Xenophilia (True Strange Stuff)

Blog of the real Xenophilius Lovegood, a slightly mad scientist

Archive for November, 2009

Hammerhead sharks see 360 degrees

Posted by Anonymous on November 28, 2009

A new study has shown “that a hammerhead gives sharks outstanding binocular vision and an ability to see through 360 degrees. “

Scalloped hammerhead sharkScalloped hammerhead sharkThe finding is published in the Journal of Experimental Biology. …

The results surprised the researchers.

“I believed hammerheads would not have binocular vision, because their eyes were pointing out on the sides of the head,” admits Dr McComb.

“However, it turns out that the positioning of the eyes was really the key.”

The eyes of hammerhead sharks are tilted slightly forward, she says, allowing the field of vision of each to significantly overlap.

“This study has confirmed that vision may have played a role in the evolution of one of the ocean’s most bizarre inhabitants,” Dr McComb says.

“This has been a scientific question which has persisted since hammerheads were first described over 200 years ago.”

Added benefit

The shape of the hammerhead brings further benefits, the researchers discovered.

By moving their head sideways as they swim, the sharks can see much of what is behind them.

More extraordinary is that the position of the eyes allows the sharks to see through 360 degrees in the vertical plane, meaning the animals can see above and below them at all times.

As well as improving their ability to catch prey, “this may be beneficial to smaller sharks that are potential prey to larger sharks,” says Dr McComb.

via BBC – Earth News – Hammerhead shark mystery solved.

Posted in Biology | 1 Comment »

Splitting Time from Space—New Quantum Theory Topples Einstein’s Spacetime

Posted by Anonymous on November 28, 2009

Eclipsing Einstein? A solar eclipse confirmed gravitational lensing and Einstein’s concept of spacetime. But a new quantum gravity theory now generating excitement separates time and space.

Was Newton right and Einstein wrong? It seems that unzipping the fabric of spacetime and harking back to 19th-century notions of time could lead to a theory of quantum gravity.

Physicists have struggled to marry quantum mechanics with gravity for decades. In contrast, the other forces of nature have obediently fallen into line. For instance, the electromagnetic force can be described quantum-mechanically by the motion of photons. Try and work out the gravitational force between two objects in terms of a quantum graviton, however, and you quickly run into trouble—the answer to every calculation is infinity. But now Petr Hořava, a physicist at the University of California, Berkeley, thinks he understands the problem. It’s all, he says, a matter of time.

More specifically, the problem is the way that time is tied up with space in Einstein’s theory of gravity: general relativity. Einstein famously overturned the Newtonian notion that time is absolute—steadily ticking away in the background. Instead he argued that time is another dimension, woven together with space to form a malleable fabric that is distorted by matter. The snag is that in quantum mechanics, time retains its Newtonian aloofness, providing the stage against which matter dances but never being affected by its presence. These two conceptions of time don’t gel.

The solution, Hořava says, is to snip threads that bind time to space at very high energies, such as those found in the early universe where quantum gravity rules. “I’m going back to Newton’s idea that time and space are not equivalent,” Hořava says. At low energies, general relativity emerges from this underlying framework, and the fabric of spacetime restitches, he explains.

Hořava likens this emergence to the way some exotic substances change phase. For instance, at low temperatures liquid helium’s properties change dramatically, becoming a “superfluid” that can overcome friction. In fact, he has co-opted the mathematics of exotic phase transitions to build his theory of gravity. So far it seems to be working: the infinities that plague other theories of quantum gravity have been tamed, and the theory spits out a well-behaved graviton. It also seems to match with computer simulations of quantum gravity. …

via Splitting Time from Space—New Quantum Theory Topples Einstein’s Spacetime: Scientific American.

Posted in Physics | 2 Comments »

Nanowires key to future transistors, electronics

Posted by Anonymous on November 28, 2009

A new generation of ultrasmall transistors and more powerful computer chips using tiny structures called semiconducting nanowires are closer to reality after a key discovery by researchers at IBM, Purdue University and the University of California at Los Angeles.

The researchers have learned how to create nanowires with layers of different materials that are sharply defined at the atomic level, which is a critical requirement for making efficient transistors out of the structures.

“Having sharply defined layers of materials enables you to improve and control the flow of electrons and to switch this flow on and off,” said Eric Stach, an associate professor of materials engineering at Purdue.

Electronic devices are often made of “heterostructures,” meaning they contain sharply defined layers of different semiconducting materials, such as silicon and germanium. Until now, however, researchers have been unable to produce nanowires with sharply defined silicon and germanium layers. Instead, this transition from one layer to the next has been too gradual for the devices to perform optimally as transistors.

The new findings point to a method for creating nanowire transistors.

The findings are detailed in a research paper appearing Friday (Nov. 27) in the journal Science. …

via Nanowires key to future transistors, electronics.

Posted in Technology | Leave a Comment »

Tiger Woods rescued from crash by wife carrying a golf club

Posted by Anonymous on November 28, 2009

Tiger Woods and Elin NordegrenTiger Woods with his wife Elin Nordegren earlier this year Photograph: Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

Tiger Woods, the world’s most famous golfer, was rescued from his car after a crash outside his home by his wife who smashed the vehicle’s back window with a golf club.

Woods was injured after crashing his Cadillac SUV when he drove away from his home at 2.25am on Friday. He suffered facial lacerations when the 4×4 hit a fire hydrant in his garden then careered into a tree.

Police said the incident was not alcohol related but in what is a standard procedure added that “charges were pending”.

Gary Bruhn, the mayor of Windermere, told CNN that Woods had been taken to the Health Central Hospital, Ocoee, but was later released. “I think it’s nothing more than an accident but the police have to let this run its course and investigate what happened,” he said.

“It will be an ongoing investigation that will take a number of days to come to a conclusion. It just seems like a very strange accident that occurred and we responded to take care of his safety. As I understand it, there were some facial lacerations but nothing that serious.”

Windermere police chief Daniel Saylor told The Associated Press that officers found Woods, 33, lying in the street with his wife, Elin Nordegren, next to him.

She told officers she was in the house when she heard the accident and “came out and broke the back window with a golf club”. Woods had lacerations to his upper and lower lips, and he had blood in his mouth, Saylor said.

Mark Steinberg, the player’s agent, later confirmed that his client was “fine” and that he was released from hospital in good condition.

His spokeswoman said: “He was admitted, treated and released in good condition,” adding it was the golfer’s wish that no further details were made public.

The accident happened at low speed – the vehicle’s airbags, which are triggered to release in crashes at speeds of over 33mph, were not activated. The accident report was not released until nearly 12 hours after Woods was injured, but a Florida Highway Patrol spokesman Kim Montes said it did not meet the criteria of a serious crash, and the department only put out a press release because of inquiries from local media.

via Tiger Woods rescued from crash by wife Elin Nordegren carrying a golf club | Sport | guardian.co.uk.


Posted in Sports | Leave a Comment »

Sweden woman’s ‘murder’ committed by elk not husband

Posted by Anonymous on November 28, 2009

Ingemar WestlundA Swedish man who was arrested on suspicion of murdering his wife has been cleared, after police decided she was probably killed by an elk.

Ingemar Westlund, aged 68, found the dead body of his wife Agneta, 63, by a lake close to the village of Loftahammer in September 2008.

He was immediately arrested and held in police custody for 10 days.

Now the case has been dropped after forensic analysis found elk hair and saliva on his wife’s clothes.

Mr Westlund told Expressen newspaper: “My family and I have been dragged through a nightmare.”

His wife had last been seen taking the family dog out for a walk in the forest. When she failed to return her husband went out to look for her.

Although the murder investigation was dropped five months ago, details have only just emerged and the police plan to hold a news conference next week to explain what happened.

The European elk, or moose, is usually considered to be shy and will normally run away from humans. But Swedish Radio International says the animals can become aggressive after eating fermented fallen apples in gardens.

via BBC News – Sweden woman’s ‘murder’ committed by elk not husband.

Posted in Strange | Leave a Comment »

Cell discovery clues to body clock and beating jet lag

Posted by Anonymous on November 28, 2009

A man yawnsNew discoveries into how the body clock works could provide clues to help combat jet lag, research suggests.

A University of Manchester team studied special cells which they say play an important role in regulating a person’s body clock.

The cells had been thought to be inactive during the day – but their research found the opposite is true.

It is hoped the findings may also pave the way to combating sleep disorders triggered by body clock malfunctions.

Professor Hugh Piggins, an expert in neuroscience at the university, said the research will allow a new approach to being able to tune our daily clock.

Two cells

The Manchester research turns on its head the idea that the brain keeps the body clock on track by firing more cells during daylight and very few during the night.

“The traditional model said the clock and the brain communicated to the rest of the brain via the number of electrical impulses that the brain cells were producing,” Prof Piggins told the BBC World Service’s Health Check programme.

“These impulses would travel around the brain, telling it what time of day it is.

“What we’ve found is in fact that there are at least two types of cells in this part of the brain.”

These brain cells behave unlike any other cell seen so far, and contain a key gene – per1 – which allows them to sustain unusually high levels of “excitability”.

The cells becoming so “excited” that they seem quiet or even dead; but then later they calm down, recover and become normally active again.

It is this activity which tells the human body when to be awake.

Prof Piggins added: “There’s a lot of interest in the pharmaceutical industry, obviously, to try to develop chemical treatments to reset your daily clock to help counteract things like jetlag.

“Or, perhaps more importantly, different kind of sleep disorders for which dysfunctions in this clock are often involved.”

This study marks the first time these “quiet” cells have been studied.

“This may mean that elsewhere in the brain there are cells like this that can also survive these very unusual conditions.”

via BBC News – Cell discovery clues to body clock and beating jet lag.

Posted in Biology | Leave a Comment »

Stem cell breakthrough: healing lungs of newborn animals

Posted by Anonymous on November 28, 2009

http://stevemehta.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/lifecoaches_breathe.jpg?w=355&h=223Dr. Bernard Thébaud lives in two very different worlds. As a specialist in the Stollery Children’s Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, he cares for tiny babies, many of whom struggle for breath after being born weeks before they are due. Across town, in his laboratory in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry at the University of Alberta, Dr. Thébaud dons a lab coat and peers into a microscope to examine the precise effect of stem cells on the lungs.Today, with his scientific research being published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, Dr. Thébaud has made a significant leap to bridge the gap between those two worlds.

An international team of scientists led by Dr. Thébaud has demonstrated for the first time that stem cells protect and repair the lungs of newborn rats. “The really exciting thing that we discovered was that stem cells are like little factories, pumping out healing factors,” says Dr. Thébaud, an Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research Clinical Scholar. “That healing liquid seems to boost the power of the healthy lung cells and helps them to repair the lungs.”

In this study, Thébaud’s team simulated the conditions of prematurity – giving the newborn rats oxygen. The scientists then took stem cells, derived from bone marrow, and injected them into the rats’ airways. Two weeks later, the rats treated with stem cells were able to run twice as far, and had better survival rates. When Thébaud’s team looked at the lungs, they found the stem cells had repaired the lungs, and prevented further damage.

“I want to congratulate Dr. Thébaud and his team. This research offers real hope for a new treatment for babies with chronic lung disease,” says Dr. Roberta Ballard, professor of pediatrics, University of California, San Francisco. “In a few short years, I anticipate we will be able to take these findings and begin clinical trials with premature babies.”

- via EurkaAlert

Posted in Biology | 1 Comment »

Mystery surrounds photograph found in bank

Posted by Anonymous on November 28, 2009

Image related to story 394526, see caption or article textSHE looks like a Force’s Sweetheart. But someone on the Home Front is missing her.

This photograph of a rather distinguished lady dressed in what appears to be a British naval uniform, and which is believed to date back to World War Two, was found on the floor of a bank in Galashiels.

And now big-hearted staff at Halifax Bank of Scotland (HBOS) in the town’s Channel Street, have asked the Border Telegraph to help them reunite it with its owner.

“It’s common for people to carry photographs with them in their wallets and it may well be that this has slipped out and no one has noticed,” branch manager Mike Godsman explained. “It could be a picture of someone’s sweetheart, wife or daughter.

“And, if they have carried it around with them all this time, it obviously means quite a lot to them, so presumably they will be upset at losing it.”

The snap was discovered in the reception area at HBOS in Galashiels by bank worker Emma Saunders at the start of November.

Other than the words HMS Drake, which appear on her cap, there are no other markings on the back of the photograph to say who the subject might be or where they might come from – and no-one has posted it missing.

However, it is not the only unusual item customers have left behind at the branch. A DVD, keys, and handbag have all been reunited with their owners in the past year, while a necklace remains unclaimed.

Mr Godsman said: “Given the age of the photograph, it would appear irreplaceable.” And he added: “We are trying to find a way of reuniting it with its owner.”

Do you know the person in the photograph? Contact our reporter by phone: 01896 758470, or email: amcgilvray@bordertelegraph.com

via Mystery surrounds photograph found in bank – News – Galashiels – Articles – Border Telegraph.

Posted in Strange | 1 Comment »

Scientist works to prove he does not exist, and neither do you.

Posted by Anonymous on November 28, 2009

When  studying neurobiology and consciousness, I came across the idea that consciousness is epiphenominal, that is, a side effect of the brain which does not influence the body. A strange idea, certainly. Oddly, scientific data supports the notion that conscious experience is created by non-conscious processes in the brain.

When we make a choice, for example, science has showed that our brain chooses before we do.  How can free will exist if your brain already chooses before you do with your supposed free will?

If you find the idea that “you” are an illusion, you will not want to read the following:

The denial of one’s own existence might seem a desperate philosophical strategy, but denying the reality of the self is a line which a number of people have taken, and Thomas Metzinger is prominent among them.

By Peter Hankins

The thesis of his massive 2003 work is summed up in the title: Being No One: The Self-Model Theory of Subjectivity. In that book, Metzinger made a commendable effort to balance philosophy and science; but the sheer size of the resulting text may have deterred some readers — I confess to being somewhat daunted myself. Now he has come back with a slimmer volume The Ego Tunnel which is aimed at a wider public and raises wider issues which Metzinger suggests need public attention.

Metzinger’s theory — the Self-model Theory of Subjectivity or SMT — suggests that subjective experience is really a kind of trick the brain plays on itself. Our brain sets up a model of the world (actually based on fairly limited data) to which it then adds a model of us, ourselves. The coherence of the model and the fact that the processes supporting it are transparent — i.e., invisible to us — yield the vivid impression of a self in direct contact with reality, and that’s where subjectivity arises; although in fact the whole thing is simply an illusion.

Metzinger’s view of qualia is characteristically complex. He has a good argument against the existence of what he calls canonical qualia, qualia conceived as subjective universals. He points out that our ability to discriminate is far greater than our ability to recognise. So, if we are presented with examples of green 64 and green 66, we can readily tell the difference: but if at a later stage we are presented with one of the examples, we have no hope of telling which it is. So there is no single thing that consistently goes along with the experience of green 64.

Concluding that at any rate we need to distinguish between ‘qualia’ available to memory and qualia available to the faculty of recognition, Metzinger goes on to distinguish a series of possible conceptions of qualia, ending with ‘Metzinger qualia’ which are available attentionally but not cognitively. These are slippery customers for obvious reasons, impossible to report and broadly ineffable — but then that’s how qualia are generally assumed to be.

Even as a summary, the foregoing is a bare and radically, probably over- simplified view of the theory, however. Metzinger actually presents ten constraints which need to be satisfied for the occurrence of subjective experience …

via The Ego Tunnel (pt 1) | Machines Like Us.

Of course, once we understand that the basic way the brain is wired is with feedback loops, the most sensible idea (and the most touch with our experience) is if consciousness feeds back into the brain as an input. This “self” input is as important and sometimes more important than input from the outside world.  Yes, it happens after other experience, but we have an illusion that we live in the “now” and that we are in control. These are important illusions and very adaptive. Consciousness is a self correction program, an observer model that believes it is the main actor.

Posted in Biology, Mind | Leave a Comment »

Can you spot the difference?

Posted by Anonymous on November 28, 2009

Posted in Politics, Technology | 1 Comment »


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