his own eyes, he replied, "A strange thing happened to me this morning. While I was setting up things to open the shop, I thought I heard a voice telling me to set aside a dozen of my best roses for a special gift. I wasn't sure at the time whether I had lost my mind or what, but I set them aside anyway.
Then just a few minutes ago, a little boy came into the shop and wanted to buy a flower for his mother with one small dime.
"When I looked at him, I saw myself, many years ago. I too, was a poor boy with nothing to buy my mother a Xmas gift. A man, whom I never knew, stopped me on the street and told me that he wanted to give me ten dollars. "When I saw that little boy tonight, I knew who that voice was, and I put together a dozen of my very best roses." The shop owner and his wife hugged each other tightly, and as they stepped out into the bitter cold air, they somehow didn't feel cold at all.

The 50 Most Popular Toys From The Last 50 Years

Toys are as intrinsic to the holiday season as eggs are to the nog, and for the last fifty years toys have been a big deal in the consumer market, fueling a frenzy that results in over 30 billion toys being sold each year.
This year's hottest items seem to be a tossup between next gen gaming consoles xbox one and the ps4, but in years past kids went crazy for Zhu Zhu Pets, Furbys, Rubik's Cubes, Robosapiens, and a creepy guy named Elmo that really wanted to be tickled. Here's an illustrated list of the "most popular holiday toys from the past 50 years" by Abby Ryan, may you have a very nostalgiac and happy holidays!

Driver hid pot as Christmas presents

Pennsylvania State Police say they found 20 pounds of marijuana in boxes wrapped as Christmas presents inside a minivan after a traffic stop. The Centre Daily Times reports that 38-year-old Randy Jesus Valdivia, of Surfside, Fla., faces felony drug charges after the stop on Interstate 80 near State College.
Police say they became suspicious after Valdivia was stopped Thursday afternoon, and got him to agree to a search.
They say they found 20 pounds of weed vacuum-sealed inside large boxes wrapped as Christmas gifts.
Online court records say he was taken to the local jail. A defense lawyer wasn't listed.

Did you know ...

37 million dead bees found near GMO crops on Canada

That tea party fantasies kills kids

About the year in guns

Paul Ryan Threatens President Obama and America With the Debt Limit

Paul Ryan showed his true colors the other by threatening the economy, and confirming that repugicans will demanding ransom in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.

WALLACE: You say, and quite rightly so, and I think it’s a big accomplish, you removed the threat of government shutdowns for almost the next two years.
On the other hand, we’ve got a debt limit crisis –
RYAN: That’s right.
WALLACE: — which is going to come up in the next couple of months, February and March, people are saying.
Should repugicans risk a default crisis?
As you know, the president will say, well, you’re going to send the country into a default by demanding more progress on spending and the deficit or do you just cave there and say, hey, look, we’re going to just kick this can down the road and focus on ObamaCare?
RYAN: Look, one — one step at a time, Chris. We — Patty and I knew that we weren’t going to solve —
WALLACE: Patty Murray, your –
RYAN: Yes, Patty Murray. I’m sorry.
RYAN: Patty Murray and I knew we weren’t going to solve every problem like the debt limit problem. So we sought to find common ground to solve this problem, this problem being a shutdown possibly in January and then another shutdown possibly in October.
And we got our principles established here.
RYAN: We’ve got cut the deficit –
WALLACE: Sir, I understand, but the question is, are you going to demand more in return for raising the deficit?
RYAN: We as a caucus, along with our Senate counterparts, are going to meet and discuss what it is we want to get out of the debt limit. We don’t want nothing out of this debt limit. We’re going to decide what it is we can accomplish out of this debt limit fight.
One of the problems or concerns I have with the debt limit is we don’t know when it’s going to hit.
Jack Lew, the treasury secretary, has ultimately discretion on when this could occur. So, the timing of this is very much in doubt.
So we’re going to meet in our retreats after the — after the holidays and discuss exactly what it is we’re going to try and get for this.
There’s the Paul Ryan that we all know. For a man who is obsessed with makers and takers, Ryan spends a lot of time dreaming of how he can get something extra for doing his job. It turns out all of the bipartisanship surrounding the budget deal was just for show. The real prize for Ryan and the House repugicans is the debt ceiling.
Rep. Ryan was doing his song and dance about our long term debt problem, which translated means Social Security and Medicare. The repugicans have already gutted food stamps, energy assistance, and much of the safety net, but it’s Social Security and Medicare that they’ve wanted to take apart all along.
Ryan and the repugicans are back to issuing threats against the economy. I am not sure what Democrats were trying to accomplish with the budget deal. Except for avoiding a government shutdown next year and getting a small percentage of the sequester lifted, they didn’t get much.
Democrats cut a deal so that they could end up back where they started. The repugicans are plotting against the economy, and President Obama will have to stand up and say no.

Man Fills out Job Application at a Store, Shoplifts on His Way out, Gets Arrested When He Comes in for an Interview

Last month, a man walked into a Sports Page sporting goods store in Marshalltown, Iowa. He asked for a job application, filled it out and turned it in. Then, according to police, he felt entitled to a five-fingered pay raise: he shoplifted $153 of clothes and left the store.
Managers reviewed security camera footage and recognized the suspect. So they called him in for a job interview. The police were waiting and arrested him for the theft.
The moral of the story: don't go to job interviews.

Most web traffic not human-driven

Nearly one in three visits to a website is from a computer up to no good according to a newly-published study.
The figures come from Incapsula, a website security firm. It gathered statistics from 90 days’ worth of visits to 20,000 sites belonging to its clients, with the relevant traffic including visits from every country in the world.
The company carried out a similar survey last year that found 51 percent of visits to websites came from some form of bot: a computer accessing the site itself rather than a human user intentionally visiting through their browser.
This year the balance has shifted further towards bots, which made up 61.5 percent of visits to the measured sites.
According to Incpasula, the total breakdown had 38.5 percent of visits coming from humans and 31 percent from what it classified as “good bots”. Most of this traffic was search engines crawling sites and increased activity of this type was a major reason for the change in the human-bot ratio. That increases the costs borne by site operators, though in theory this helps increase the accuracy of search engines and will increase the exposure of high-quality, relevant sites.
The remaining 30 percent of visits was made up of 5 percent being scrapers (computers effectively cutting and pasting content to reuse without permission), 4.5 percent being some form of automated hacking tool, 0.5 percent being automated spam such as computers leaving bogus comments on sites (something that has fallen significantly as a proportion of total traffic, if not necessarily in absolute terms), and 20.5 percent being “other impersonators.”
Incapsula believes much of this last category is made up of more sophisticated malware activity that poses as a search engine or a human user running a particular browser, in an attempt to bypass security measures on websites. It also points to a change in the specific tactics used by those carrying out DDoS attacks.

America's Bipolar Climate Future

A Tale of Two Cities

by Marc Hujer and Samiha Shafy A Tale of Two Cities: America's Bipolar Climate Future
New York City and New Bern, North Carolina both face the same projected rise in sea levels, but while one is preparing for the worst, the other is doing nothing on principle. A glimpse into America's contradictory climate change planning. More... 

The Island Nation Doomed to Disappear Within Half a Century

For hundreds if not thousands of years, the I-Kiribati have lived on their island paradise, but now their home is being slowly submerged under rising sea levels. More

Random Photos

Is Affluenza a Real Condition?

Could being wealthy lead to a disconnect between bad behavior and consequences?

The U.S. ranks near bottom in efficiency of health care spending

How Did We Kill Smallpox?

Only two diseases in the world have ever been declared "eradicated." And of those two, only one affects humans. That disease is smallpox. Trace explains how the smallpox eradication effort worked, and how it might be applied to other illnesses.

Ten Incredible Real-Life Mad Scientists

Extreme intelligence often comes with extreme eccentricity, as you are well aware. After all, the archetypical mad scientist of the movies has its real-world precedents. Any list of mad scientists has some that you are familiar with, but you may not be familiar with all ten of these crazy creatives. Did you know about the work of Ilya Ivanov?
In 1924 the Bolshevik government granted Ivanov permission to leave the country for the express purpose of breeding hybrid ape-humans. In the summer of 1926, Ivanov, by now in Paris, grafted a woman’s ovary into a chimp named Nora and tried to fertilize her with human sperm. In November that year, he travelled to Africa and inseminated a trio of chimps with yet more human sperm. Then when none of the animals fell pregnant, he changed tactics and instead tried to find Soviet women who would willingly be inseminated with chimp sperm – something for which he acquired no less than five volunteers. However, before the experiments could get properly underway, a Stalinist removal of scientists resulted in him being sent away to Kazakhstan, where he died within two years of his arrival.
Believe it or not, that's not the craziest of the bunch. Read more horror stories in the list 10 Incredible Real-Life Mad Scientists

In 1814, This Massive Warship Cruised Lake Ontario

This is painting of HMS St. Lawrence. With 112 guns, it was the largest warship ever seen on the Great Lakes and the largest Royal Navy vessel to ever sail entirely on fresh water.
After Napoleon abdicated, the British government offered the famous Duke of Wellington the command of its forces in North America. For several reasons, Wellington declined. Among them, Wellington stated that what Britain needed in the war against the United States was not a huge army, but naval control over the lakes between the United States in Canada. These waters alone were the highways that could carry British armies into the United States.

Early in the War of 1812, Britain gained control over Lake Huron. The Americans eventually gained superiority on Lake Erie and Lake Champlain. But Lake Ontario was different and this huge warship is one reason why.
Niagara Falls blocked Lake Ontario from Lake Erie and rapids at the mouth of the Saint Lawrence River limited the size of vessels that could travel from the sea onto Lake Ontario. Thus it was necessary to build large vessels on-site.
(Model of HMS St. Lawrence at the Hamilton Military Museum. Photo by John R. Grodzinski.)
Commodore James Lucas Yeo (left), the Royal Navy commander on the Great Lakes, oversaw construction of a vessel that he thought would ensure British naval supremacy on Lake Ontario. When finished and fully outfitted, HMS St. Lawrence carried a crew of 837 men and held 112 guns. It was larger than Horatio Nelson’s own HMS Victory.
The United States Navy on Lake Ontario had nothing that could possibly counter it.
HMS St. Lawrence launched on September 10, 1814. The next day, the United States defeated the Royal Navy on Lake Champlain. Four days later, it stopped the British attack at Baltimore (which inspired The Star-Spangled Banner). The war was winding down as both sides were exhausted and willing to take peace talks seriously.
Yeo took the St. Lawrence on its maiden voyage on October 16. He considered attacking the naval installation at Sackets Harbor, New York. But it was too late in the year for a sustained offensive, so Yeo shut down the St. Lawrence for the winter. In December, the diplomats signed a peace treaty, ending the war.
The massive HMS St. Lawrence never saw combat. It was promptly decommissioned. In 1831, it was cut down and sunk as a wharf in Kingston harbor.
(Portrait of Yeo by Henry Richard Cook)
Bonus item: one of the American defenders of Sackets Harbor was a teenage soldier named Hiram Cronk. Cronk lived to the age of 105, dying in 1905. He was the last American veteran of the War of 1812.

Medieval funeral poetry inscribed on an ostrich egg

Archaeologists have uncovered a 500-year-old ostrich egg covered in Arabic poetry. The verses mourn the death of a loved one.

The egg was found in the Red Sea port of Quseir, Egypt. In the fifteenth century, Quseir was a hub for trade between the Middle East and India, and a stop on the pilgrim route between North Africa and Mecca...

The shell is covered with quotations from the Koran and poetry: "It describes the soul's journey from death to life," says historian Dionisius Agius, of the University of Leeds, who is analysing the text.

Eggs bearing Arabic writing are rare, although another was found in Quseir 20 years ago. The ancient Egyptians used ostrich eggs for perfume containers and drinking cups, and the country's Coptic christians hung them as lanterns in their cult halls.



Why Did the Chelyabinsk Meteor Have Two Tails?

A new mathematical simulation visually reproduces how the Chelyabinsk meteor carved a two-tongued tail in the sky.

Swirls in remnants of big bang may hold clues to universe's infancy

South Pole Telescope scientists have detected for the first time a subtle distortion in the oldest light in the universe, which may help reveal secrets about the earliest moments in the universe's formation.
Swirls in remnants of big bang may hold clues to universe's infancy
South Pole Telescope scientists have detected for the first time a subtle distortion in the oldest light in the universe, which may help reveal secrets about the earliest moments in the universe's formation [Credit: Daniel Luong-Van]
The scientists observed twisting patterns in the polarization of the cosmic microwave background -- light that last interacted with matter very early in the history of the universe, less than 400,000 years after the big bang. These patterns, known as "B modes," are caused by gravitational lensing, a phenomenon that occurs when the trajectory of light is bent by massive objects, much like a lens focuses light.

A multi-institutional collaboration of researchers led by John Carlstrom, the S. Chandrasekhar Distinguished Service Professor in Astronomy & Astrophysics at the University of Chicago, made the discovery. They announced their findings in a paper published Sept. 30, 2013, in the journal Physical Review Letters -- using the first data from SPTpol, a polarization-sensitive camera installed on the telescope in January 2012.

"The detection of B-mode polarization by South Pole Telescope is a major milestone, a technical achievement that indicates exciting physics to come," Carlstrom said.

The cosmic microwave background is a sea of photons (light particles) left over from the big bang that pervades all of space, at a temperature of minus 270 degrees Celsius -- a mere 3 degrees above absolute zero. Measurements of this ancient light have already given physicists a wealth of knowledge about the properties of the universe. Tiny variations in temperature of the light have been painstakingly mapped across the sky by multiple experiments, and scientists are gleaning even more information from polarized light.

Light is polarized when its electromagnetic waves are preferentially oriented in a particular direction. Light from the cosmic microwave background is polarized mainly due to the scattering of photons off of electrons in the early universe, through the same process by which light is polarized as it reflects off the surface of a lake or the hood of a car. The polarization patterns that result are of a swirl-free type, known as "E modes," which have proven easier to detect than the fainter B modes, and were first measured a decade ago, by a collaboration of researchers using the Degree Angular Scale Interferometer, another UChicago-led experiment.

B modes can't be generated by simple scattering, instead pointing to a more complex process -- hence scientists' interest in measuring them. Gravitational lensing, it has long been predicted, can twist E modes into B modes as photons pass by galaxies and other massive objects on their way toward earth. This expectation has now been confirmed.

To tease out the B modes in their data, the scientists used a previously measured map of the distribution of mass in the universe to determine where the gravitational lensing should occur. They combined their measurement of E modes with the mass distribution to provide a template of the expected twisting into B modes. The scientists are currently working with another year of data to further refine their measurement of B modes.

The careful study of such B modes will help physicists better understand the universe. The patterns can be used to map out the distribution of mass, thereby more accurately defining cosmologically important properties like the masses of neutrinos, tiny elementary particles prevalent throughout the cosmos.

Similar, more elusive B modes would provide dramatic evidence of inflation, the theorized turbulent period in the moments after the big bang when the universe expanded extremely rapidly. Inflation is a well-regarded theory among cosmologists because its predictions agree with observations, but thus far there is not a definitive confirmation of the theory. Measuring B modes generated by inflation is a possible way to alleviate lingering doubt.

"The detection of a primordial B-mode polarization signal in the microwave background would amount to finding the first tremors of the Big Bang," said the study's lead author, Duncan Hanson, a postdoctoral scientist at McGill University in Canada.

B modes from inflation are caused by gravitational waves. These ripples in space-time are generated by intense gravitational turmoil, conditions that would have existed during inflation. These waves, stretching and squeezing the fabric of the universe, would give rise to the telltale twisted polarization patterns of B modes. Measuring the resulting polarization would not only confirm the theory of inflation -- a huge scientific achievement in itself -- but would also give scientists information about physics at very high energies -- much higher than can be achieved with particle accelerators.

The measurement of B modes from gravitational lensing is an important first step in the quest to measure inflationary B modes. In inflationary B mode searches, lensing B modes show up as noise. "The new result shows that this noise can be accounted for and subtracted off so that scientists can search for and hopefully measure the inflationary B modes underneath," Hanson said. "The lensing signal itself can also be used by itself to learn about the distribution of mass in the universe."

Massive galaxy cluster verifies predictions of cosmological theory

By observing a high-speed component of a massive galaxy cluster, Caltech/JPL scientists and collaborators have detected for the first time in an individual object the kinetic Sunyaev-Zel'dovich effect, a change in the cosmic microwave background caused by its interaction with massive moving objects.
Massive galaxy cluster verifies predictions of cosmological theory
Hubble space telescope optical image (green), mass map (limousin et al 2012; contours), and cso/bolocam 140 ghz (red) and 268 ghz (blue) maps of the galaxy cluster macs j0717+3745. The lack of 268 ghz signal at subcluster b (second large concentration from upper right) is due to the kinetic sunyaev-zeldovich effect [Credit: p. Korngut]
MACS J0717.5+3745 is an extraordinarily dynamic galaxy cluster with a total mass greater than 1015 (a million billion) times the mass of the sun or more than 1,000 times the mass of our own galaxy. It appears to contain three relatively stationary subclusters (A, C, and D) and one subcluster (B) that is being drawn into the larger galaxy cluster, moving at a speed of 3,000 kilometers per second.

The galaxy cluster was observed by a team led by Sunil Golwala, professor of physics at Caltech and director of the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory (CSO) in Hawaii. Subcluster B was observed during what appears to be its first fall into MACS J0717.5+3745. Its momentum will carry it through the center of the galaxy cluster temporarily, but the strong gravitational pull of MACS J0717.5+3745 will pull subcluster B back again. Eventually, subcluster B should settle in with its stationary counterparts, subclusters A, C, and D.

Though subcluster B's behavior is dramatic, it fits neatly within the standard cosmological model. But the details of the observations of MACS J0717.5+3745 at different wavelengths were puzzling until they were analyzed in terms of a theory called the kinetic Sunyaev-Zel'dovich (SZ) effect.

In 1972, two Russian physicists, Rashid Sunyaev and Yakov Zel'dovich, predicted that we should be able to see distortions in the cosmic microwave background (CMB)—the afterglow of the Big Bang—whenever it interacts with a collection of free electrons. These free electrons are present in the intracluster medium, which is made up primarily of gas. Gas within dense clusters of galaxies is heated to such an extreme temperature, around 100 million degrees, that it no longer coheres into atoms. According to Sunyaev and Zel'dovich, the photons of the CMB should be scattered by the high-energy electrons in the intracluster medium and take on a measurable energy boost as they pass through the galaxy cluster.

This phenomenon, known as the thermal SZ effect, has been well supported by observational data since the early 1980s, so it was no surprise when MACS J0717.5+3745 showed signs of the effect. But recent observations of this galaxy cluster yielded some curious data. A team led by Golwala and Jamie Bock—also a Caltech professor of physics—observed MACS J0717.5+3745 with the CSO's Bolocam instrument, measuring microwave radiation from the cluster at two frequencies: 140 GHz and 268 GHz. Through a simple extrapolation, the 140 GHz measurement can be used to predict the 268 GHz measurement assuming the thermal SZ effect.

Yet observations of subcluster B at 268 GHz did not match those expectations. The trio of Caltech and JPL postdocs who had first proposed observations of MACS J0717.5+3745—Jack Sayers, Phil Korngut, and Tony Mroczkowski—puzzled over these images for some time. Trying to sort out the discrepancy, Korngut kept returning to subcluster B's rapid velocity relative to the rest of the cluster. Prompted by Korngut's interest, Mroczkowski decided one weekend to calculate whether the kinetic SZ effect might explain the discrepancy between the 140 GHz and 268 GHz data. To everyone's surprise, it could. In order to show this conclusively, the signals from dusty galaxies behind MACS J0717.5+3745 also had to be accounted for, which was done using data at higher frequencies from the Herschel Space Observatory analyzed by Mike Zemcov, a senior postdoctoral scholar at Caltech. The model combining the two SZ effects and the dusty galaxies was a good match to the observations.

The kinetic SZ effect, like the thermal SZ effect, is caused by the interaction of the extremely hot and energetic electrons in the gas of the intracluster medium with the CMB's photons. However, in the kinetic effect, the photons are affected not by the heat of the electrons, which gives a random, uncoordinated motion, but instead by their coherent motion as their host subcluster moves through space. The size of the effect is proportional to the electrons' speed—in this case, the speed of subcluster B.

Prior to this study of MACS J0717.5+3745, the best indication of the kinetic SZ effect came from a statistical study of a large number of galaxies and galaxy clusters that had been detected by the Atacama Cosmology Telescope and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. This is the first time, Golwala says, "that you can point to a single object and say, 'We think we see it, right there.'"

"By using the kinetic SZ effect to measure the velocities of whole clusters relative to the expanding universe, we may be able to learn more about what causes the universe's accelerating expansion," Golwala explains. The next step in the process is the development of new, more sensitive instrumentation, including the new Multiwavelength Sub/millimeter Inductance Camera recently commissioned on the CSO.

The paper detailing these observations appears in Astrophysical Journal.

Daily Comic Relief


Scientists discover double meaning in genetic code

Scientists have discovered a second code hiding within DNA. This second code contains information that changes how scientists read the instructions contained in DNA and interpret mutations to make sense of health and disease.
Scientists discover double meaning in genetic code
Scientists have discovered a second code within the DNA code
[Credit: cosmin4000/iStockphoto]
A research team led by Dr. John Stamatoyannopoulos, University of Washington associate professor of genome sciences and of medicine, made the discovery. The findings are reported in the Dec. 13 issue of Science. The work is part of the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements Project, also known as ENCODE. The National Human Genome Research Institute funded the multi-year, international effort. ENCODE aims to discover where and how the directions for biological functions are stored in the human genome.

Since the genetic code was deciphered in the 1960s, scientists have assumed that it was used exclusively to write information about proteins. UW scientists were stunned to discover that genomes use the genetic code to write two separate languages. One describes how proteins are made, and the other instructs the cell on how genes are controlled. One language is written on top of the other, which is why the second language remained hidden for so long.

"For over 40 years we have assumed that DNA changes affecting the genetic code solely impact how proteins are made," said Stamatoyannopoulos. "Now we know that this basic assumption about reading the human genome missed half of the picture. These new findings highlight that DNA is an incredibly powerful information storage device, which nature has fully exploited in unexpected ways."

The genetic code uses a 64-letter alphabet called codons. The UW team discovered that some codons, which they called duons, can have two meanings, one related to protein sequence, and one related to gene control. These two meanings seem to have evolved in concert with each other. The gene control instructions appear to help stabilize certain beneficial features of proteins and how they are made.

The discovery of duons has major implications for how scientists and physicians interpret a patient's genome and will open new doors to the diagnosis and treatment of disease.

"The fact that the genetic code can simultaneously write two kinds of information means that many DNA changes that appear to alter protein sequences may actually cause disease by disrupting gene control programs or even both mechanisms simultaneously," said Stamatoyannopoulos.

Deep In China, 'Cowboys' Have Skied For Thousands Of Years

Blasting through powder on wooden, horsehide-bottomed skis, with a single pole for balance, an Altai skier shows off the skills and equipment his distant ancestors perfected. Scientists say the Altai hunter's lifestyle extends back thousands of years, as evidenced by this ancient rock engraving of a skier chasing an ibex.
The birthplace of skis is under debate, but the ski is believed to be even older than the wheel.
"So they're one of the very first forms of transportation," travel writer Mark Jenkins says.
Jenkins recently traveled to China, which claims to have invented skis almost 10,000 years ago. His exploration in the December issue of National Geographic.

A History Of Skis

Jenkins went to the Altai Mountains in Northwest China, about where Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Siberia come together — "kind of dead-center Central Asia" — where the Tuvan people have been skiing for at least 4,000 years.
"Their skis are remarkable," he tells NPR's Arun Rath. "They cut them from red spruce. They bend them by heating them and steaming them, and then they nail on horse hair on the bottom of the skis, which is very slick to glide forward but then grabs when you go uphill."
But this isn't just about making it down the mountain: The skis are for hunting. In a region that can get temperatures of 40 degrees below zero, these hunters don't even know what frostbite is. In a single-file line, pulling sleds, the men search for elk — elk tracks are obvious in the snow because of the animals' heavy weight. On skis, they can track the elk for three to seven days.
The "most remarkable part," Jenkins says, is when they finally spot the elk.
"They're using a technique that's several thousand years old. They have lassos, and they ski downhill, screaming, wild ... just like a cowboy, but they're on skis," he says.
A lassoed elk struggles after Serik demonstrates the age-old technique of capturing game in deep snow. A lassoed elk struggles after Serik demonstrates the age-old technique of capturing game in deep snow. With a loop large enough to go over the elk's antlers, the ski cowboys lasso their prey. "The elk is bucking and kicking and snorting and they fall sideways, perpendicular ... like an anchor — Old Man and the Sea sort of thing," Jenkins says. "They're being pulled by this elk through the snow. Of course, the elk is so deep in the snow it's practically swimming, so within an hour or two, the elk has worn itself out."
But then, they let it go. One of the men told Jenkins, "In the old days we hunted. Now we only chase."

The ciblical "reem" was the origin of christian unicorn mythology

"[T]here are a number of references to unicorns in the bible – god's strength is compared to the strength of the unicorn, and there are a lot of references to the unicorns horn being a source of misery and release. The problem is, those references aren't actually to unicorns at all. The people who wrote the bible were not thinking of that Indian animal the Greeks were on about. 
As Lavers explains, the original Hebrew text of the old testament mentions an animal called a "reem." When scholars tried to translate this word into Greek, they were flummoxed. They had no idea what this "reem" was. They knew it was big, and it had horns, and that it obviously wasn't a goat. (Goats are mentioned elsewhere in the bible.) So they translated it as "monoceros," meaning "one-horn." Then, when the Greek bible was translated into Latin, the word became "unicornus." And that word, translated into English, is unicorn. 
Early in the 20th century, when scholars cracked the code on ancient cuneiform script, they finally learned what that mysterious reem really was. In these ancient texts, written around the time when the Hebrew bible was being penned, there are many references to an animal called a rimu. Like the biblical reem, the rimu was enormous, strong, and had horns. That animal was an ox. So all of those references to unicorns in the bible? Those are actually to an ox. Which, if you read the actual sections of the bible, makes a lot more sense. 
But for nearly 1500 years, christians believed in the unicorn version of things. The unicorn came to symbolize christ, its horn the cross, and its tribulations during the hunt were like christ's tribulations on earth. Interestingly, the idea that unicorns were attracted to virgins comes from a pagan source. A Latin book called the Physiologus, probably written in the second century CE, mentions that a unicorn can only be caught when it lays its head down in a virgin's lap. Then christian analysts seized on this idea, suggesting that this was symbolic of how christ came into the world – with the help of a virgin."
More details (and unicorn images) at io9

The Saber Cats of Los Angeles

Pictured above is a recreation of Smilodon fatalis, the species of saber-toothed cat that is the mascot of the Page Museum in Los Angeles. At one time, several species of sabercat roamed North America, but they disappeared along with the other big extinct mammals whose bones are found in the La Brea tar pits. Not fossils -millions of actual bones that have been preserved for thousands of years in asphalt.  
Familiar or alien, all these creatures — and many others — disappeared from North America between 50,000 and 8,000 years ago. On a human scale, this seems a long time, but in the fossil record it marks a calamitous, rapid decline. Paleontologists and archaeologists have invoked many possible causes for the catastrophe, from disease and a wayward comet to climate change and hungry, hungry humans. Today, only the latter two mechanisms are taken seriously, but exactly how the dispersal of humans conspired with the onset of a warmer, wetter global climate to drive so many species to extinction is still fiercely debated. Figuring out how the disaster played out is critical to understanding the future of life on Earth. This was not a just a last stand of Ice Age animals against the beginning of the Anthropocene, or age of humans. The extinction of the megamammals is part of a drawn-out process that continues to tatter and imperil what’s left of the planet’s wilderness.

Most scientists have believed that, as the mammoths, horses and bison of the Ice Age disappeared — whether killed by humans in need of meat, by habitat loss, or by a combination of factors — the abundant populations of Smilodon simply ran out of food on the hoof. Jaguars, grey wolves and other carnivores survived, but North America’s last sabercat apparently could not cope with the changes that arrived at the close of the Pleistocene.
Research in the tar pits has shifted from finding the largest and weirdest animals 100 years ago to preserving all the evidence of prehistoric creatures, no matter how small, in order to build a more complete picture of the ancient environment that may give us more clues as to why Smilodon is no longer with us. Aeon magazine has an article about the sabercats and what we know about them, including how our knowledge of them has changed over the past few decades.

Aquatic comb jelly floats into new evolutionary position

In a study that compares the genomes of aquatic life forms, researchers have found evidence to shuffle the branches of the tree of life. For more than a century, scientists thought that complex cell types, like neurons and muscles, evolved only once, after simple animals that lack these cell types branched from the rest of animals on the evolutionary tree.
Aquatic comb jelly floats into new evolutionary position
This image shows the iridescent comb rows and internal structures of
Mnemiopsis leidyi [Credit:Stefan Siebert, Brown University]
A team of researchers from the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), part of the National Institutes of Health, has provided new evidence from the genomic study of a ctenophore species -- a comb jelly -- that challenges this long-held view.

The cornerstone of the study, published in the advance online issue of Science, is the researchers' sequencing, assembly, annotation and analysis of the genome of Mnemiopsis leidyi, a comb jelly native to the coastal waters of the western Atlantic Ocean. Whole-genome sequencing data shows that comb jellies branched from the rest of the animals before the sponge, a simple animal without complex cell types, according to the study. The results also show that critical cell types, such as neurons and muscle cells, were either lost multiple times during evolution or evolved independently in the ctenophores.

For the past 30 years, researchers have used whole-genome sequencing of organisms to advance their understanding of evolution. They do this by comparing the order of the chemical bases of DNA -- 150 million base pairs for comb jellies versus 3 billion in humans -- that comprise the organism's genome. While whole-genome sequencing data have been available for four of the five major animal lineages -- sponges (Porifera), flat invertebrates (Placozoa), jellyfish (Cnidaria), and animals with left-right symmetry, including humans (Bilateria) -- Ctenophora remained the last major animal lineage for which there were no sequenced genomes.

"Having genomic data from the ctenophores is crucial from a comparative genomics perspective, since it allows us to determine what physical and structural features were present in animals early on," said Andy Baxevanis, Ph.D., senior author of the study and senior scientist in NHGRI's Division of Intramural Research. "These data also provide us an invaluable window for determining the order of events that led to the incredible diversity that we see in the animal kingdom."

Comb jellies possess muscle cells, but the analysis of the Mnemiopsis genome showed that comb jellies lack the vast majority of genes that specify muscle types in most other animals. According to the researchers, the absence of such a large number of muscle genes suggests that muscle cells evolved independently in comb jellies, after they diverged from the rest of the animals. Comb jellies also possess a simple form of nervous system, called a nerve net, and their genome contains many of the genes involved in the nervous system. Sponges also have these genes, suggesting that they may have had the capacity to support a nervous system and perhaps lost it.

The results of the study lead to a new way of thinking about early animal evolution. "Our analysis of the Mnemiopsis genome thoroughly corroborates previous studies suggesting that ctenophores might be the sister group to the rest of the animals," said Joseph Ryan, Ph.D., lead author and a former postdoctoral research fellow in NHGRI's Genome Technology Branch, now at the Sars International Center for Marine Molecular Biology, University of Bergen, Norway. "With our whole-genome sequencing data in hand, it is now clear that the cell types that make up muscles and nervous systems were either lost in some animal lineages or that, despite the complexity of these cells, they very well may have evolved multiple times."

"Expanding our understanding of genomes across the animal kingdom is important for gaining an understanding of evolutionary adaptation at the molecular, cellular and organismal levels," said Daniel Kastner, M.D., Ph.D., NHGRI scientific director. "The whole-genome sequence of the comb jelly provides a nontraditional model through which new insights about genes and their functions, including those in our own genome, may become better understood."

The study involved collaborators from the Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience, University of Florida, St. Augustine, Fl.; Brown University, Providence, R.I.; the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, Moss Landing, Calif.; Rice University, Houston; the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; and the NIH Intramural Sequencing Center (NISC), Rockville, Md.

"Our study demonstrates the power of comparative genomics research having an evolutionary point of view, probing the interface of genomics and developmental biology," said co-author Jim Mullikin, Ph.D., NISC director. "The data generated in the course of this study also provide a strong foundation for future work that will undoubtedly lead to novel findings related to the nature of animal biology."

"Over the longer term, basic biological discoveries made in organisms such as Mnemiopsis could very well lay the groundwork for translational studies focused on specific human diseases," said Dr. Baxevanis.

Animal Pictures