Apr 2, 2011

Fake: Seventy metal books found in cave in Jordan labeled most important find in Christian history

BBC news reported recently: They could be the earliest Christian writing in existence, surviving almost 2,000 years in a Jordanian cave. They could, just possibly, change our understanding of how Jesus was crucified and resurrected, and how Christianity was born. A group of 70 or so “books”, each with between five and 15 lead leaves bound by lead rings, was apparently discovered in a remote arid valley in northern Jordan somewhere between 2005 and 2007. A flash flood had exposed two niches inside the cave, one of them marked with a menorah or candlestick, the ancient Jewish religious symbol.

A Jordanian Bedouin opened these plugs, and what he found inside might constitute extremely rare relics of early Christianity. The director of the Jordan’s Department of Antiquities, Ziad al-Saad, says the books might have been made by followers of Jesus in the few decades immediately following his crucifixion. “They will really match, and perhaps be more significant than, the Dead Sea Scrolls,” says Mr Saad. ”Maybe it will lead to further interpretation and authenticity checks of the material, but the initial information is very encouraging, and it seems that we are looking at a very important and significant discovery, maybe the most important discovery in the history of archaeology.”

However it turns out they are FAKE.

Peter Thonemann at Oxford has staked his career on the conclusion that the lead codices being discussed recently are forgeries executed within the last 50 years. The following is what he wrote to Elkington in an email after he was asked late last year to comment on the authenticity of the plates based on some photos:

A surprisingly easy task, as it turns out! The Greek text at the top of your photo no. 0556 reads: ΛΛΥΠΕΧΛΙΡΕΛΒΓΛΡΟΚΛΙΕΙΣΙΩΝ, followed by ΛΛΥΠΕ in mirror-writing.

This text corresponds to ΛΛΥΠΕ ΧΛΙΡΕ ΛΒΓΛΡ Ο ΚΛΙ ΕΙΣΙΩΝ, i.e. ἄλυπε χαῖρε, Ἀβγαρ ὁ καὶ Εἰσίων, followed by the word ἄλυπε again, in mirror writing. The text at the bottom of your photo no. 0532 is the first part of the same text again: ΛΥΠΕΧΛΙΡΕΛΒΓ, i.e. [ἄ]λυπε χαῖρε, Ἀβγ…

The text was incised by someone who did not know the Greek language, since he does not distinguish between the letters lambda and alpha: both are simply represented, in each of the texts, by the shape Λ. The text literally means ‘without grief, farewell! Abgar also known as Eision’. This text, in isolation, is meaningless.

The original News article at the BBC here.

Peter Thonemann on the Lead Codices refutation here.

Apr 1, 2011

Top 10 April Fool's Day hoaxes 2011

The Guardian today set up a 'Royal Wedding Live' blog in attempt to show 'full throated support' for the British Monarchy.

The tongue-in-cheek feature launched at 7:30 this morning and has vowed to give 'committed, unrivalled coverage' of the preparations for this year's big Royal wedding. At 10:11AM news of the wedding cancellation hit the site.

At 11.38, however, the updates were apparently forced to stop after they received "a communication from Buckingham Palace suggesting that some of the contents of [the] blog could contravene the Treason Felony Act of 1848."

Groupon “buy” April Fool's Day
Groupon, the vouchers website, claims to have purchased the April Fool's Day intellectual trademark, and giving it the official new title of Groupon Presents April Fools’ Day™.

Explaining its actions, Groupon say it "gives consumers more choices and better options" and that "You'll never again be confused by other corporations' April 1 pranks, since Groupon will be taking friendly, but swift, but hostile, legal actions against any nonlicensed April Fools' Day™ joke."

You can also see the Cease and Desist letters it has served to YouTube and others that are performing 'illegal pranks'.

Youtube Cease and Desist order 
YouTube's "centenary"
To see exactly what it was that YouTube did to anger groupon's legal department you merely need to go to their homepage.

With the logo changed to infer that the website was founded in 1911, users are given the choice to change the look of videos to make them silent and sepia-toned.

A collection of spoof videos from that year that mimic popular viral videos of today was also posted
In case people are fooled by this, Groupon helpfully point out, "nearly all technology necessary for Youtube.com or any other video website to function including the Internet, computers, speakers, and video sharing software were invented far after the purported advent of Youtube.com"

Gmail Motion
Google have found a way of combining your webcam and Gmail to dispense with outdated technology such as a keyboard and a mouse. By standing a safe distance from your computer, you will be able to issue commands by using different body shapes.

With a helpful motion guide, Google say that "movements are designed to be simple and intuitive for people of all skill levels". Leaning to your left will go to your inbox, while bringing your right arm up to your head with a closed fist will reply to the email.

Unfortunately, if you click to try Gmail motion, you get the message, "Gmail Motion doesn't actually exist. At least not yet... "

Virgin buys Pluto
Sir Richard Branson today released information about Virgin's latest tourism-based business venture. Virgin news announced that the company has bought Pluto and will attempt to have it reinstated as a planet.

Sir Richard said: "Virgin has expanded into many territories over the years, but we have never had our own planet before. This could pave the way for a new age in space tourism." 
The company have even created a special vehicle - due to be launched this time next year - which they hope will be capable of 're-structuring' Pluto by leaching on to asteroids and 'bulking up' the planet in order to reach the required planetary mass.

Read more at The Telegraph

Mar 31, 2011

Anxiety May Influence Belief in Intelligent Design

Stirring up thoughts of death may influence people's support of intelligent design and evolution, according to new research.

Led by researchers at the University of British Columbia, the paper details the results from five studies in the journal PLoS ONE. The team found that existential thoughts, or those in which people were reminded of their own mortality, led subjects to view the theory of intelligent design more positively.

In line with the scientific community, the authors state that evolution, especially descent with modification through natural selection, is largely accepted as a way to study biological change over time.

Intelligent design, as defined by the authors, "proposes that naturalistic accounts are insufficient to explain complex organic phenomena and that therefore an intelligent and presumably supernatural 'designer' is responsible for the origin of all life." This theory is not the same as creationism.

Despite the fact that 43 percent of Americans favor teaching intelligent design alongside evolution in classrooms, the theory lacks scientific support for its claims, the authors write. This too is in line with scientific consensus.

So why do people support intelligent design without scientific proof, especially when claims on evolution are backed by science?

The need to maintain psychological security may play a role.

In four studies, approximately 1,400 subjects -- college students and adults in Canada and the United States -- were asked to write about their feelings after imagining their own death. Groups were told to read passages about evolution and intelligent design afterward. Then, subjects rated the expertise of the author and reported their own belief in a particular theory.

In a fifth study, researchers asked 269 college students similar questions after being presented with an intelligent design approach and a naturalist passage authored by Carl Sagan.

Read more at Discovery News

Prehistoric Fossil May Have Inspired Greek Myths

The bone of a large extinct creature, once treasured by the ancient Greeks, has finally found a permanent home in England.

Known as the Nichoria bone, the blackened fossil is part of the thigh bone of an immense extinct mammal that roamed southern Greece perhaps a million years ago. The bone was collected by ancient Greeks and may have even helped inspire certain beasts in Greek classical mythology. It was then rediscovered 40 years ago.

Since then the fossil had largely vanished from the public eye.

"It was presumed lost until 1998. Following my inquiries, the fossil was found stored in a cellar at the University of Minnesota. It then spent last decade in various U.S. labs," Adrienne Mayor, a research scholar in Classics and History of Science at Stanford University, told Discovery News.

The historic fossil has been welcomed by curators at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England.

"This venerable bone deserves to be displayed. It is one of only two large vertebrate fossils that were deliberately collected in antiquity and unearthed by archaeologists in Greece," Mayor said.

Large fossil remains of prehistoric species, like this petrified thigh bone, might have been the inspiration for many legendary beasts of classical mythology, according to Mayor, who described the fossil for the first time in her 2000 book "The First Fossil Hunters."

Uncovering the roots of several myths, the book, whose revised edition has been published this month, showed that prehistoric fossils exist in the very places where myths about giant beings arose.

"Most likely, the ancient Greeks found the bone in the lignite deposits of the Megalopolis basin, known in antiquity as the 'Battleground of the Giants.' There, the dense concentration of large fossil bones inspired the belief that entire armies of giants were blasted by Zeus's thunderbolts," Mayor told Discovery News.

Perhaps revered as the thigh bone of a mythic giant, the Nichoria bone was discovered on the ancient acropolis at Nichoria between 1969 and 1975 by archaeologists of the Minnesota Messenia Expedition.

The fact that it was carefully stored on the acropolis, which stood some 35 miles from the lignite deposits where the bone was probably found, shows that the ancient Greeks had a great interest in fossils.

"The bone provides further confirmation that the ancient Greeks already found such specimens and ascribed special significance to them," Hans-Dieter Sues, senior scientist and curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., told Discovery News.

Identified in 1978 as the femur of a "Pliocene elephant," the bone was lost for two decades. Rediscovered in 1998 in the Archaeometry Laboratory of the University of Minnesota, Duluth, it remained uncatalogued until Mayor recognized its significance.

She took the fossil to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where it was examined by paleontologist Nikos Solounias, an expert in Greek fossils of the Miocene to Holocene epochs.

Solounias identified the bone as the distal end of the femur of a woolly rhinoceros, or possibly a Chalicotherium, a large herbivore, and dated it to the Pleistocene era (2 million to 10,000 years ago).

Read more at Discovery News

Bronx Zoo’s missing cobra ‘speaks out’ on Twitter

BBC NEWS: “A tongue-in-cheek Twitter user giving “updates” on a missing deadly Egyptian cobra now has some 154,000 followers.

The 20in (50cm) venomous snake escaped from New York City’s Bronx Zoo on Friday, and is yet to be found.
In one tweet, BronxZoosCobra says: “On top of the Empire State Building! All the people look like little mice down there. Delicious little mice.”

In its Twitter account, The Bronx Zoo – which has some 8,000 followers – admits it is currently “the snake’s game”.

The identity of the person behind BronxZoosCobra’s tweets has not been revealed.

Citing the animals from the animated movie Madagascar as inspiration, the “snake” claims to be a huge fan of Tina Fey, but is not so keen on Donald Trump or those who work on Wall Street.

Listing location as “Not at the Bronx Zoo”, it has “visited” tourist attractions including the High Line, the museum of Natural History and Ray’s Pizza.

One of the more recent posts played on New Yorkers’ fears of the scaly escapee.

“It’s getting pretty cold out. I think it’s probably time to crash. Oh look, an apartment window someone left open just a crack. Perfect!”

Zoo officials said on Monday they were confident the adolescent Egyptian cobra was hiding in a non-public area of the Reptile House but conceded that finding it would be difficult.

The zoo closed the reptile house “until further notice”.”

Via BBC News

Mar 30, 2011

Millions of Spiders in Pakistan Encase Entire Trees in Webs

he unprecedented flooding in Pakistan in the latter half of 2010 disrupted the lives of 20 million people, but it also affected the country’s arachnid population.

With more than a fifth of the country submerged, millions of spiders climbed into trees to escape the rising floodwaters. The water took so long to recede, the trees became covered in a cocoon of spiderwebs. The result is an eerie, alien panorama, with any vegetation covered in a thick mass of webbing. (You can see images from the region in the gallery linked below.)

However, the unusual phenomenon may be a blessing in disguise. Britain’s department for international development reports that areas where the spiders have scaled the trees have seen far fewer malaria-spreading mosquitos than might be expected, given the prevalence of stagnant, standing water.

Read more at Wired

Is all of human knowledge on the internet?

DISCOVERY NEWS: “Like a nerdier Nostradamus, H.G. Wells practically predicted the Internet in his 1937 essay “World Brain: The Idea of a Permanent World Encyclopedia.”

In it, Wells describes this futuristic encyclopedia (made possible in his mind by revolutionary microfilm) as a “world organ to ‘pull the mind of the world together,’ which will be not so much a rival to the universities, as a supplementary and coordinating addition to their educational activities — on a planetary scale.”

And in many ways, Wells’ vision has been realized by the Internet. Digital archives scattered among servers around the world house innumerable books, documents, records, photographs and films that collectively represent an outpouring of human knowledge.

“That (H.G. Wells) essay collection is utopian, but really, if you look at what we’re all trying to do, this idea of a permanent world encyclopedia that he has, it’s really a template for what’s happening,” said Paul Jones, director of the Ibiblio.org digital archive and associate professor of information science at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

“The real question is can that ever be accomplished, and the answer is ‘no’ — but why not try?” Jones told Discovery News.

For the past 18 years, Jones and others working with Ibiblio have been digitally preserving collections as well as “vernacular work,” which are freely accessible works in the public domain. A well-known example of vernacular work is the collection of songs composed by Roger McGuinn, former leader of The Byrds, which he’s published under a Creative Commons shared licensing agreement.

Although establishing digital libraries depends on server space, real tug-of-war over how many knowledge works (books, recordings, other documents) will end up accessible online happens between librarians and lawyers.

Why? One word: copyright.

“One of the primary roadblocks (to expanding digital libraries) is copyright,” said Maura Marx, a fellow at the Harvard Berkman Center and lead organizer of its Digital Public Library of America initiative. “Its one-size-fits-all nature locks up all works as if they will remain commercially viable for extended periods of time. Not everything is “Harry Potter” — there is no provision, for example, for circulation of scholarly works after an initial period of commercial distribution, or for any other deviation from locking things up for life, plus 70 years.”"

Read more at Discovery News

Mar 29, 2011

Poisonous Lifestyle Makes Frogs More Fit

After testing hundreds of frogs representing dozens of species on an amphibian version of a treadmill, researchers have determined that colorful, highly poisonous frogs have the greatest aerobic capacities.
Earlier studies had suggested a link between poison and metabolism in frogs, but involved just a handful species.

Of course, unless you’ve always dreamed of putting frogs on treadmills, or plan to bet on frog races, the results might seem a bit academic. But they raise a fascinating natural history question: Why are colorful, poisonous frogs the fittest?

University of Texas, Austin biologists Juan Santos and David Cannatella, who described their frog experiments Mar. 28 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, have a few ideas.

In frogs, especially bright colors generally signify toxicity, informing predators of their prospective meal’s unpalatability. But whereas most poisonous animals produce venom naturally, the frogs distill it from their food.

To find the right insects, they forage far and wide, rather than waiting for whatever fare passes by. Evolution would seem to have produced aerobic adaptations that help poisonous frogs roam, then amplified coloration as a defensive signal.

It’s also possible that bright coloration evolved first, providing some sort of advantage — predator defense, perhaps, or help finding mates — that allowed those frogs to range further than their drab brethren. That in turn could have allowed them to specialize in eating uncommon, toxin-enabling insects.

Read more at Wired Science

Baby Bald Eagles Will Hatch on Live Webcam

Live video chat by Ustream
Three bald eagles are expected to hatch in Decorah, Iowa, between March 30 and April 1 — and you can watch it happen.

Two new cameras positioned above the eagles’ nest provide an unprecedentedly clear window into eagle domestic life. The expectant parents built their nest 80 feet up a cottonwood tree near the Decorah Fish Hatchery in 2007, and all 8 of their children have entered the world under a filmmaker’s gaze.

But the new cameras, plus a computer upgrade, will bring a sharper view to more people than ever before. One camera runs automatically and streams footage of the nest 24/7, switching to infrared at night. The other is remotely controlled from a nearby equipment shed, where bird conservation expert Bob Anderson, executive director of the non-profit Raptor Resource Project, will pan, tilt and zoom in on the nest.

According to Anderson, viewers will be able to see tiny cracks lacing through the eggs before they hatch. The zoomed-in view gets so close, you can count the scales on the eagles’ feet.

The mother eagle laid the eggs on Feb. 23, Feb. 26 and March 2. All three were caught on camera and are up on YouTube.

Read more at Wired Science

Mar 28, 2011

Diamond Could Store Quantum Information

Could be that diamonds are a geek’s best friend.

Scientists have developed a new way to manipulate atoms inside diamond crystals so that they store information long enough to function as quantum memory, which encodes information not as the 0s and 1s crunched by conventional computers but in states that are both 0 and 1 at the same time. Physicists use such quantum data to send information securely, and hope to eventually build quantum computers capable of solving problems beyond the reach of today's technology.

For those developing this quantum memory, the perfect diamonds don’t come from Tiffany & Co. -- or Harry Winston, for that matter. Impurities are the key to the technology.

“Oddly enough, perfection may not be the way to go,” said David Awschalom of the University of California, Santa Barbara. “We want to build in defects.”

One of the most common defects in diamond is nitrogen, which turns the stone yellow. When a nitrogen atom sits next to a vacant spot in the carbon crystal, the intruding element provides an extra electron that moves into the hole. Several years ago, scientists learned how to change the spin of such electrons using microwave energy and put them to work as quantum bits, or qubits.

In search of a more stable way to store quantum information, Awschalom has now figured out how to link the spin of a electron to the spin of the nearby nitrogen’s nucleus. This transfer, triggered by magnetic fields, is fast — about 100 nanoseconds, comparable to how long it takes to store information on a stick of RAM.

The technique has “a fidelity of 85 to 95 percent,” Awschalom said March 22 in Dallas at a meeting for the American Physical Society.

In contrast to some other quantum systems under development, which require temperatures close to absolute zero, this diamond memory works at room temperature. The spins inside the diamond can be both changed and measured by shining laser light into the diamond. This could make diamond an attractive material for scientists developing nanophotonic systems designed to move and store information in packets of light.

Unlike a diamond itself, this quantum memory isn’t forever. But it lasts for a very long time by quantum standards. The nuclear spin remains coherent for more than a millisecond, with the potential to improve to seconds.

Read more at Discovery News

Autistic boy,12, with higher IQ than Einstein develops his own theory of relativity

DAILY MAIL: “A 12-year-old child prodigy has astounded university professors after grappling with some of the most advanced concepts in mathematics.

Jacob Barnett has an IQ of 170 – higher than Albert Einstein – and is now so far advanced in his Indiana university studies that professors are lining him up for a PHD research role. The boy wonder, who taught himself calculus, algebra, geometry and trigonometry in a week, is now tutoring fellow college classmates after hours.

And now Jake has embarked on his most ambitious project yet – his own ‘expanded version of Einstein’s theory of relativity’. His mother, not sure if her child was talking nonsense or genius, sent a video of his theory to the renowned Institute for Advanced Study near Princeton University. According to the Indiana Star, Institute astrophysics professor Scott Tremaine -himself a world renowned expert – confirmed the authenticity of Jake’s theory.

In an email to the family, Tremaine wrote: ‘I’m impressed by his interest in physics and the amount that he has learned so far. ‘The theory that he’s working on involves several of the toughest problems in astrophysics and theoretical physics. ‘Anyone who solves these will be in line for a Nobel Prize.’”

Read more at The Daily Mail

Mar 27, 2011

Huge payout over US priests sex-scandals

ALJAZEERA: The Pacific Northwest chapter of the Roman Catholic Church’s Jesuit order has agreed to pay $166 million to settle more than 500 child sexual abuse claims against priests in five states, attorneys have said.

The decision on Friday compels a payout by the Society of Jesus in the Oregon Province, and is part of an agreement to resolve its two-year-old bankruptcy case. Lawyers for the victims said it is also the largest ever payout by a Catholic religious order such as the Jesuits.

The Oregon Province is the Northwest chapter of the Rome-based Jesuit order and covers Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Idaho and Montana.

The victims, most of them Native Americans from remote Alaska Native villages or Indian reservations in the Pacific Northwest, were sexually or psychologically abused as children by Jesuit missionaries in those states in the 1940s through the 1990s, the plaintiffs’ attorneys said.

Full story at AlJazeera