Nov 20, 2010

Farmer who fed ducks cannabis escapes jail

The farmer from the village of Gripperie-Saint-Symphorien on France's Atlantic coast admitted that he smoked some of the drug himself but said most of it was given to his 150 ducks for medicinal purposes.
"There's no better worming substance for them, a specialist advised me to do it," the farmer, Michel Rouyer, said, without being able to identify the specialist in question.
"This is for real, not one (duck) has worms and they're all in excellent health," said Rouyer's lawyer, Jean Piot, in an effort to convince the court.

Police arrested Rouyer after discovering 12 cannabis plants and around 11lb of the drug in a bag during a visit to his home following a theft.

Read more at The Telegraph

Centenarian to compete in indoor rowing championships

The world’s biggest indoor rowing event will see around 3,000 entrants competing in different weight and age categories.
John Hodgson, from Cookridge, Leeds who celebrated his birthday in September, is to be the only competitor in the over-100s category.
Mr Hodgson trains at the gym three times a week at Armley Sports Centre and has been cross-country running and cycling since he was 15.

But he did not take up indoor rowing until he was 90 when he could no longer run competitively.

Since then he has competed at every BIRC since 2001, with the exception of 2007 and 2008 following the death of his wife Bertha.

The former soldier, who fought in the Second World War, said he was looking forward to the competition.
“You need great determination. I’ve been keeping fit since I was a teenager and it’s always been a passion of mine.

“I train three times a week with some friends at the local gym and I do quite enjoy the attention I get. But it’s my coach who keeps me going.”

The 100-year-old said he hoped to record a time of around 10 minutes and 30 seconds. The time of the overall winner – across all age groups and categories – is likely to be around 5 minutes and 40 seconds.
A spokesman for the event organisers described Mr Hodgson as a “remarkable character” and said the competition “took no prisoners”.

“His athletic ability is phenomenal. Most people struggle to run for the bus at the age of 60 but he was running into his 90s.

Read more at The Telegraph

Nov 19, 2010

World's First Rock-and-Roll Song Identified

"That's All Right Mama" by Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup is the world's oldest rock and roll song, according to Southeastern Louisiana University rock historian Joseph Burns, who also thinks this song could contain the first ever guitar solo break.

Burns hosts the weekly radio program "Rock School." He gives Crudup the nod because "That's All Right Mama" was the first song to contain all of the elements that he says are associated with rock and roll:

    * It's music that draws heavily from blues and country in a hit form that's often danceable.
    * There should be hints of jazz, gospel or folk influence.
    * There should also be some technology influence.
"It's a lot to ask of one song," he said. "Few fit the bill."

Candidates he and others have considered for the honor include "How High the Moon" by Les Paul and Mary Ford; "The Honey Dripper" by Joe Liggens; "Boogie Chllen'" by John Lee Hooker; "Saturday Night Fish Fry" by Louis Jordan; "The Fat Man" by Fats Domino; "(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley and the Comets; and "Rocket 88" by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats.

"An argument can be made for and against every song mentioned," he said before adding "That's All Right Mama" is a better fit than all of the other tunes.

This song came out in September 1946 as a rockabilly piece with a blues melody line over top.

"It's sung with power, may contain the first guitar solo break, and, as a remake, became one of Elvis' first singles," Burns said.

The origin of the term "rock 'n' roll" is straightforward, he believes.

Read more at Discovery News

Armless pianist to tour after winning China's 'Britain's Got Talent'

Liu Wei, 23, from Beijing, has been playing the piano with his feet since he lost his arms in an electrical accident at the age of ten.
He shot to fame in China after winning the first series of China's Got Talent, a franchise of Simon Cowell's "Got Talent" series.
Paul Potts, the opera singer, and Susan Boyle were both also made famous by the show.

In the final, Mr Liu wowed the crowd at the Shanghai Stadium with a version of James Blunt's wistful love song "You're Beautiful".

"I feel that I'm not different from other people. I've lost my arms, but I can still do the things that I like. At least I have two perfect legs," he said. Although he needs help to eat and drink, Mr Liu practises on the piano for seven hours a day, after learning five years ago.

Mr Liu is about to fly to the United States, and has signed up for the Las Vegas performances of the Got Talent international tour. He will also visit Hong Kong, Paris, Vienna and Taipei, but his assistant said it was unclear whether or not he will play in Britain.

Read more at The Telegraph

Nov 18, 2010

Vikings Possibly Carried Native American to Europe

The first Native American to arrive in Europe may have been a woman brought to Iceland by the Vikings more than 1,000 years ago, a study by Spanish and Icelandic researchers suggests.

The findings boost widely-accepted theories, based on Icelandic medieval texts and a reputed Viking settlement in Newfoundland in Canada, that the Vikings reached the American continent several centuries before Christopher Columbus traveled to the "New World."

Spain's CSIC scientific research institute said genetic analysis of around 80 people from a total of four families in Iceland showed they possess a type of DNA normally only found in Native Americans or East Asians.

"It was thought at first that (the DNA) came from recently established Asian families in Iceland," CSIC researcher Carles Lalueza-Fox was quoted as saying in a statement by the institute. "But when family genealogy was studied, it was discovered that the four families were descended from ancestors who lived between 1710 and 1740 from the same region of southern Iceland."

The lineage found, named C1e, is also mitochondrial, which means that the genes were introduced into Iceland by a woman.

"As the island was virtually isolated from the 10th century, the most likely hypothesis is that these genes corresponded to an Amerindian woman who was brought from America by the Vikings around the year 1000," said Lalueza-Fox.

The researchers used data from the Rejkjavik-based genomics company deCODE Genetics.

He said the research team hopes to find more instances of the same Native American DNA in Iceland's population, starting in the same region in the south of the country near the massive Vatnajokull glacier.

The report, by scientists from the CSIC and the University of Iceland, was also published in the latest edition of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

The journal said 75 to 80 percent of contemporary Icelanders can trace their lineage to Scandinavia and the rest to Scotland and Ireland.

But the C1e lineage is "one of a handful that was involved in the settlement of the Americas around 14,000 years ago.

Read more at Discovery News

UK gov’t promises to allow telcos to hold Brits hostage on “two-speed” Internet

Boing Boing reports:

“So much for any hope that a Conservative-LibDem coalition would signal a beginning to sane network/information policy in Britain. Ed Vaizey, the new Minister of Culture, has given the go-ahead for a “two-speed,” non-neutral Internet, in which your capacity to access a website or service would depend on whether that service had bribed your ISP.

In this model, ISPs could slow down traffic from the sites you love if they don’t pay for “premium access” to you — essentially turning you into a hostage that gets traded around like a prisoner being swapped for a couple packs of cigarettes.

So, Vaizey, what next? I can call any takeaway restaurant I want, but unless they’ve given a backhander to my phone company, I’ll have to wait an extra 30 seconds to be connected, while an announcement offers to put me through to a competitor who’s paid the “premium” danegeld?”

Full article at Boing Boing

Nov 17, 2010

Girls severed arm grafted to her leg then reattached

Surgeons in China saved a little girl’s hand – by grafting it on to her leg for three months. Nine-year-old Ming Li lost her hand when she was run over by a tractor on her way to school in July.

But her arm was too badly damaged to reattach it to her wrist so doctors temporarily attached it to her right calf instead. Dr Hou Jianxi, spokesman for the hospital in Zhengzhou, Henan Province, said the hand had now been transplanted back on to her arm.

“When she came in, her left hand was completely severed from her body. It was very scary,” he told the Zhoukou Evening Post. ”But Ming Li can now move her wrist again and her left hand is a healthy pink colour proving that the blood is circulating well.”

Li will need two more operations over the next year. One to improve her hand functions and some plastic surgery to remove her scars. But Dr Hou said: “After surgery, and with plenty of physiotherapy, we are confident her left hand will be capable of doing most things.

“We can’t give a precise percentage of how much movement she will get back but she should be able to look after herself and even drive a car.”

From Orange News

UNESCO world heritage list: The weirdest of the weird from the new list

From Luxembourg’s hopping procession to Peruvian scissor dancing and Croatian ginger bread making, we examine the more bizarre entries on the UNESCO list. Here’s a few on the list:

Wrestlers covered in cooking oil grapple with each other at the annual Kirkpinar oil-wrestling festival, which dates back to the 14th century. Scissor-dancing in the Chanka region dates from the 16th century, when locals supposedly possessed by deities performed frenetic dances to express their resistance to Spanish conquest.

Full list with images at Telegraph

Did giant pterosaurs vault aloft like vampire bats?

If giant pterosaurs – the dinosaur-era, giraffe-sized winged reptiles – tried to fly like birds, they could not have got off the ground. Yet why would flightless pterosaurs retain giant wings instead of evolving vestigial ones like the ostrich?

The answer, according to Mark Witton of the University of Portsmouth, UK, is that pterosaurs didn’t fly like birds. “We need to appreciate that pterosaurs had their own unique mechanisms of achieving flight,” he says.

Full Story at New Stories

Nov 16, 2010

Primates have hidden ability to repair their own damaged spines

For the first time, scientists have demonstrated that primates, including humans, have an innate ability to repair some spinal damage, including recovering from paralysis. The next step is to enhance this ability, so that we can regrow injured spinal nerves.

It’s been known for a long time that people with moderate injuries to the nerves in their spinal cords can sometimes spontaneously recover – regaining the ability to move and walk over time. Now a group of researchers have published a paper inNature Neuroscience that suggests this may be a trait shared by all primates. Many spinal injuries are followed by fresh nerve growth in monkey spinal cords.

Via io9

How your brain is the same as a fruit fly’s.

Despite rumors to the contrary, there are many ways in which the human brain isn’t all that fancy. Let’s compare it to the nervous system of a fruit fly. Both are made up of cells, of course, with neurons playing particularly important roles. Now one might expect that a neuron from a human will differ dramatically from one from a fly. Maybe the human’s will have especially ornate ways of communicating with other neurons, making use of unique “neurotransmitter” messengers. Maybe compared to the lowly fly neuron, human neurons are bigger, more complex, in some way can run faster and jump higher.

But no. Look at neurons from the two species under a microscope and they look the same. They have the same electrical properties, many of the same neurotransmitters, the same protein channels that allow ions to flow in and out, as well as a remarkably high number of genes in common. Neurons are the same basic building blocks in both species.

So where’s the difference? It’s numbers — humans have roughly one million neurons for each one in a fly. And out of a human’s 100 billion neurons emerge some pretty remarkable things. With enough quantity, you generate quality.

Read the full article at Opinionator

Nov 15, 2010

Danish astronomer's remains exhumed to solve mystery of his death

His extraordinarily accurate planetary observations laid the foundations for modern astronomy but mystery has always surrounded Tycho Brahe's sudden death.
Now a team of scientists has launched its own investigation into the mysterious demise of the famous 16th century Danish astronomer.
Brahe, who was born in 1546, was on Monday removed from his resting place at the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn near Prague's Old Town Square. He has lain there since 1601 apart from an earlier exhumation in 1901 that retrieved samples of his moustache and hair.

Brahe was in Prague at the invitation of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II after he had quit his scientific observatory on the island of Hven over disagreements with the Danish king.

It had been long thought he died of a bladder infection. One tale said that was a result of his hesitation to break court etiquette during a reception by leaving for a toilet. By the time he arrived home he was in agony and died shortly afterwards.

But tests conducted in 1996 in Sweden, and later in Denmark on the samples obtained during the 1901 exhumation, indicated unusually high levels of mercury, leading to a theory of mercury poisoning, even possible murder.

Professor Jens Vellev, a medieval archaeologist at Aarhus University in Denmark, is leading the team of scientists from Denmark and the Czech Republic. He said he decided nine years ago to seek permission from church and Prague authorities to open the tomb again because there had

been no proper archaeological report of the 1901 exhumation and he hoped to gather better samples.

"As a man of science, he's important for the whole world," Prof Vellev said, adding that the modern tests to which Brahe's remains would be subjected included a CT-scan, an X-ray technique known as PIXE analysis, and a neutron activation analysis conducted at the Nuclear Research Institute AS in Rez, near Prague.

Read more at The Telegraph

Tetris flashback reduction effect ‘special’

“The computer game Tetris may have a special ability to reduce flashbacks after viewing traumatic images not shared by other types of computer game, Oxford University scientists have discovered in a series of experiments.

In earlier laboratory work the Oxford team showed that playing Tetris after traumatic events could reduce memory flashbacks in healthy volunteers. These are a laboratory model of the types of intrusive memories associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In this new experimental study the researchers compared the effectiveness of Tetris at reducing flashbacks with Pub Quiz Machine 2008, a word-based quiz game. They found that whilst playing Tetris after viewing traumatic images reduced flashbacks by contrast playing Pub Quiz increased the frequency of flashbacks.

A report of the research is published in this week’s edition of the journal PLoS ONE.”

Read more at The University of Oxford

How fear flows through the mind

“A neuronal circuit in the brain acts like a seesaw to control fear impulses, reveals a surprisingly up-close look at neurons. Researchers have identified two neuron populations in the brain that work together to control fear impulses.

The findings, published this week in a pair of complementary papers in Nature, may someday facilitate the development of better therapeutic interventions for psychiatric illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder and phobias.

“A real exciting aspect of this work is how we’ve now come to understand the regulation of complex emotion — in this case fear — at a single cell level,” said Stephen Maren, director of the Neuroscience Graduate Program at the University of Michigan, who was not involved in the research. “That’s a pretty impressive feat.”

The amygdala, an almond-shaped structure in the brain involved in emotional memory and learning, has historically been considered key in processing fear impulses, but researchers at the California Institute of Technology wanted to understand the process at the level of cells. “Ultimately, we’d like a mechanistic understanding of how specific circuits, not only regions, generate brain functions like fear,” said Wulf Haubensak, a postdoc and first author on the first paper.

After conducting systematic screens for genes marking neurons in the amygdala, the team focused on one — a gene encoding protein kinase C delta, or PKC-δ, which was specifically expressed in a subpopulation of neurons that had not been studied in detail. “We decided to try and find out what these cells do,” said David Anderson, a biologist and senior author on the paper. ”

Read more at The Scientist

Nov 14, 2010

Homeopathy works - but it is talking, not tinctures that helps patients

Sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis who visited a homeopathic doctor experienced significant reductions in pain, inflammation and other key markers of the disease, the research shows.
Yet it made no difference whether the solution they received was a genuine homeopathic tincture prescribed to treat rheumatism, or a placebo.
The research, published today in the journal Rheumatology compared different groups of patients, who were already being given conventional medication for the disease.

Those who had a series of five consultations with a homeopathic doctor experienced “significant clinical benefits,” - whether the tincture they received was a specially prepared “homeopathic” remedy used to treat rheumatism, or a placebo.

Patients given exactly the same remedies without the consultations did not gain the improvements.

The study’s authors said the findings suggested that simply “talking and listening” to patients could dramatically assist their health.

Prof George Lewith, Professor of Health Research from Southampton University, said: “This research asked the question: 'Is homeopathy about the talking, or is it about the medicine?’ We found it was about the talking, and indeed about the listening.”

Homeopathy is based on a theory that substances which cause symptoms in a healthy person can, when vastly diluted, cure the same problems in a sick person. Proponents say the resulting “remedy” retains a “memory” of the original ingredient – a concept dismissed by scientists.

While the study suggested the remedies itself had no benefit, conventional medics should learn from the way homeopaths treated their patients, said Prof Lewith, a reader in the University’s Complementary Medicine Research Unit

“When you place the patient at the heart of the consultation you get a powerful effect. I think there are a lot of lesssons here for conventional medics about the need for patient-centred care, instead of treating people as walking diseases.”

Read more at The Telegraph

RSA videos

Some terrific animated lectures by RSA on YouTube – I’ve been quite captivated all morning.

Nov. 12, 1935: You Should (Not) Have a Lobotomy

“1935: The world’s first modern frontal leukotomy is performed in a Lisbon hospital by Portuguese neurologist Antonio Egas Moniz.

Moniz’s leukotomy (or leucotomy, from the Greek for “cutting white,” in this case the brain’s white matter) soon became popularly known as the lobotomy. It was not, however, the surgical procedure now generally associated with lobotomies. Rather, Moniz drilled two holes in the patient’s skull and injected pure alcohol into the frontal lobes of the brain to destroy the tissue, in an effort to alter the patient’s behavior.

Within a year of Moniz’s procedure at Lisbon’s Santa Marta Hospital, American neurosurgeons Walter Freeman and James Watts had performed the first prefrontal lobotomy in the United States. Their approach, which they would continue refining in subsequent surgeries, also involved drilling holes, but instead of using alcohol they surgically severed the nerves connecting the prefrontal cortex to the thalamus.

With various refinements, this became standard operating procedure for the prefrontal lobotomy.

Lobotomies were performed on patients suffering from severe mental disorders such as schizophrenia and clinical depression, although its use on people identified as having social disorders was not unknown. That the lobotomy succeeded in altering a person’s personality and behavior is beyond dispute, but the results were often drastic, and occasionally fatal.”

Read more at Wired