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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, July 9, 2014

The Daily Drift

A crumb of an idea ...!
Carolina Naturally is read in 200 countries around the world daily.   

For those interested: In World Cup play Germany destroyed Brazil 7-1 on the twenty-seventh day of the tourney.

Hey, Squirt ... !
Today is no special celebration today -  Day 
Don't forget to visit our sister blog: It Is What It Is

Some of our reader today have been in:
The Americas
Mayaguez, Puerto Rico
Channahon, Natchitoches, Angwin, Hazard, Yulee and Duluth, United States
Fort Saint John, Ottawa and L'ancienne-Lorette, Canada
Rio De Janeiro and Sao Paulo, Brazil
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Mexico City, Mexico
Hamilton, Bermuda
Castelo Branco, Portugal
Zhovtivody and Kiev, Ukraine
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Carrion De Los Cespedes and Madrid, Spain
Ravenna, Rome, Milan and Naples, Italy
Ryazan, Russia
Rouen, Magenta and Paris, France
London and Gateshead, England
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Tallaght, Ireland
Malmo, Stockholm and Solna, Sweden
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina
Warsaw, Poland
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Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Patna, Coimbatore, Durgapur and New Delhi, India
Jakarta and Medan, Indonesia
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Colombo, Sri Lanka
Almaty, Kazakhstan
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Doha, Qatar
Muscat, Oman
Lusaka, Zambia
Cairo, Egypt
Nairobi, Kenya
Cape Town, South Africa
The Pacific
San Juan, Philippines
Sydney, Australia

Today in History

118 Hadrian, Rome's new emperor, makes his entry into the city.
455 Avitus, the Roman military commander in Gaul, becomes Emperor of the West.
1553 Maurice of Saxony is mortally wounded at Sievershausen, Germany, while defeating Albert of Brandenburg-Kulmbach.
1609 Emperor Rudolf II grants Bohemia freedom of worship.
1755 General Edward Braddock is killed by French and Indian troops.
1789 In Versailles, the French National Assembly declares itself the Constituent Assembly and begins to prepare a French constitution.
1790 The Swedish navy captures one third of the Russian fleet at the Battle of Svensksund in the Baltic Sea.
1850 U.S. President Zachary Taylor dies in office at the age of 65. He is succeeded by Millard Fillmore.
1861 Confederate cavalry led by John Morgan captures Tompkinsville, Kentucky.
1900 The Commonwealth of Australia is established by an act of British Parliament, uniting the separate colonies under a federal government.
1942 Anne Frank and her family go into hiding in the attic above her father's office in an Amsterdam warehouse.
1943 American and British forces make an amphibious landing on Sicily.
1971 The United States turns over complete responsibility of the Demilitarized Zone to South Vietnamese units.

Non Sequitur


The Earliest Known Photo of the Star-Spangled Banner, 1873

Fort McHenry guarded the entrance to the harbor of Baltimore. After the British had burned America's capital city, they set their sights on Baltimore, a wealthy city ripe for looting and the home port of many of the American privateers that had ravaged British shipping.
On September 13, 1814, the British fleet attacked. The city and the fort were under blackout orders to make it harder for the gunners to aim. Only the British rockets and bombs illuminated the night sky. They revealed the 30 by 42-foot flag sewn by Mary Pickersgill, her daughter Caroline, and three other children: Eliza Young, Margaret Young, and Grace Wisher.
In the 1870s, George Henry Preble, an American naval officer, wrote a series of histories of the United States flag. As a part of his work, he took the earliest known photograph of then 59-year old Star-Spangled Banner.

Dracula's Grave Has Been Found and Researchers Plan to Open It

by Scott Hallam
Dracula's Grave Has Been Found and Researchers Plan to Open It. Bad Plan!You read that headline right. Researchers believe they have found the grave of Vlad Tepes III, better known as Vlad the Impaler, aka the guy who was probably a real vampire if there ever was one. And, of course, they plan on popping that baby open.
No one would even write this as a horror movie because it's too predictable. Let's see, you discover the grave of a man considered by many to be a true vampire, and what do you decide to do?
Bury it in cement? Light it on fire? Encase it in carbonite?
Oh no, they want to open it up, which will undoubtedly release some kind of vampiric apocalypse on the Earth.
According to Roadtrippers.com, Vlad the Impaler ruled in the 15th Century with a penchant for torture. And he was really good at it. And although he wasn't against some genital mutilation, scalping, skinning, burning or boiling, his real love was impaling, thus the nickname. But in 1476 Vlad went into battle and never returned. Speculation had him killed in battle, but there were reports that he was taken away in restraints. But no one knew what happened to him… until now.
Back to our researchers, who believe that Vlad (in true "Game of Thrones" fashion) was ransomed to his daughter and lived out the remainder of his life in Naples, Italy, and was buried in a church there upon his death. Fast forward to the present day, where Erika Stella, a student writing a dissertation on Piazza Santa Maria la Nova Church in Naples, found a headstone she believes belongs to Vlad. Stella's beliefs are backed up by Medieval history scholar Raffaello Glinni, who feels the House of the Transylvanian Carpathians symbols on the tomb are out of place in Italy in a crypt filled with Italian noblemen.
"When you look at the bas-relief sculptures, the symbolism is obvious," Glinni said. "The dragon means Dracula, and the two opposing sphinxes represent the city of Thebes, also known as Tepes. In these symbols, the very name of the count Dracula Tepes is written."
Now the group is petitioning the Italian government for permission to open the tomb and confirm their theory. The Italian government is rumored to have responded by sending the group a photo of Gary Oldman from Bram Stoker's Dracula and a doctor's order to have their heads examined. Okay, maybe that part isn't true… but it should be!
Of course you realize this is satire, right?!

Being ‘Cool’ Means Breaking The Rules


Quirky Local Customs Every Traveler Should Know

Traveling abroad can be an exhilarating and life changing experience, if you’re not being snubbed and treated like an unwanted visitor by the locals...
Some places simply aren't very accommodating to travelers, but sometimes people will have a bad attitude towards you because they think you've wronged them by unknowingly going against one of their customs. Take this seemingly harmless "talk to the hand" type gesture:
This gesture is called a "mountza" in Greek, and it's just as insulting to the Greeks as giving someone the middle finger is in America, so don't get all sassy on the natives when you visit Greece or the gods will rain their displeasure down upon you!
Before you take your next trip abroad check out this informative and entertaining guide by Sherman Travel entitled 10 Quirky Customs Travelers Should Know and keep your hosts happy!

Did you know ...

This repugican cabal candidate likes to masturbate in other people's cars
About the 7 types of repugicans and how to debate them
About how the USDA helps McDonalds sell fast food
About why women need unions 
France passes the anti-amazon law
That the Anti Vac morons are putting us all at risk for the measles
Germany's windiest state set to achieve 100% renewable energy
Illinois clergy protests SCOTUS by handing out condoms at Hobby Lobby
These three monster black holes rumble space time
The pot farmers market opened in Los Angeles over the holiday weekend
That early last century nothing said 4th of July like tetanus
That we've been living in 1984 since 1921
About how to keep your dog happy during fireworks using science
That there really was a capt. Blackadder and lt. Baldric that served inWW1
Hey, let's call open carry gangs what they are: terrorists
That 75% of Americans say Iraqi war wasn't worth it
That 50 years after freedom summer, the voting rights act is needed more than ever
That since Newtown, at least 100 children were accidentally killed
Here's an interactive map of air pollution around the world
That the repugican cabal is the pro-death cabal
How corporations became people you can't sue

Lush Dimbulb Thinks Men That Support Women’s Access To Contraception Only Want Sex

LimbaughRushAngryDuring the broadcast of his radio show on Monday, wingnut windbag Lush Dimbulb decided to weigh in some more on the Hobby Lobby decision. As one would expect, he completely dismissed any criticism of the decision by women, stating that only leftist feminists are against the decision. Also, Lush continued to push the completely inaccurate notion that women just want taxpayers to completely pay for their birth control. He also blew off any suggestion that women would be taking a financial hit regarding contraception, as he said that women shouldn’t have any problem paying for it as it is unbelievably cheap.
However, during Monday’s show, Lush raised the stakes a bit. While we are used to Dimbulb assaulting women and ‘feminazis’ left and right on his show, he tends to give men a free pass, especially when it comes to discussions that center on contraception, abortion or anything else related to women’s health. In this instance, he decided to attack men who support contraceptives being paid for by health insurance as preventive care, stating that they only support it so they can have more sex. Somehow, on Monday, Dimbulb sank to a level lower than his already awful standards.
Below is a transcript of his comments via The Lush Dimbulb Show:
LUSH: Where you been, Snerdley? Snerdley walks in here, brings me his Stack of show prep that he wanted me to see today, and he’s outraged. Have you not been listening to this program? “More than half of privately insured women are getting free birth control under President Barack Obama’s health law, a major coverage shift that’s likely to advance.” And it talks about how the average annual saving — ahem — for women is $269. And it just hit you that everybody’s demanding a benefit, $269 a year, and women can’t pay that on their own? The taxpayers have to provide the $269? Yes.
Well, here’s the thing. I know. Women have demanded independence and power and feminism and all this, and now demanding everybody pay. I don’t even know how many women really are demanding it. You know, it’s leftist women that are pushing this. But I learned something about this over the weekend that I hadn’t stopped to consider.
Mr. Snerdley and I, and I assume a lot of you folks, too, we’re from the old school where you provide for yourself. We were raised that whatever you want or need, you go out and get a job and earn enough to buy it. If you can’t afford it, then you put it off until you can. But the last thing you do is ask somebody else. You don’t go down the neighborhood and knock on the front door of people and ask ‘em to buy whatever you want. That’s the way we were raised. But the thing I have learned is that men are totally supportive. Today’s young men are totally supportive of somebody else buying women their birth control pills. Make sure the women are taking them, ’cause sex is what it’s all about.
Pajama Boy types having sex, sex, sex. That’s what it’s all about. Everybody wants it and whatever it takes to make it safe. And if it takes the taxpayers buying women birth control, the men are for it, too. It’s cheap insurance, and if this is what women want before they’ll have sex, then fine. So this is the change that you and I were slow to arrive to because we were brought up with the idea that sex has consequences and that it’s somewhat special, and that if you want something you provide it yourself. You don’t ask somebody else. That’s all out the window now, as you will hear on today’s program.
I want to point out something here. Lush is a man (and that is in question) who has been divorced three times and is likely working on his fourth, and whose marriages have produced no children, moralizing about sex and how “special” it is. A man who was caught carrying a bottle of Viagra, prescribed under someone else’s name, upon returning from a trip to the Dominican Republic (a known hot spot for sex tourism) preaching to other men about sexual behavior. This is a person making millions of dollars a year working 3 hours a day from a studio in his mansion telling people they need to work hard, earn and provide for themselves. We have here a man whose own prescription drug addiction likely led to his need for cochlear implants sermonizing about the health choices made by others.
Lush Dimbulb has absolutely no moral high ground to stand on when it comes to discussing sexual behavior, personal responsibility or health choices. He is nothing more than a thrice-divorced drug addict who takes erection-inducing drugs when visiting tropical destinations notorious for prostitution. Or, in other words, the perfect embodiment of today’s repugican cabal.

House repugicans To Waste 3.3 Million Taxpayer Dollars On Phony Benghazi Investigation

House repugicans claim that the nation can’t afford to spend money, but they are about to waste 3.3 million taxpayer dollars on their phony Benghazi investigation.
USA Today reported:
gowdy-boehnerHouse repugicans are planing to spend as much as $3.3 million for this year’s operations of the special committee they created in May to investigate the September 2012 Benghazi attacks, a bigger budget than the House Veterans Affairs and Ethics Committees were given this year.
According to a committee document provided by Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office, House repugicans want a $3.3 million budget for this year’s operations of the 12-member select committee on the Benghazi attacks. As with most congressional committees, the document indicates the majority party gets the bigger share of the resources for the panel; the budget provides just under $2.2 million for repugicans and just over $1 million for Democrats on the committee. There are seven repugicans and five Democrats serving on the committee, and it is expected to have a staff of 30.
By comparison, the House committee on Veterans Affairs — which has has a roster of 25 lawmakers and about 27 staff members — spent just $2.5 million in 2013 and has a $3 million budget for 2014. The Ethics Committee budget for 2014 was just over $3 million, with a staff of about 25 serving 10 lawmakers.
DCCC Chairman Steve Israel blasted House repugicans’ priorities, “Think about these flawed priorities for a minute: House repugicans think their partisan witch hunt is a bigger priority for taxpayer dollars than the Veterans Affairs Committee. From the start, it has been clear that repugicans are reprehensibly using this select committee as a campaign tool, and now their campaign tool is going to cost taxpayers millions of dollars.”
House repugicans will almost certainly end up wasting millions more taxpayer dollars if they follow through with their plan to sue President Obama. They have also wasted millions of dollars investigating the IRS. All three of these expenditures have a common goal. They are designed to get House repugicans elected in November.
Speaker Boehner’s select committee on Benghazi will be the seventh congressional investigation of the attack in the last two years. The country doesn’t need another Benghazi investigation. Voters aren’t clamoring for another Benghazi investigation. The only people who want to keep investigating Benghazi as the repugicans who are trying to avoid running on their meager records this fall. House repugicans have tried to cut almost every program that exists to help people. They have slashed programs like food stamps, Meals On Wheels, school lunches, and unemployment benefits. If something helps anything other than corporations and millionaires, it is a certainty that House repugicans have tried to cut it.
The repugicans have claimed that the nation can’t afford to pay for extending unemployment benefits, but they are throwing away millions of dollars on bogus Benghazi investigations. House repugicans like to label themselves fiscally conservative, but no true conservative would tolerate the level of waste that is apparent in Boehner’s House.
The latest Benghazi investigation has already been decried as a political stunt, but what has been overlooked is that it is also a giant waste of taxpayer money.

Moronic tea party Hero Completely Falls For Satire Article!

by: Hannah Hochstetler
Victoria Jackson, already well-known for going off the deep end, bit hard on a satire piece published by The National Report. Jackson, a member of the Tea Party’s stable of has-been/never were celebrities, posted on her site from the article, claiming that President Barack Obama would be attending a mosque (location undisclosed) on the morning of the 4th of July, and later would be hosting the annual White House cook-out. Jackson continued her sanctimonious outrage, stating that several high-ranking Muslim leaders were invited to the barbecue. Imagine for one moment, tea party heads imploding among Jackson’s followers.
Victoria Jackson, who enjoyed a small measure of fame during the 1980′s, based her comedic routines on the stereotypical “dumb blonde”. Vapid and bovine in her presentations, she epitomized the stupidity associated with tasteless blonde jokes. Apparently, Ms. Jackson has portrayed this character so well that she has adopted the persona for her very own. The National Report is a known satire site, much like The Onion.  Their stories are full of “tells”, letting the reader know that they are presenting satire. Jackson could have, and should have, done some fact checking of her own, if she suspected that one word of the fictitious piece was actual truth. Instead, she jumped on the story, posting it as “fact” on her site. A veritable barrage of posts from followers and those more inclined to live in reality ensued.
Reading through the comments on Jackson’s site, as well as the comments on the piece on The National Report site is like a sojourn into wingnut mania. “How dare he!”, “It’s like he is doing it on purpose, for spite!”, and of course, the birthers and conspiracy theorists who insist that Obama was prepared from birth to win the presidency, thus ensuring a “commie Marxist” takeover of the American government. And then there is the undoubtedly erudite “Punisher”. This scholarly gentleman commented on The National Report’s site, using all capital letters. He may have found the “caps lock” key, however, spell check still eludes him. He is however capable of spewing the vitriolic rhetoric for which the tea party has become synonymous with. If, as progressive liberals, we begin to doubt the toxicity of the venom issuing from the dripping fangs of the far-right wingnut lunatic fringe contingency, all that we really need to do is peruse through the comments on the original article. I ponder the question, have these eloquent readers ever doubted the veracity of the articles that they are commenting on, or do they take the site as a legitimate, scholarly source of current news? An overwhelming majority of the comments are from readers who apparently believe that the story is “fact”, much like Ms. Jackson. At least on Jackson’s site, logic and reason is represented by those of us who are capable of fact checking. The same cannot be said regarding the original posting on The National Report page.
A theme runs strongly throughout the comments on both sites. While the article itself is taken for truth, facts presented by those who have a more educated view are dismissed immediately as “liberal brainwashing.” This raises the question, why is it so easy for the frothing mob on the lunatic fringe to accept blatant falsehood, without doubt and without fact checking, yet when presented with verifiable facts, denial and invectives rule the day? The answer, at least for me, put quite simply is that the historic election of America’s first African American president, Barack Obama, broke their brains.  They are now incapable of reason or logic. They have crossed over into lunacy, and no amount of rational logic will pull them back. Their illogical racism prevents it.
One suggestion to Ms. Jackson, tea party darling. There are any number of good sites to check facts.  If you still doubt your results, go to the source. The White House has a site, check it for events.  Break away from the rabid open carry sites and militia survival tips, spend a moment before you present satire as truth. Maybe start by looking up the word “satire” in a dictionary. Just a thought.



Power Napping

The power of the power nap!  

For hibernating mammals, the pre-winter months are a race against […]

The Autism Spectrum

The conditions autism and aspergers have been in the news a lot over the last few years. The term "autism spectrum" is often heard in these discussions. Trace is here to define it.

Can you tell ...

autism kidsCan You Tell Which Child Has ADHD?

SAR neuroscientist thinks brain imaging could help bring an end […]

Human Consciousness

The results could open wide a door on one of the most mysterious aspects of existence.


fear_520The anatomy of fear
Understanding the biological underpinnings of anxiety, phobias and PTSD Fear […]

Sleep paralysis in a science fiction story

"Gorged, yet strangely empty, Starfinder sinks into a fitful sleep.  During it, he dreams an atavistic dream that he has dreamed increasingly often of late.  In the dream he is a Cro-Magnon savage walking weaponless across a starlit plain.  Just ahead of him and to his right is a small shadow-filled copse... As he comes abreast of the copse a huge saber-toothed tiger leaps out of the shadows and bears him to the ground.  It crouches above him, its massive forelegs resting on his chest, shutting off his breath, its horrible tusked face grinning down into his own...

Starfinder knows that in a moment he will be dead, and yet he cannot move.  This, far more than the tiger, constitutes the nightmarish quality of the dream.  This numbing paralysis that grips him, that makes it impossible for him even to try to save himself.  His arms lie like lead at his sides.  He cannot so much as lift a single finger.  All he can do is lie there helplessly and wait for those gaping jaws to complete their relentless journey, and close.

He wills his arms to rise; he wills his fingers to sink into the tiger's tawny throat.  But his arms do not stir; his fingers do not even tremble... He wakes sweating.
From Starscape with Frieze of Dreams, by Robert F. Young (published in Orbit 8, 1970).

A clinically accurate description, incorporating not only the paralysis, but also the dyspnea and the autonomic response.

Excuses ...


The Top 10 Discoveries That Will Rock Your World in 2025

by Kimberly Weisul 

A new report looks at the path of scientific research and offers some surprising conclusions.
What's life going to look like in 2025?
Well, the folks in Thomson Reuters' IP and Science group have come up with an ingenious method of building a crystal ball. They looked at recently-published patents and scientific papers to try to devine which emerging technologies could gain widespread traction by 2025. The papers were deemed more influential if they'd been cited a large number of times; patent classifications were ranked by the number of recent patents in that particular category.
The core assumption seems to be that if the scientific and entrepreneurial communities are putting particular effort into something today, they'll make some good progress within the 10 years. If that turns out to be true, here are the top 10 innovations that are likely to alter our world between now and 2025:
1. Dementia Declines
Overall, this particular report has great faith in science's ability to prevent disease by better understanding the human genome. One of the biggest boons from that improved understanding will be a reduction in degenerative disease such as dementia and Alzheimers. So far, researchers have been able to identify specific chromosomes that cause different forms of the dementia. The most highly-cited research since 2011 has been about a chromosome known as 9P, which has been linked to two forms of dementia.
2. Solar takes over
The high-profile failure of companies such as Solyndra and Amonix may breed skepticism about the future of solar energy, but the Thomson Reuters report has no such misgivings. Instead, researchers say that solar will become "the largest source of energy on the planet … no longer for the environmentally-conscious select; it is for the masses."
What will drive this transformation? New dye-sensitized and thin-form materials. Increased efficiency of energy conversions. And a photosynthetic process that will make solar energy available when needed--no matter the weather.
3. Prevention of type 1 diabetes
The report predicts that type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, and other metabolic conditions such as muscular dystrophy will be preventable in 2025. That's because, scientists will have developed a workable platform for genome engineering that will allow us to edit and repair DNA in humans, not just in bacteria and mice. Modification of disease-causing genes in humans is simply the next step.
4. Food, glorious food
By 2025, food shortages and food price fluctuations will be just memories. Farmers will be able to safely grow genetically-modified crops indoors, thanks to revolutions in lighting technologies, imaging techniques, and changes to the food's DNA, which will feature built-in growth receptors making plants more sensitive to light at specific wavelengths. Crops will be better-bred for disease resistance and high yield. The combination will lead to a much lower risk of crop failure, and a more substantial and more consistent supply of food.
5. The plug-in airplane
Electric cars may still be somewhat of a novelty, but by the end of the next decade lightweight aerospace engineering, paired with new battery technologies, will enable the development of electric airplanes. These new lightweight vehicles will be powered by improved lithium-ion batteries and motors that use superconducting technology.
6. The internet of (every)things
We think we live in a connected world. A decade from now, we'll wonder how we were ever so isolated. "Wireless communications will dominate everything, everywhere," says the report. "Imagine the day when the entire continent of Africa is completely, digitally connected," which it predicts will occur in 2025. All this will happen thanks to improved semiconductors, changes in 5G technology, and supercapacitors that will be able to store much more energy for later release than the current generation of capacitors.
7. Goodbye, plastic water bottles
Packing peanuts are already starting to be replaced by more eco-friendly alternatives, but by 2025, says the report, all types of petroleum-based packaging will be obsolete. No longer will discarded packaging litter fields, cities and oceans. Instead, "whether for food, medicine, electronics, textiles or consumer products, all packaging will be made from cellulose-derived products." These new types of packaging might look and feel like plastic, but they'll be fully biodegradable.
8. The cure is no longer worse than the disease
By 2025, says the report, cancer patients will no longer have to choose between living with a fatal disease and enduring treatments that can quickly become intolerable. The pharmaceutical industry has been working toward a goal of personalized medicine, developing drugs that target specific molecules. As medical tools become more targeted, they'll engage only the molecules necessary to combat the disease, sparing healthy ones and leading to treatments with far fewer negative side effects.
9. DNA mapping at birth becomes the norm
And not just at birth. The report says that thanks to advances in co-called single-cell analysis, and to the increasing applications of big data, DNA mapping will be the best way to manage disease risk. Not only will your newborn's DNA get mapped immediately, but your own DNA will be mapped and checked annually to identify any increased risk or early appearance of auto-immune diseases.
10. Beam me up, Scotty.
Now that researchers have proven the existence of Higgs-Boson particles, they're racing to understand them. One possible implication: the concept of teleportation is not as nutty as it seems. We're not going to be teleporting humans by 2025, but as scientists test quantum teleportation with other substances, it won't seem absurd, either.

Top 10 Unsolved Mysteries Of Science

Scientists don't understand everything about the ways of the Universe. Physicist Brian Cox once said: 'I'm comfortable with the unknown - that's the point of science. There are places out there, billions of places out there, that we know nothing about. And the fact that we know nothing about them excites me, and I want to go out and find out about them.'
So what are some of the top mysteries keeping scientists busy?
Here's a top ten of unsolved mysteries.

In-Flight Science

How The World Works When You're Sitting On A Plane  
It's the best place to see a rainbow and the worst place to drink tea. Here are 21 in-flight facts, from Einstein's influence on GPS to why turbulence is nothing to be scared of.

Psychedelic salt mine

Hundreds of feet below a Russian city is an abandoned salt mine which might as well be the inside of a rave. The walls are covered with psychedelic patterns, caused by the natural layers of mineral carnallite creating swirls throughout the coloured rock. Carnallite is used in the process of plant fertilisation, and is most often yellow to white or reddish, but can sometimes be blue or even completely colourless. 
More from Wikipedia:
Carnallite is an evaporate mineral, a hydrated potassium magnesium chloride with formula KMgCl3·6(H2O). It is variably colored yellow to white, reddish, and sometimes colorless or blue. It is usually massive to fibrous with rare pseudohexagonal orthorhombic crystals. The mineral is deliquescent (absorbs moisture from the surrounding air) and specimens must be stored in an airtight container... only forms under specific environmental conditions in an evaporating sea or sedimentary basin. It is mined for both potassium and magnesium...

The Pont Du Gard Aqueduct Bridge

The question 'what have the Romans ever done for us?' was famously asked in the Monty Python film Life of Brian and certainly you might think that a few thousand years later that question is potentially redundant. However, one look at the Pont du Gard aqueduct bridge may put paid to that idea.

Daily Comic Relief


The Underwater Laboratory of Fabien Cousteau

This brief video gives viewers a fleeting look at the underwater laboratory of Fabien Cousteau, the grandson of Jaques Cousteau. The lab was stationed near Key Largo, Florida recently, as Cousteau conducted a study on the impact of climate change on coral reefs. The video includes some interesting (unrelated) footage that Cousteau captured during the mission.

Natural Sunscreen Explains Mantis Shrimp's Amazing UV Vision

Natural Sunscreen Explains Mantis Shrimp's Amazing UV VisionThe bizarre visual system of the colorful mantis shrimp just got weirder: New research finds these animals use a natural sunscreen compound to see ultraviolet light.
Researchers knew that mantis shrimp, marine crustaceans sometimes known to crack aquarium glass with their powerful claws, had a very impressive visual system. The animals can see ultraviolet light, which is light with shorter wavelengths than humans can see. They can also see the orientation, or polarization, of light waves.
But the new study reveals that mantis shrimp have come up with some pretty neat tricks to pull off their impressive visual abilities. They recruit special amino acids that are usually used as a natural sunblock in animal skin to filter the light that reaches their eyes.
"The overall construction of the mantis shrimp's visual system is just so unbelievably ridiculous, so this is just another piece of that tapestry," said study researcher Michael Bok, a doctoral candidate at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Crazy eyes
Natural Sunscreen Explains Mantis Shrimp's Amazing …
Mantis shrimp are complicated creatures. They are fierce hunters, killing prey with swift blows from their powerful claws, which can accelerate as fast as a .22-caliber bullet. Some species are monogamous, but all exhibit complex social behavior.
Mantis shrimp vision seems to be a crucial ingredient to the animals' success. Mantis shrimp have 12 photoreceptors, compared with three in humans, and they see more wavelengths of light than humans do.
Weirdly, though, mantis shrimp don't seem to discriminate between colors with as much sensitivity as humans; a study published in January in the journal Science found that their impressive 12-photoreceptor array allows them to process color in the eye instead of in the brain. (In contrast, humans have a fairly simple eye, but lots of visual processing set up in the brain that helps us to see thousands of shades.)
Mantis shrimp photoreceptors are organized in a band in the middle of the eye, with simpler cells around them, Bok told Live Science, and they seem to scan their environment constantly.
"You can envision it as them 'coloring in the world,'" Bok said.
Filtering light
Natural Sunscreen Explains Mantis Shrimp's Amazing …
It was these specialized cells that interested Bok and his colleagues. They knew that five or six of a mantis shrimp's photoreceptors were used for seeing ultraviolet light, and they wanted to identify the visual pigments that made up these receptors. An initial molecular analysis of the eye of the species Neogonodactylus oerstedii, however, turned up only two pigments.
That was a bit of a surprise, Bok said. The researchers figured the mantis shrimp eye must have filters to "sort" wavelengths before they hit the visual pigments, but the scientists didn't know where to look, at first. Because UV wavelengths are invisible to humans, there would be no way to see the UV filters with the naked eye.
Fortunately, the researchers discovered that as the filters in mantis shrimp eyes absorb UV light, they emit a tiny bit of fluorescence, visible to humans.
"We were able to see these very bright, beautiful fluorescing pigments in the eye," Bok said.
The filters are made of something called MAAs, or mycosporine-like amino acids. These amino acids are common in the skin of marine organisms, and are usually used to absorb cell-damaging UV light.
Mantis shrimp, however, have repurposed the MAAs to absorb certain UV wavelengths in the eye. Each different filter removes different portions of the light, meaning that certain wavelengths only hit certain areas of the eye. 
"It pretty nicely narrows their sensitivity by removing certain components of the spectrum," Bok said. The filtering thus enables the mantis shrimp to detect multiple wavelengths with only two visual pigments.
"It's a very, very strange system, and it's very alien compared to ours," Bok said.
Bok, who is currently doing fieldwork on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, said the next goal is to study how mantis shrimp use their unusual visual system. They might use visual information to communicate, to hunt or to avoid predators, he said.
"It's an interesting question," he said. "Why do they need this? What could it possibly be used for?"
Bok and his colleagues reported their findings July 3rd in the journal Current Biology.

World's Largest Flying Bird Was Like Nothing Alive Today

World's Largest Flying Bird Was Like Nothing Alive Today
Here, an illustration of what may be the largest flying bird
The largest flying bird known to ever have lived has now been revealed, an extinct giant with a wingspan more than twice the size of the largest living flying bird, researchers say.
These findings exceed some predictions for the largest size possible for flying birds, scientists added.
The new species, Pelagornis sandersi, had an estimated wingspan of 20 to 24 feet (6.1 to 7.3 meters) when its feathers are included. This is up to more than twice as big as that of the royal albatross, the largest living flying bird, which has a wingspan of about 11.4 feet (3.5 meters).
"It's a really remarkable species,"study author Daniel Ksepka, a paleontologist and curator of science at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut, told Live Science. "It really pushes the limits of how big we think flying birds can get. Getting a chance to add something like this to the avian evolutionary tree is really exciting."
Until now, the biggest known flying bird was the extinct Argentavis magnificens, a condorlike titan from Argentina.
"It's disputed how large Argentavis' wingspan was — we only have one wing bone for it," Ksepka said. "We think the wingspan of Argentavis' skeleton was a bit under 4 meters (13.1 feet), while the skeletal wingspan of P. sandersi was about 5.2 meters (17 feet). Now both of their wingspans would be longer once feathers are taken into account, but P. sandersi would still probably be larger than Argentavis."
The fossil was first unearthed in 1983 near Charleston, South Carolina, when construction workers began excavations for a new terminal at the Charleston International Airport. It was named Pelagornis sandersi in honor of retired Charleston Museum curator Albert Sanders, who led the fossil's excavation.
Giant bird, giant dig
The specimen was so large that it had to be dug out with a backhoe. "The upper wing bone alone was longer than my arm," Ksepka said in a statement.
The specimen, which consisted of multiple wing and leg bones and a complete skull, was very well-preserved, a rarity because of the paper-thin nature of the bones in these birds. Its beak possessed bizarre toothlike spikes that lined the upper and lower jaws, revealing the bird was a previously unknown species of pelagornithid, an extinct group of giant seabirds known for these "pseudo-teeth."
"These pseudo-teeth were not made with enamel like true teeth are, but were projections of bone from the jaw," Ksepka said. "They are very conical and pointed, which suggests they were used for piercing prey. The most likely source of food for these birds were fish and squid near the surface of the water."
This pelagornithid lived 25 million to 28 million years ago. "During this time, global temperatures were substantially warmer than they are today, and sea levels were higher, since there was less ice at the poles," Ksepka said. "Charleston, where this fossil was found, is a lovely city today, but back then it was completely underwater."
Pelagornithids lived all over the globe for tens of millions of years, but vanished just 3 million years ago, and paleontologists remain uncertain as to why.
"Pelagornithids were once found on every continent, including Antarctica," Ksepka said. "Pelagornithids were like creatures out of a fantasy novel — there is simply nothing like them around today."
The paper-thin hollow bones, stumpy legs and giant wings of P. sandersi hinted the bird flew. However, its size exceeded what some models suggest were the theoretical limits for flying birds.
Could P. sandersi fly?
To find out how P. sandersi could take off and stay aloft despite its giant size, Ksepka fed data about the bird's mass, wingspan and wing shape into a computer program designed to predict flight performance. The researchers estimated the bird weighed from 48.2 to 88.4 lbs. (21.9 to 40.1 kilograms).
The model suggested the bird was an incredibly efficient glider, whose long, slender wings helped it stay aloft despite its enormous size. It was probably too big to take off simply by flapping its wings and launching itself into the air from a standstill — instead, like Argentavis, P. sandersi may have gotten off the ground by running downhill into a headwind or taking advantage of air gusts to get aloft, much like a hang glider.
"Pelagornis sandersi could have traveled for extreme distances while crossing ocean waters in search of prey," Ksepka said in a statement. "That's important in the ocean, where food is patchy."
By riding on air currents that rise up from the ocean's surface, P. sandersi was able to soar over the ocean without flapping its wings. Once P. sandersi reached adulthood, it may have been able "to live flying over the ocean for most of the year, coming back to land only to nest, flying for thousands of kilometers over the course of the year," Ksepka said. "It probably landed on islands or remote areas where they could avoid predators when they nested."
Unusually, "it's quite likely it had to molt all its flight feathers at the same time," Ksepka said. Flight feathers need to get molted once they no longer become flightworthy, and the bigger they get, the longer they take to grow back. To deal with this problem, they may have done what birds known as grebes do nowadays, and shed all their flight feathers simultaneously — "at the size they reached, it's very difficult to do anything else," Ksepka said.
Future research can analyze how these birds took off and landed, and how maneuverable they were in the air, Ksepka said. He detailed his findings online July 7th in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Invasive lizards threaten Florida's turtles, alligators

An invasive lizard first spotted in southern and central Florida about a decade ago has become the latest concern for wildlife officials after the four-foot-long, black-and-white tegu was caught on video stealing alligator and turtle eggs from their nests.
Scientists from the University of Florida during the spring and summer of 2013 planted several cameras in the Everglades around nests containing dozens of eggs.
“We captured images of tegus removing (up to) two eggs per day until an examination of the nest on Aug. 19 revealed no remaining eggs,” University of Florida professor Frank Mazzotti wrote of one alligator nest in a forthcoming study, conducted with the U.S. Geological Survey and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, to be published in journal Biological Invasions this summer.
Mazzotti said the species, found naturally in Argentina and parts of South America, is thought to have first arrived in the U.S. via pet traders sometime in the early 2000s. Since then its population has boomed thanks to an ability to withstand cold and large clutch sizes containing up to 30 eggs.
“Any species that is a predator and eats high up the food chain and is introduced into a novel environment has potential for causing serious ecological damage,” said Mazzotti, a member of the UF's team of wildlife researchers known as the "Croc Docs."
Florida, and particularly the Everglades, is home to dozens of invasive species that have escaped into the wild or been released by pet owners after growing too large. Most famously wildlife officials have struggled to contain Burmese pythons, and occasionally encountered some nearly 20-feet (6-meters) long, even preying on adult alligators.
Mazzotti said tegus are split into two groups, one in the Everglades and another near Tampa on the state’s west coast. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission estimated the size of the South Florida group in the low thousands, and Mazzotti said more than 400 have been trapped in the last year.
“We can’t contain them,” he said.

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