Oct 2, 2010

Survey: Americans don’t know much about religion?

“A new survey of Americans’ knowledge of religion found that atheists, agnostics, Jews and Mormons outperformed Protestants and Roman Catholics in answering questions about major religions, while many respondents could not correctly give the most basic tenets of their own faiths. Forty-five percent of Roman Catholics who participated in the study didn’t know that, according to church teaching, the bread and wine used in Holy Communion is not just a symbol, but becomes the body and blood of Christ. More than half of Protestants could not identify Martin Luther as the person who inspired the Protestant Reformation. And about four in 10 Jews did not know that Maimonides, one of the greatest rabbis and intellectuals in history, was Jewish.

The survey released Tuesday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life aimed to test a broad range of religious knowledge, including understanding of the Bible, core teachings of different faiths and major figures in religious history. The U.S. is one of the most religious countries in the developed world, especially compared to largely secular Western Europe, but faith leaders and educators have long lamented that Americans still know relatively little about religion.

Respondents to the survey were asked 32 questions with a range of difficulty, including whether they could name the Islamic holy book and the first book of the Bible, or say what century the Mormon religion was founded. On average, participants in the survey answered correctly overall for half of the survey questions.
Atheists and agnostics scored highest, with an average of 21 correct answers, while Jews and Mormons followed with about 20 accurate responses. Protestants overall averaged 16 correct answers, while Catholics followed with a score of about 15.”

Read more at Yahoo News

Oct 1, 2010

Wang’s two legged pig becomes local celebrity

The 10-month-old porker is known by villagers as “Zhu Jianqiang” (Strong-willed Pig) after it was born with only two front legs and learned to balance on them well enough to walk.

He said: “My wife asked me to dump it but I refused as it’s a life. I thought I should give it a chance to survive and unexpectedly it survived healthy.” Several days after its birth Wang decided to train the two-legged piglet to walk by lifting it up by its tail.

Read more at The Telegraph

160 Escaped Cobras Incite Terror in China

160 cobras have escaped from an illegal breeding factory in Shijiao Township in the municipality of Chongqing in southwest China, terrorizing residents who have spotted them in outdoor toilets on the streets and in kitchens. Another villager, Cai Yong, admitted to the illegal breeding of some 1,900 cobras in an abandoned schoolhouse, but no charges were filed against him.

While the rising demand for cobra meat and traditional medicines made from the venom has decimated the snake population, in China illegal breeding of these deadly serpents is a lucrative source of income, tempting many to carry on illicit operations. Large does of anti-venom have been sent to the township, but that does little to allay the fear of the villagers, which is not likely to abate until the very last cobra is either captured or killed.

Sep 30, 2010

Indian Man Immune to Electrocution

“Do you hate getting electrically shocked during the winter? Too bad you’re not Rajmohan Nair, an Indian man who is literally immune to electrocution.

Dubbed the ‘Electro Man’ on the History Channel’s premier reality series, “Stan Lee’s Superhumans,” Rajmohan has the superhuman ability to conduct large currents of electricity without suffering any bodily harm whatsoever.

Just watch below as exposed wires are wrapped around him and then powered. The electricity flows from the plug, through Rajmohan, and to a lightbulb and, later on, a hotplate.

Note that when he’s in the process of conducting, he for some odd reason cannot see—as his eyes become glazed over.

Please do not try any of this at home. Rajmohan is a rarity, as most humans cannot safely conduct such high levels of electricity. If you were to do this at home, you would most likely die. In fact, according to host Daniel Smith, Rajmohan is approximately 10-times more resistant to electricity than the average human.”

Read more at Weird Asia News

Sailor crashes boat for 13th time

“A hapless sailor named ‘Captain Calamity’ has destroyed his catamaran after flipping it for the 13th time while attempting to ride Britain’s biggest wave. Glenn Crawley, 55, has repeatedly flipped his catamaran ‘Mischief’ and cost the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) £30,000 in a string of rescues. The retired electrician and engineer began sailing the boat in 2003 and was forced to dial 999 three times in the first year alone. Since then RNLI crews have been called out on a further nine occasions after Mr Crawley’s catamaran turned over, at a cost of at least £2,500 per rescue. Officials have pleaded with him to give up sailing, with local coastguards calling him ‘Captain Calamity’.

Mr Crawley’s seafaring antics now look over after he crashed his boat for the 13th time in seven years. The 18ft boat has been left in pieces after he attempted to ride Britain’s biggest wave, known as the Cribbar, at Fistral Beach in Newquay. Mr Crawley tried to sail along the wave, dubbed ‘The Widow Maker’, but his vessel was hit by a giant wall of water and flipped over. Despite admitting that Mischief is gone, Mr Crawley warned he could soon be back at sea, he still insists he is a ”man of the water” and says his ”extreme sailing” is pushing the boundaries of maritime adventure.

Mr Crawley said: ”People race cars or climb mountains but no one gets on their case. ”I’m the first one to admit I make the occasional mistake but you have to put it in context. People are so keen to criticise, they need to look at the big picture. I’m out there taking risks. I’m pushing the limits and seeing what can be done. ”I do what no one else is doing. So I’d appreciate it if people would get off my case and give me some support. ”If you don’t capsize, you’re not trying hard enough. Go hard or go home, that’s my motto. I’m always going hard. The sea by its very nature is unpredictable. I’m going through a never-ending learning curve. ”Anyway I’ll have a new boat after Christmas. They’re not that expensive. We’re not talking about the Titanic here.””

Read more at The Telegraph

Sep 29, 2010

Biological immortality

There is a Jellyfish whose biology allows it to go from a fully mature Medusa, to its polyp stage and back again indefinitely. The Turritopsis nutricula is a small jellyfish with an ability so far unique in the animal kingdom. It is the only known jellyfish to have developed the ability to return to a polyp state. Or basically, reverse its life cycle, then grow up again. This process allows the jellyfish to bypass death. In fact, there may be no natural limit to its life span. The process is called transdifferentiation.

Read more at The Daily Leopard

Sep 28, 2010

Online Passwords Could Be a Map

Online passwords are tedious, and it seems like too many websites require one. Who said the best way to access private information online is through a password made of numbers and letters?

At least one computer scientist thinks there's a better way to get access to your online accounts. At the New York Institute of Technology Cyber Security Conference, AT&T researcher Bill Cheswick described how users could memorize the exact spot on a satellite photo, with the longitude and latitude serving as the access code. Just clicking on that spot would let you into the website, no text password or question necessary.

Using a program like Google Maps, you could hone in on a spot that's easy for you to find on a map, for example the location of a hotel from a past vacation, a plaza, a friend's house, your elementary school, a former work place, etc.

“The key idea is that you have a data set with very deep data, and you have to drill down. You could drill down on a map of anything. Probably better if it’s a map of someplace you’ve never been, so you’re not tempted to pick your childhood home,” Cheswick tells Tech News Daily. “You could have a 10-digit latitude, and a 10-digit longitude, then you'd have a 20-digit password.”

This isn't the first time computer scientists have tinkered with the online password system. Some systems have allowed you to click on a specific part of an image. The problem is that mouse-tracking programs developed in the last decade let hackers track the location of the mouse.

But Cheswick says this shouldn't be a problem for password maps. Mouse-tracking software can still see where on the screen your cursor goes. But it doesn't know what map you're looking at. And because the password map is zoomable, and you can move it around, the mouse's position on the screen doesn't tell a potential hacker where your unique spot is located.

Cheswick hasn't performed any usability tests to see how the average Internet user might respond, but anything's better than the current system. I hate creating a new password for every website where I keep even a scrap of personal information. And there are plenty of scams out there to get you to divulge your passwords.

Read more at Discovery News

Did Volcanoes Wipe Out Neanderthals?

Neandertals didn't get dumped on prehistory's ash heap -- it got dumped on them. At least three volcanic eruptions about 40,000 years ago devastated Neandertals' western Asian and European homelands, spurring a rapid demise of these humanlike hominids, says a team led by archaeologist Liubov Golovanova of the ANO Laboratory of Prehistory in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Modern humans survived because they lived in Africa and on the tip of southwestern Asia at that time, safely outside the range of volcanic ash clouds, Golovanova's group proposes in the October Current Anthropology. If that scenario pans out, then geographic good luck allowed Homo sapiens to move into Neandertals' former haunts after a couple thousand years without having to compete with them for food and other resources, as many researchers have assumed.

Advances in stone toolmaking and other cultural innovations achieved by modern humans shortly after 40,000 years ago supported survival in harsh, postvolcanic habitats, Golovanova and his colleagues hypothesize.
"For the first time, we have identified evidence that the disappearance of Neandertals in the Caucasus coincides with a volcanic eruption approximately 40,000 years ago," Golovanova says.
His new study focuses on soil, pollen, animal bones and stone tools from Mezmaiskaya Cave in southwestern Russia's Caucasus Mountains. Excavation of this cave began in 1987.

In a comment published along with the new study, archaeologist Paul Pettitt of the University of Sheffield in England agrees that Neandertals disappeared at Mezmaiskaya Cave and its surrounding region shortly after volcanic eruptions identified by Golovanova's team. But the timing of Neandertal and modern human occupations over at least 10,000 years in an area covering tens of thousands of square kilometers in Europe and Asia remains poorly understood, Pettitt cautions.

Chemical analyses of soil layers in the Russian cave identified two types of volcanic ash denoting separate volcanic eruptions in western Asia between 45,000 and 40,000 years ago. Plant pollen recovered in the cave indicates that extremely cold, dry conditions prevailed around the time these ash layers formed.

Read more at Discovery News

Sep 27, 2010

The End of God?: A Horizon Guide to Science and Religion

“Dr Thomas Dixon takes us on a journey through Horizon programs and presents a retrospective of the conflict between science and belief. We see familiar faces again such as Ken Miller, Richard Dawkins and Colin Blakemore.
Broadcasted on September 21, 2010 on BBC Four.”

Patients to be frozen into state of suspended animation for surgery

“Surgeons are pioneering a method of inducing extreme hypothermia in trauma patients so that their bodies shut down entirely during major surgery, giving doctors more time to perform operations. The technique helps to reduce the damage done to the brain and other organs while the patient’s heart is not beating. It also reduces the need for anaesthetic and life support machines.

Researchers are now set to begin the first human trials of the technique, which involves replacing a patient’s blood with a cold solution to rapidly chill body temperatures. The cold treatment, which is being developed at Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and is featured in a BBC Two Horizon documentary, will see patient’s bodies being cooled to as low as 10 degrees C.

The normal human body temperature is 37 degrees C and usually humans quickly die if the core body temperature drops below 22 degrees C. Dr Hasan Alam, the surgeon who is leading the research at Massachusetts General Hospital, said that often emergency patients suffering from gunshot wounds, stabbings and car accidents are on the brink of death anyway so by cooling their bodies so extensively it can protect their brain and organs from damage. Dr Alam said trials of the technique in animals had shown it to be hugely successful. He said: “If you drop the body’s core temperature and brain temperature down to 15 degrees C or 10 degrees C you are talking about 60 minutes and even 190 minutes of protection. “By cooling rapidly in this fashion we can convert almost certain death into a 90 per cent survival rate.”"

Read more at The Telegraph

UN to appoint Earth contact for aliens

“The United Nations was set today to appoint an obscure Malaysian astrophysicist to act as Earth’s first contact for any aliens that may come visiting. Mazlan Othman, the head of the UN’s little-known Office for Outer Space Affairs (Unoosa), is to describe her potential new role next week at a scientific conference at the Royal Society’s Kavli conference centre in Buckinghamshire.

She is scheduled to tell delegates that the recent discovery of hundreds of planets around other stars has made the detection of extraterrestrial life more likely than ever before – and that means the UN must be ready to coordinate humanity’s response to any “first contact”. During a talk Othman gave recently to fellow scientists, she said: “The continued search for extraterrestrial communication, by several entities, sustains the hope that some day humankind will receive signals from extraterrestrials. “When we do, we should have in place a coordinated response that takes into account all the sensitivities related to the subject. The UN is a ready-made mechanism for such coordination.”

Professor Richard Crowther, an expert in space law and governance at the UK Space Agency and who leads British delegations to the UN on such matters, said: “Othman is absolutely the nearest thing we have to a ‘take me to your leader’ person.” However, he thinks humanity’s first encounter with any intelligent aliens is more likely to be via radio or light signals from a distant planet than by beings arriving on Earth. And, he suggests, even if we do encounter aliens in the flesh, they are more likely to be microbes than anything intelligent.”

Read more at News.com.au