Dead or Meditating?

Dead or Meditating? - James Hamblin - The Atlantic

‘One of the wealthiest spiritual leaders in India has either been dead or in a transcendental meditative state since January. The Telegraph’s Dean Nelson reports from New Delhi that a court has now been asked to settle the matter.

Ashutosh Maharaj is presently in a commercial freezer in his ashram, guarded by elders within the multinational sect or, self-described “socio-spiritual-cultural, not-for profit organization” that he created. His followers insist that Maharaj is in a state of transcendent bliss called samadhi, a central tenet of traditional yoga in which a yogi becomes one with the universe. Upon moving all of your prana currents of energy up your spine and into your head, according to the seminal yoga manual Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a yogi can become “as if dead.”

This would seem to be at odds with the assessment of a team of local physicians who examined Maharaj in February. After performing an ECG that showed no heartbeats, noting that he had no respiratory movements, and seeing that his pupils were fixed and dilated, the physicians declared him “clinically dead.”

The sect’s website states, “His Holiness Shri Ashutosh Maharaj Ji has been in a deep meditative state (samadhi) since January 29, 2014.” Though, a representative from the sect did say on February 3, “About 4:00 PM yesterday, some changes were noticed in his skin (it became greenish). The body was then shifted to a freezer,” which may or may not be part of the traditional protocol for transcendent bliss.

The guru’s son and wife corroborate that he died of a heart attack in January, and that his followers are keeping his body in order to retain control of his financial empire, including the ten billion rupee ($170 million) estate where the corpse resides.’ (The Atlantic).

Is this the end of uncontrollable itching?


scratch'n the itch

New antibody blocks pain and itchiness: ‘Scientists may have developed an antibody that dulls chronic pain and blocks the itch pathway.Image: Promotive/ShutterstockIf it’s proven successful, the antibody could replace side-effect laden pain medications such as opioids.Developed by researchers at Duke University, the highly specialised antibody inhibits the function of a sodium channel called Nav1.7, which is found on neurons and is known to be involved in generation pain and itchiness.’ (Science Alert).

NASA has spotted a HUGE explosion in our neighbouring galaxy

The most distant Gamma-ray burst (Artist's imp...

‘…[A]stronomers suspect it could have been one of the most violent events in the Universe – a gamma ray-burst that, in just a few seconds, could have released as much energy as our Sun in its entire lifetime.If confirmed, this will be the closest gamma-ray burst we’ve ever detected, and will help scientists find out more about these mysterious pulses of energy.Gamma-ray pulses are so powerful, that if one occurred within our galaxy, they could potentially trigger mass extinctions on Earth, explains Dr Alan Duffy, an astronomer at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne.’ (Science Alert).

Addendum (thanks to abby): Possibly not.

“We have re-analysed the prompt XRT data on Swift trigger 600114 (GCN Circ.
16332), taking advantage of the event data.

The initial count rate given in GCN Circ. 16332 was based on raw data from
the full field of view, without X-ray event detection, and therefore may
have been affected by other sources in M31, as well as background hot
pixels. Analysis of the event data (not fully available at the time of the
initial circular) shows the count rate of the X-ray source identified in
GCN Circ. 16332 to have been 0.065 +/- 0.012 count s^-1, consistent with
the previous observations of this source [see the 1SXPS catalogue (Evans
et al. 2014):

We therefore do not believe this source to be in outburst. Instead, it was
a serendipitous constant source in the field of view of a BAT subthreshold

Boycott of luxury hotels owned by Brunei sultan grows

Vogue Magazine is the latest high-profile name to join a boycott luxury hotels owned by the Dorchester Collection. Why? Dorchester properties include The Beverly Hills Hotel, Londons Dorchester, and Le Meurice in Paris, and they’re now owned by the investment agency of the Sultan of Brunei.The Sultan plans to implement Sharia law in Brunei, under which being gay is punishable with death by stoning. Businesses, fashion designers, and celebrities including Stephen Fry, Ellen DeGeneres and Richard Branson are among the bold-faced names publicly shaming the hotel group.’ (Boing Boing).

Suspended Animation Human Trials About to Begin

‘With traumatic injuries, timing in treatment can be the difference between life and death. What if surgeons could hit the pause button, giving them precious additional time to treat the wounds? Suspended animation has been featured in a wide array of fictional films, but could it actually work on humans? The FDA has approved a small study that will allow surgeons at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh to try to suspend human life later this month.’ (I Fucking Love Science).

The Gates of Hell

Xeni Jardin: “The Darvaza gas crater, known to locals as “Door to Hell” or “Gates of Hell” is located in the Karakum Desert of central Turkmenistan (about 150 miles from the nation’s capital).

Also known as Derweze, the pit lures tourists and unsuspecting desert critters: “reportedly, from time to time local spiders are seen plunging into the pit by the thousands, lured to their deaths by the glowing flames.” Smithsonian Magazine has an awesome photo gallery.

As with much on our planet, turns out this site is a man-made hell, as Wikipedia explains:

‘The Derweze area is rich in natural gas. While drilling in 1971, Soviet geologists tapped into a cavern filled with natural gas. The ground beneath the drilling rig collapsed, leaving a large hole with a diameter of 70 metres (230 ft) at 40°15′10″N 58°26′22″E. To avoid poisonous gas discharge, it was decided the best solution was to burn it off. Geologists had hoped the fire would use all the fuel in a matter of days, but the gas is still burning today.’  ” (Boing Boing).

More in US die from prescription narcotics than car crashes, guns, suicide

Xeni Jardin: ‘More than 100 Americans die each day from prescription drug overdoses, mostly painkillers. That’s more daily deaths than from car accidents, gunshot wounds, or suicides. In California, two county District Attorneys are suing five of the biggest drug companies in the world, and the lawsuits include the same kind of arguments once used against big tobacco industry, demanding “public protection.”  ‘ (Boing Boing).

The Heart Association’s Junk Science Diet

A recent Cambridge University analysis of 76 studies involving more than 650,000 people concluded, “The current evidence does not clearly support guidelines that [recommend]… low consumption of total saturated fats.”

Yet the American Heart Association (AHA), in its most recent dietary guidelines, held fast to the idea that we must all eat low-fat diets for optimal heart health. It’s a stance that—at the very best—is controversial, and at worst is dead wrong. As a practicing cardiologist for more than three decades, I agree with the latter—it’s dead wrong.

Why does the AHA cling to recommendations that fly in the face of scientific evidence?

What I discovered was both eye-opening and disturbing. The AHA not only ignored all the other risk factors for heart disease, but it appointed someone with ties to Big Food and bizarre scientific beliefs to lead the guideline-writing panel—just the type of thing that undermines the public’s confidence in the medical community.’ (The Daily Beast via abby).

The Mystery of Go, the Ancient Game That Computers Still Can’t Win

‘In 1994, machines took the checkers crown, when a program called Chinook beat the top human. Then, three years later, they topped the chess world, IBM’s Deep Blue supercomputer besting world champion Garry Kasparov. Now, computers match or surpass top humans in a wide variety of games: Othello, Scrabble, backgammon, poker, even Jeopardy. But not Go. It’s the one classic game where wetware still dominates hardware.

Invented over 2500 years ago in China, Go is a pastime beloved by emperors and generals, intellectuals and child prodigies. Like chess, it’s a deterministic perfect information game — a game where no information is hidden from either player, and there are no built-in elements of chance, such as dice.1 And like chess, it’s a two-person war game. Play begins with an empty board, where players alternate the placement of black and white stones, attempting to surround territory while avoiding capture by the enemy. That may seem simpler than chess, but it’s not. When Deep Blue was busy beating Kasparov, the best Go programs couldn’t even challenge a decent amateur. And despite huge computing advances in the years since — Kasparov would probably lose to your home computer — the automation of expert-level Go remains one of AI’s greatest unsolved riddles.’ (WIRED).

I have always been a Go fan, but not a very good player. Not very many people to play with these days…

R.I.P. Jesse Winchester,1944-2014

I just learned from his website of the April 11 death of the wonderful and unsung musician Jesse Winchester at age 69. Born in the American South, he made a musical name for himself as part of the expatriate draft dodger scene in Canada in the early ’70’s. His recordings were produced by Robbie Robertson of the Band and covered by many notables, including Patti PageElvis CostelloJimmy BuffettJoan BaezAnne MurrayReba McEntireThe Everly Brothers and Emmylou Harris. He was able to tour in the US again after Jimmy Carter‘s 1977 amnesty. Alas, I never got to hear him live but his first two albums had worn out on my turntable by them. I will miss him.

Jesse Winchester

NASA Has Released A Free eBook About Communicating With Aliens

Titled Archaeology, Anthropology and Interstellar Communication and edited by SETI Director of Interstellar Message Composition Douglas Vakoch, the document draws on “issues at the core of contemporary archaeology and anthropology” to prepare us “for contact with an extraterrestrial civilization, should that day ever come.” (io9)

R.I.P. Gerald M. Edelman

Nobel Laureate and ‘Neural Darwinist’ Dies at 84: His original recognition was for his work in immunology, but I came to know of him because

‘[f]rom the mid-1970s on, Dr. Edelman was largely concerned with the brain and the nature of consciousness — “how the brain gives rise to the mind,” as he put it. He rejected the prevalent notion that the best model for the brain was a computer.

Rather, he took a lesson from his earlier work in immunology. He had helped establish that antibodies work according to a process akin to Darwinian selection, and he now postulated a theory of the brain called neuronal group selection, which came to be known as “neural Darwinism.”

Within the dense thicket of nerve cells in the brain, known as neurons, are a vast array of neuronal groups. Dr. Edelman believed that when something happened in the world — something encountered by one of our senses — some neuronal groups responded and were strengthened by a series of biological processes. Those groups, he concluded, became more likely to respond to the same or a similar stimulus the next time, and thus did the brain learn from its own experience and shape itself over the course of a life.’ (NYTimes obituary).

The Sun Ra Centenary

‘Today is the centenary of a bandleader whose artistic legacy, within and beyond jazz, is as deep and as strong as that of Duke Ellington and Count Basie, a musician who took a name that bespeaks similarly grand ambitions and visions: Sun Ra. Ra was a crucial creator of what’s commonly called free jazz, and, unlike his swing-era predecessors, he found himself in the position of many modernists, both musical and otherwise: his work has eluded popularity. His influence and authority, even now, twenty-one years after his death, far outshine his name recognition, but his music remains among the essential experiences and representations of his times.

A musical prodigy in his home town of Birmingham, Alabama, Ra, who was born Herman Blount, had a firm footing in traditional jazz. He moved to Chicago in 1946 and worked as a pianist and arranger with the Fletcher Henderson band, but by that time he was already pursuing advanced musical and philosophical ideas. Fascinated with outer space, he changed his name—legally, to Le Son’y Ra—and worked out a literary vision of a quasi-scientific utopia based on a mythic past, which he ultimately realized in music.’ (New Yorker).

The Hidden Beauty of Airport Runways, and How to Decipher Them

The Hidden Beauty of Airport Runways, and How to Decipher Them | Autopia | WIRED

‘Almost all airport designs are governed by regulations established by the International Civil Aviation Organization to ensure pilots circling Toledo or Timbuktu remain properly oriented and deliver passengers and cargo safely.

Lauren O’Neil turns those strictures into art, with the help of Google Earth. The Brooklyn-based designer has made a meticulous study of airport runways and logged the results on a Tumblr called Holding Pattern. These views reveal beautiful compositions at airports that are nothing special at ground level…’ (WIRED).

Top 10 new species of 2014 announced

‘Although there is an estimated 10 million to 12 million living species in the world, we know surprisingly little about them. According to Quentin Wheeler, founding director of the International Institute for Species Exploration, we have only identified around two million — and species are going extinct faster than they are being identified.

That said, on average 18,000 new species are discovered every year; and, every year since 2008, the IISE and the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry announce a list of the top 10 species discovered the previous year, in order to draw attention to those discoveries. This occurs on 23 May — the birthday of Carolus Linnaeus, the 18th-century Swedish botanist who devised the modern system of scientific names and classifications.

“The majority of people are unaware of the dimensions of the biodiversity crisis,” Dr Wheeler said. “The top 10 is designed to bring attention to the unsung heroes addressing the biodiversity crisis by working to complete an inventory of earth’s plants, animals and microbes. Each year a small, dedicated community of taxonomists and curators substantively improve our understanding of the diversity of life and the wondrous ways in which species have adapted for survival.” ‘ (CNET).

A Brief Investigation of Human-Ghost Intercourse

‘A few weeks ago, Paranormal 2 actress Natasha Blasick made news for claiming to have had sex (two times, actually) with a ghost. Blasick first shared her story on This Morning, a popular British daytime talk show with a real verve for oddball guests and overwrought set design. Speaking remotely with hosts Phillip Schofield and Christine Bleakley, and accompanied by psychic Patti Negri, Blasick says, “I could feel the weight of a body on top of me, and I couldn’t see anybody, but … I could feel the energy, I could feel the warmth … and at first I was very confused with all that, but then I just decided to relax and, um, it was really, really pleasurable.”

As she speaks, a hashtag appears on the screen: #SexWithGhosts.’ (Pacific Standard)

Everything Is Broken

Everything Is Broken — The Message — Medium

‘Once upon a time, a friend of mine accidentally took over thousands of computers. He had found a vulnerability in a piece of software and started playing with it. In the process, he figured out how to get total administration access over a network. He put it in a script, and ran it to see what would happen, then went to bed for about four hours. Next morning on the way to work he checked on it, and discovered he was now lord and master of about 50,000 computers. After nearly vomiting in fear he killed the whole thing and deleted all the files associated with it. In the end he said he threw the hard drive into a bonfire. I can’t tell you who he is because he doesn’t want to go to Federal prison, which is what could have happened if he’d told anyone that could do anything about the bug he’d found. Did that bug get fixed? Probably eventually, but not by my friend. This story isn’t extraordinary at all. Spend much time in the hacker and security scene, you’ll hear stories like this and worse.

It’s hard to explain to regular people how much technology barely works, how much the infrastructure of our lives is held together by the IT equivalent of baling wire.

Computers, and computing, are broken.’ (Medium).

Revisit the Golden Age of Max’s Kansas City

Film & Audio From The Velvet Underground, The Ramones, Devo & Talking Heads: ‘You know the old joke: “if you don’t like the neighborhood, wait ten minutes.” New Yorkers know it the other way around, too. If you like the neighborhood, wait ten minutes; your local haunts will disappear. But while the physical markers of my own New York era shutter one by one, during said era all I ever wanted was for it to be the late 70s again, when you could catch such upstarts as the Talking Heads, Devo, the Ramones, Television, or Patti Smith at Max’s Kansas City. Or even earlier in the decade, when Max’s served as the NYC home base for David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, and even a young Bruce Springsteen.’ (Open Culture).

Adrienne Rich: From an Atlas of the Difficult World

I know you are reading this poem
late, before leaving your office
of the one intense yellow lamp-spot and the darkening window
in the lassitude of a building faded to quiet
long after rush-hour. I know you are reading this poem
standing up in a bookstore far from the ocean
on a grey day of early spring, faint flakes driven
across the plains’ enormous spaces around you.
I know you are reading this poem
in a room where too much has happened for you to bear
where the bedclothes lie in stagnant coils on the bed
and the open valise speaks of flight
but you cannot leave yet. I know you are reading this poem
as the underground train loses momentum and before running
up the stairs
toward a new kind of love
your life has never allowed.
I know you are reading this poem by the light
of the television screen where soundless images jerk and slide
while you wait for the newscast from the intifada.
I know you are reading this poem in a waiting-room
of eyes met and unmeeting, of identity with strangers.
I know you are reading this poem by fluorescent light
in the boredom and fatigue of the young who are counted out,
count themselves out, at too early an age. I know
you are reading this poem through your failing sight, the thick
lens enlarging these letters beyond all meaning yet you read on
because even the alphabet is precious.
I know you are reading this poem as you pace beside the stove
warming milk, a crying child on your shoulder, a book in your
because life is short and you too are thirsty.
I know you are reading this poem which is not in your language
guessing at some words while others keep you reading
and I want to know which words they are.
I know you are reading this poem listening for something, torn
between bitterness and hope
turning back once again to the task you cannot refuse.
I know you are reading this poem because there is nothing else
left to read
there where you have landed, stripped as you are.

— Adrienne Rich (1929-2012)

Adrienne Rich: For the Dead

I dreamed I called you on the telephone
to say: Be kinder to yourself
but you were sick and would not answer
The waste of my love goes on this way
trying to save you from yourself
I have always wondered about the left-over
energy, the way water goes rushing down a hill
long after the rains have stopped
or the fire you want to go to bed from
but cannot leave, burning-down but not burnt-down
the red coals more extreme, more curious
in their flashing and dying
than you wish they were
sitting long after midnight

— Adrienne Rich (1929-2012)

Anti-Evolution Bills Are Defeated In Missouri

‘Two proposed pieces of legislation—including one that would have required school districts to allow parents to have their children excused from learning about evolution—were left to die in committee when the Missouri state legislature adjourned. The news comes as a relief to educators who said the legislation would have “eviscerated the teaching of biology” in Missouri…’ (io9).

R.I.P. Dr. Sidney J. Blatt, 85

Psychologist Developed ‘Double Helix’ Theory of Depression: ‘Dr. Blatt was a widely published Freudian analyst at Yale in the 1970s when he began arguing in essays and scientific reports that personality developed along two intertwined pathways, one focused on identity and the other on relationships.

Disruptions in either pathway could cause identical symptoms of depression, he wrote, yet the two conditions were distinct and called for different treatment approaches. The identity-based depression — “I am a failure” — responded well to classical psychoanalysis, with the therapist as a passive listener, helping to elicit growth in an independent sense of self; the relationship-based type — “I am unlovable” — could be relieved more effectively by a more assertive therapist, guiding the formation of relationships.’ (NYTimes obituary)

Mass Murder Relies on People Like Us


English: Nyamata Memorial Site, skulls. Nyamat...

An Interview With Thierry Cruvellier: You’re the only journalist who has attended all the post-Cold War international tribunals. You’ve spent years watching these trials. What drew you to them? What kept you going back? How has your view of them evolved?

‘I was drawn to war-crimes justice because of Rwanda. The 1994 genocide was a defining event for our generation. I began working in Rwanda in the immediate aftermath, so covering the trials seemed like a logical way to keep working on this event. And I quickly realized how fascinating these trials could be, at so many different levels: historical, political, diplomatic, legal, psychological, philosophical. My great interest in the trials was as a window, on the one hand, into our human condition in extreme circumstances, and the choices individuals make (or lack) in such situations; and, on the other hand, into the historical complexity of the dynamic of genocide at the central level.’ (The New Yorker).

Neutron death mystery has physicists stymied


‘Despite decades of taking measurements, scientists cannot agree on how long neutrons live. Neutrons are stable inside atoms, but on their own they decay in about 15 minutes, more or less, into a few other particles. Exactly how much more or less is the sticking point. Each experiment seems to yield a different answer.

The lack of resolution is frustrating. Understanding the lifetime of the neutron is important not only for knowledge’s sake but also to answer other more fundamental questions about new physics beyond the known particles and processes in the universe… “We can’t leave this disagreement just hanging out there.” ‘ (Nature News & Comment).

Supermassive Black Hole At Galactic Centre May Be Wormhole In Disguise

Supermassive Black Hole At The Centre Of The Galaxy May Be A Wormhole In Disguise, Say Astronomers — The Physics arXiv Blog — Medium

‘The presence of a wormhole would actually solve a major problem of galaxy formation. In recent years, astronomers have observed what appear to be supermassive black holes at the centre of many galaxies. Indeed, many believe that supermassive black holes are necessary for galaxies to form in the first place— they provide the gravitational pull to hold galaxies together in their early stages.

But if that’s true, how do supermassive black holes become so massive so quickly? After all, the one at the centre of our galaxy must have been in place about 100 million years after the Big Bang. That doesn’t leave much time to grow.

A wormhole, on the other hand, is a primordial object formed in the blink of an eye after creation. So if wormholes did form in this way, they would be present in the early universe to trigger the formation of the first galaxies.’ (The Physics arXiv Blog — Medium).

How to Tell When Someone Is Lying

‘Many of us believe that we can tell when someone else is lying, and, over the years, a folklore has developed around the facial and physical cues that can give someone away. Liars don’t look you straight in the eye. When someone is lying, he looks up and to the side, as if searching for something. A liar fidgets and seems somehow nervous. Sometimes, he’ll scratch or pull his ear. He’ll hesitate, as if he’s not sure he wants to tell you something. These, however, are all “old wives’ tales,” Leanne ten Brinke, a psychologist at the University of California at Berkeley whose work focusses on detecting deception, told me. “The empirical literature just doesn’t bear that out.” ‘ (The New Yorker).

Scientists Discover How Octopuses Avoid Tying Themselves In Knots

‘There are many things that make the octopus a strange creature, but one of them is that each of its eight arms has an essentially infinite number of positions, and yet each arm operates independently. How does an octopus keep from tying itself in knots?

A group of Israeli and American researchers think they’ve discovered how the octopus keeps its arms in order. The problem is that octopus arms behave as if they have a “mind of their own.” ‘ (io9)

A Eulogy for Twitter


English: The content of tweets on Twitter, bas...
The content of tweets on Twitter, based on the data gathered by Pear Analytics in 2009.

Adrienne LaFrance and Robinson Meyer: ‘Something is wrong on Twitter. And people are noticing.

Or, at least, the kind of people we hang around with on Twitter are noticing. And it’s maybe not a very important demographic, this very weird and specific kind of user: audience-obsessed, curious, newsy. Twitter’s earnings last quarter, after all, were an improvement on the period before, and it added 14 million new users for a total of 255 million. The thing is: Its users are less active than they once were. Twitter says these changes reflect a more streamlined experience, but we have a different theory: Twitter is entering its twilight.’ (The Atlantic).

Watch the Remarkable Shrinking of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot

‘…[S]ightings since the 1930s have shown the spot shrinking. A recent Hubble photo (seen above) observes the Great Red Spot at its smallest size yet —- just over 10,000 miles across, barely big enough for 1.3 Earths to fit inside. Scientists are studying small eddies at the edge of the storm that may somehow be sapping it of its strength. Will this monstrous cyclone continue to downsize? Researchers can’t say for sure.’ (WIRED).

Man drives 40,000 miles a year saving dogs from ‘kill shelters’

“For the past ten years, Greg Mahle has driven 40,000 miles a year rescuing dogs from overpopulated “high volume kill shelters.” He and fellow volunteers run Rescue Road Trips, LLC, based in Ohio. Operating primarily in the deep South, they pick up rescued dogs and take them to other areas of the country for adoption. The organization is said to help save about 2,000 dogs each year. From The Newark Advocate:

‘Every other week, Mahle leaves his wife and stepson, traveling from their home in Zanesville to Houston, Texas, where he starts to pick up dogs destined for their new homes. Moving on from Texas, he stops in nine Southern states, picking up an average of 80 dogs on the second leg of his 4,200-mile journey.

“Some of them are scared,” Mahle said. “They don’t know what’s happening. Some have come from really bad situations, but a little love and reassurance is just what they need.”

Once secured in their crates on the truck, Mahle said the dogs perk up as if they know they’re off to a better life.

“It’s like being in a truck full of lottery winners,” he said with a laugh. “You can see it in their eyes and their disposition. They know something good is going to happen to them.” ‘ ” (Boing Boing).

13 Lectures from Allen Ginsberg’s “History of Poetry” Course (1975)

‘We’ve previously featured some of Ginsberg’s Naropa lectures here at Open Culture, including his 1980 short course on Shakespeare’s The Tempest and his lecture on “Expansive Poetics” from 1981. Today, we bring you several selections from his lengthy series of lectures on the “History of Poetry,” which he delivered in 1975. Currently, thirteen of Ginsberg’s lectures in the series are available online through the Internet Archive, and they are each well worth an attentive listen.’ (Open Culture). I am going to sit down with these when I have a chance.

Republicans’ deadly political strategy: Ruining our country hurts the Democratic Party

Mitch McConnell

‘The majority of Americans – depending on which survey you look at, between 60 and 75 percent – cannot name which political party controls the House of Representatives, which party controls the Senate, or either.

Because most Americans don’t know who controls Congress, when Congress misbehaves, as they have been doing for six years, most Americans aren’t sure who to blame.

Enter the Republican Chaos Strategy, based entirely on this statistical and political reality.

And common sense suggests that well over 90 percent of Americans know that Barack Obama is the president and that he is a Democrat.

The Republicans know this, too, and it’s the other half of their strategy.

Therefore, what the Republicans know, is that if they can cause damage to the American economy and to American working people, the average voter, not realizing it was exclusively the Republicans who did it, are going to assume that the president – and the Democratic Party he is a member of – must bear some or maybe even all of the responsibility.

It’s a brilliant strategy: Damage the country and you damage the Democratic Party.’ (

Reconstructing our medical evidence base by algorithmic trust assignment across the medical literature

Statuette of ancient Egyptian physician Imhote...
Statuette of ancient Egyptian physician Imhotep, the first physician from antiquity known by name. 

‘Over the past two decades it has become apparent that the knowledge base for clinical medicine has been corrupted by publication bias, positive result bias, the increasingly strained competition for funding and tenure, and a non-trivial amount of outright fraud.

Perhaps as a result of these problems we see a very high level of research result contradiction and retraction. Sometimes it seems everything we believed in 1999 was reversed by 2014. Retrospective studies of the sustainability of medical research has taught us that the wise physician is better to read textbooks and ignore anything that doesn’t get to the front page of the New York Times

We can’t change the past, but what do we do with the medical literature we’ve inherited? It is vast, but we know the quality is mediocre. Can we salvage the best of it?’ (Gordon’s Notes)

The Astronomer Who Wanted to Rearrange the Solar System, Using Nukes

‘CalTech astronomer Fritz Zwicky was the first to conceive of dark matter, supernovas and neutron stars. He also had a theory about colonizing the solar system using nuclear bombs. We could terraform other planets, he argued, by pulverizing them and then moving them closer or further from the sun.

If you’ve never heard of Zwicky, you’re not alone. Virtually the entire public was unaware of his accomplishments, largely due to his abrasive personality and unique gift for alienating himself from the scientific establishment. “Astronomers are spherical bastards,” he once said. “No matter how you look at them they are just bastards.”

And, while many of his theories were proven right, Zwicky also advocated what could be charitably described as “eccentric” ideas—most notably, his proposals for using nuclear explosives to reconstruct the solar system.’ (io9)

RIP, H.R. Giger, 1940-2014



Swiss public TV was first to report that surrealist science fiction illustrator

H.R. Giger

has died at 74. Giger created the designs for the Alien movies, the notorious poster included with the

Dead Kennedys


, and many other iconic works.’ (

Boing Boing


For 20 Days, This App Connects Two Strangers Who Will Never Meet

The new MIT Media Lab building (E14)
Media Lab

‘Developers at MIT Media Lab’s Playful Systems group are working on an iPhone app that they say will use common mobile features to foster compassion and understanding between people. As its title implies, 20 Day Stranger will match two complete strangers and allow them to see descriptions of each other’s activities that are intentionally vague (such as “at a cafe” or “near an airport”) for just under three weeks. The app uses the phone’s sensors as well as general data from services like Instagram and Google Maps to give just enough information without revealing private details such as names or specific addresses.

The app is the brainchild of Tinsley Galyean, who co-directs MIT’s Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values and broached the idea to the development group. “[It] isn’t to make your life transparent,” says Playful Systems director Kevin Slavin, “it’s to give just enough to wonder and imagine and ultimately, to care. It is explicitly about producing imagination and conjecture, not transmitting information.” Indeed, the app only serves to link two anonymous people who, at the end, will ideally gain some insights into everyday living.’ (Big Think).

We’ve Finally Found Our Sun’s Long-Lost Sister

‘For the first time ever, astronomers have identified a star that emerged from the same cloud of dust and gas as our own. Intriguingly, there’s a “small, but not zero” chance that our sister sun hosts planets hospitable to life.

For those of you who have been watching the rebooted Cosmos series, this announcement couldn’t have been more timely. As Neil deGrasse Tyson just noted in a recent episode, our sun, along with others, formed in a massive cloud of dust and gas called a nebula. Consequently, it must have so-called “stellar siblings” floating around somewhere relatively near, but to date none have ever been found. Well, until now.’ (io9)

How To Fight A Bear And Win

‘The most common large predators you’ll encounter outdoors in North America, bears also really, really, really want to eat your food and sometimes even you. Here’s how to keep them from getting either.’ (Gizmodo)

The Pharmacology of Lethal Injection

‘…The purpose of these drugs is two-fold. First, they are used to induce death in a manner as painless as possible for the condemned. Second, the drug combination is also intended for the audience to view the process as peaceful and medical, without any twitching of the body, vocalizations, or any reflex actions that can still occur while one is unconscious.

The three types of drugs and their purposes, as originally proposed and used in order, are as follows:

  1. a sedating drug to render the condemned unconscious (barbiturates such as sodium thiopental or pentobarbital)
  2. a neuromuscular blocking drug to cause paralysis of all muscles except the heart (such as pancuronium or vercuronium bromide)
  3. a lethal dose of potassium chloride to arrest the heart

I want to address these drugs in reverse order to illustrate why their successive administration is so important.’ — David Kroll (Forbes).

Anti-surveillance mask

‘If the world starts looking like a scene from “Matrix 3” where everyone has Agent Smith’s face, you can thank Leo Selvaggio. His rubber mask aimed at foiling surveillance cameras features his visage, and if he has his way, plenty of people will be sporting the Personal Surveillance Identity Prosthetic in public. It’s one of three products made by the Chicago-based artist’s URME Surveillance, a venture dedicated to “protecting the public from surveillance and creating a safe space to explore our digital identities.”…

The 3D-printed resin mask, made from a 3D scan of Selvaggio’s face and manufactured by, renders his features and skin tone with surprising realism, though the eyes peeping out from the eye holes do lend a certain creepiness to the look.

Creepiness is, of course, part of the point here, as the interdisciplinary artist takes a his-face-in-everyone’s-face approach to exploring the impact of an increasingly networked world on personal identity.’ (CNET).

Draw My Left! No, My Other Left! A Hidden Bias In Art Revealed


Krulwich Wonders… ‘Look at this guy. He is half-smiley, half-frowny. I drew the mouth carefully to make it equal parts sad and happy.

But when you look at him — take him in whole — would you say he’s having a good day or a bad day? Most people would say: good day. He seems a little more smiley than not.

That’s because, says science writer Sam Kean, when we look at somebody, the left side of that person’s face is more emotionally powerful and “determines the overall emotional tenor.”

So if his left side is happy and his right side is sad, left wins — the whole face feels happy-ish. What is equal is made unequal. It’s as if when I look at you, instead of taking you in with one visual gulp, I’m scanning your face from left to right and the left side feels more dominant.

Why would that be?’ (NPR).

The big sleep

The extreme survival tricks of hibernators could help us overcome life-threatening injuries:Anna Bågenholm was on a skiing holiday in Norway when she crashed head first into a frozen stream and became trapped under the ice. When rescuers finally arrived, the Swedish radiologist had been submerged for 80 minutes, and her heart and breathing had stopped. Doctors at Tromsø University Hospital recorded a body temperature of 13.7°C, the lowest ever observed in a victim of accidental hypothermia. By all accounts she appeared to have drowned. And yet, after careful rewarming and ten days spent in intensive care, Bågenholm woke up. She went on to recover almost fully from her cold brush with death. Under normal circumstances, even a few minutes trapped underwater would be enough to drown a person, and yet Bågenholm had survived for over an hour. Somehow the cold had preserved her.’ (Mosaic).

A new element has been confirmed

A new element has been confirmed (Science Alert)

‘Australian scientists have helped to create a brand spanking new element that will soon be added to the periodic table.

The super-heavy element 117 (for now, it’s also temporarily being named ununseptium) was created in a lab by a team of international scientists. Its atoms match the heaviest atoms ever observed, which are 40 percent heavier than lead.’ (Science Alert).

Suspended Coffee

‘Sylvia Poggioli… tells the story for NPR about coffee shops all over Europe that offer caffè sospeso, or suspended coffee. Suspended coffee is when a customer comes in for a cup of coffee and they pay for two so that someone else can have a drink for free. The barista would keep a log, and when someone popped his head in the doorway of the cafe and asked, “Is there anything suspended?” the barista would nod and serve him a cup of coffee … for free. It’s an elegant way to show generosity: an act of charity in which donors and recipients never meet each other, the donor doesn’t show off and the recipient doesn’t have to show gratitude.There is a Coffee Sharing website with a list of all the shops that do Suspended Coffee. And then there’s a coffee shop in Kentucky that offers a similar model, but with a twist. At A Cup of Common Wealth customers can buy a specific drink for a specific person or type of person. Such as “a medium coffee for a a middle school teacher” or “an iced latte for an Alaskan traveler”.’  (Shawn Blanc).

Pig Heart Transplants For Humans Could Be On Their Way

‘About a year ago, scientists grafted genetically modified pigs’ hearts into baboons. And now, the team reports that the baboons and their pig hearts are doing just fine. The engineering grafts haven’t been rejected, and ones like it may be ready for humans with end stage heart failure one day soon.

The biggest challenge with transplants using animal organs (or xenotransplantation) is preventing the hosts from seeing their donor parts as foreign. In the past, organs that haven’t been genetically tweaked last no more than six months in primates before they’re rejected. One of the reasons pigs were chosen for this study is because their anatomy is already compatible with humans; pig valves are already being swapped for human heart valves.

To further help pig parts evade our immune systems, a team from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the U.S. National Institutes of Health added several human genes to the pig genome — while removing (or knocking out) genes that would trigger immune responses in humans…’ (I Fucking Love Science).