pigrabbitbear writes "Hurricane Sandy is about to ruin a bunch of people's Mondays. In New York City alone, the storm has already shut down public transportation, forced tens of thousands to relocate to higher ground and compelled even more office jockeys to work from home. (Okay, that last part might not be so bad, especially for the folks that don't actually have to work at all.) But if it knocks out power to any of the 26 nuclear power plants that lie directly in its path, the frankenstorm of the century will ruin Tuesday, too. Heck, a nuclear meltdown would be a much bigger problem."
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ananyo writes "In ad 563, more than a century after the Romans gave up control of what is now Geneva, Switzerland, a deadly tsunami on Lake Geneva poured over the city walls. Originating from a rock fall where the River Rhône enters at the opposite end of the lake to Geneva, the tsunami destroyed surrounding villages, people and livestock, according to two known historical accounts. Researchers now report the first geological evidence from the lake to support these ancient accounts. The findings suggest that the region would be wise to evaluate the risk today, with more than one million inhabitants living on the lake's shores, including 200,000 people in Geneva alone. The researchers cannot say exactly what created the tsunami (nothing suggests it was an earthquake), but they propose that the falling rock caused an accumulated heap of sediment in the Rhône delta to collapse. This would have launched the wave and carried the sediment from the delta to the center of the lake, where the researchers detected it. The researchers used the geological information gathered in the study to recreate how the wave might have behaved. Their model predicted that a 13-meter-high wave would have hit Lausanne 15 minutes after the rock fall, with an 8-meter-high wave reaching Geneva after 70 minutes."
Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, headlined by his website. They're holding it up as a blueprint for similar groups: "We're trying to encourage, with some success, other organizations to make use of our facility, so that they will use our website, or have their own websites which are based upon ours, and have the same look and feel and use the same infrastructure." One of the Foundation's other purposes is to oppose organizations like the Good News Club. "What it is, is a group of Fundamentalist Christian organizations, who go into public schools after the school bell has rung for the day. So that it's no longer violating the Constitutional separation of church and state. ... And it's actually the Good News Club people masquerading as teachers, and they're being extremely effective." Dr. Dawkins also talks about his own comments, and explains why they're perceived as offensive: "Ignorance is no crime. There are all sorts of things I'm ignorant of, such as baseball, but I don't regard it as insulting if somebody says I'm ignorant of baseball, it's a simple fact. I am ignorant of baseball. People who claim to be Creationists are almost always ignorant of evolution. That's just a statement of fact, not an insult. It's just a statement. But it sounds like an insult. And I think that accounts for part of what you've picked up about my apparent image of being aggressive and offensive. I'm just telling it clearly." Hit the link below to see the rest of the interview.
Hugh Pickens writes writes "The Atlantic reports that experts in genetics and microbiology are convinced we may be only a few years away from the development of advanced, genetic bio-weapons able to target a single human being based on their DNA. The authors paint a scenario of the development of a virus that causes only mild flu in the general population but when the virus crosses paths with cells containing a very specific DNA sequence, the sequence would act as a molecular key to unlock secondary functions that would trigger a fast-acting neuro-destructive disease that produces memory loss and, eventually, death. The requisite equipment including gene sequencers, micro-array scanners, and mass spectrometers now cost over $1 million but on eBay, it can be had for as little as $10,000. According to Ronald Kessler, the author of the 2009 book In the President's Secret Service, Navy stewards gather bedsheets, drinking glasses, and other objects the president has touched—they are later sanitized or destroyed—in an effort to keep would-be malefactors from obtaining his genetic material. However no amount of Secret Service vigilance can ever fully secure the president's DNA, because an entire genetic blueprint can now be produced from the information within just a single cell. How to protect the President? The authors propose open-sourcing the president's genetic information to a select group of security-cleared researchers who could follow in the footsteps of the computer sciences, where 'red-team exercises,' are extremely common practices so a similar testing environment could be developed for biological war games. 'Advances in biotechnology are radically changing the scientific landscape. We are entering a world where imagination is the only brake on biology,' write the authors. 'In light of this coming synbio revolution, a wider-ranging relationship between scientists and security organizations—one defined by open exchange, continual collaboration, and crowd-sourced defenses—may prove the only way to protect the president.'"
An anonymous reader writes "Scientists have been following and projecting Sandy's path with all the tools at their disposal: ocean buoys, radar and satellite imagery, and computer modeling. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also gathers information from special reconnaissance aircraft, which fly over hurricanes and can drop instruments into them to measure wind speeds, air pressure, temperature, and altitude. The latest data gathered on Hurricane Sandy point to an unprecedented and mighty tempest, scientists say." A couple of our East Coast offices are closed today and people have been told to work from home. Please share your storm stories, and updates while you still have internet access.
An anonymous reader writes "When it comes to abandoned snail shells that hermit crabs expropriate as mobile homes, size matters, for room to grow, room for eggs, and protection from predators. UC Berkeley evolutionary biologist Mark Laidre found that terrestrial hermit crabs on the Pacific shore of Costa Rica congregate in aggressive swap meets where one crab is forced from a relatively large shell, whereupon the rest trade up (one loser and multiple winners, pretty good odds). The loser gets the smallest shell, which means likely doom. Laidre and his colleagues note that most hermit crabs live in the ocean, where there are usually enough abandoned shells to go around so most can live, well, hermit-like lives without much interaction with fellow crabs. Not so on land, at least in Costa Rica."
An Anonymous Coward sent word that the SpaceX Dragon capsule is heading home from the International Space Station. From the article: "The unmanned Dragon space capsule set off from the International Space Station Sunday for the cargo-laden return trip to Earth after successfully delivering its first commercial payload, NASA said. Using a robotic arm, an astronaut aboard the floating laboratory detached and released the capsule at 1329 GMT after an 18-day mission to resupply the space station, the first ever by a privately-owned company, SpaceX. The next step will be to bring the capsule out of orbit by intermittently firing its onboard engines to slow its speed. It is then supposed to parachute into the Pacific Ocean off the California coast at 1920 GMT."
SternisheFan sends this quote from an article at MIT's Technology Review: "In the event that a giant asteroid is headed toward Earth, you’d better hope that it’s blindingly white. A pale asteroid would reflect sunlight — and over time, this bouncing of photons off its surface could create enough of a force to push the asteroid off its course. How might one encourage such a deflection? The answer, according to an MIT graduate student: with a volley or two of space-launched paintballs. Sung Wook Paek, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, says if timed just right, pellets full of paint powder, launched in two rounds from a spacecraft at relatively close distance, would cover the front and back of an asteroid, more than doubling its reflectivity, or albedo. The initial force from the pellets would bump an asteroid off course; over time, the sun’s photons would deflect the asteroid even more."
Hugh Pickens writes "The NY Times reports that some experts say it is almost certain that the U.S. will soon face a year or more without crucial weather satellites that provide invaluable data for predicting storm tracks. This is because the existing polar satellites are nearing or beyond their life expectancies, and the launching of the next replacement, known as JPSS-1, has slipped until early 2017. Polar satellites provide 84 percent of the data used in the main American computer model tracking the course of Hurricane Sandy, which at first was expected to amble away harmlessly, but now appears poised to strike the mid-Atlantic states. The mismanagement of the $13 billion program to build the next generation weather satellites was recently described as a 'national embarrassment' by a top official of the Commerce Department. A launch mishap or early on-orbit failure of JPSS 1 could lead to a data gap of more than 5 years. The second JPSS satellite — JPSS 2 — is not scheduled for launch until 2022. 'There is no more critical strategic issue for our weather satellite programs than the risk of gaps in satellite coverage,' writes Jane Lubchenco, the under-secretary responsible for the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency. 'This dysfunctional program that had become a national embarrassment due to chronic management problems.' As a aside, I know from personal experience that this isn't the first time NOAA has been in this situation. 'In 1992 NOAA's GOES weather satellites were at the end of their useful lives and could have failed at any time,' I wrote as a project manager for AlliedSignal at that time. 'So NOAA made an agreement with the government of Germany to borrow a Meteosat Weather Satellite as a backup and drift it over from Europe to provide weather coverage for the US's Eastern seaboard in the event of an early GOES failure.'"
sciencehabit writes "A tonic of gut microbes may be the secret recipe for treating a common hospital scourge. Researchers have pinpointed the exact mix of microbes required to cure mice of chronic infection by Clostridium difficile. The hard-to-treat bacterium infects alomst 336,000 in the US each year and causes bloating, pain, & diarrhea. A similar bacterial cocktail may be able to replace the current controversial treatment involving the intake of a healthy person's fecal matter to restore the right balance of microbes in the gut."
Hugh Pickens writes "Tricia Romano writes in the NY Times that over the last 10 years, purchasing a hearing aid had become even more difficult and confusing than buying a new car — and almost as expensive. 'I visited Hearx, the national chain where I had bought my previous aids. There, a fastidious young man spread out a brochure for my preferred brand, Siemens, and showed me three models. The cheapest, a Siemens Motion 300, started at $1,600. The top-of-the-line model was more than $2,000 — for one ear. I gasped.' A hearing aid is basically just a microphone and amplifier in your ear so it isn't clear why it costs thousands of dollars while other electronic equipment like cellphones, computers and televisions have gotten cheaper. Russ Apfel, an engineer who designed a technology now found in all hearing aids, says there is no good reason for the high prices. 'The hearing aid industry uses every new thing, like digital or a new algorithm, to raise prices,' says Apfel. 'The semiconductor industry traditionally reduces the cost of products by 10 to 15 percent a year,' he said, but 'hearing aids go up 8 percent a year annually' and have for the last 20 years."
itwbennett writes "From calcium in cameras and germanium in CPUs to selenium in solar cells. Here's a look at how every single element in the periodic table is used in common tech products. For example: Scandium is used in the bulbs in metal halide lamps, which produce a white light source with a high color rendering index that resembles natural sunlight. These lights are often appropriate for the taping of television shows. ... Yttrium helps CRT televisions produce a red color. When used in a compound, it collects energy and passes it to the phosphor. ... Niobium: Lithium niobate is used in mobile phone production, incorporated into surface acoustic wave filters that convert acoustic waves into electrical signals and make smartphone touchscreens work. SAW filters also provide cell signal enhancement, and are used to produce the Apple iPad 2."
Tator Tot writes with this quote from Chemical & Engineering News: "Using today's technologies and knowledge, a scale-up of fledgling algal biofuel production sufficient to meet even 5% of U.S. transportation fuel demand is unsustainable, says a report released last week by the National Research Council. The report examines the efficiency of producing biofuels from microalgae and cyanobacteria with respect to energy, water, and nutrient requirements and finds that the process falls short. The energy from algal biofuel, the report finds, is less than the energy needed to make it. In terms of water, at least 32.5 billion gal would be needed to produce 10 billion gal of algae-based biofuels, the report states. The study also finds that making enough algal biofuels to replace just 5% of U.S. annual transportation fuel needs would require 44–107% of the total nitrogen and 20–51% of the total phosphorus consumed annually in the U.S."
the_newsbeagle writes "Bottom-dwelling fish that live near the wrecked Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant still show elevated radiation levels 19 months after the accident — and those radiation levels are not declining. Researcher Ken Buesseler says this indicates the seafloor sediments are contaminated (abstract), and will remain so for decades. He said, 'I was struck by how [the radiation levels] really haven’t changed over the last year. Since cesium doesn't bioaccumulate to a significant degree, and in fact is lost when fish move to a less contaminated area, this implies that the cesium source is still there'"
hessian sends this excerpt from The New Republic: "[A] person who scored 100 a century ago would score 70 today; a person who tested as average a century ago would today be declared mentally retarded. This bizarre finding — christened the 'Flynn effect' by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray in The Bell Curve — has since snowballed so much supporting evidence that in 2007 Malcolm Gladwell declared in The New Yorker that 'the Flynn effect has moved from theory to fact.' But researchers still cannot agree on why scores are going up. Are we are simply getting better at taking tests? Are the tests themselves a poor measure of intelligence? Or do rising IQ scores really mean we are getting smarter? In spite of his new book's title, Flynn does not suggest a simple yes or no to this last question. It turns out that the greatest gains have taken place in subtests that measure abstract reasoning and pattern recognition, while subtests that depend more on previous knowledge show the lowest score increases. This imbalance may not reflect an increase in general intelligence, Flynn argues, but a shift in particular habits of mind. The question is not, why are we getting smarter, but the much less catchy, why are we getting better at abstract reasoning and little else?"
scibri writes "Once a Tyrannosaurus took down a Triceratops, how did it go about eating it? By looking at the bite marks on Triceratops fossils, a group of paleontologists have pieced together the steps, and created an illustrated guide. Step one? Pull off the head."
concealment writes "State-owned Baotou Steel Rare Earth (Group) Hi-tech Co. said in a statement released through the Shanghai Stock Exchange that it suspended production Tuesday to promote 'healthy development' of rare earths prices. It gave no indication when production would resume and phone calls to the company on Thursday were not answered. Beijing is tightening control over rare earths mining and exports to capture more of the profits that flow to Western makers of lightweight batteries and other products made of rare earths. China has about 30 percent of rare earths deposits but accounts for more than 90 percent of production. Beijing alarmed global manufacturers by imposing export quotas in 2009. It also is trying to force Chinese rare earths miners and processors to consolidate into a handful of government-controlled groups."
coondoggie writes "One of the six giant — 27 feet across, 20 ton — circular mirrors that will be part of the 4,000 sq. ft., Giant Magellan Telescope that ultimately look for stars, galaxies and black holes has been polished and completed — now for the other five. The mirrors will form the heart of the 25-meter Giant Magellan Telescope, and when complete will provide more than 380 square meters, or 4,000 square feet, of light-collecting area." This is a big project, not just a big mirror. From the article: "At the Carnegie Institution for Science's Las Campanas Observatory in northern Chile, earthmovers are completing the removal of 4 million cubic feet of rock to produce a flat platform for the telescope and its supporting buildings. The telescope is scheduled to come online in about 10 years.
Tator Tot writes "Grape pomace, the mashed up skins and stems left over from making wine and grape juice, could serve as a good starting point for ethanol production, according to a new study (from the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry). Due to growing interest in biofuels, researchers have started looking for cheap and environmentally sustainable ways to produce such fuels, especially ethanol. Biological engineer Jean VanderGheynst at the University of California, Davis, turned to grape pomace, because winemakers in California alone produce over 100,000 tons of the fruit scraps each year, with much of it going to waste."