Xenophilia (True Strange Stuff)

Blog of the real Xenophilius Lovegood, a slightly mad scientist

Archive for August 9th, 2010

Stress gets under our skin

Posted by Anonymous on August 9, 2010

Everyone experiences social stress, whether it is nervousness over a job interview, difficulty meeting people at parties, or angst over giving a speech. In a new report, UCLA researchers have discovered that how your brain responds to social stressors can influence the body’s immune system in ways that may negatively affect health.

Lead author George Slavich, a postdoctoral fellow at the UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, and senior author Shelley Taylor, a UCLA professor of psychology, show that individuals who exhibit greater neural sensitivity to social rejection also exhibit greater increases in inflammatory activity to social stress.

And although such increases can be adaptive, chronic inflammation can increase the risk of a variety of disorders, including asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer, and depression.

The study appears in the current online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“It turns out, there are important differences in how people interpret and respond to social situations,” Slavich said. “For example, some people see giving a speech in front of an audience as a welcome challenge; others see it as threatening and distressing. In this study, we sought to examine the neural bases for these differences in response and to understand how these differences relate to biological processes that can affect human health and well-being.”

The researchers recruited 124 individuals — 54 men and 70 women — and put them into two awkward social situations. First, in the lab, the volunteers completed the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST), which involves preparing and delivering an impromptu speech and performing difficult mental arithmetic, both in front of a socially rejecting panel of raters wearing white lab coats. Mouth swabs were taken before and after the public-speaking tasks to test for changes in two key biomarkers of inflammatory activity — a receptor for tumor necrosis factor-α (sTNFαRII) and interleukin-6 (IL-6).

In a second session, 31 of the participants received an MRI brain scan while playing a computerized game of catch with what they believed were two other real people. The researchers focused on two areas of the brain known to respond to social stress — the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) and the anterior insula.

At first, the game was between all three “players.” Halfway through the game, however, the research subject was excluded, leading to an experience of social rejection. The researchers then examined how differences in neural activity during social rejection correlated with differences in inflammatory responses to the TSST.

Their results showed that individuals who exhibited greater neural activity in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and anterior insula during social rejection in the brain scanner also exhibited greater increases in inflammatory activity when exposed to acute social stress in the lab.

“This is further evidence of how closely our mind and body are connected,” Slavich said. “We have known for a long time that social stress can ‘get under the skin’ to increase risk for disease, but it’s been unclear exactly how these effects occur. To our knowledge, this study is the first to identify the neurocognitive pathways that might be involved in inflammatory responses to acute social stress.”

Although increases in inflammatory activity are part of our immune system’s natural response to potentially harmful situations, Slavich noted, “frequent or chronic activation of the system may increase risk for a variety of disorders, including asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and even depression.”

One critical question raised by the present findings is why neural sensitivity to social rejection would cause an increase in inflammation. There are several possible reasons, the authors note. For one, since physical threats have historically gone hand in hand with social threat or rejection, inflammation may be triggered in anticipation of a physical injury. Inflammatory cytokines — proteins that regulate the immune system — are released in response to impending (or actual) physical assault because they accelerate wound-healing and reduce the risk of infection.

While short-term inflammation is useful in battling an injury, chronic inflammation arising from the mere perception of social rejection is not. …

via Stress gets under our skin.

Posted in Biology, Mind | 2 Comments »

Mexican Baby “Comes Back to Life” Inside Coffin

Posted by Anonymous on August 9, 2010

Dafne Hernandez shows the death certificate of her newborn daughter and a coffin meant to be used at her burialA Mexican baby that had been pronounced dead was discovered to be still breathing — just hours before she was scheduled to be buried.

Dafne Marisol Hernandez, 17, was preparing to say farewell to her daughter, who died not long after her premature birth this week.

To Hernandez’s surprise, she could hear noises coming from inside the coffin. When she opened it up, she saw that her baby was alive — and crying. “That was when we realized she was alive,” Hernandez told the Reforma news agency. “There were movements and noises from inside the box where she had placed to be buried.”

It seems the odds for the baby were stacked against her from the beginning. Hernandez was rushed to hospital in Pachuca, northeast of Mexico City, when her water broke. She was only 24 weeks pregnant. Doctors took a blood sample and told her that they would have to induce labor; otherwise her life would be in danger.

When the baby was born, she weighed only 1.3 pounds. Soon after, doctors declared that the baby had died, saying they could no longer detect a pulse.

The case is “very strange and inexplicable,” Adolfo Martinez, director of the hospital, told news agency EFE. “We don’t know exactly when the heart and lung function returned.”

Just as strange is the fact that such a weak child could survive being declared dead. Once the death certificate had been signed, the baby was taken to an ice-cold mortuary.

She was left there for more than four hours before being given back to the family.

“We know that premature babies can’t take even a minute of cold conditions, let alone the temperature of a morgue,” Martinez said. “It’s not normal that she survived.”

via Mexican Baby Comes Back to Life Inside Coffin.

I’d avoid that hospital if I was in the area.

Posted in Strange | Leave a Comment »

Churchgoers protest strippers, so strippers protest church in Coshocton County

Posted by Anonymous on August 9, 2010

Strip-club owner Tommy George rolled up to the church in his grabber-orange Dodge Challenger, drinking a Mountain Dew at 9 in the morning and smoking a cigarette he had just rolled himself.

Pastor Bill Dunfee stepped out of a tan Nissan Murano, clutching a Bible in one hand and his sermon in the other, a touch of spray holding his perfectly coiffed ‘do in place.

Inside the New Beginnings Ministries church, Dunfee’s worshippers wore polyester and pearls.

Outside, George’s strippers wore bikinis and belly rings.

Both men agree it is classic sinners vs. saints. But George says it is up to America to decide which is which and who is who.

Dunfee says God already has chosen.

“Tom George is a parasite, a man without judgment,” Dunfee said. “The word of Jesus Christ says you cannot share territory with the devil.”

The battle that has heretofore played out in the parking lot of George’s strip club – the Foxhole, a run-down, garage-like building at a Coshocton County crossroads called Newcastle – has shifted 7 miles east to Church Street.

Every weekend for the last four years, Dunfee and members of his ministry have stood watch over George’s joint, taking up residence in the right of way with signs, video cameras and bullhorns in hand. They videotape customers’ license plates and post them online, and they try to save the souls of anyone who comes and goes.

Now, the dancers have turned the tables, so to speak. Fed up with the tactics of Dunfee and his flock, they say they have finally accepted his constant invitation to come to church.

It’s just that they’ve come wearing see-through shorts and toting Super Soakers.

They bring lawn chairs and – yesterday, anyway – grilled hamburgers, Monster energy drinks and corn on the cob.

They sat in front of the church and waved at passing cars but largely ignored the congregation behind them. …

via Churchgoers, strippers protest one another in Coshocton County | The Columbus Dispatch.

Well, you don’t see that every day. Some will also find it funny:

People Think Immoral Behavior Is Funny—But Only if It Also Seems Benign

What makes something funny? Philosophers have been tossing that question around since Plato. Now two psychological scientists think they’ve come up with the formula: humor comes from a violation or threat to the way the world ought to be that is, at the same time, benign. – aps

Posted in Religion, Strange | 1 Comment »

Seekers of alien life gather for SETIcon

Posted by Anonymous on August 9, 2010

SETIcon ArtFrank Drake, the famed astronomer who started looking for signals of intelligent beings in distant space 50 years ago, has inspired generations of starstruck seekers to join the hunt, and many of them will gather in the Bay Area next week to let the public in on what they’re up to.

Their venture is known as SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. If E.T. or any other aliens are really Out There, they may just be listening in to what promises to be a unique event with lectures, demonstrations and even a music performance.

Drake, now 80, will be among the prominent astronomers, astronauts and science fiction writers at the event – called SETIcon – to explain how the search for alien life is going and what it means.

The event is also scheduled to honor Drake formally as the inspiration for what is now a global search for alien life. The effort has expanded rapidly over the years, most recently as part of a project called seti@home, in which more than 5 million enthusiasts lend the processing power of their home computers to help catch signals from distant galaxies.

Drake began his imaginative quest as a young physicist running a radio telescope in Green Bank, W.Va. He searched for radio signals coming from the region near two sun-like stars and called the effort Project Ozma, after the princess in “The Wizard of Oz” books. That burgeoned into a full-scale, continuing search.

“Every time I go to an astrobiology meeting now, I sit there amazed at how far the search has come, how it’s now a real scientific discipline and how it’s become a cutting-edge part of NASA science,” he said Friday.

Among the many scientists speaking at the event is UC Berkeley astrophysicist Alex Filippenko, who explores how exploding stars called supernovae reveal the nature of black holes and the dark matter of the universe. Debra Fischer, a Yale astronomer who used to teach at S.F. State, will discuss her hunt for Earth-like planets around distant stars.

There will even be an audiovisual concert led by Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart, previewing his composition called “Rhythms of the Universe” that he is developing with SETI astronomer Jill Tarter and with George Smoot, the UC Berkeley astrophysicist who won the 2006 Nobel Prize for confirming the “big bang” theory of the origin of the universe.

SETIcon is sponsored by the SETI Institute in Mountain View. It will start Friday at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Santa Clara and ends Aug. 15. For tickets or to learn more, go to www.seticon.com

via Seekers of alien life gather for SETIcon.

Posted in Aliens | 1 Comment »

Ancient ‘cat-like’ crocodile had bite like a mammal

Posted by Anonymous on August 9, 2010

Pakasuchus kapilimai, artist's drawingPalaeontologists working in Tanzania have unearthed fossils of a tiny crocodile-like creature with teeth resembling those of mammals.

The animal, Pakasuchus kapilimai, lived between 144 and 65 million years ago – during the Cretaceous – in what is now sub-Saharan Africa.

Scientists say the find shows that crocs were once more diverse than they are today.

The team reports its discovery in the journal Nature.

Paka means “cat” in Kiswahili, Tanzania’s official language, and refers to the reptile’s short, low skull with slicing, molar-like teeth.

Patrick O’Connor, associate professor of anatomy at the Ohio University College of osteopathic medicine, led an international team of researchers.

via BBC News – Ancient ‘cat-like’ crocodile had bite like a mammal.

Posted in Archaeology | 1 Comment »

Google and Verizon close in on deal to end ‘net neutrality’

Posted by Anonymous on August 9, 2010

Bandwidth-hungry applications such as video conferencing are the future of the web: Google and Verizon look to be setting up a 'premium rate' internet to keep those applications separate.Search engine giant Google and U.S. telecoms company Verizon are finalising a deal that could spell the end for ‘net neutrality’.

Under the current system of internet neutrality any one packet of data commands the same right to bandwidth as any other.

That means a Skype video conference has as much chance of a speedy connection as a Google search, regular email traffic or a BBC iPlayer broadcast.

If the rules are changed, certain types of data could buy a ‘first class ticket’ ensuring priority access and faster speeds…

What is ‘net neutrality’ ?

It’s the assertion that anyone’s data is as important as anyone else’s. The original concept lies in the 1860 Pacific Telegraph Act, which established similar rules for early transcontinental telegraph communications in the USA.

What will this deal cost the average consumer?

Too soon to say, and costs would likely be buried in a monthly fee. As a guide, one hour of iPlayer use is said to generate an overhead of around 67p.

Will it make my internet access faster?

Basic browsing should be unaffected. If a deal were to be reached it should mean shorter load times an less ‘choking’ on streaming video services.

Can I buy some of this ‘first class internet’ ?

The deals will be done at ISP level. You can pay for more overall monthly bandwidth already, but switching tiers on-the-fly will be your ISP’s prerogative, not yours.

via Google and Verizon close in on deal to end ‘net neutrality’ | Mail Online.

Lame. Let’s build our own wireless massive encrypted peer-to-peer Internet and bypass the ISPs!! TOR 2.0 or something.

Posted in - Video, Politics, Technology | 2 Comments »

Discovery of Saturn’s auroral heartbeat

Posted by Anonymous on August 9, 2010

An international team of scientists led by Dr Jonathan Nichols of the University of Leicester has discovered that Saturn’s aurora, an ethereal ultraviolet glow which illuminates Saturn’s upper atmosphere near the poles, pulses roughly once per Saturnian day.

The length of a Saturnian day has been under much discussion since it was discovered that the traditional ‘clock’ used to measure the rotation period of Saturn, a gas giant planet with no solid surface for reference, apparently does not keep good time.

Saturn, like all magnetised planets, emits radio waves into space from the polar regions. These radio emissions pulse with a period near to 11 h, and the timing of the pulses was originally, during the Voyager era, thought to represent the rotation of the planet. However, over the years the period of the pulsing of the radio emissions has varied, and since the rotation of a planet cannot be easily sped up or slowed down, the hunt for the source of the varying radio period has become one of the most perplexing puzzles in planetary science.

Now, in a paper to be published in Geophysical Research Letters (August 6), Nichols et al. use images from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope of Saturn’s auroras obtained between 2005-2009 to show that, not only do the radio emissions pulse, but the auroras beat in tandem with the radio.

Dr Nichols said: “This is an important discovery for two reasons. First, it provides a long-suspected but hitherto missing link between the radio and auroral emissions, and second, it adds a critical tool in diagnosing the cause of Saturn’s irregular heartbeat.” …

However, Nichols et al. found that by using the clock of the radio pulsing to organise the auroral data, and stacking the results from all the Hubble Saturn auroral images obtained from 2005-2009 on top of each other, the auroral pulsing finally revealed itself.

Dr Nichols added: “This confirms that the auroras and the radio emissions are indeed physically associated, as suspected. This link is important, since it implies that the pulsing of the radio emissions is being imparted by the processes driving Saturn’s aurora, which in turn can be studied by the NASA/ESA spacecraft Cassini, presently in orbit around Saturn. It thus takes us a significant step toward solving the mystery of the variable radio period.”

via Discovery of Saturn’s auroral heartbeat.

Posted in Space | Leave a Comment »

China’s Three Gorges dam under threat from vast floating islands of rubbish

Posted by Anonymous on August 9, 2010

Three Gorges DamIt is the world’s biggest dam which promised to provide environmentally friendly energy to millions.

But China’s Three Gorges superstructure is now under threat from vast floating islands of rubbish and debris which have been swept into the Yangtze River by torrential rain and flooding.

The debris has clogged a large swathe of the river and the locks of the hydroelectric dam – which cost $25billion to build and claimed more than 100 lives – are now at risk.

The crust of rubbish is jammed so thick in places that people can stand on it.

The Three Gorges rubbish jam is not an isolated occurrence. Another island covering 15,000 square metres – more than 150,000 square feet  – had lodged under a bridge in the north-eastern city of Baishan in Jilin province and was blocking water flow.

Officials in Baishan are racing against time to clear the debris as they fear a fresh wave of flooding could bring down the bridge.

If the island is washed downstream, it could block floodgates at the Yunfeng dam, now operating at full capacity.

Emergency services were scrambling to clean up the waterway, near the border with North Korea, but fear it could take days.


via China’s Three Gorges dam under threat from vast floating islands of rubbish | Mail Online.

Posted in Earth | Leave a Comment »

Another Day, Another Frightening-Ass Robot

Posted by Anonymous on August 9, 2010

ghostbot-1.jpgGeez, could you have made it any creepier looking? Maybe if it had a bunch of bloody hooks tearing at its flesh or something. God that would be so hot aside, this is Telenoid R1, a humanoid robot that “recreates the physical presence of a remote user.”

The Telenoid R1 robot is designed to add an element of realism to long-distance communication by recreating the physical presence of the remote user. The robot’s actions mirror those of the remote user, whose movements are monitored by real-time face tracking software on the user’s computer. Users can also transmit their voice through the robot’s embedded speakers.

The robot’s androgynous and ageless look makes it suitable for a wide range of users, whether they are male, female, young or old.

At the unveiling in Osaka on August 1, the developers announced plans to begin selling two versions of the minimalist humanoid in October. The high-end model will be priced at about 3 million yen ($35,000), and a cheaper model will be available for about 700,000 yen ($8,000).

via Another Day, Another Frightening-Ass Robot – Geekologie.

Help me, I have no hands, legs, hair, ears or mouth opening! Looks like something from the special effects in the movie Altered States.

Posted in Technology | 1 Comment »

Every Lightsaber Ignition & Retraction

Posted by Anonymous on August 9, 2010

Posted in Science Fiction | Leave a Comment »


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