Xenophilia (True Strange Stuff)

Blog of the real Xenophilius Lovegood, a slightly mad scientist

Archive for February, 2008

Airborne Bacteria Make It Rain, Snow, Researchers Find

Posted by Anonymous on February 29, 2008

The sky is not an ethereal, sterile realm. It’s teeming with bacteria, and scientists say that the microbes play a powerful role in producing rain and snow.While the idea that bacteria could prompt precipitation was previously known, a paper published this week in Science shows that they’re more important than anyone expected.

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Researchers led by Louisiana State University microbiologist Brent Christner analyzed snow samples from around the world, categorizing the content of their “nucleators” — tiny particles that help water vapor coalesce and freeze.

All snow and most rain begins as ice. Though water is widely thought to have a freezing point of zero degrees Celsius, it’s not so simple in the clouds, where pristine vapors only bind to form ice crystals at exceedingly cold temperatures. Nucleators let crystallization happen in the less extreme conditions that prevail in much of Earth’s troposphere.

Christner found bacteria, technically known as “biological ice nucleators,” in an atmospheric context. High levels of bacteria were present in nearly every sample.

“Atmospheric scientists haven’t previously recognized that these particles are so widely distributed,” he said.

The findings raise the question of how climate change and human activities will affect bacterial balances in the sky. More immediately, they’re a starting point for research on bacterial contributions to cloud formation and precipitation.

In its latest report, the International Panel on Climate Change said that the impact of feedback loops involving clouds on global weather patterns are the “largest source of uncertainty” in current predictions of climate change.

Christner’s findings won’t overturn the IPCC’s fundamental conclusions — a high probability of dramatically rising global temperatures — but they should spur research that will help scientists predict the changes in greater detail, said Princeton University climate scientist Leo Donner, who was not involved in the study. …

The fact that bacteria could cause snow and rain was discovered almost by accident in the 1970s by study co-author David Sands, a Montana State University plant pathologist, during his research on Pseudomonas syringae, a microbe that causes ice to form on leaves.

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Posted in Biology, Health, Strange | 2 Comments »

Man in Critical Condition in Ricin Case

Posted by Anonymous on February 29, 2008

A man who stayed in a Las Vegas hotel room where ricin was discovered on Thursday has been hospitalized in critical condition since Feb. 14 with symptoms consistent with exposure to the deadly toxin, Las Vegas police said Friday.
The man’s identity, age and hometown were being withheld on Friday as investigators tried to determine why ricin, as well as castor beans from which is it derived, were found in a room at an Extended Stay America hotel one mile west of the Las Vegas Strip.

Deputy Chief Kathleen Suey said the man had been staying in the room where the ricin was found for an unknown length of time and was leasing the room when the substance was discovered. A man, said to be a relative or friend of the sick man, had gone into the room to retrieve the patient’s belongings when he found the vials of white powder and showed it to the hotel’s manager, Deputy Chief Suey said.

Police were called by the hotel. The man had been hospitalized on Feb. 14 with respiratory distress but did not indicate to doctors that he may have been exposed to ricin, so the health district and police were not notified of the prospect, she said.

An evacuation ensued and seven people were taken to local hospitals for treatment, though they were released when they showed no signs of exposure, Deputy Chief Suey said. The hotel was reopened early Friday after public health officials determined they had found and removed all the ricin.

The patient has not yet been questioned and is believed to be unconscious, she said.

F.B.I. national spokesman Richard Kolko said the incident did not appear to be related to terrorism “based on the information gathered so far.”

Still, Deputy Chief Suey said police could not explain why the ricin was present or what its intent might have been.

Strip resort executives were watching the developments carefully. A weekly scheduled conference call between police and heads of casino security was coincidentally held on Friday morning and included a statement from officials that the ricin incident was “very contained and isolated,” said Harrah’s Entertainment spokesman Gary Thompson, whose company owns the Rio All-Suites Casino-Resort and Caesars Palace. Both are within a mile of the Extended Stay America hotel involved.

Laboratory tests conducted on Friday confirmed Thursday’s initial tests that found the substance was ricin, a deadly poison derived from beans of the common weed castor.

“Ricin has no medical uses other than cancer research,” said Captain Joseph Lombardo, head of the Homeland Security unit for Las Vegas police. “An individual citizen, other than being involved in cancer research or cancer prevention, would not have any legal means or proper means of having that.”

Dr. Nicholas J. Vogelzang, director of the Nevada Cancer Institute, said none of his researchers use the substance and nobody involved with the institute has stayed at the hotel in recent months, if ever.

“We’re not doing anything here with it,” Dr. Vogelzang said. “It’s not a currently active treatment,” he said, explaining that most cancer researchers have abandoned experimenting with ricin because it is so dangerous to people.

That the incident occurred off the Strip was a slight relief for resort owners.

“Yeah, I suppose you could say that, but I think it’s a shame that it happened at all,” Mr. Thompson said. “It’s alarming that this material is out there and somebody is ill.”

Ricin can be extremely lethal. As little as 500 micrograms, or about the size of the head of a pin, can kill a human, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site.

This is the second major public health scare in Las Vegas this week. On Wednesday, the Southern Nevada Health District sent out as many as 40,000 letters to people who may have been exposed to hepatitis C at a local clinic after it was discovered the clinic was reusing dirty syringes as standard procedure since May 2004.

The scale of the potential problem prompted the nation’s largest public notification on the matter in U.S. history. – NYT

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Test post from Google Partner web page

Posted by Anonymous on February 29, 2008

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Google allows you to set up your own web pages now if you are a company. Similar to wordpress, you can add widgets to your page.

Check out the Xenophilia Google page for an example of something created quickly. The UFOMaps – sightings as they happen only shows up for me when I’m logged in…

Posted in Technology | 1 Comment »

Bats Use Magnetic Substance As Internal Compass To Help Them Navigate

Posted by Anonymous on February 28, 2008

080226213443.jpgThey may not be on most people’s list of most attractive species, but bats definitely have animal magnetism. Researchers from the Universities of Leeds and Princeton have discovered that bats use a magnetic substance in their body called magnetite as an ‘internal compass’ to help them navigate.
Dr Richard Holland from Leeds’ Faculty of Biological Sciences and Professor Martin Wikelski from Princeton University studied the directions in which different groups of Big Brown bats flew after they had been given different magnetic pulses and released 20km north of their home roost.Dr Holland was part of the team which, in 2006, discovered that bats used the Earth’s magnetic field to get around, but until now, how bats were able to sense the field was still unknown. Big Brown bats were put through a magnetic pulse 5000 times stronger than the Earth’s magnetic field, but orientated the opposite way. (The bats were put into a coil (10cm diameter by 10 cm long) which produced a pulse of 0.4 seconds that was 0.1 tesla in strength.)

Dr Holland said: “We had three groups of bats. One had undergone the magnetic pulse with a different orientation, and one control group had received no pulse at all. The third group had undergone the pulse, but in the same orientation as the Earth’s magnetic field. By including this group, we could easily see if changes in behaviour were the result of confusion caused by the pulse itself rather the impact of its orientation on the magnetite.”

The control group made their way home as normal, as did those which had undergone the pulse with the same orientation to the Earth’s magnetic field. But of those which had been through the pulse with a different orientation, half went home but half went in the opposite direction.

“This clearly showed that it is the magnetite in their cells which give bats their direction as we were able to change how the bats used it as an internal compass, turning their north into south,” says Dr Holland. “But as only half were affected, it’s likely there is another mechanism as well, which in some bats enabled them to override the impact of the pulse.”

Magnetite is found in the cells of many birds and mammals, including humans, but if we were once able to find our way by an internal compass, it’s a skill we appear to have lost long ago.

- ScienceDaily

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Sea reptile is biggest on record

Posted by Anonymous on February 28, 2008

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A fossilised “sea monster” unearthed on an Arctic island is the largest marine reptile known to science, Norwegian scientists have announced.

The 150 million-year-old specimen was found on Spitspergen, in the Arctic island chain of Svalbard, in 2006. The Jurassic-era leviathan is one of 40 sea reptiles from a fossil “treasure trove” uncovered on the island. Nicknamed “The Monster”, the immense creature would have measured 15m (50ft) from nose to tail. – bbc

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Employee’s suit: Company used waterboarding to motivate workers

Posted by Anonymous on February 28, 2008

A supervisor at a motivational coaching business in Provo is accused of waterboarding an employee in front of his sales team to demonstrate that they should work as hard on sales as the employee had worked to breathe. In a lawsuit filed last month, former Prosper, Inc. salesman Chad Hudgens alleges his managers also allowed the supervisor to draw mustaches on employees’ faces, take away their chairs and beat on their desks with a wooden paddle “because it resulted in increased revenues for the company.”

Prosper president Dave Ellis responded that the allegations amount to “sensationalized” versions of events that have gone uncorroborated by Hudgens’ former coworkers.

“They just roll their eyes and say, ‘This is ridiculous . . . That’s not how it went down,’ ” Ellis said.

The suit claims that Hudgens’ team leader, Joshua Christopherson, asked for volunteers in May for “a new motivational exercise,” which he did not describe. Hudgens, who was 26 at the time, volunteered in order to “prove his loyalty and determination,” the suit claims.

Christopherson led the sales team to the top of a hill near the office and told Hudgens to lie down with his head downhill, the suit claims. Christopherson then told the rest of the team to hold Hudgens by the arms and legs. Christopherson poured water from a gallon jug over Hudgens’ mouth and nostrils – like the interrogation strategy known as “waterboarding” – and told the team members to hold Hudgens down as he struggled, the suit alleges.
“At the conclusion of his abusive demonstration, Christopherson told the team that he wanted them to work as hard on making sales as Chad had worked to breathe while he was being waterboarded,” the suit alleges.

Ellis said the exercise was a dramatization of a story in which a young man asks Socrates to become his teacher. Socrates responds by plunging the student’s head underwater and telling him he will learn once his desire for knowledge is as great as his desire to breathe. - sltrib

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Accountant Found Dead of Suicide in Brooklyn Hotel Room

Posted by Anonymous on February 28, 2008

An accountant was found dead in a hotel bathtub with his face covered by duct tape in what authorities say was a suicide.Paul Mento, 52, worked for The Associated Press for 26 years, including more than 15 as budget director. His body was discovered Monday afternoon at a Best Western in Brooklyn by a hotel maid, police said. He had checked in earlier that day, police said.

Mento apparently suffocated because of the duct tape. The medical examiner ruled the death a suicide and said it was caused by asphyxia due to obstruction of the nose and mouth, spokeswoman Ellen Borakove said.

Police are unsure of the circumstances that preceded Mento’s death, but investigators have information that he had a gambling problem, according to a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation has not been completed.

Police said he left no suicide note. – 1010wins

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Sicily Mafia ‘restoring US links’

Posted by Anonymous on February 28, 2008

_44412394_italy_suspects_afp203b.jpgSicily’s Mafia is rebuilding its networks in the US, according to an Italian parliamentary report. The report says Cosa Nostra has been sending people to the US to form alliances with families with which it had lost contact in the 1980s. It says that while the mob maintains a foothold in the lucrative drugs trade, it is now moving into new areas. Although Cosa Nostra has its roots in Italian organised crime, it has long been a separate organisation in the US. But this month in an operation codenamed Old Bridge, a reference to these long-standing links between Sicily and New York, the FBI revealed details of the new relationships being formed across the Atlantic. They rounded up more than 80 gangsters in New York including the acting bosses of the Gambino crime family – known to have direct links with Sicily. The Italian anti-mafia commission says Old Bridge was a remarkable success but it shows the Sicilian Cosa Nostra is “re-establishing its links with the American cousins”.

The commission says it has evidence Cosa Nostra is sending its top members to New York while allowing those expelled by the mob during the clan wars of the 1980s to return home to Sicily. Their report says that many US food distribution and construction firms are now controlled by the US Cosa Nostra, whose bosses are of Sicilian origin and have direct links.

And while Cosa Nostra still maintains its control over the lucrative drugs trade and its traditional activities of extortion and racketeering, it is now diversifying into new industries like online gambling. Angela Napoli, a member of the anti-mafia commission, says the work to defeat Cosa Nostra falls on the Italian politicians – who must do more – and on the very brave witnesses who come forward to give evidence.

The commission says not enough is being done to help them. Those under state protection say they feel abandoned. And consequently the number now prepared to come forward is falling. – BBC

Isn’t the US already run by organized crime? ;-)

Posted in Politics | 1 Comment »

Record-high ratio of Americans in prison

Posted by Anonymous on February 28, 2008

For the first time in U.S. history, more than one of every 100 adults is in jail or prison, according to a new report documenting America’s rank as the world’s No. 1 incarcerator. It urges states to curtail corrections spending by placing fewer low-risk offenders behind bars.

Using state-by-state data, the report says 2,319,258 Americans were in jail or prison at the start of 2008 – one out of every 99.1 adults. Whether per capita or in raw numbers, it’s more than any other nation.

The report, released Thursday by the Pew Center on the States, said the 50 states spent more than $49 billion on corrections last year, up from less than $11 billion 20 years earlier. The rate of increase for prison costs was six times greater than for higher education spending, the report said. …

While many state governments have shown bipartisan interest in curbing prison growth, there also are persistent calls to proceed cautiously.

“We need to be smarter,” said David Muhlhausen, a criminal justice expert with the conservative Heritage Foundation. “We’re not incarcerating all the people who commit serious crimes. But we’re also probably incarcerating people who don’t need to be.”

According to the report, the inmate population increased last year in 36 states and the federal prison system.

The largest percentage increase – 12 percent – was in Kentucky, where Gov. Steve Beshear highlighted the cost of corrections in his budget speech last month. He noted that the state’s crime rate had increased only about 3 percent in the past 30 years, while the state’s inmate population has increased by 600 percent. – AP

 

Posted in human rights, Money, Politics | 2 Comments »

‘Bird Boy’ Found In Russia

Posted by Anonymous on February 28, 2008

birdboy.jpeA young boy is close to being more bird than human because he was never spoken to while living in a virtual aviary. Authorities say the 7-year-old boy’s only form of communication was “chirping” after spending his life in a bird cage-filled apartment with a mother who treated him like one of her pets.The “bird-boy” – whom authorities said suffered from Mowgli syndrome, from the Jungle Book character raised by wild animals – didn’t engage in any normal human communication but instead learnt the language of birds. Social worker Galina Volskaya said authorities were shocked when they found the boy in a two-bedroom apartment – which had bird droppings scattered across the floor.

“When you start talking to him, he chirps,” Volskaya said.

Volskaya also said when the boy becomes frustrated by being unable to communicate with authorities using bird-talk, he waves his arms as if they were wings. The boy’s mother has given him over to authorities, who have reportedly placed him in an asylum.

Source: Daily Telegraph

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