Mystery object in weird orbit beyond Neptune cannot be explained

‘ “I hope everyone has buckled their seatbelts because the outer solar system just got a lot weirder.” That’s what Michele Bannister, an astronomer at Queens University, Belfast tweeted on Monday. She was referring to the discovery of a TNO or trans-Neptunian object, something which sits beyond Neptune in the outer solar system. This one is 160,000 times fainter than Neptune, which means the icy world could be less than 200 kilometres in diameter. It’s currently above the plane of the solar system and with every passing day, it’s moving upwards – a fact that makes it an oddity.

The TNO orbits in a plane that’s tilted 110 degrees to the plane of the solar system. What’s more, it swings around the sun backwards unlike most of the other objects in the solar system. With this in mind, the team that discovered the TNO nicknamed it “Niku” after the Chinese adjective for rebellious. To grasp how truly rebellious it is, remember that a flat plane is the signature of a planetary system, as a star-forming gas cloud creates a flat disk of dust and gas around it. “Angular momentum forces everything to have that one spin direction all the same way,” says Bannister. “It’s the same thing with a spinning top, every particle is spinning the same direction.”

That means anything that doesn’t orbit within the plane of the solar system or spins in the opposite direction must have been knocked off course by something else. “It suggests that there’s more going on in the outer solar system than we’re fully aware of,” says Matthew Holman at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, part of the team that discovered Niku using the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System 1 Survey (Pan-STARRS 1) on Haleakala, Maui…’

Source: New Scientist

Move over Perseid, This Is the Future of Space-Based Entertainment

‘The Perseid meteor shower is at its peak—a stellar show that occurs every August and can be seen by anyone living in the Northern Hemisphere. But what if we didn’t have to wait till August or the next meteor shower–what if we could create our own?

…Japanese company ALE says it’s working on creating the future of entertainment in space as part of it’s project Sky Canvas. Yup, artificial “meteor” showers. The company says it has plans to release a satellite capable of mimicking these stellar shows into orbit within the next two years…’

Source: Big Think

Army Veteran Creates a Cyborg Stingray Guided by Lasers, Powered by a Rat’s Heart

‘This is a cyborg stingray. It’s as big as a penny, guided by a laser, and moves on its own when exposed to blue light. And it’s the brainchild of Kevin Kit Parker…

“I had this whole idea of a laser-guided, tissue-engineered stingray made out of rat,” Parker told As he described the idea to mechanical engineer Sung-Jin Park, he had a less than enthusiastic response. “He looked at me like a hog staring at a wristwatch,” Parker continued. “He was like, ‘Have I trusted my career to this yahoo’? I think he thought I was unglued.” …’

Source: Big Think

Study: Greenland shark could be 400 years old

‘At four to five meters in length, the Greenland shark (Squaliformes, Somniosus microcephalus) is the largest fish native to the Arctic waters. Getting that big must take a while, and scientists have long known that these sharks grow less than one cm per year. So these sharks probably live a very long time, but little was known about their longevity and maturation.

In an investigation recently published in Science, a team of researchers used radiocarbon dating to put together a timeline of the Greenland shark’s lifespan.Because Greenland sharks lack bones—they’re cartilaginous fish—conventional methods of tracking growth, like carbon dating of bones, won’t work. Instead, the team used a modified radiocarbon dating technique that has worked before on other boneless animals: tracking the chronology of the eye lens. The eye lens nucleus is composed of inert proteins. The central portion of the lens is formed during prenatal development, and during growth, the tissue retains the original proteins, which were largely made before birth.

As a result, carbon-dating these proteins can help determine how long ago the shark was born. For this work, researchers performed radiocarbon dating on the eyes of 28 female sharks that were collected in Greenland during scientific surveys that took place between 2010 and 2013. According to the radiocarbon dating, these sharks live at least 272 years…’

Source: Ars Technica

Meet the worst ants in the world

‘L. humile isn’t your stereotypical ant, with one queen and many workers laboring in a single nest. Argentine ants have multiple queens per colony, and there can be as many as 300 queens for every 1,000 workers. This makes them virtually impossible to kill with poison bait traps, which work on the principle that workers bring the tasty toxins back to the queen, whose death destroys the colony. When you have a lot of queens, that’s not an effective strategy.

Argentine ants are unusual in another way, too. They don’t build one large nest with lots of tunnels and rooms. Instead, they live in constantly shifting networks of temporary, shallow nests that change from day to day. .. Queens and workers are used to transiting from nest to nest, rarely staying put for long.

Despite their name, Argentine ants have now lived in the United States for more than 120 ant generations, which are roughly a year long due to their short lifespans. It’s been a struggle. The environment in North America is dramatically different from the tropical ecosystems where the ants originally evolved. These ants had to become an urban species to survive, living almost exclusively in cities and agricultural areas where plumbing and irrigation provide the water they desperately need. Entirely thanks to humans, Argentine ants have now become the dominant ant species in California cities, driving out dozens of native species. Today they’ve actually invaded most major landmasses in the world, including North America, Europe, Australia, Africa, Asia, and quite a few islands…’

Source: Ars Technica

Proton Radius Puzzle Deepens With New Measurement

‘The puzzle is that the proton — the positively charged particle found in atomic nuclei, which is actually a fuzzy ball of quarks and gluons — is measured to be ever so slightly larger when it is orbited by an electron than when it is orbited by a muon, a sibling of the electron that’s 207 times as heavy but otherwise identical. It’s as if the proton tightens its belt in the muon’s presence. And yet, according to the reigning theory of particle physics, the proton should interact with the muon and the electron in exactly the same way. As hundreds of papers have pointed out since the proton radius puzzle was born in 2010, a shrinking of the proton in the presence of a muon would most likely signify the existence of a previously unknown fundamental force — one that acts between protons and muons, but not between protons and electrons…’

Source: Quanta Magazine

If You’ve Ever Wanted to Watch a Meteor Shower, Tonight May Be the Night

‘Every year, the Perseids are a spectacular show. But this year, they’re something even more special than usual, and you shouldn’t miss it. Here’s how, when, and where to watch the Perseid meteor shower—and what you should be looking for when you do.

The Perseids are an annual meteor shower that shows up right at the height of summer in August. Usually, the shower comes to an impressive peak of almost 100 meteors per hour. That number is already enough to tie it with the Geminids for the most prolific shower of the year, but this year we should see rates of almost double the normal amount, with 160-200 meteors each hour. It’s called an outburst—and this is the first one we’ve seen in the Perseids since 2009. The already considerably thick blanket of meteors we see during the Perseids is due to the trail of dust and debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle. This year, however, the comet’s trail is pulled a little closer to us by Jupiter’s gravity—and that means that instead of skirting the trail’s edges, our planet passes straight through the thick of it, doubling the amount of debris we see burn up beautifully in our atmosphere as meteors…’

Source: Gizmodo


I’ll be out there… Will you?

Trump’s 2nd Amendment comment wasn’t a joke. It was “stochastic terrorism.”

‘The explicit-sounding call to violence is bad enough. But even worse is that, intentionally or not, Trump has been laying the groundwork for this idea for a while. From his talk of “rigged elections” to his suggestion that we need Russia to hack Clinton’s emails if the Justice Department won’t indict her, Trump’s message is clear: Clinton is so corrupt, and the system that favors her is so broken, that our ordinary democratic and legal processes aren’t equipped to handle it. She should be thrown in jail, but she probably won’t be.It’s a pretty short step from that idea to violent fantasies of going outside the law for real justice — even from official sources like the Republican Party of Riverside County, California, which recently tweeted a picture of a hangman captioned “Ready For Hillary.”

And there’s an unsettling parallel for this kind of rhetoric and what it can lead to, as law professor David S. Cohen pointed out Wednesday in a Rolling Stone op-ed: anti-abortion terrorism. Cohen, who has studied and written about violence and intimidation against abortion providers, points out that while anti-abortion violence is usually carried out by a “lone wolf” — like the Planned Parenthood shooter in Colorado Springs — it’s also incited, quite predictably, by the inflammatory rhetoric of prominent groups or officials. Cohen says that this phenomenon is called “stochastic terrorism”: using language and other forms of communication to incite random acts of violence that are “statistically predictable but individually unpredictable.” It’s not a legal term, but it can help us understand just how dangerous Trump’s statements are…’

Source: Vox

At Campaign Rally, Donald Trump Suggests Hillary Clinton Be Shot To Death

‘In a video clip circulating today from a campaign event in Wilmington, NC, Trump jokes that the “Second Amendment, people” might be the only thing that could stop a President Clinton from selecting Supreme Court justices during her term. This appears to be a fancy Trump way of saying to his “base” that she should totally be assassinated, and specifically, shot to death with a gun…’

Source: Boing Boing

Is there really another way to interpret this statement?

Dear Hillary: How Very Dare You!

‘Members of the press, in their misguided attempt to be “balanced”, love to point out that we face a presidential contest between the two least-popular candidates ever. What they fail to do is analyze their own complicity in blindly adhering to the cartoon version of Hillary Clinton. Trump is unpopular — even with many Republicans who weakly support him — because of his stated positions. Secretary Clinton is unpopular largely because of an aggressive campaign of fictions and slander. That campaign has succeeded largely because of systemic misogyny…’

Source: Social Justice For All

Watch a Keralan Dancer’s Impressively Intricate Facial Twitches

‘Dressed in a long white tunic decorated with beads and glass, and gold headgear covered in a patchwork of brightly colored stones, the Ottamthullal dancer is almost ready to take the stage. Just time to practice some of the quivering facial expressions that form a vital part of the act. As this video shows, the Ottamthullal performer is able to contort his face muscles with incredible elasticity, variety and speed…’

Source: Atlas Obscura

The Linguistic Turf Wars Over the Singular ‘They’

‘Of all the turf wars that have complicated the landscape of grammar over the past few hundred years, the most complicated and frustrating may be that of the singular they.It may be the most controversial word use in the English language—because it highlights a hole where a better-fitting word should go.

It creates a conflict between writers and editors who want things to follow the natural symmetry of Latin, and people who find they the only logical option for referring to a single person without a gender attached.

And there has been a lot written about it—it’s something of a hot topic this year, thanks to a vote by the American Dialect Society to name they its word of the year for 2015. “In the past year, new expressions of gender identity have generated a deal of discussion, and singular they has become a particularly significant element of that conversation,” Ben Zimmer, the chairman of ADS’ New Words Committee, explained back in January. “While many novel gender-neutral pronouns have been proposed, they has the advantage of already being part of the language.” …’

Source: Atlas Obscura


I am a firm believer in and a strong user of the singluar ‘they’. How about you?


‘It is entirely uncontroversial to state that the national media have consistently treated Hillary with profound contempt. We need to understand why #HillaryCoverageIsCrap — and we need to fight back against the ritual humiliation of the first woman with a viable shot at the presidency…’

Source: Melissa McEwan, Blue Nation Review

“Monkey Selfie” case headed to U.S. Court of Appeals

‘In 2011 a crested macaque in Indonesia took a selfie using photographer David J. Slater’s camera. After Slater claimed copyright of the photo, PETA sued on behalf of the monkey, claiming it was the copyright holder. But in January a federal judge tossed out the lawsuit, ruling that non-human animals are not allowed to own a copyright. Earlier this week PETA filed an appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit…’

Source: Boing Boing

Rubio: No abortions for Zika-infected women

‘Sen. Marco Rubio said Saturday that he doesn’t believe a pregnant woman infected with the Zika virus should have the right to an abortion — even if she had reason to believe the child would be born with severe microcephaly…’

Source: Politico

This Man Will Get the World’s First Human Head Transplant Procedure

‘Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero is planning to perform the first-ever head transplant in December 2017. He will put the head of a terminally ill, wheelchair-bound Russian citizen Valery Spiridonov (31) on an entirely new body.  Spiridonov, a computer scientist, has Werdnig-Hoffman disease, a rare and incurable spinal muscular atrophy. As the disease is sure to kill him, Spiridonov sees the head transplant as his one shot to have a new body.

The controversial surgeon Canavero, dubbed by some “Dr. Frankenstein,” has been criticized for intending to do a possibly unethical and certainly dangerous operation. There are numerous things that could go wrong in such a medical feat that’s never been successfully carried out on humans. The main difficulty is seen in the fusion of the spinal cords. One positive precedent has been set earlier this year by a team of Chinese surgeons, who successfully transplanted a monkey’s head…’

Source: Big Think

We Need To Save Large Mammals From Extinction Before It’s Too Late

‘The species identified include elephants, gorillas, rhinoceroses, lions, tigers, bears (oh my), wolves, and other large mammals. And it’s a serious problem. According to the paper, 59 percent of the world’s largest carnivores and 60 percent of the largest herbivores are facing extinction, particularly in Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, where they are prey to illegal hunting, deforestation, human population growth and expansion, and other factors that we can control to an extent…’

Source: Gizmodo

The Arcane Rules That Would Kick In If Trump Drops Out

‘A presidential or vice-presidential candidate had never quit a race in modern history before the Eagleton affair, but this year might offer an even grander political spectacle, thanks to Donald Trump. In recent days, Republicans have been expressing increasing nervousness about Donald Trump’s candidacy, with many urging him to quit. Trump might also quit on his own volition, having done the math and decided that bowing out now is better than losing by a landslide in November.

Would Trump actually quit,,,[W]e’ve never seen a candidate like him, and for someone who seemingly entered the race on a whim it wouldn’t be outrageous to see him exit in a similar fashion. And from the standpoint of Republican Party rules, Trump quitting, while unprecedented, would, in fact be a reasonably easy problem to solve. That’s mostly because the party’s rules lay out pretty clearly what would happen next… The rules …define a simple process of replacement: another vote by members of the RNC that could happen at a second national convention or remotely. Whichever candidate gets a majority of the votes, wins the nomination. (The candidates, in this scenario, could come from anywhere—not just those candidates that ran in the primaries and caucuses, which is why some Republicans see House Speaker Paul Ryan getting the nod.)

A far trickier problem, however, are the actual ballots. And it’s that process, separate from the nominating process, that could be a bit messier, and is also where timing becomes important. In the U.S., each individual state controls the election process, from making and printing ballots, to counting votes on Election Day, to certifying election results.Election law in the U.S. is a 50-state patchwork. From voting machines to filing deadlines, each state has different rules. And it’s the deadlines in particular that might concern party officials should Trump quit. That’s because the closer it gets to the November election, the harder and harder it will get to keep Trump’s name from appearing on state ballots, as state deadlines for certifying nominees’ names come and go.

It’s already impossible, in fact, to keep Trump off all 50: according to the Daily Beast, Delaware’s deadline to certify names for the ballot has already passed, meaning that even if Trump quits today you’ll still be able to vote for him in Delaware in three months. Even so, most of these deadlines aren’t until September or October, meaning that, for the next few weeks at least, Republicans could likely still get another name on the ballot in most states by November.

State control of elections provides for other sources of potential mayhem, however, because of the Electoral College…’

Source: Atlas Obscura

Stop Trying to Psychoanalyze Donald Trump

‘ “It’s kind of an armchair sport to diagnose public figures, especially politicians,” says Stephen Hinshaw, professor of psychology at UC Berkeley. Cathartic? Sure. But psychologists say it is almost impossible to gain any real insight into a person’s mind and behavior based on such an analysis. Not only is it wrong, it is a perversion of what psychological diagnoses are meant to do: help people work through mental illness. Casually assigning medical jargon to an erratic politician’s baffling ideologies may actually add to the stigma surrounding mental illness. And that is bad for America…’

Source: WIRED

17 signs you’re smart — even if it doesn’t feel like it

‘As Shakespeare put it in “As You Like It”: “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.”That conventional wisdom is backed up by a Cornell University study conducted by David Dunning and Justin Kruger. The phenomenon is now known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. So, if you’re not too sure about your own intellect, it actually might be a indication that you’re pretty intelligent — thoughtful enough to realize your limitations, at least.Here are some subtle signs that you are considerably smarter than you think…’

Source: Business Insider


Uh oh. The fact that I’m confident of my own intelligence, thus, is an indication that I’m not really so smart (although I do know my limitations, I think). And I only scored 11 out of 17 of the above factors…

A new reason we haven’t found alien life in the universe


‘Italian physicist Enrico Fermi once famously exclaimed “Where is everybody?” We have been trying to answer his paradox — we exist, so aliens should exist, too — ever since. According to one new solution, we have not seen or heard from any galactic neighbors because we are still waiting for them to be born…

So says a team of astronomers in a new study, to be published in the Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics. The researchers calculated the probability that life as we know it should exist at any given point in the universe. Based on their assumptions, Earthly life is quite likely premature…’

Source: The Washington Post

Essentially, the argument proceeds from the fact that the conditions for life depend on the stellar environment. The star is the source of radiant energy, the furnace in which the heavier elements on which life is based are created, and creates a habitable temperature zone in which liquid water can exist.  The new study suggests that our stellar environment is an anomaly, centered on a yellow dwarf far less long-lived and less prevalent than the less massive, longer-lived and far more prevalent red dwarf stars that make up the bulk of the galaxy. If such low-mass starts are able to support life, then we are the rarity because of how early in the  life of the universe, and how transient by comparison, Sun-like conditions are.

“Many more stars that all last much longer than our Sun ensures there’s simply more opportunity for life to arise in the future on a small dwarf star than in the last 13 billion years of cosmic time,” as Alan Duffy, an Australian astronomer at Swinburne University of Technology, who was not involved in the study, commented.

Democrats are losing to Republicans at the state level, and badly. 

Here’s why, and why you should be worried.

‘Faced with a loose-cannon 2016 GOP presidential nominee who disagrees with them on key issues, Charles and David Koch — the two billionaire “Koch brothers” — are directing the vast resources of their political network toward down-ballot races. This should alarm liberals greatly.’

Source: Vox

Siberian heat wave unleashes deadly ‘zombie anthrax’ outbreak

‘At least 90 people have been hospitalized from an anthrax outbreak in Russia, including 50 children. Eight are confirmed as infected with anthrax. Doctors believe at least 6 patients have the more virulent intestinal form of the disease, which killed one boy, age 12. Authorities say it’s the first fatal anthrax outbreak in Russia in more than 75 years.

The outbreak originated in a Siberian community after a heat wave melted the permafrost where spores of anthrax remained alive inside the frozen carcass of an infected reindeer. Animals fed on that thawed carcass, which may have been up to a hundred years old, then transmitted it to reindeer that nomadic herders killed and ate…’

Source: Boing Boing

Meg Whitman, Calling Donald Trump a ‘Demagogue,’ Will Support Hillary Clinton for President

Via The New York Times:

‘Meg Whitman, a Hewlett Packard executive and Republican fund-raiser, said Tuesday that she would support Hillary Clinton for president and give a “substantial” contribution to her campaign in order to stop Donald J. Trump, whom she berated as a threat to American democracy.

“I will vote for Hillary, I will talk to my Republican friends about helping her, and I will donate to her campaign and try to raise money for her,” Ms. Whitman said in a telephone interview.

She revealed that Mrs. Clinton, the Democratic nominee, had reached out to her in a phone call about a month ago, one of the first indications that Mrs. Clinton is aggressively courting Republican leaders. While acknowledging she diverged from Mrs. Clinton on many policy issues, Ms. Whitman said it was time for Republicans “to put country first before party.” …’

David Chang’s Unified Theory of Deliciousness

Source: WIRED

The acclaimed chef has struggled to distill the principles accounting for the ecstatic gustatory experiences he inspires at Momofuku, early on apparently as surprising to him as to his patrons. What may result, he suggests, is a more comprehensible and systematic process for culinary innovation. Or maybe it is so much smoke, mirrors and hand waving, justifying serendipity after the fact. Read it, napkin at hand for the mouthwatering, and see what you think.

August 3: Call for Global Solidarity With and for Yazidi Women

Source: One Billion Rising

August 3rd marks the two-year anniversary of the brutal attack on the Yazidi people in Sinjar Province in the Northern region of Iraq in which ISIS forces stormed towns and villages in the historic homeland of the ethno-religious group, killing over 5,000 men and elders, enslaving over 7,000 women and children and displacing over 400,000 more, desecrating homes and holy sites. Thousands of internally displaced Yazidis surrounded by ISIS forces were trapped on Sinjar Mountain, dying of exposure and dehydration.

The displaced Yazidi community continues to face a humanitarian crisis; tens of thousands are homeless and unsupported and many, especially children, suffer from malnutrition and health issues. Since the beginning of this crisis, ISIS has sold thousands of Yazidi women into sexual slavery and committed crimes of rape and sexual violence against thousands of Yazidi women and children in captivity. The group abducted at least 5000 Yazidis during their assault on Sinjar, mostly women and children and has relocated abductees to different regions where they are offered for sale as sexual slaves. To date, dozens of women have been killed in captivity while many others have committed suicide. New York Times reporter Rukmina Calimachi has written extensively about the crisis, for instance breaking the story about Isis forcing birth control pills on their captive sexual slaves.

A UN report notes:

“ISIS has committed the crime of genocide as well as multiple crimes against humanity and war crimes against the Yazidis, thousands of whom are held captive in the Syrian Arab Republic where they are subjected to almost unimaginable horrors.ISIS has sought to destroy the Yazidis through killings; sexual slavery, enslavement, torture and inhuman and degrading treatment and forcible transfer. The public statements and conduct of ISIS and its fighters clearly demonstrate that ISIS intended to destroy the Yazidis of Sinjar, composing the majority of the world’s Yazidi population, in whole or in part.”

My wife, a specialist in psychological trauma and refugee crises, and other colleagues at the Victims of Violence Program in Cambridge MA, have been consuting and assisting in the development of the Psychosocial Treatment and Trauma Support Center in Kurdish-controlled Dohuk, northern Iraq, to address the abuse and sexual violence suffered by Yazidi women and girls in ISIS captivity by:

– ensuring urgent medical care and hospital treatment for the aftermath of sexual and physical violence endured;
– ensuring counseling and trauma support for every victim through the center directly or through referral to a specialist organization;

– facilitating pilgrimages for survivors to the holy temple of Lalish to meet with Yazidi religious leaders;

– providing education and training in marketable skills to help victims reclaim their lives and assist them in moving towards self-sufficiency and independence;

– partnering with other local and international organizations and surrounding communities to work to facilitate survivors’ reintegration into society.

The center is being developed under the aegis of YAZDA, a global Yazidi organization established after the genocide against them in northern Iraq. The mission of YAZDA is to support the surviving victims of genocide and to ensure the future safety of the Yazidi ethnoreligious minority group. Know more about their work and ways to help and show solidarity by visiting their website or making a donation.

Citizen Science Takes on Japan’s Nuclear Establishment

Source: LA Times via Sean Bonner’s newsletter Just Another Crowd

Safecast is a movement started within days of the Fukushima nuclear disaster and arising out of conversations among the chief technology officer of a large securities firm Pieter Franken, LA tech entrepreneur Sean Bonner and Joichi Ito, director of the MIT Media Lab. Local volunteers with self-built radiation monitoring equipment are making a continuous crowd-sourced dump of radiation levels around the region — now 50 million readings and counting, all logged and mapped on a website anyone can see. As The Japanese government continues with its extensive effort to decontaminate areas around Fukushima Daiichi and reopen evacuated towns and villages, potential returnees say they want a way to verify official numbers that indicate radiation really has dropped to safe levels.

Funded by grants, foundation support and individual donation, the group holds regular sessions to teach people to assemble their own devices and also posts instructions online, on the principle that people who build their own equipment are more likely to use it. Even Japan’s postal service has cooperated with Safecast, putting its monitors on carriers’ motorbikes in some towns and gathering data.

“Safecast is an interesting social experiment, in a fairly anarchistic kind of way,” says Franken. “It taps into trends including maker-spaces, the Internet of things and even artists. We attract people who want to break out of the traditional way of solving problems.”

The group’s approach has expanded to include radiation monitoring activities elsewhere around the globe and other citizen-based environmental monitoring such as examining air quality around LA and methane readings around Porter Ranch, CA during the recent disastrous gas leak there. Advocates point to incidents such as the recent scandal over the lead-tainted water supply in Flint, Mich., as an example of where deeper community-based scientific knowledge could have improved debate and policymaking.

Franken describes Safecast’s goal now as, essentially,

“base-lining the world,” crowdsourcing environmental data from every corner of the Earth. “We should start with measuring our environments. Then we can talk about things like global warming and air pollution; from there, activism can start. Once you know, for example, that your street is polluted, you can start to make a change. That’s where we can make a difference.”

Why Are So Many Corpse Flowers Blooming at Once?

‘If Friday’s announcement that the New York Botanical Garden’s corpse flower was in bloom—the first occurrence in the city since 1939—inspired a sense of dejá vu, it may not be all in your head. The Wall Street Journal has pointed out that over half a dozen of the gigantic plants have bloomed this year in the United States, unusually, at the same time. What’s going on? …’

Source: Atlas Obscura

Newfound Neutri­no Anomaly May Explain Matter-Antimat­ter Rift

‘In the same underground observatory in Japan where, 18 years ago, neutrinos were first seen oscillating from one “flavor” to another — a landmark discovery that earned two physicists the 2015 Nobel Prize — a tiny anomaly has begun to surface in the neutrinos’ oscillations that could herald an answer to one of the biggest mysteries in physics: why matter dominates over antimatter in the universe.

The anomaly, detected by the T2K experiment, is not yet pronounced enough to be sure of, but it and the findings of two related experiments “are all pointing in the same direction,” said Hirohisa Tanaka of the University of Toronto, a member of the T2K team who presented the result to a packed audience in London earlier this month…

The long-standing puzzle to be solved is why we and everything we see is matter-made. More to the point, why does anything — matter or antimatter — exist at all? The reigning laws of particle physics, known as the Standard Model, treat matter and antimatter nearly equivalently, respecting (with one known exception) so-called charge-parity, or “CP,” symmetry: For every particle decay that produces, say, a negatively charged electron, the mirror-image decay yielding a positively charged antielectron occurs at the same rate. But this cannot be the whole story. If equal amounts of matter and antimatter were produced during the Big Bang, equal amounts should have existed shortly thereafter. And since matter and antimatter annihilate upon contact, such a situation would have led to the wholesale destruction of both, resulting in an empty cosmos.

Somehow, significantly more matter than antimatter must have been created, such that a matter surplus survived the annihilation and now holds sway. The question is, what CP-violating process beyond the Standard Model favored the production of matter over antimatter? Many physicists suspect that the answer lies with neutrinos — ultra-elusive, omnipresent particles that pass unfelt through your body by the trillions each second…’

Source: Quanta Magazine

R.I.P. David Bald Eagle: Was He Really the Most Interesting Man in he World (Without Hawking Beer)?

‘In the U.K., the headlines note the passing of a “Dances With Wolves actor.”

But appearing in an Oscar-award-winning film was one of the least interesting things David William Beautiful Bald Eagle ever did.

Bald Eagle died last Friday at 97. In his long, extraordinary life, he was a champion dancer — both ballroom and Lakota styles — a touring musician, a rodeo cowboy, a tribal chief, an actor, a stunt double, a war hero.

He danced with Marilyn Monroe. He drove race cars. He parachuted into enemy gunfire at Normandy. He played professional baseball. He was a leader not just of his tribe, but of the United Native Nations. He was an advocate for Native people.

And he was a bridge between the past and present — a man who, in his childhood, heard stories from survivors of the Battle of Little Bighorn.

Bald Eagle — whose full Lakota name translates to Wounded in Winter Beautiful Bald Eagle, the BBC reports — was born in 1919. At the time, he couldn’t be a U.S. citizen. He was 5 when America finally extended citizenship to indigenous people. …’

Le Carre is our greatest living author because he gets humans

‘A quarter of a century after the end of the Cold War, it seems, we cannot get enough of its most famous chronicler.Finally, we in Britain may have realised what that great American writer Philip Roth understood in 1986, when he described A Perfect Spy as “the best English novel since the war”. Is John le Carré, author of enormously popular novels since 1961, when he published Call for the Dead, our greatest living writer?…’

Source: 3quarksdaily

Martha Nussbaum: Anger is the emotion that has come to saturate our politics and culture. Philosophy can help us out of this dark vortex

‘Anger is both poisonous and popular. Even when people acknowledge its destructive tendencies, they still so often cling to it, seeing it as a strong emotion, connected to self-respect and manliness (or, for women, to the vindication of equality). If you react to insults and wrongs without anger you’ll be seen as spineless and downtrodden. When people wrong you, says conventional wisdom, you should use justified rage to put them in their place, exact a penalty. We could call this football politics, but we’d have to acknowledge right away that athletes, whatever their rhetoric, have to be disciplined people who know how to transcend anger in pursuit of a team goal.

If we think closely about anger, we can begin to see why it is a stupid way to run one’s life. A good place to begin is Aristotle’s definition: not perfect, but useful, and a starting point for a long Western tradition of reflection. Aristotle says that anger is a response to a significant damage to something or someone one cares about, and a damage that the angry person believes to have been wrongfully inflicted. He adds that although anger is painful, it also contains within itself a hope for payback. So: significant damage, pertaining to one’s own values or circle of cares, and wrongfulness. All this seems both true and uncontroversial. More controversial, perhaps, is his idea (in which, however, all Western philosophers who write about anger concur) that the angry person wants some type of payback, and that this is a conceptual part of what anger is. In other words, if you don’t want some type of payback, your emotion is something else (grief, perhaps), but not really anger…’

Source: 3quarksdaily

Fukushima in New York? This Nuclear Plant Has Regulators Nervous.

‘Could what happened in Fukushima happen 35 miles (56 kilometers) north of New York City?That’s what many activists and former nuclear regulators fear for the Indian Point Energy Center, a nuclear power plant that has operated in Westchester County for more than four decades. The plant provides a good chunk of the energy needs for the surrounding area, but it has come under fire in recent years for safety and environmental concerns, including its warming of the Hudson River and a recent case of bolts missing in one of its reactors. Two of the plant’s three reactor units are currently operating on expired licenses, with the state of New York having denied parent company Entergy’s extension requests due to suspected violations of the federal Clean Water Act…’

Source: Fukushima in New York? This Nuclear Plant Has Regulators Nervous.

George Lakoff: Understanding Trump

‘There is a lot being written and spoken about Trump by intelligent and articulate commentators whose insights I respect. But as a longtime researcher in cognitive science and linguistics, I bring a perspective from these sciences to an understanding of the Trump phenomenon.

This perspective is hardly unknown…Yet you will probably not read what I have to say in the NY Times, nor hear it from your favorite political commentators. You will also not hear it from Democratic candidates or party strategists. There are reasons, and we will discuss them later I this piece. I am writing it because I think it is right and it is needed, even though it comes from the cognitive and brain sciences, not from the normal political sources. I think it is imperative to bring these considerations into public political discourse. But it cannot be done in a 650-word op-ed. My apologies. It is untweetable.

I will begin with an updated version of an earlier piece on who is supporting Trump and why — and why policy details are irrelevant to them. I then move to a section on how Trump uses your brain against you. I finish up discussing how Democratic campaigns could do better, and why they need to do better if we are to avert a Trump presidency…’

Source: Blog « George Lakoff

This Year, Every Vote Is a Vote for or Against Climate Change

‘YESTERDAY, THE 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia aired a five and a half minute video about climate change. Directed by James Cameron and narrated by Sigourney Weaver, it featured Don Cheadle, Jack Black, America Ferrera, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and other celebs. Instead of scientists and hockey sticks, it had forest fires, Hurricane Sandy survivors, and a summer blockbuster soundtrack. The gist: Climate change is causing awful things in America and abroad. If you care to stop it, vote for Hillary Clinton.

None of that is as remarkable as the context in which it was shown. In the decades since scientists first warned a US president that greenhouse gas emissions would doom us all, no political party has ever presented itself as taking the issue seriously during a presidential election. This year is different. And not because the Republican candidate calls climate change a hoax. What’s new is Democrats are going on the offense. Speaker after speaker at the convention has laid into Donald Trump and his party’s denialism. Climate action is a prominent plank in the Democratic Party platform. They’ve made the stakes clear: A vote for Hillary Clinton is a vote for planet Earth…’

Source: WIRED

Trump Asks Russia to Dig Up Hillary’s Emails in Unprecedented Remarks

‘DONALD TRUMP’S SCHADENFREUDE in the DNC’s embarrassing email leak is standard practice in America’s messy electoral politics. Today, though, his casual request that Russian hackers dig up Hillary Clinton’s emails—sent while she was U.S. Secretary of State—for his own political gain has sparked a new level of outrage among cybersecurity experts…’

Source: WIRED


(I know I promised not to feature the angry groundhog’s mug as much, but I couldn’t resist sharing this photo.)

Why Isn’t the Global Rate of HIV Infection Declining?

‘The rate of new HIV infections peaked globally in 1997 with 3.3 million cases. From there, a steady decrease was seen until 2005, when the average number of new infections had decreased to 2.6 million per year. This rate has remained more or less constant since then, according to a new study published in the Lancet HIV, with the result being a steady growth of total HIV cases to approximately 38.8 million in 2015.

These are discouraging results; one should expect that, given increasing public awareness, infections would consistently continue to decline.

The same study notes, however, that HIV mortality is falling globally. In 2005, 1.8 million people died from the illness, while that number fell to 1.2 million in 2015. The decrease here can be primarily attributed to two things: The scale-up of antiretroviral therapy (ART), which can keep the virus at bay almost indefinitely in infected patients, and prevention of mother-to-child transmission…’

Source: Motherboard

Found: Mysterious Bright Purple Blob, Floating in the Deep Sea

‘This is one of the best sounds you can hear when eavesdropping on scientists: “Oh, what is that?” The research team of the E/V Nautilus, a vessel of the Ocean Exploration Trust, was using their remotely operated underwater vehicle to check out the deep sea around the Channel Islands when they saw something they never had before: a small, glowing purple blob…’

Source: Atlas Obscura

Roundest Country in the World?

‘Gonzalo Ciruelos set out to discover which country was the roundest in shape:

We can define roundness in many ways. For example, as you may know, the circle is the shape that given a fixed perimeter maximizes the area. This definition has many problems. One of the problems is that countries generally have chaotic perimeters (also known as borders), so they tend to be much longer than they seem to be.For that reason, we have to define roundness some other way. We represent countries as a plane region, i.e., a compact set C⊂R2C⊂R2. I will define its roundness as…

That’s about where I tune out! Turns out the answer is Sierra Leone. Click through to see lots of mathy thingies on the screen, the runners-up, the least round countries, and the source code.’

Source: Boing Boing

John Hinckley Wins His Freedom

‘John Hinckley Jr., 35-years after he tried to kill a president, has won his freedom.A federal judge in Washington, D.C., has granted a request for Hinckley to leave the mental hospital where he’s resided for decades, to go live full-time with his elderly mother in Williamsburg, Va.

The release could happen as early as next week, the judge ruled. Under the terms of the order, Hinckley is not allowed to contact his victims, their relatives or actress Jodie Foster, with whom he was obsessed. Hinckley also will not be permitted to “knowingly travel” to areas where the current president or members of Congress are present. The judge said Hinckley could be allowed to live on his own or in a group home after one year…’

Source: NPR

Researchers Find the ‘Holy Grail’ of Soft Robotics

‘One of the newest areas of bio-bot research involves the creation of soft robots, where the idea is to take a cue from animals like the octopus and starfish and make a robot that is only made of soft components. Soft robotics is, in essence, the art and science of designing artificial muscles.

Just in the last five years engineers have seen enormous breakthroughs in soft robotics, but a fundamental problem still remains: these robots are still moving at starfish-like speeds. This is why a new approach to engineering robot muscles pioneered by researchers at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences which allows for flexible, efficient circuitry is being heralded by soft roboticists as “the holy grail” of the field…’

Source: Motherboard