Jul 9, 2011

Tevatron particles shed light on antimatter mystery

WHY the universe is filled with matter rather than antimatter is one of the great mysteries in physics. Now we are a step closer to understanding it, thanks to an experiment which creates more matter than antimatter, just like the early universe did.

Our best understanding of the building blocks of matter and the forces that glue them together is called the standard model of particle physics. But this does a poor job of explaining why matter triumphed over antimatter in the moments after the big bang.

The standard model has it that matter and antimatter were created in equal amounts in the early universe. But if that was the case they should have annihilated in a blaze of radiation, leaving nothing from which to make the stars and galaxies. Clearly that didn't happen.

A quirk in the laws of physics, known as CP violation, favours matter and leaves the universe lopsided. The standard model allows for a small amount of CP violation but not nearly enough to explain how matter came to dominate. "It fails by a factor of 10 billion," says Ulrich Nierste, a physicist at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany.

Now researchers at DZero, an experiment at the Tevatron particle accelerator at Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois, have found the largest source of CP violation yet discovered. It comes courtesy of particles known as Bs mesons.

These are unusual particles because they can transform into their own antiparticle and back again, says Guennadi Borissov, a member of the DZero team based at Lancaster University, UK. That makes them perfect for studying CP violation.

Last year, the DZero experiment studied collisions between protons and antiprotons that create Bs mesons, which then decay into muons. Sure enough, the team found more muons than antimuons, signalling that more matter is created than antimatter.

However, particle physics is littered with findings that disappear as more data is collected. Now Borissov and his colleagues have repeated the study using data from 50 per cent more collisions and the new result boosts the original conclusion. "The most likely interpretation is an anomalously high CP violation," says Guy Wilkinson at the University of Oxford.

Read more at New Scientist

Pinocchio's Real Roots Mapped

The tale of the wooden puppet Pinocchio created by a carpenter in Florence may arguably be the most widely-known children's tale.

Now new research reveals that the story, written by Carlo Collodi 130 years ago on July 7, 1881, has deep roots in reality.

According to Alessandro Vegni, a computer expert, who has been comparing the tale with historic maps, the story of Pinocchio is set in the Tuscan village of San Miniato Basso, which lies midway between Pisa and Florence. The village's original name was actually "Pinocchio," according to the research.

The tale of Geppetto and his pine wood puppet, serialized in an Italian juvenile magazine under the title La Storia di un Burattino (The Story of a Marionette) in 1881, was turned into a book two years later called, "The Adventures of Pinocchio."

Believed to be the second-most translated book after the Bible, the novel has inspired hundreds of new editions, stage plays, merchandising and movies, such as Walt Disney's iconic animated version.

But new details about the story's Florentine town setting reveal fascinating new details about the iconic work.

"The present name [of the village of San Miniato Basso] was given in 1924." Vegni said. "We know from historical records that the village was originally called 'Pinocchio,' probably after the stream that runs nearby."

Collodi certainly knew the village. His father, a well-known chef, lived nearby for several years. In 1825, one year before Carlo's birth, his father moved from the Pinocchio area to Florence to work for Marquis Lorenzo Ginori Lisci.

Vegni believes that Collodi not only visited San Miniato, but also met several people there and most likely used real people to inspire his characters.

"When Geppetto names his puppet, he says that he knew a whole family of Pinocchi: Pinocchio the father, Pinocchia the mother, and Pinocchi the children."

"The inhabitants of San Miniato were called Pinocchi or Pinocchini," Vegni wrote.

Starting in San Miniato, Vegni's research showed several analogies with Collodi's tale.

There is the "Casa Il Grillo" (Cricket House), a rural building whose name might refer to the Talking Cricket and the village of Osteria Bianca (White Inn) where the pub still stands which Vegni believes inspired the Red Shrimp Inn.

The "Fonte delle Fate" ("Source of the Fairies") whose unusual name might have inspired the Field of Miracles where Pinocchio planted his gold coins so they would reproduce into several thousand gold coins is also on the map.

Intriguingly, the Fox and the Cat encountered by Pinocchio appear to have links with two features appearing on maps: the Rio delle Volpi (Stream of Foxes) and two houses called "Rigatti" (the name evokes "gatti," cats).

Read more at Discovery News

Jul 8, 2011

Transplant of world's first man-made organ

A 36-year-old cancer patient received the organ a month ago at the Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm.

The process involved scientists at University College London, who were given three-dimensional scans of the windpipe of Andemariam Teklesenbet Beyene, a geology student from Eritrea with an inoperable, cancerous tumour that was obstructing his breathing.

They created a glass mould of the windpipe and his two main bronchial tubes, which was then coated in a polymer containing millions of tiny holes.

It was flown to Sweden where it was “seeded” with stem cells from Mr Beyene’s bone marrow and placed in a bioreactor for two days to allow the cells to take root. Further cells were taken from his nose to line the windpipe.

Read more at The Telegraph

Physics Debunks Baseball Myths

When a baseball player approaches the plate, he needs physics on his side to score a spot on base. But an rewarding collision between baseball and bat depends on many complicated factors.

One group of researchers from the Sports Science Laboratory at Washington State University explores this complicated relationship between ball and bat, debunking some of Major League Baseball's myths along the way.

As highlighted in a recent article in the American Journal of Physics, balls and bats generally have an inelastic physical relationship, meaning the kinetic energy each has while in motion is not maintained after colliding.

But that certainly doesn't keep people from tinkering with balls and bats to make their partnership more elastic. The key is doing so within the confines of the rulebook, of course.

For instance, when MLB star Sammy Sosa was caught using a corked-filled wooden bat in 2003, it was assumed substituting the core of the bat with a lighter material such as cork allowed players to hit baseballs farther than with typical wooden bats.

But during testing, scientists didn't find this to be true. Instead, they noticed that the balls and bats' coefficient of restitution (COR), or a comparison of the objects' speeds before and after collision, remained similar throughout tests, leaving the energy exchange between the two materials almost the same. There's still, however, another reason players may have a soft spot for corked bats. Because they're lighter, the bats allow players to swing more quickly, which can result in making better contact with the ball and more hits or homeruns in the game. In this case, distance isn't the advantage -- swing speed is.

Read more at Discovery News

Scientists discover the point of sex

Now researchers have discovered that animals reproduce together, rather than simply cloning themselves, because it helps them to ward off parasites.

The findings support the evolutionary theory that blending of two animals' genomes creates an offspring with a new genetic code which may make it more resistant to attack, experts said.

Cross-fertilisation helps creatures stay a step ahead in the continuous "arms race" with parasites, which are forever evolving to try and infect them.

Biologists have described the situation as "Running with the Red Queen" in reference to the character in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass, who tells Alice: "It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place."

Despite the popularity of the theory, there has until now been little solid evidence to support it.

But experts at the University of Indiana may have provided the best evidence yet after engineering two types of worms, some which could only reproduce by mating with each other and some could only clone themselves.

After exposing them to a harmful bacteria, worms that reproduced through sex survived fairly well while those that were asexual died rapidly.

Co-author Curtis Lively said: "The Red Queen Hypothesis predicts that sex should allow hosts to evade infection from their parasites, whereas self-fertilisation may increase the risk of infection.

Read more at The Telegraph

US Panel Proposes Killing Webb Space Telescope

The House Appropriations Committee proposed Wednesday to kill the James Webb Space Telescope, the crown jewel of NASA’s astronomy plans for the next two decades. Successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, and it was designed to study the first stars and galaxies that emerged in the first hundred million years or so after the Big Bang.

Astronomers reacted with immediate dismay, fearing that the death of the Webb telescope could have the same dire impact on American astronomy that killing the Superconducting Supercollider, a giant particle accelerator in Texas, did in 1993 for American physics, sending leadership abroad.

Canceling the Webb telescope would “have a profound impact on astrophysics far into the future, threatening U.S. leadership in space science,” said Matt Mountain, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, which would run the new telescope. “This is particularly disappointing at a time when the nation is struggling to inspire students to take up science and engineering,” he added.

Full story at NY Times

Despite this the good news is that the European Union is to head to the front of space technology with it’s incredible Gaia Spacecraft launching in 2012.  Its billion-pixel imaging sensor will be among the largest digital cameras ever to exist, and over the course of its mission, it’s estimated that Gaia will detect 15,000 new alien planets.

Gaia’s gigantic sensor is comprised of 106 separate CCD detectors, mosaiced together to form a monster camera over three feet wide. The resulting imaging system is so powerful that it will be able to precisely measure the width of a hair from over 600 miles away, and from here on Earth, it could spot a dime on the moon.

Full story at Esa Gaia

Scientists Turn Memories Off and On With Flip of Switch

Scientists have developed a way to turn memories on and off — literally with the flip of a switch. Using an electronic system that duplicates the neural signals associated with memory, they managed to replicate the brain function in rats associated with long-term learned behavior.

“Flip the switch on, and the rats remember. Flip it off, and the rats forget,” said Theodore Berger of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s Department of Biomedical Engineering.

Berger is the lead author of an article that will be published in the Journal of Neural Engineering. His team worked with scientists from Wake Forest University in the study, building on recent advances in our understanding of the brain area known as the hippocampus and its role in learning.

Full article at ScienceDaily

Jul 7, 2011

Found: the mother of all blood cells

The "mother" cell that gives birth to all other blood cells has finally been pinned down after a search lasting more than 20 years.

It's not that we didn't know about these mother cells before. Otherwise known as hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs), they are found in the bone marrow and replenish the blood throughout life. For 50 years, they've been used to treat people with leukaemia, who receive bone marrow from tissue-matched donors after their own has been destroyed by chemotherapy to kill the cancer.

But isolating individual HSCs has not been easy. "No one has ever gotten a glimpse of them within the mass of cells used when someone gets a transplant," says John Dick of the University of Toronto in Ontario, Canada, and head of the team which has finally tracked down the mother cells.

"Our work has provided the first sighting, so to speak, of the cell we have known about for many years."
All types of blood cell

Dick and his colleagues have now proved that HSCs can regenerate all types of blood cell, including red blood cells, lymphocytes and macrophages.

They did this through a long and painstaking process of transplanting human bone marrow and blood extracts into mice without an immune system, so the human cells wouldn't be rejected by the animals.

Over many years, Dick and his colleagues narrowed down the search for the elusive cell by deleting each mouse's bone marrow cells, then replacing mouse marrow with human cells to see whether they would rebuild the entire blood system from scratch.

Eventually, they narrowed their search down to a single cell type, which they also discovered has the CD49f protein on its surface, which marks it out from the rest. When they transplanted bone marrow and blood samples minus the CD49f-marked cells, the blood system failed to regenerate.

The CD49f "biomarker" is vital for further research, because it will enable the genuine HSCs to be extracted from all other blood stem cells, some of which will be at more advanced stages of maturity, and so not capable of turning into all blood types.
New leukaemia treatments

Dick says doctors might be able to safely regenerate a patient's entire blood system from scratch, using just a small population of the CD49f-marked cell, offering new ways to treat people with leukaemia.

At present, such patients would receive new bone marrow from tissue-matched donors, if available – only a third of patients find a donor. But now it might be possible to reconstitute marrow from HSCs extracted before chemotherapy starts. Checks could be done to make sure the HSCs chosen for regeneration are not themselves cancerous.

Read more at New Scientist

Spiders Detect Cannibalistic Females by Web

To avoid becoming lunch, male black widow spiders (Latrodectus hesperus) seem to assess the likelihood of females cannibalizing them before approaching a web to mate, according to a set of experiments featured in the journal Animal Behaviour.

Arizona State researchers found that males used chemotactile cues on females' webs and silk to assess whether they recently caught food or if they're well-nourished. Acting selectively plays to males' advantage since well-fed females show more interest in mating and are less likely to consume their sexual partners when compared to starving females.

The black widow's namesake derives from females' occasional trick on males: As a male spider approaches a female in her web to court her, she'll eat him instead. Researchers have observed females cannibalizing males after copulating, but not much beforehand until now.

If female spiders are hungry, they'll skip sex altogether to eat males, especially if there's a surplus of them. This is why courting behavior in black widows is particularly extensive -- males not only have to maneuver around the web to show they're not prey, they also must demonstrate why females should reproduce with them.

But the experiments show that males don't blindly crawl into just anyone's home. In one setup, virgin males were placed within proximity to two types of empty webs: those of well-fed females and those of starving females.

Through chemical and architectural cues on the webs alone, males began courting on the webs of well-fed spiders more often than starving ones, just as the team hypothesized.

It's unclear what exactly prompts male behavior, but scientists suggest signs of recently struggling prey and traces of chemicals during foraging give males a better idea of what they're getting themselves into. Web architecture provides clues too, as well-fed females tend to build wider webs while less-nourished ones have smaller webs with stickier silk.

Next, researchers did the same experiment but this time with females present. Still, males approached the well-fed gals more often for mating -- for good reason, too. Zero well-fed females attacked the males before sex, while some 70 percent of starving spiders did.

A third experiment switched the females and their webs, presenting males with well-fed females on starved spiders' webs and vice versa. The males paid more attention to females' presence than webs alone, still approaching females with full stomachs more often.

Read more at Discovery News

Polar Bears Have Irish Lineage

Today, polar bears live only on the northernmost stretches of ice and snow, but their roots may lie farther south -- in an area that is now Ireland.

Sometime within the last 50,000 years, suggests a new genetic study, modern polar bears split from a population of Irish brown bears. The finding both clarifies and complicates how well scientists understand polar bear evolution.

Scientists already knew, for example, that the giant white bears first evolved at least 110,000 years ago, with origins most likely in coastal Siberia. Based on the new results, though, it looks like polar bears then proceeded to interbreed with brown bears multiple times after they first diverged -- usually during periods when climate cooling or warming allowed the ranges of the two species to overlap.

Taking in new genes during these periods may have helped polar bears survive changing environmental conditions. Now, as climate warming pushes polar bears and brown bears closer together again, the study may offer some hope for the threatened polar bear's future.

"The results suggest that what is likely to happen in the future is exactly what has been observed: Their ranges are beginning to overlap, and they are hybridizing" said lead author Beth Shapiro, an evolutionary biologist at The Pennsylvania State University in University Park. "As long as polar bear habitat remains, there is a chance that the polar bear will survive."

At first, Shapiro simply wanted to investigate how climate change during the last glacial period affected where bears lived and how diverse they were. To do that, she and colleagues analyzed mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down from mothers to daughters.

The researchers looked at 242 maternal lines of both polar bears and brown bears. Their data set reached back 120,000 years and covered the animals' entire geographic range. It also included newly extracted DNA from bear bones found in Irish cave sites, where many animal species may have taken refuge from advancing glaciers.

Their results, published today in the journal Current Biology, revealed a few surprises. Not only did modern polar bears appear to descend directly from a population of Irish brown bears that went extinct some 9,000 years ago. The split happened far later than other lines of evidence have suggested.

Some time between 50,000 and 20,000 years ago, it now appears, environmental conditions brought polar bears and brown bears together. As they mated, polar bears picked up genes from the other species.

The study offers a fairly new way of thinking about evolution, said Andrew Derocher, a polar bear ecologist at the University of Alberta. Rather than acting like neat branches coming off a tree, evolving species may repeatedly entwine and separate from each other like vines.

Read more at Discovery News

Jul 6, 2011

Weevil Has Nuts and Bolts in Its Legs

Think nuts and bolts are exclusive to mechanics and engineers? Think again. The Trigonopterus oblongus weevil has been using the mechanism in its hips for 100 million years.

Using samples from the Karlsruhe State Museum of Natural History and the instruments at the Institute for Synchrotron Radiation at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (ANKA), biologists have made computed tomography (CT) scans of the Papua New Guinea bug.

They found that the weevil didn’t have the classic ball-and-joint or hinged appendages seen in other animals and insects. The beetle instead has a distinctly spiral-shaped tip to the leg, and a threaded coxa, which acts like a hip.

The two body parts screw in together, and then allow for around 130 degrees of rotation on the back legs, and 90 degrees on the front. It doesn’t make them better walkers — weevils are rather clumsy beetles — but it can help with climbing.

By being able to move their legs further down, the Trigonopterus can get a better foothold on the leaves and twigs of the Papua New Guinea jungle, as it climbs to higher areas and better food. The screw system is also less likely to become dislocated.

Read more at Wired Science

Chimps and Dolphins Share Cultural Similarities

Despite being separated by 95 million years of evolution and utterly different environments, female chimpanzees and dolphins have a whole lot in common.

They’re the bedrock of family life, hardworking moms who feed and raise kids while their fathers are out roaming.

“If we want to understand what is driving social systems where males do not provide care,” says Heidi Pearson, a behavioral ecologist at Stony Brook University, “we should be looking at females.”

In a study published June 22 in Evolutionary Anthropology Pearson compares the behavior of female chimpanzees and bottlenose dolphins in detail.

Both species form complex societies, hunt cooperatively, solve sophisticated cognitive problems, live for decades and invest years in rearing their offspring. But whereas young males spend the bulk of their time with a couple close compatriots, defending territory and chasing mates, females spend a lot of time on their own.

By hunting or gathering away from the group, both chimpanzee and dolphin moms ensure that what they find goes to their young. Like humans, they socialize some with other moms and share kid-watching duties, but they don’t have time for much fraternizing.

Despite striking similarities, the animal groups do differ in some ways. On the whole, female dolphins are more sociable than female chimps. Pearson suspects this is because it’s easier to swim than cross a forest, allowing dolphins to conveniently rejoin groups.

Predators behave differently in the water too. While a chimpanzee can easily escape a leopard by climbing a tree, a dolphin has nowhere to swim from a shark. Traveling in a group is much safer than swimming alone.

The full effect of evolving in these different environments is a mystery that Pearson hopes to investigate in follow-up studies.

Read more at Wired Science

Earliest Europeans Were Cannibals, Wore Bling

Early humans wore jewelry and likely practiced cannibalism, suggest remains of the earliest known Homo sapiens from southeastern Europe.

The remains, described in PLoS One, date to 32,000 years ago and represent the oldest direct evidence for anatomically modern humans in a well-documented context. The human remains are also the oldest known for our species in Europe to show post-mortem cut marks.

"Our observations indicate a post-mortem treatment of human corpses including the selection of the skull," co-author Stephane Pean, a paleozoologist and archaeologist at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, told Discovery News. "We demonstrate that this treatment was not for nutritional purposes, according to comparison with game butchery treatment, so it is not a dietary cannibalism."

Instead, Pean said that he and his colleagues believe that the "observed treatment of the human body, together with the presence of body ornaments, indicates rather a mortuary ritual: either a ritual cannibalism or a specific mortuary practice for secondary disposal."

The scientists made those assessments after studying human remains and artifacts discovered at a shelter-cave site called Buran-Kaya III in the Ukraine.

Although this is a more complete archaeological setting, the actual first known Homo sapiens from Europe dates to 34,000 years ago from Pestera cu Oase in Romania. Yet another single modern human from Kostenki 1 in Russia dates to 33,000 years ago.

The age of all of these discoveries intriguingly suggests that these first members of our species in Europe may have coexisted with Neanderthals.

"Through our work in progress, some of the expected results could help to better understand the transition period of late Neanderthal and early Homo sapiens settlements in Europe," Pean said.

While the possible Neanderthal connection remains a mystery, it is more evident that these early anatomically modern humans wore mammoth bling.

Artifacts excavated at the site include five mammoth beads, one engraved plate made out of mammoth ivory and 35 perforated shells. Since no mammoth remains or craft debris were found, it's likely that the objects were made off-site.

The remains of pointed bone tools and stone projectiles indicate these early Europeans were active hunters with busy associated tool and weapon-making industries.

Read more at Discovery News

Wombat 'the size of a four-wheel drive' found in Australia

Palaeontologists in Queensland said they had unearthed a virtually complete skeleton of a diprotodon, a giant wombat-like creature known for its massive tusks and tiny brain.

The diprotodon, about the size of a rhinoceros, was found on a remote cattle station in an area rich in the remains of prehistoric megafauna. The discovery of a virtually complete fossil makes it one of Australia’s most significant prehistoric discoveries.

"It was the biggest of them all – the biggest marsupial that ever lived on any continent," one of the researchers, Professor Sue Hand, a palaeontologist at the University of New South Wales, told Australian Geographic.

"It was a bit like a wombat but looked more like a massive, rhino-type beast ... We've found the skull and jaws, as well most of the rest of the skeleton. It's a really good specimen."

The plant-eating diprotodon roamed the country around 2.5 million years ago and became extinct about 55,000 years ago. Scientists believe the species died out because of the arrival of the first indigenous people or climate change, or a combination of the two.

The area, on the Leichhardt River between Normanton and Burketown, has been a trove of giant creature fossils. Palaeontologists have been searching there for more than 40 years and have found evidence of Australian megafauna such as giant kangaroos and giant lizards.

Researchers spotted an arm bone jutting out of the ground last year. Further digging revealed it was connected to a shoulder blade and that much of the skeleton was intact.

The bones were found alongside the tooth from a giant goanna - a type of lizard - that appears to have become dislodged while feasting on the carcase of the diprotodon.

Read more at The Telegraph

Jul 5, 2011

18th Century Egyptian-Inspired Room Found

Strange hieroglyphs and representations of Egyptian gods and goddesses have been found in the middle of the Po valley in northern Italy, revealing a unique example of Egyptomania.

Found in Casalbuttano ed Uniti, a village some 10 miles north of Cremona, the Egyptian-inspired motifs materialized as restorers removed the tapestry in a room of Palazzo Turina, an 18th century building which now houses the town hall.

A blue starry ceiling emerged, while walls decorated with pink and cream colored bands revealed a wealth of hieroglyphs.

Painted with stunning trompe l'oeil effects to produce the illusion of real statues, depictions of Egyptian god and goddesses emerged at the room corners.

"It has been an amazing discovery. The animal glue used for the tapestry actually preserved the frescoes, which only needed some basic cleaning," Virginia Bocciola, one of the architects who carried the restoration, told Discovery News.

Although archaeologists found the motifs in 2006, it remained relatively unknown until recently when Annamaria Ravagnan, in charge of the Lombardy region's museum system, asked experts to study the unusually decorated room.

"In Lombardy we have several villas which feature rooms decorated in Egyptian style. But none look like the Casalbuttano chamber," Ravagnan told Discovery News.

Jean-Marcel Humbert, Heritage General Curator and General Inspector at the French Direction of Museums (Ministry of Culture) agrees.

"There are several rooms of this type in Italy and around the world. All are different, because of the period, because of the style, because of the size. So the Casalbuttano one is unique," he told Discovery News.

Humbert, who specializes in Egyptology and is one of the leading experts of Egyptomania -- the fascination for all things Egyptian -- will publish a detailed study of the room by the beginning of 2012.

"It is especially interesting because of the use of hieroglyphics and the adaptations which were made," Humbert said.

Indeed, the painter reworked Egyptian imagery producing bizarre scenes which are difficult to interpret.

Although the hieroglyphs are real, the way they are put together result in an incomprehensible text, while the deities mix clear Egyptian details with completely obscure features.

"The study is quite complicated, more than for other rooms, because it is not easy to find the referring models," Humbert said.

Some of the deities, identified as Sekhmet, Taweret, Hathor and Horus, feature details totally unrelated with their role of Egyptian divinities.

For example, Sekhmet, the lion-headed goddess of healing, sits on what appears to be an Etruscan chair inscribed with meaningless hieroglyphs.

Taweret, the goddess of childbirth and fertility, usually portrayed with a hippo's head, lion arms and legs and a crocodile's tail, instead boasts a cow tail.

Read more at Discovery News

Rare 'zonkey' born in China

The foal, which has the distinctive stripes of a zebra on parts of its body, was just over three feet tall and weighed approximately 4.7 stone when it was born on Sunday.

According to zoo staff, the zebra mated naturally with the donkey after being left free to roam together along with sheep in the same enclosure.

The mother required veterinary help during the birth but has now been returned to graze with her offspring where the pair are on show to visitors.

Read more and see the video at The Telegraph

Epic Fail: Wife caught smuggling husband out of prison in a suitcase

A woman has been caught trying to sneak her common-law husband out of a Mexican prison in a suitcase following a conjugal visit.

A spokesman for police in the Caribbean state of Quintana Roo said staff at the prison in Chetumal noticed that the woman seemed nervous and was pulling a black, wheeled suitcase that looked bulky.

Full Story at Belfast Telegraph.

Hacker dumps internal Florida voting system online to show lack of security

Election fraud and accusations of rigged voting might be as old as US election systems themselves, but some may wonder, if a hacker can gain access to the election voting system, how secure are elections anyway?

The AntiSec movement is definitely rolling along, but Anonymous is pointing to a recent hack that could raise some serious questions over the integrity of voting in Florida. It seems that a hacker obtained parts of the Florida voting database which has been subsequently posted online.

It appears that the hacker in question wanted to show that voting fraud can easily happen today and dumped parts of the Florida database to prove it. From the comments of the release:

“So, this is a little ironic. Here is inside details of florida voting systems. Now.. who still believes voting isn’t rigged? If the United States Government can’t even keep their ballot systems secure, why trust them at all? FAIL!”

Full story at ZeroPaid.com

Jul 4, 2011

Monkey steals camera to snap himself

The primate went to investigate the equipment before becoming fascinated with his own reflection in the lens.

And it wasn't long before the crested black macaque hijacked the camera and started snapping away sending award-winning photographer David Slater bananas.

David, 46, said: "One of them must have accidentally knocked the camera and set it off because the sound caused a bit of a frenzy.

"At first there was a lot of grimacing with their teeth showing because it was probably the first time they had ever seen a reflection.

"They were quite mischievous jumping all over my equipment, and it looked like they were already posing for the camera when one hit the button.

"The sound got his attention and he kept pressing it. At first it scared the rest of them away but they soon came back - it was amazing to watch.

"He must have taken hundreds of pictures by the time I got my camera back, but not very many were in focus. He obviously hadn't worked that out yet.

"I wish I could have stayed longer as he probably would have taken a full family album."

David, from Coleford, Gloucestershire, was on a trip to a small national park north of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi when he met the incredibly friendly bunch.

The crested black macaque is extremely rare and critically endangered. These were part of a study group near a science base in the region, home to researchers from Holland.

David added: "I teamed up with a local guide because I knew about the apes and wanted to photograph them.

Read more at The Telegraph

July 4, 1776: Preserving the Declaration

1776: The Declaration of Independence is signed. It will take 127 years before someone gets around to saying, “Hey, maybe we should preserve this thing.”

The Declaration of Independence can be fairly said to stand alongside the Magna Carta and Bill of Rights as the most important documents in the history of democracy. Its significance was understood from the moment it was signed, so one is left to wonder why its preservation was ignored for so long.

During the Revolutionary War, the Declaration of Independence was rolled up and toted around like a Thomas Bros. map, although, given the vicissitudes of war, that’s perhaps understandable. Less understandable is what came later. Water was spilled on it while it was being copied in 1823. Then it was tacked up on the wall at the U.S. Patent Office for about 40 years, where it was subjected to a strong northern light.

Finally, the suggestion was made in 1903 that maybe it shouldn’t be exposed to sunlight and, oh, by the way, maybe it should be kept dry, too. The latter turned out to be a bad idea because the Declaration, which was written on parchment, actually needs a bit of moisture to keep from cracking

It wasn’t until 1951 that the first modern preservation efforts began. The document was sealed inside a bronze, bullet-proof glass case at the National Archives building in Washington, D.C. Humidified helium replaced oxygen to prevent further erosion, and the glass was filtered to cut down on light exposure.

Beginning in 1987, using camera equipment developed for the Hubble Space Telescope, preservationists were able to monitor the Declaration for even the most minute signs of fading or flaking ink.

The measures proved effective, so much so that the Declaration outlived its original protective case. After undergoing careful inspection for further erosion in 2003, the document was resealed in a titanium casement filled with inert argon gas. Similar preservation techniques are used to protect the Bill of Rights and Constitution.

Read more at Wired

Obama dead, according to Fox News

Hackers have taken over a Twitter account belonging to US broadcaster Fox News and declared President Obama dead. The @foxnewspolitics feed stated: “BREAKING NEWS: @BarackObama assassinated, 2 gunshot wounds have proved too much.”

More than two hours after the malicious postings appeared, they had still not been removed.

A group or individual, calling themselves The Script Kiddies appeared to claim responsibility. Fox News said it was investigating the posts. The bizarre messages began appearing around 07.00 BST on July 4.

The first read: “Just regained full access to our Twitter and email. Happy 4th.”  The next posting stated: “@BarackObama has just passed. The President is dead.”

Fox News Politics is one of the Twitter accounts associated with the industry-leading cable news network.Its Twitter account carries the “verified” tick icon, indicating that the feed belongs to the organisation it claims to be.

In a statement, Jeff Misenti, vice president and general manager of Fox News Digital said: “We will be requesting a detailed investigation from Twitter about how this occurred, and measures to prevent future unauthorized access into FoxNews.com accounts.”

Full Story at BBC News

Scientist-Politician-Atheist Offers Own Money For Origin of Life Prize

A millionaire scientist who once ran as a Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate has just launched a $50,000 prize to promote research on the origin of life. Yes, he has an ulterior motive: He hopes that researchers working on the question will eventually prove that life’s origins can be fully explained by physical and chemical processes, without invoking a creator.

Harry Lonsdale is a chemist in Bend, Oregon, who made a fortune when he sold his drug development and research company to Pfizer more than 25 years ago. Since then, he has leveraged his wealth for social, civic, and political causes, including a series of unsuccessful bids to become a U.S. senator. The 79-year-old Lonsdale is an avowed atheist who has advocated for gay rights, campaign finance reform, and environmental protections. Now, he’s on a mission to accelerate the quest to understand how life originated. Over the past 2 weeks, Lonsdale has taken out ads in Science, Nature, and Chemical and Engineering News announcing an Origin of Life Research Award that includes $50,000 for the best proposal to study the origin of life and up to $2 million in potential funding to carry out the work.

Full story at Richard Dawkins

Jul 3, 2011

Famous black hole divulges its vital statistics

SOME black holes keep a tight hold on everything, even their own vital statistics. Now Cygnus X-1, the first black hole discovered, has divulged its distance from Earth and in turn its weight - and that it was born spinning.

Cygnus X-1 was identified as a likely black hole in 1972, but its distance from Earth has been maddeningly difficult to pin down. This in turn has made it hard to determine basic properties like its mass and spin.

Mark Reid of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and colleagues used the Very Long Baseline Array of radio telescopes spanning the US to measure the object's parallax - tiny shifts in its apparent position due to Earth's motion around the sun. Based on the size of the shifts, Cygnus X-1 is 6000 light years away, give or take a few hundred light years, the team reports (arxiv.org/abs/1106.3688).

More at New Scientist

Yeast gene makes old cells young again

CHILDREN typically have the same life expectancy at birth, regardless of whether their father is 20 years old or 80. This must mean that the man's reproductive cells somehow reset their clocks, but how they do this has been a mystery. Now a gene that reverses ageing effects in yeast is providing some clues.

Under stressful conditions yeast cells forgo asexual reproduction and split into four spores, each containing half the chromosomes of a typical cell, like human eggs and sperm. As the cells get older, they acquire clumps of proteins and extra pieces of DNA, but when Angelika Amon at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and colleagues tracked spores from old and young yeast cells they found that such abnormalities disappeared, meaning all spores had the same lifespan. Clumped protein seems to be cleared through autophagy, in which the cell "eats" itself.

During sporulation, a gene called NDT80 was expressed. What's more, switching on NDT80 in ageing cells doubled their lifespan. The closest relative of NDT80 in mammals is p53, a gene that regulates cell cycles. "We may have found a way to rejuvenate cells and erase ageing markers," says Amon.

Read more at New Scientist