Xenophilia (True Strange Stuff)

Blog of the real Xenophilius Lovegood, a slightly mad scientist

Archive for July 12th, 2008

Photo: Road trip to the beach to escape the smoke

Posted by Anonymous on July 12, 2008

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Former Bush Spokesman Tony Snow Dies at 53

Posted by Anonymous on July 12, 2008

Here are the top 10 tips to keep from getting colon cancer.  In short: Eat healthy, don’t be overweight, exercise. What did Tony Snow eat most days? Just curious.

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A UFO! … suspended from a helicopter.

Posted by Anonymous on July 12, 2008

Dominic Harris of Cinimod Studio, who recently brought you the hypnotizing Illuminating Table, has just produced a new artwork that’s even more startling. Particularly startling if you were walking the streets of Gdansk last Friday with a bit too much goldwasser swirling inside you: it’s a huge, flashing, LED-lit UFO. And it flies. Ok… it’s slung 160 feet beneath a Mil Mi2 helicopter, but that doesn’t detract from a clever piece of flying art. Check out the video below the gallery to see it in action. It was flown in by mountain-rescue pilots, sweeping in from the Polish coast and circling over central Gdansk just after sunset. The whole performance was part of Gdansk Festival of Stars, and was the first showing of the artwork. And I really, really wish I could’ve seen it. [Cinimod Studio]

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Dragon’s blood trees

Posted by Anonymous on July 12, 2008

Dragon’s blood trees grow in the archipelago, which consists of four islands and two rocky islets that trail for 150 miles (250 kilometers) off the Horn of Africa.

“The site is of universal importance because of its biodiversity with rich and distinct flora and fauna: 37 percent of Socotra’s 825 plant species, 90 percent of its reptile species, and 95 percent of its land snail species do not occur anywhere else in the world,” the UNESCO World Heritage Committee said in a press statement on July 8, 2008.-natgeo

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World’s first brain prosthesis revealed

Posted by Anonymous on July 12, 2008

The world’s first brain prosthesis – an artificial hippocampus – is about to be tested in California. Unlike devices like cochlear implants, which merely stimulate brain activity, this silicon chip implant will perform the same processes as the damaged part of the brain it is replacing.

The prosthesis will first be tested on tissue from rats’ brains, and then on live animals. If all goes well, it will then be tested as a way to help people who have suffered brain damage due to stroke, epilepsy or Alzheimer’s disease.

Any device that mimics the brain clearly raises ethical issues. The brain not only affects memory, but your mood, awareness and consciousness – parts of your fundamental identity, says ethicist Joel Anderson at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri.

The researchers developing the brain prosthesis see it as a test case. “If you can’t do it with the hippocampus you can’t do it with anything,” says team leader Theodore Berger of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. The hippocampus is the most ordered and structured part of the brain, and one of the most studied. Importantly, it is also relatively easy to test its function.

The job of the hippocampus appears to be to “encode” experiences so they can be stored as long-term memories elsewhere in the brain. “If you lose your hippocampus you only lose the ability to store new memories,” says Berger. That offers a relatively simple and safe way to test the device: if someone with the prosthesis regains the ability to store new memories, then it’s safe to assume it works. – continued on Newsci

Posted in Biology, Mind | Leave a Comment »

Want to Enhance Your Brain Power?

Posted by Anonymous on July 12, 2008

A little brain boost is something we could all use now and then. A new option may be on the horizon. Researchers at the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke, in Bethesda, MD, are studying how applying gentle electrical current to the scalp can improve learning.

Previous small-scale studies have suggested that a stream of current can improve motor function, verbal fluency, and even language learning. To explore how effective such stimulation can be as a learning tool, Eric Wassermann, a neuroscientist at the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke, is using an approach known as transcranial direct current stimulation (TDCS), in which an electrical current is passed directly to the brain through the scalp and skull. The technology for TDCS, which has been available for decades, is simple and fairly crude. (In the 1960s, it was used to improve mood in people with psychiatric disorders, although that effect hasn’t been repeated in more recent studies.) And in contrast to people undergoing electroconvulsive therapy, a seizure-inducing treatment used for severe depression that requires anesthesia, people undergoing TDCS feel just a slight tingle, if anything.

The device is simple: a nine-volt battery that’s been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for delivering drugs across the skin is connected to large flat sponges that are moistened and then applied to the head. It delivers a gentle 2 to 2.5 milliamps of current spread over a 20 to 50 square millimeter area of the scalp for up to 15 minutes. Little of that current actually reaches the brain–about half is shunted away from the target area, and the other half quickly dissipates as it gets farther from the scalp.

Wassermann’s team targets part of the brain known as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a brain area involved in higher-level organization and planning, as well as in working memory. Because activity in this region has been shown in previous imaging studies to predict an individual’s ability to recall information, the idea is that giving it an electrical boost will enhance memory function.

In preliminary results from the new study, which is part of a larger government-funded project to examine TDCS for cognitive enhancement, researchers found that direct current stimulation could improve memory in participants asked to learn and then recall a list of 12 words. – techrev

Posted in Biology, Mind | 1 Comment »

Fish fossils plug hole in evolutionary theory

Posted by Anonymous on July 12, 2008

Some odd-looking fish fossils discovered in the bowels of several European museums may help solve a lingering question about evolutionary theory, U.S. researchers said on Wednesday. The 50 million-year-old fossils — which have one eye near the top of their heads — help explain how flatfish such as flounder, sole and halibut developed the strange but useful trait of having both eyes on one side.

For flatfish, which lie on their sides at the bottom of the sea, this arrangement gives them the use of two watchful eyes. But the trait has posed a problem for evolutionary biologists because no one had found any so-called transitional fossils — fossils showing intermediate steps in the evolution of this trait.

“The important thing about this study is it delivers evidence of those intermediates,” said Matt Friedman of The Field Museum and the University of Chicago, whose study appears in the journal Nature. This missing link in the evolution of flatfishes has been seen as a hole in the theory of natural selection.

The argument is that intermediate forms of these fish could not exist because there would be no survival benefit from having one eye that was slightly off center, but still on the opposite side of the head.

Biologists have theorized that maybe the changes occurred all at once with a large-scale mutation. According to this popular “hopeful monster” theory, flatfishes developed this weird trait, which luckily turned out to be very useful.  Friedman’s find now suggests that flatfishes followed a more conventional evolutionary plan. “There was no macromutation that all of a sudden gave them both eyes on the same side of the head,” he said in a telephone interview. …”It turns out they don’t lie flat and completely prone on the sea floor. They [intermediate fishes] actually will prop themselves up slightly (with their fins),” Friedman said. Once in that position, having a slightly asymmetrical eye arrangement must have proved advantageous, he said. – reuters

The conditions to make a fossil are very rare. Most things that die disappear completely. Still, the fossil record clearly shows evolution of species.  The phrase “hole in evolutionary theory” will be misleading to those who believe in creationism. A side by side comparison showing the strength of evidence for evolutionary theory vs. intelligent design would be useful. People believe in intelligent design because 1) someone they know believes it. 2) Ancient religious texts written by other humans say it is true. 3) It does not require understanding biology or vast stretches of time. Creationism is the “dumbed down” version of how we got here, minus the actual details. In other words, no one ever asks, but “How, exactly, did God create Adam?”

What exactly did God need Adam’s rib for?

I mean, did he run out of dust or somethng? Considering that he’s GOD, why couldn’t he simply have snapped his fingers and created Eve (and Adam, for that matter) out of nothing, just like he did with the sun and moon and earth, etc? Why does God need dust and ribs? -yahoo

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For Future of Mind Control, Robot-Monkey Trials Are Just a Start

Posted by Anonymous on July 12, 2008

A study in the journal Nature this spring all but confirmed the latest evolution in the hard-charging, heady field of cybernetics: Monkeys can control machines with their brains. In the experiment, conducted by neuroscientists at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, a pair of macaque monkeys with electrodes implanted in their brains were able to quickly learn how to operate a robot arm as though it were their own, successfully fee ding themselves more than half the time.  … But the biggest obstacle of all could be the interface itself. Only with the promise of restoring bodily functions would most human test subjects agree to have electrodes permanently implanted in their heads. Barring some bizarre shift in values (and a corresponding spike in unethical surgeons), the leap from rehabilitation-oriented interfaces to elective ones is nearly impossible to fathom. Reaching a wider audience would require a revolution in noninvasive interfaces, such as electrode-studded caps. “The problem is you can’t get the same kind of resolution. You only get binary data,” says Nicolelis. “To reconstruct true trajectories would require new technology—something that might allow you to go through bone without opening it, some optical method we haven’t seen yet.”  And that would amount to a breakthrough in physics, as there is zero indication that any such transmission method is imminent. Until someone reinvents the electrode, the most advanced brain-controlled devices will be reserved for the disabled.- popularmechanics

Cool, but why didn’t the experimenter saw open his own skull and stick electrodes in his own brain? If he needed two people for the experiment, he could have used his mother too.

Posted in Mind, Technology | Leave a Comment »

Jupiter’s third red spot torn apart by siblings

Posted by Anonymous on July 12, 2008

Jupiter’s third giant red storm has been chewed up by a collision with the planet’s other two red spots and does not appear to have survived.

Astronomers are still scrambling to capture pictures of the aftermath, but it appears Jupiter’s third spot was torn up last week when it squeezed between its larger cousins, the Great Red Spot and Red Spot Junior. The third spot first appeared earlier this year when a white storm turned scarlet.

While some traces of clumpy red material remain, “it’s not really a spot any more”, Glenn Orton at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, US, said on Wednesday. “It’s just sort of scrambled. It’s a blob.”

“The LRS [Little Red Spot] is really gone,” Christopher Go, an amateur astronomer in Cebu, the Philippines, told New Scientist on Thursday.

Amateur astronomers broke the news of the spot’s stormy dismemberment online – ns

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India Basins Half a Billion Years Older Than Thought, supports “snowball Earth” hypothesis

Posted by Anonymous on July 12, 2008

India’s Vindhyan Basins have hidden their age well—by as much as 500 million years, according to controversial new research. The basins, which stretch across a 39,000-square-mile (100,000-square-kilometer) swath of central India, were initially believed to have formed about 500 to 700 million years ago after Earth’s crust stretched, thinned, and then faulted.

Six of the basins studied, however, show evidence that they were created a billion years ago, said study lead author Joseph Meert, a geology professor at the University of Florida.

The drastic age revision offers new evidence for the “snowball Earth” hypothesis, which says that Earth’s surface was completely covered with snow and ice about 700 million years ago, according to the scientists.

It may also lend some support to claims that multicellular organisms found in the region date to 1.6 billion years ago, several hundred million years before most scientists believe such creatures developed.

The study appears in a recent issue of the journal Precambrian Research. – continues on natgeo

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