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Topics - Agrul

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151
General Disconation / in minneapolis tmrw 'til tuesday
« on: October 03, 2013, 11:00:51 PM »
does anyone-thing live here

152
General Disconation / Math > history, redux
« on: September 24, 2013, 11:55:46 AM »
TLDR : math dudes model social evolution of cultural traits conducive to maintenance of large-scale society in Eurasia-Africa primarily as a function of selection by warfare, using agent-based computational model. Their results fit the actual historical record reasonably well, R-square = 0.65 or something.

The question of how human societies evolve from small groups to the huge, anonymous and complex societies of today has been answered mathematically, accurately matching the historical record on the emergence of complex states in the ancient world.

Intense warfare is the evolutionary driver of large complex societies, according to new research from a trans-disciplinary team at the University of Connecticut, the University of Exeter in England, and the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS). The study appears this week as an open-access article in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The study's cultural evolutionary model predicts where and when the largest-scale complex societies arose in human history.

Simulated within a realistic landscape of the Afro-Eurasian landmass during 1,500 BCE to 1,500 CE, the mathematical model was tested against the historical record. During the time period, horse-related military innovations, such as chariots and cavalry, dominated warfare within Afro-Eurasia. Geography also mattered, as nomads living in the Eurasian Steppe influenced nearby agrarian societies, thereby spreading intense forms of offensive warfare out from the steppe belt.
The study focuses on the interaction of ecology and geography as well as the spread of military innovations and predicts that selection for ultra-social institutions that allow for cooperation in huge groups of genetically unrelated individuals and large-scale complex states, is greater where warfare is more intense.
While existing theories on why there is so much variation in the ability of different human populations to construct viable states are usually formulated verbally, by contrast, the authors' work leads to sharply defined quantitative predictions, which can be tested empirically.
The model-predicted spread of large-scale societies was very similar to the observed one; the model was able to explain two-thirds of the variation in determining the rise of large-scale societies.
"What's so exciting about this area of research is that instead of just telling stories or describing what occurred, we can now explain general historical patterns with quantitative accuracy. Explaining historical events helps us better understand the present, and ultimately may help us predict the future," said the study's co-author Sergey Gavrilets, NIMBioS director for scientific activities.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130923155538.htm?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+sciencedaily%2Fcomputers_math%2Fmathematical_modeling+%28ScienceDaily%3A+Computers+%26+Math+News+--+Mathematical+Modeling%29

actual article link freely available from PNAS:

http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1308825110

153
After almost 9 years in space that included an unprecedented July 4th impact and subsequent flyby of a comet, an additional comet flyby, and the return of approximately 500,000 images of celestial objects, NASA's Deep Impact mission has ended.

The project team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., has reluctantly pronounced the mission at an end after being unable to communicate with the spacecraft for over a month. The last communication with the probe was Aug. 8. Deep Impact was history's most traveled comet research mission, going about 4.7 billion miles (7.58 billion kilometers).

"Deep Impact has been a fantastic, long-lasting spacecraft that has produced far more data than we had planned," said Mike A'Hearn, the Deep Impact principal investigator at the University of Maryland in College Park. "It has revolutionized our understanding of comets and their activity."

Deep Impact successfully completed its original bold mission of six months in 2005 to investigate both the surface and interior composition of a comet, and a subsequent extended mission of another comet flyby and observations of planets around other stars that lasted from July 2007 to December 2010. Since then, the spacecraft has been continually used as a space-borne planetary observatory to capture images and other scientific data on several targets of opportunity with its telescopes and instrumentation.

Launched in January 2005, the spacecraft first traveled about 268 million miles (431 million kilometers) to the vicinity of comet Tempel 1. On July 3, 2005, the spacecraft deployed an impactor into the path of comet to essentially be run over by its nucleus on July 4. This caused material from below the comet's surface to be blasted out into space where it could be examined by the telescopes and instrumentation of the flyby spacecraft. Sixteen days after that comet encounter, the Deep Impact team placed the spacecraft on a trajectory to fly back past Earth in late December 2007 to put it on course to encounter another comet, Hartley 2 in November 2010.

"Six months after launch, this spacecraft had already completed its planned mission to study comet Tempel 1," said Tim Larson, project manager of Deep Impact at JPL. "But the science team kept finding interesting things to do, and through the ingenuity of our mission team and navigators and support of NASA's Discovery Program, this spacecraft kept it up for more than eight years, producing amazing results all along the way."
The spacecraft's extended mission culminated in the successful flyby of comet Hartley 2 on Nov. 4, 2010. Along the way, it also observed six different stars to confirm the motion of planets orbiting them, and took images and data of Earth, the moon and Mars. These data helped to confirm the existence of water on the moon, and attempted to confirm the methane signature in the atmosphere of Mars. One sequence of images is a breathtaking view of the moon transiting across the face of Earth.

In January 2012, Deep Impact performed imaging and accessed the composition of distant comet C/2009 P1 (Garradd). It took images of comet ISON this year and collected early images of ISON in June.
After losing contact with the spacecraft last month, mission controllers spent several weeks trying to uplink commands to reactivate its onboard systems. Although the exact cause of the loss is not known, analysis has uncovered a potential problem with computer time tagging that could have led to loss of control for Deep Impact's orientation. That would then affect the positioning of its radio antennas, making communication difficult, as well as its solar arrays, which would in turn prevent the spacecraft from getting power and allow cold temperatures to ruin onboard equipment, essentially freezing its battery and propulsion systems.

"Despite this unexpected final curtain call, Deep Impact already achieved much more than ever was envisioned," said Lindley Johnson, the Discovery Program Executive at NASA Headquarters, and the Program Executive for the mission since a year before it launched. "Deep Impact has completely overturned what we thought we knew about comets and also provided a treasure trove of additional planetary science that will be the source data of research for years to come."

The mission is part of the Discovery Program managed at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. JPL manages the Deep Impact mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colo., built the spacecraft. The California Institute of Technology in Pasadena manages JPL for NASA.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130920144217.htm?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+sciencedaily%2Fspace_time%2Fastronomy+%28ScienceDaily%3A+Space+%26+Time+News+--+Astronomy%29

154
Spamalot / is it weird that i don't want sex for joy?
« on: September 18, 2013, 12:09:35 AM »
or is this common?

i mean having a loving partner who cares for me and w/ whom i share some bilateral empathy will obv always improve life, and sex, and thereby life

but i also don't care that much, honestly. by which i mean, if i am healthy, i am super happy anyway. do you dudes really give a fuck who you're fucking that much?

155
General Disconation / Mushroom Kingdom Fusion
« on: September 17, 2013, 12:52:57 AM »
Mushroom Kingdom Fusion Trailer

156
General Disconation / Don't date a girl who reads — Charles Warnke
« on: September 16, 2013, 02:03:34 PM »
Date a girl who doesn’t read. Find her in the weary squalor of a Midwestern bar. Find her in the smoke, drunken sweat, and varicolored light of an upscale nightclub. Wherever you find her, find her smiling. Make sure that it lingers when the people that are talking to her look away. Engage her with unsentimental trivialities. Use pick-up lines and laugh inwardly.

Take her outside when the night overstays its welcome. Ignore the palpable weight of fatigue. Kiss her in the rain under the weak glow of a streetlamp because you’ve seen it in film. Remark at its lack of significance. Take her to your apartment. Dispatch with making love. Fuck her.
Let the anxious contract you’ve unwittingly written evolve slowly and uncomfortably into a relationship. Find shared interests and common ground like sushi, and folk music. Build an impenetrable bastion upon that ground. Make it sacred. Retreat into it every time the air gets stale, or the evenings get long. Talk about nothing of significance. Do little thinking. Let the months pass unnoticed. Ask her to move in. Let her decorate. Get into fights about inconsequential things like how the fucking shower curtain needs to be closed so that it doesn’t fucking collect mold. Let a year pass unnoticed. Begin to notice.

Figure that you should probably get married because you will have wasted a lot of time otherwise. Take her to dinner on the forty-fifth floor at a restaurant far beyond your means. Make sure there is a beautiful view of the city. Sheepishly ask a waiter to bring her a glass of champagne with a modest ring in it. When she notices, propose to her with all of the enthusiasm and sincerity you can muster. Do not be overly concerned if you feel your heart leap through a pane of sheet glass. For that matter, do not be overly concerned if you cannot feel it at all. If there is applause, let it stagnate. If she cries, smile as if you’ve never been happier. If she doesn’t, smile all the same.

Let the years pass unnoticed. Get a career, not a job. Buy a house. Have two striking children. Try to raise them well. Fail, frequently. Lapse into a bored indifference. Lapse into an indifferent sadness. Have a mid-life crisis. Grow old. Wonder at your lack of achievement. Feel sometimes contented, but mostly vacant and ethereal. Feel, during walks, as if you might never return, or as if you might blow away on the wind. Contract a terminal illness. Die, but only after you observe that the girl who didn’t read never made your heart oscillate with any significant passion, that no one will write the story of your lives, and that she will die, too, with only a mild and tempered regret that nothing ever came of her capacity to love.

Do those things, because nothing sucks worse than a girl who reads. Do it, I say, because a life in purgatory is better than a life in hell. Do it, because a girl who reads possesses a vocabulary that can describe that amorphous discontent as a life unfulfilled—a vocabulary that parses the innate beauty of the world and makes it an accessible necessity instead of an alien wonder. A girl who reads lays claim to a vocabulary that distinguishes between the specious and soulless rhetoric of someone who cannot love her, and the inarticulate desperation of someone who loves her too much. A vocabulary, god damnit, that makes my vacuous sophistry a cheap trick.

Do it, because a girl who reads understands syntax. Literature has taught her that moments of tenderness come in sporadic but knowable intervals. A girl who reads knows that life is not planar; she knows, and rightly demands, that the ebb comes along with the flow of disappointment. A girl who has read up on her syntax senses the irregular pauses—the hesitation of breath—endemic to a lie. A girl who reads perceives the difference between a parenthetical moment of anger and the entrenched habits of someone whose bitter cynicism will run on, run on well past any point of reason, or purpose, run on far after she has packed a suitcase and said a reluctant goodbye and she has decided that I am an ellipsis and not a period and run on and run on. Syntax that knows the rhythm and cadence of a life well lived.
Date a girl who doesn’t read because the girl who reads knows the importance of plot. She can trace out the demarcations of a prologue and the sharp ridges of a climax. She feels them in her skin. The girl who reads will be patient with an intermission and expedite a denouement. But of all things, the girl who reads knows most the ineluctable significance of an end. She is comfortable with them. She has bid farewell to a thousand heroes with only a twinge of sadness.

Don’t date a girl who reads because girls who read are the storytellers. You with the Joyce, you with the Nabokov, you with the Woolf. You there in the library, on the platform of the metro, you in the corner of the café, you in the window of your room. You, who make my life so god damned difficult. The girl who reads has spun out the account of her life and it is bursting with meaning. She insists that her narratives are rich, her supporting cast colorful, and her typeface bold. You, the girl who reads, make me want to be everything that I am not. But I am weak and I will fail you, because you have dreamed, properly, of someone who is better than I am. You will not accept the life that I told of at the beginning of this piece. You will accept nothing less than passion, and perfection, and a life worthy of being storied. So out with you, girl who reads. Take the next southbound train and take your Hemingway with you. I hate you. I really, really, really hate you.

157
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), who sits on the House Committee of Foreign Affairs, told Southern California Public Radio in an interview on Syria that he once arm-wrestled Russian President Vladimir Putin in the early 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Rohrabacher, who was elected in 1989 and previously served as a senior speech writer to Ronald Reagan, said he met a "a group of young political leaders" visiting from Russia and invited them to a football game in a friendly gesture. Three Russian officials accepted the invitation including Putin, the deputy mayor of St. Petersburg, whom Rohrabacher says he didn't know at the time.

"We went out and we played touch football and Scooter Libby was one of the players and a bunch of my right-wing friends were there," Rohrabacher said. "We all ended up going to the Irish Times pub afterwards. And we were having a little bit too much to drink I guess. But anyway we started arguing about who won the Cold War, etc, and so we decided to settle it like men do when they've had too much to drink in the pub."

"So we got down to these arm-wrestling matches and I ended up being paired off with Putin!" he continued. "And he's a little guy but boy I tell ya -- he put me down in a millisecond. He is tough! He just - muscles were just unbelievable."


"You know he's a tough guy and he's supposed to be a tough guy, that's what the Russian people want," he added. "But that's not reason we shouldn't try to work with him."

Listen to the full interview with KPCC here.

http://livewire.talkingpointsmemo.com/entry/gop-rep-arm-wrestled-putin-he-put-me

158
This year is on track to be the worst for measles in more than a decade, according to new numbers released Thursday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And people who refuse to vaccinate their children are behind the increasing number of outbreaks, health officials say.

There were 159 cases of measles in the United States from January 1 through August 24, according to the CDC. If that trend continues, there will be more cases in 2013 than in any year since 1996, when some 500 cases were reported. The number would also surpass that of 2011, when there were 222 cases.


Measles cases in the United States numbered in the hundreds of thousands before the advent of vaccination, and dropped dramatically throughout the 1960s. The disease was thought to have been eradicated in 2000, but the numbers have recently crept back up, largely because of visitors from countries where measles is common and because of vaccine objectors within the United States. Nearly two-thirds of the reported cases happened in three outbreaks in communities where many people don't vaccinate their children for religious or philosophical reasons.

Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus. But it can be prevented by the MMR vaccine. The CDC recommends that kids get two doses -- the first at 12 months of age and the second dose before entering school.

"This is very bad. This is horrible," said Dr. Buddy Creech, a pediatric infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University who was on a telephone briefing with the CDC Thursday morning. "The complications of measles are not to be toyed with, and they're not altogether rare."

According to the CDC, one to three out of every 1,000 children in the United States who get measles will die from the disease, even with the best of care. Even if complications such as pneumonia and encephalitis aren't deadly, they can make children very sick; in 2011, nearly 40% of children under the age of 5 who got measles had to be treated in the hospital.

Measles usually starts with a fever, which can get very high, followed by a cough, runny nose and red eyes. Soon a rash of tiny, red spots will start at the head and spread to the rest of the body. The rash can last a week and coughing can last for up to 10 days.

Creech said he's concerned younger physicians might not be quick to recognize the signs of measles, since there have been only pockets of the disease since 2000.

"Many young pediatricians might not know what measles looks like," he said.

Among those who have been stricken with measles this year, 92% were not vaccinated or had unknown vaccination status. The largest outbreak was in New York, where 58 people contracted measles in a community where many refuse to be vaccinated for religious reasons.

Those who choose not to vaccinate put other people's babies at risk, since babies cannot be vaccinated until their first birthday, and are therefore vulnerable to the disease.
"I hope that those who are vaccine hesitant or vaccine avoidant realize there are consequences to their actions," Creech said. "None of us lives in isolation."


http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/12/health/worst-measles-year/index.html?sr=fb091213measles7p

159
Dr. Elizabeth O’Bagy, Syria expert, made quite an impression on Senator John McCain. During Senate hearings, the former Presidential candidate quoted at length from her recent Wall Street Journal op-ed painting a rosy picture of a mostly secular, pro-Western anti-Assad insurgency.

“John, do you agree with Dr. O’Bagy’s assessment of the opposition?,” the Senator asked the Secretary of State John Kerry. “I agree with most of that,” he replied.

Except Dr. O’Bagy wasn’t actually a doctor. Her PhD was fabricated, a lie she told her employers at the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), an influential neoconservative-aligned think tank, to get hired. Ironically, it ended up being the lie that got her fired Wednesday. This postmodern reenactment of the Icarus myth also provides a bizarrely informative window into the way that Washington’s foreign policy sausage gets made.

O’Bagy got her start last year, when she interned for ISW’s Iraq portfolio while completing a Master’s in Arab Studies at Georgetown University. Kimberly Kagan, the President of ISW, was so impressed that she hired O’Bagy to start even before the young analyst finished her degree. “Her insights and her [Arabic] linguistic skills were tremendous,” Kagan said.

But O’Bagy had already begun to misrepresent her credentials. Kagan told me that she “knew [O'Bagy] was a student at Georgetown in a combined masters/PhD program,” and that new hire was writing a dissertation on “female militancy in Islamic extremist organizations.” Several media outlets have repeated this account as fact in their write-ups of O’Bagy’s firing, all maintaining that she is still in the process of completing a Georgetown doctorate.

This is almost certainly false. Either O’Bagy was at one point enrolled a PhD program and dropped out, or she has been lying the entire time. Some evidence points to the latter.

To begin with, O’Bagy was enrolled in the Arab Studies Master’s program, which only partners with three departments for joint doctorate programs: Government, History, and Arabic Language, Literature, and Linguistics. Given her purported topic, she would have partnered with Government — according to one Georgetown PhD student who met O’Bagy, she had claimed a distinguished member of the Government Department as her adviser.

She is not listed as a PhD student on the Government department’s website. She does not exist in the university directory. A search of the entire Georgetown website turns up only one hit, a congratulations notice for her Master’s graduation.

There is “no evidence that she is associated with our department in any way; she’s not among our students as far as we can tell,” Daniel Nexon, a Government Professor who served as the Director of Admissions and Fellowships for all but one of the years she could have applied. The professor who was supposedly advising O’Bagy’s dissertation has never heard of her.

When I asked Kagan about the evidence of O’Bagy’s initial, ongoing deception, she demurred. “That I actually need to refer you to Georgetown for.”

After ISW hired her in the late summer of 2012, O’Bagy quickly went about using her top-notch Arabic skills to feel out the situation on the ground in Syria. She made a number of contacts among the anti-Assad insurgents, a feat relatively few DC analysts had accomplished.

Though we know those trips took place, it’s not quite clear who funded them. It certainly wasn’t ISW: when I asked Kagan how O’Bagy made all her Syrian friends, she sounded stumped. “That’s a really good question. I’m afraid I can’t really tell you that,” the ISW President said, acknowledging that O’Bagy’s expertise wasn’t gathered through ISW projects or ISW-funded trips. “She kept me informed about [her opposition contacts] and apprised me that they existed.”

However O’Bagy acquired her contacts, the work they helped her produce was influential and widely respected. Over the course of roughly a year, she went from a graduate student and intern to a pundit making regular appearances on Fox News and being published in Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, and well, The Wall Street Journal. She was promoted to Senior Analyst and then to Syria Team Lead at ISW, and had become known as a go-to expert on the Syrian rebels among foreign policy experts.

But the closer Icarus flew to the sun, the faster the wax on her feathers began to melt. The first hard record of her claiming a doctorate came in April 2013, when she told a friend, Jonathan Rue, that she was “soon to be Dr. O’Bagy.” According to Kagan, she began widely claiming the Dr. title in May, right around when she graduated from her Master’s program.

That’s also when she took on as second position as the Political Director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force (SETF), a pro-Syrian rebel lobbying group that identified her as “Dr. Elizabeth O’Bagy.” It’s in that capacity when she and Senator McCain likely first came into direct or indirect contact, as SETF assisted in planning the Senator’s secret trip to Syria.

The implicit tension between O’Bagy’s prominent public role and her fake credentials became unbearable after McCain and Kerry touted her work in the closely watched hearings on Congressional authorization for war in Syria. But weirdly, the first questions raised about O’Bagy weren’t because of anything she did wrong personally. The Journal op-ed cited by Kerry and McCain did not identify O’Bagy’s role at SETF, relevant information for readers of a piece that paints a picture of the Syrian opposition as relatively moderate.

The Journal’s mistake (which it later corrected) led to more intense scrutiny of O’Bagy’s past. The Daily Caller, which first broke the Journal’s omission on September 5th, did a follow-up on September 9th in which O’Bagy claimed to have written her dissertation.

More importantly, September 9th was also the day that a discussion broke out amongst a group of scholars about O’Bagy’s purported Georgetown credentials. Records obtained by ThinkProgress show a conversation, which included members of the Georgetown faculty, in which a number of academics expressed deep skepticism about O’Bagy’s Ph.D. Near the end of the conversation, one participant mentioned that “ISW was contacted” with the group’s concerns.

Just days before, on September 4th, ISW’s website had described her as “Dr. Elizabeth O’Bagy.” I confirmed with Kagan that O’Bagy had not updated the bio herself, indicating that ISW support staff had been notified of the purported change in O’Bagy’s status. By late on the 9th, the Dr. reference had been deleted, and O’Bagy had been dismissed — a move that was announced on the morning of the 10th.

Kagan credits O’Bagy with finally turning herself in. “I think the most important thing that I need to tell you is that Elizabeth told me [on the 9th] that she had not successfully defended her dissertation.” It’s not clear what finally prompted her to do that. I asked Kagan to forward a request for comment to O’Bagy but, as of yet, have heard nothing. I probably won’t: O’Bagy told Buzzfeed that she is “no longer legally allowed to discuss my employment with [ISW] or affiliate it any way.” So there’s a decent chance we’ll never know the whole story.

Regardless, O’Bagy’s rise and fall is yet more evidence that the talented people who populate America’s media and policy apparatus never seem to quite fully internalize: never, ever lie about something someone else can prove you wrong about. You’re going to get caught.

http://thinkprogress.org/security/2013/09/11/2601151/exclusive-mccain-kerry-cited-syria-analyst-false-credentials/

160
General Disconation / Florida School Board Member Sucks at Math
« on: September 10, 2013, 12:49:34 PM »
A longtime friend on the school board of one of the largest school systems in America did something that few public servants are willing to do. He took versions of his state’s high-stakes standardized math and reading tests for 10th graders, and said he’d make his scores public.

By any reasonable measure, my friend is a success. His now-grown kids are well-educated. He has a big house in a good part of town. Paid-for condo in the Caribbean. Influential friends. Lots of frequent flyer miles. Enough time of his own to give serious attention to his school board responsibilities. The margins of his electoral wins and his good relationships with administrators and teachers testify to his openness to dialogue and willingness to listen.

He called me the morning he took the test to say he was sure he hadn’t done well, but had to wait for the results. A couple of days ago, realizing that local school board members don’t seem to be playing much of a role in the current “reform” brouhaha, I asked him what he now thought about the tests he’d taken.

“I won’t beat around the bush,” he wrote in an email. “The math section had 60 questions. I knew the answers to none of them, but managed to guess ten out of the 60 correctly. On the reading test, I got 62% . In our system, that’s a “D”, and would get me a mandatory assignment to a double block of reading instruction.

He continued, “It seems to me something is seriously wrong. I have a bachelor of science degree, two masters degrees, and 15 credit hours toward a doctorate.

“I help oversee an organization with 22,000 employees and a $3 billion operations and capital budget, and am able to make sense of complex data related to those responsibilities.


“I have a wide circle of friends in various professions. Since taking the test, I’ve detailed its contents as best I can to many of them, particularly the math section, which does more than its share of shoving students in our system out of school and on to the street. Not a single one of them said that the math I described was necessary in their profession.

“It might be argued that I’ve been out of school too long, that if I’d actually been in the 10th grade prior to taking the test, the material would have been fresh. But doesn’t that miss the point? A test that can determine a student’s future life chances should surely relate in some practical way to the requirements of life. I can’t see how that could possibly be true of the test I took.”

Here’s the clincher in what he wrote:

“If I’d been required to take those two tests when I was a 10th grader, my life would almost certainly have been very different. I’d have been told I wasn’t ‘college material,’ would probably have believed it, and looked for work appropriate for the level of ability that the test said I had.

“It makes no sense to me that a test with the potential for shaping a student’s entire future has so little apparent relevance to adult, real-world functioning. Who decided the kind of questions and their level of difficulty? Using what criteria? To whom did they have to defend their decisions? As subject-matter specialists, how qualified were they to make general judgments about the needs of this state’s children in a future they can’t possibly predict? Who set the pass-fail “cut score”? How?”

“I can’t escape the conclusion that decisions about the [state test] in particular and standardized tests in general are being made by individuals who lack perspective and aren’t really accountable.”

There you have it. A concise summary of what’s wrong with present corporately driven education change: Decisions are being made by individuals who lack perspective and aren’t really accountable.

Those decisions are shaped not by knowledge or understanding of educating, but by ideology, politics, hubris, greed, ignorance, the conventional wisdom, and various combinations thereof. And then they’re sold to the public by the rich and powerful.

All that without so much as a pilot program to see if their simplistic, worn-out ideas work, and without a single procedure in place that imposes on them what they demand of teachers: accountability.

But maybe there’s hope. As I write, a New York Times story by Michael Winerip makes my day. The stupidity of the current test-based thrust of reform has triggered the first revolt of school principals.

Winerip writes: “As of last night, 658 principals around the state (New York) had signed a letter — 488 of them from Long Island, where the insurrection began — protesting the use of students’ test scores to evaluate teachers’ and principals’ performance.”

One of those school principals, Winerip says, is Bernard Kaplan. Kaplan runs one of the highest-achieving schools in the state, but is required to attend 10 training sessions.

“It’s education by humiliation,” Kaplan said. “I’ve never seen teachers and principals so degraded.”

Carol Burris, named the 2010 Educator of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York State, has to attend those 10 training sessions.

Katie Zahedi, another principal, said the session she attended was “two days of total nonsense. I have a Ph.D., I’m in a school every day, and some consultant is supposed to be teaching me to do evaluations.”

A fourth principal, Mario Fernandez, called the evaluation process a product of “ludicrous, shallow thinking. They’re expecting a tornado to go through a junkyard and have a brand new Mercedes pop up.”

My school board member-friend concluded his email with this: “I can’t escape the conclusion that those of us who are expected to follow through on decisions that have been made for us are doing something ethically questionable.”

He’s wrong. What they’re being made to do isn’t ethically questionable. It’s ethically unacceptable. Ethically reprehensible. Ethically indefensible.

How many of the approximately 100,000 school principals in the U.S. would join the revolt if their ethical principles trumped their fears of retribution? Why haven’t they been asked?

QUIZ: How would you do on this same test taken by a school board member? Find out: Reading Quiz | Math Quiz. Questions come from the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) for 10th grade. Or try your hand at questions from the National Assessment of Education Progress for fourth and eigth graders.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/when-an-adult-took-standardized-tests-forced-on-kids/2011/12/05/gIQApTDuUO_blog.html

161
General Disconation / Meanwhile, in Ireland: sycophantic fawning (video)
« on: September 09, 2013, 06:22:02 PM »
Obama called "war criminal" & "hypocrite of the century" in Irish Parliament

162
General Disconation / Robocop Remake
« on: September 06, 2013, 12:45:29 PM »
RoboCop 2014 - TRAILER 1

163
General Disconation / 'Half' of Extreme Weather Impacted by Climate Change
« on: September 06, 2013, 12:38:16 PM »
2012 was a rough year around the globe, and not for any of the Planet X/Mayan calendar doomsday reasons people feared. Instead, it was a year of extreme weather: drought and heat waves in the United States; record rainfall in the United Kingdom; unusually heavy rains in Kenya, Somalia, Japan, and Australia; drought in Spain; floods in China. And of course there was Superstorm Sandy.

One of the first questions asked in the wake of such an extreme weather event is: “Is this due to climate change?” In recent years, a brand of research called “climate attribution science” has sprouted from this question, examining the impact of extreme events to determine how much—often in fractional terms—is related to human-induced climate change, and how much to natural variability (whether in climate patterns such as the El Niño/La Niña-Southern Oscillation, sea-surface temperatures, changes in incoming solar radiation, or a host of other possible factors).

In a report published online today in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (PDF), scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) tackled this question head-on. The report—the second such annual report—analyzes the findings from about 20 scientific studies of a dozen or so extreme weather events that occurred around the world last year, seeking to parse the relative influence of anthropogenic climate change. The overall message of the report: It varies.

“About half of the events … reveal compelling evidence that human-caused change was a [contributing] factor,” said NOAA National Climatic Data Center Director Thomas Karl today at a press conference accompanying the release of the report. In addition, noted climate scientist Peter Stott of the U.K. Met Office, these studies show that in many cases, human influence on climate has increased the risks associated with extreme events.

Below, some highlights from the report:

December 2011: Two days of extreme rainfall deluge New Zealand’s Southern Island, producing landslides in what scientists call a 1-in-500-year-event. Conclusion: Total moisture available for this extreme event was 1% to 5% higher as a result of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

September 2012: Arctic sea ice reaches a record new low of 3.4 million square kilometers. A study examined three different factors: warmer-than-usual surface atmosphere conditions (related to global warming); sea-ice thinning prior to the melting season (also related to global warming); and an August storm that passed over the Arctic, stirring up the ocean, fracturing the sea ice and sending it southward to warmer climes. Conclusion: Global warming was primarily responsible, due equally to the thinning sea ice and warm atmospheric conditions.

Summer 2012: Heavy rainfall in eastern Australia. Conclusion: A La Niña episode—long associated with wetter-than-normal conditions in Australia—in 2012 likely accounts for most, but not all, of the heavy rainfall. Sea-surface temperatures north of Australia—driven by global warming—could also play a role, increasing the chances of above-average rainfall by as much as 5% in the future.

Superstorm Sandy: Although not among the most powerful windstorms to hit the U.S. East Coast, the storm’s real impact came from the massive storm surge and inundation: It broke 16 historical records for storm-tide levels along the coast. Conclusion: The storm coincided with peak high tide in New York Harbor—but future sea-level rise will exacerbate this inundation, making a Sandy-level event more likely in the future, even if the storm itself is less severe. 

http://news.sciencemag.org/climate/2013/09/half-extreme-weather-impacted-climate-change

164
Spamalot / The Secret of the Fox... Ancient Mystery...
« on: September 05, 2013, 10:17:01 PM »
Ylvis - The Fox [Official music video HD]

165
General Disconation / Is a slim physique contagious?
« on: September 05, 2013, 07:20:37 PM »
What makes some people slender and others full-figured? Besides diet and genetics, the community of microbes that lives inside us may be partially responsible. New research on twins suggests that lean people harbor bacteria that their obese counterparts don't have. And, given the chance, those bacteria may be able to prevent weight gain. But don’t dig your skinny jeans out of the closet just yet. So far, the work has been done only in mice. What's more, the bacterial takeover requires a healthy, high-fiber diet to work, illustrating the complex relationship between diet, microbes, metabolism, and health.

Our intestines are home to at least 400 species of bacteria, and evidence is building that the balance of microbes in our internal ecosystem has far-reaching effects on health, including brain function and risk of cancer. A study last year showed that transferring gut bacteria between humans reduced insulin resistance, which is linked to obesity.

To explore how microbes differ between obese and lean people, researchers at Washington University in St. Louis took gut bacteria from four pairs of identical and fraternal twins; one sibling in each pair was lean and the other obese. Then they transplanted these microbes into mice that had no intestinal microbes of their own. The mice who got microbes from the lean twins stayed lean, the researchers report today in Science. Those that got microbes from the obese twins increased their body fat by 10% on average, even though they were eating the same amount of food.

What would happen if these two sets of microbes got mixed up in the gut, the researchers wondered. Led by microbiologist Jeffrey Gordon and graduate student Vanessa Ridaura, the team took advantage of one of the rodents' least endearing habits: They eat each other's poop. After letting this happen, the researchers discovered that microbes from the lean twins seemed to be particularly good at taking hold in the gut ecosystems of the mice that started with obesity-associated microbes. And after those bacteria moved in, the mice didn't gain weight. The most invasive species of microbes from the thin animals were in the Bacteroidetes group, which has previously been associated with leanness in mice and humans. The obese mice seemed to have unoccupied niches that the Bacteroidetes could easily move into.

To figure out what the gut bacteria might be doing, the researchers looked for bacterial genes that were active in the two kinds of mice. The heavier mice had higher levels of proteins involved in detoxification and stress responses; the lean mice expressed more genes involved in breaking down dietary fiber.

Diet, it turns out, was key to the impressive properties of the microbes from the lean twins. All the mice in the first round of experiments had been eating chow that was high in fiber and low in fat. The researchers then prepared a mouse-pellet form of an unhealthy human diet, high in fat and low in fiber, and housed svelte and heavy mice together again. They found that, with this diet, the microbes associated with leanness didn't colonize the cagemates’ intestines.

This work was rigorously done and fits in well with earlier findings, including the idea that Bacteroides may protect against weight gain, says Alan Walker, a gut microbiologist at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the United Kingdom who was not involved in the study. What's new here, he says, is that the researchers began addressing the question of how that protection might work: which species are responsible, what genes they use, and what diet they require.

"This study is an important step toward ultimately answering these questions," says microbiologist Peter Turnbaugh of Harvard University. A valuable result of this work, they both agree, is that it sets up a way to test the effects of microbial therapies on human gut bacteria (even though the bugs are living in a mouse). The authors suggest that a logical next step is to use the animals to measure the effects of particular foods or ingredients on gut ecosystems.

The mouse experiments also provide a way to test fecal transplants, which can cure a potentially fatal intestinal infection in humans and show potential for treating other conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease and obesity. There's a danger inherent in this approach: Transferring human feces into a patient's colon runs the risk of transmitting pathogens as well. Walker and the authors note that a well-tested "next-generation probiotic" consisting of known beneficial microbes delivered as a pill or other therapy could take the place of fresh feces, and this mouse system provides a way to identify the most effective bacteria, the diseases those bacteria can treat, and whether a particular diet is necessary.

"There's a major way to go before you can translate these results to humans," Walker cautions. A weight-loss probiotic isn't a simple next step, as the researchers found when they isolated 39 of the beneficial Bacteroidetes species. The mixture was unable to cause the same effects as mouse poop, possibly because the Bacteroidetes aren't acting alone and more of the microbial players need to be identified.

http://news.sciencemag.org/biology/2013/09/slim-physique-contagious

166
General Disconation / Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function
« on: September 02, 2013, 01:28:21 PM »
Poverty consumes so much mental energy that people struggling to make ends meet often have little brainpower left for anything else, leaving them more susceptible to bad decisions that can perpetuate their situation, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Science.

“Past research has often blamed [poverty] on the personal failings of the poor. They don’t work hard enough; they’re not focused enough,” said University of British Columbia professor Jiaying Zhao, who co-authored the study as a Princeton University graduate student. “What we’re arguing is it’s not about the individual. It’s about the situation.”

As part of the study, researchers conducted experiments on two groups of subjects: low- and middle-income shoppers in a mall in New Jersey, and sugar cane farmers in rural India.

In the mall experiment, shoppers underwent a battery of tests to measure IQ and impulse control. However, half the participants were first given a “teaser” question — what they would do if their car had broken down and needed $1,500 worth of repairs — designed to put a pressing financial concerns at the forefront of their thoughts.

In India, researchers tested the cognitive capacity and decision-making of farmers before the sugar cane harvest, when they were most strapped for money, and afterwards, when they had fewer financial woes.

The results showed that people wrestling with the mental strain of poverty suffered a drop of as much as 13 points in their IQ — roughly the same found in people subjected to a night with no sleep.

“Poverty is the equivalent of pulling an all-nighter,” said Harvard economist Sandhil Mullainathan, another of the study’s authors. “Picture yourself after an all-nighter. Being poor is like that every day.”

Mullainathan said previous research often has assumed that poor people are poor because they are somehow less capable than others, whether inherently or because of past trauma or other environmental factors in their lives. But, he said, what the latest study suggests is that the strain of poverty can tax the cognitive abilities of anyone experiencing it — and that those abilities return when the burden of poverty disappears.

“While the poor may be experiencing a scarcity of money, at some level what they may really be experiencing is a scarcity of bandwidth, of cognitive capacity,” he said. “It’s the situation that’s creating the stress.”

Zhao and Mullainathan said that their findings, if accurate, could have profound implications for public policy.

For starters, policymakers “should beware of imposing cognitive taxes on the poor just as they avoid monetary taxes on the poor,” the paper states. Filling out long forms, deciphering complicated rules or undergoing lengthy interviews can consume scarce cognitive resources.

“You are captured by these monetary issues — how to pay rent, how to pay bills,” Zhao said. “As a result, you’re less attentive to other problems. You neglect other things in life that deserve your attention.”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/poverty-strains-cognitive-abilities-opening-door-for-bad-decision-making-new-study-finds/2013/08/29/89990288-102b-11e3-8cdd-bcdc09410972_story.html



Quote
The poor often behave in less capable ways, which can further perpetuate poverty. We hypothesize that poverty directly impedes cognitive function and present two studies that test this hypothesis. First, we experimentally induced thoughts about finances and found that this reduces cognitive performance among poor but not in well-off participants. Second, we examined the cognitive function of farmers over the planting cycle. We found that the same farmer shows diminished cognitive performance before harvest, when poor, as compared with after harvest, when rich. This cannot be explained by differences in time available, nutrition, or work effort. Nor can it be explained with stress: Although farmers do show more stress before harvest, that does not account for diminished cognitive performance. Instead, it appears that poverty itself reduces cognitive capacity. We suggest that this is because poverty-related concerns consume mental resources, leaving less for other tasks. These data provide a previously unexamined perspective and help explain a spectrum of behaviors among the poor. We discuss some implications for poverty policy.


http://www.sciencemag.org/content/341/6149/976

167
General Disconation / Dark Matter punk'd by MOND
« on: August 29, 2013, 09:58:16 AM »
A modified law of gravity correctly predicted, in advance of the observations, the velocity dispersion -- the average speed of stars within a galaxy relative to each other -- in 10 dwarf satellite galaxies of the Milky Way's giant neighbor Andromeda.

The relatively large velocity dispersions observed in these types of dwarf galaxies is usually attributed to dark matter. Yet predictions made using the alternative hypothesis Modified Newtonian Dynamics (MOND) succeeded in anticipating the observations.

Stacy McGaugh, professor of astronomy at Case Western Reserve, and Mordehai Milgrom, the father of MOND and professor of physics at Weizmann Institute in Israel, report their findings, which have been accepted for publication by the Astrophysical Journal.

The researchers tested MOND on quasi-spherical, very low-surface brightness galaxies that are satellites of Andromeda. In the cosmic scale, they are among the smallest galaxies, containing only a few hundred thousand stars. But with conventional gravity, they are inferred to contain huge amounts of dark matter.

"Most scientists are more comfortable with the dark matter interpretation," McGaugh said. "But we need to understand why MOND succeeds with these predictions. We don't even know how to make this prediction with dark matter."

While this study is very specific, it's part of a broader effort to understand how the universe, the Milky Way and Earth formed and what it's all made of. This informs human understanding of our place in the universe, McGaugh said. Such issues have been of such importance that they've changed religion and philosophy over the centuries, sometimes sending people to be burnt at the stake.

"At stake now is whether the universe is predominantly made of an invisible substance that persistently eludes detection in the laboratory, or whether we are obliged to modify one of our most fundamental theories, the law of gravity," McGaugh continued.

The MOND hypothesis says that Newton's force law must be tweaked at low acceleration -- 11 orders of magnitude lower than what we feel on the surface of Earth. Acceleration above that threshold is linearly proportional to the force of gravity -- as Newton's law says -- but below the threshold, no. At these tiny accelerations, the modified force law resolves the mass discrepancy.

The paper's calculations using MOND also reveal subtle differences in the gravity fields of dwarfs near and far from the host galaxy Andromeda. The gravity fields of dwarfs far from the host appear to be dominated by stars within the dwarf, while the gravity fields of dwarfs close to the host appear to be dominated by the host. No such distinction is expected with dark matter.

"The influence of the host galaxy may provide a test to distinguish between dark matter and MOND," McGaugh says. "Dark matter provides a cocoon for the dwarfs, protecting the stars from tidal influence by the host galaxy. With MOND, the influence of the host is more pronounced."

In a comparison of the predictions calculated using MOND with observations of pairs of similar dwarfs, "the data appears to show MOND's prediction for the influence of the host, but it's fairly subtle," McGaugh said. MOND's predictions of the velocity dispersion were less subtle. These predictions were "really bang on," McGaugh said.

The finding bolsters the case McGaugh and Milgrom made for MOND's effectiveness in predicting properties in dwarf galaxies in a paper published earlier this year. In that paper, they successfully predicted the velocity dispersion in 17 of the galaxies.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130828103446.htm?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+sciencedaily%2Fspace_time%2Fastronomy+%28ScienceDaily%3A+Space+%26+Time+News+--+Astronomy%29

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Walmart, its very name brings with it an image of a soulless corporation, a company which abuses its employees down so much that they will rip the company to shreds on their own internal website when asked. A company reliant on government assistance to keep its employees able to even eat. It is a recipe for disaster. And those who follow the teachings of Milton Friedman and other objectivist economists would try and explain that this is absolutely required for a successful company. But don’t tell that to Publix, which now sits as the most profitable grocer in the United States, holding a remarkable 52.8% of the grocery market in highly competitive Florida, against Walmart’s 14.5%.

How does Publix do it? Are they even more soul crushing, seeking to demoralize employees to the point that they are wage slaves, like McDonald’s does? The opposite, Publix is an employee owned corporation. You read that right, employee owned. The company does well, then the employees do well. This gives your average employee of Publix a stake in improving the companies bottom line, thanks to regular dividends. They do this by retaining customers, through excellent customer service. Even Forbes magazine has come to recognize that the Publix business model is a “Walmart Slayer.” And to add to the fears of the Beast of Bentonville, Publix is expanding into new markets, just as other companies are copying the Publix model.

Publix, through its focus on its staff and customer service, is able to beat Walmart’s shareholder returns, with a compound growth of 18% per year, as opposed to Walmart’s 10.5%. Of course, Walmart is a publicly traded company, while Publix is owned by its employees, so if someone wishes to invest in Publix, they would first need to begin working for Publix, and their rate of ownership is based on their wages. This encourages the hardest workers, those who dedicate themselves to the company, giving them a real stake in the company as they labor.

Publix began 1930 by George Jenkins, and was mocked by other grocers when he opened for offering amenities like chairs to relax in and air conditioning for the customers, combined with award-winning customer service. His store prospered during the Great Depression due to this employee and customer centered model of doing business. Today, you still find this focus, with Publix offering service to their customers such as their Youtube channel full of helpful cooking tips and recipes, a specialized natural and organic line of Publix brand goods, even having a small sit down cafe which remains highly popular with its customers. The Publix baggers walk the customers groceries out to their cars, and refuse tips. It is all part of the Publix experience.

The tragedy for Walmart is that the very model which Publix is an excellent example of, was once touted by Sam Walton himself. He firmly believed that workers who were invested in the company became more motivated, and motivated employees brought in happy customers. Sam Walton would be spinning in his grave if he were to read what the employees of his company thought of it today.

One may think that Walmart may operate a higher profit margin, but then they would be wrong. Forbes covers how Publix has a net profit margin of 5.6%, far higher than Walmart’s 3.8%. Other companies engage in an employee-first approach, such as Trader Joes and Costco, but Publix does this with an employee-owned focus, giving them a leg up over the competition.

Walmart may have met its match, and its name is Publix.

http://www.addictinginfo.org/2013/07/26/walmart-losing-to-quirky-florida-based-publix-employee-owned-company-touted-by-forbes-as-wal-mart-slayer/

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Over the years, CNN.com has become a news website that many people turn to for top-notch reporting. Every day it is visited by millions of people, all of whom rely on “The Worldwide Leader in News”—that’s our slogan—for the most crucial, up-to-date information on current events. So, you may ask, why was this morning’s top story, a spot usually given to the most important foreign or domestic news of the day, headlined “Miley Cyrus Did What???” and accompanied by the subhead “Twerks, stuns at VMAs”?

It’s a good question. And the answer is pretty simple. It was an attempt to get you to click on CNN.com so that we could drive up our web traffic, which in turn would allow us to increase our advertising revenue.

There was nothing, and I mean nothing, about that story that related to the important news of the day, the chronicling of significant human events, or the idea that journalism itself can be a force for positive change in the world. For Christ’s sake, there was an accompanying story with the headline “Miley’s Shocking Moves.” In fact, putting that story front and center was actually doing, if anything, a disservice to the public. And come to think of it, probably a disservice to the hundreds of thousands of people dying in Syria, those suffering from the current unrest in Egypt, or, hell, even people who just wanted to read about the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.

But boy oh boy did it get us some web traffic. Which is why I, Meredith Artley, managing editor of CNN.com, put the story in our top spot. Those of us watching on Google Analytics saw the number of homepage visits skyrocket the second we put up that salacious image of Miley Cyrus dancing half nude on the VMA stage. But here’s where it gets great: We don’t just do a top story on the VMA performance and call it a day. No, no. We also throw in a slideshow called “Evolution of Miley,” which, for those of you who don’t know, is just a way for you to mindlessly click through 13 more photos of Miley Cyrus. And if we get 500,000 of you to do that, well, 500,000 multiplied by 13 means we can get 6.5 million page views on that slideshow alone. Throw in another slideshow titled “6 ‘don’t miss’ VMA moments,” and it’s starting to look like a pretty goddamned good Monday, numbers-wise. Also, there are two videos—one of the event and then some bullshit two-minute clip featuring our “entertainment experts” talking about the performance.

Side note: Advertisers, along with you idiots, love videos. Another side note: The Miley Cyrus story was in the same top spot we used for our 9/11 coverage.

Now, let's get back to why we put the story in the most coveted spot on our website, thereby saying, essentially, that Miley Cyrus’ suggestive dancing is the most important thing going on in the world right now. If you clicked on the story, and all the slideshows, and all the other VMA coverage, that means you’ve probably been on CNN.com for more than seven minutes, which lowers our overall bounce rate. Do you know what that is? Sorry for getting a little technical here. The bounce rate is the percentage of visitors to a particular website who navigate away from the site after viewing only one page. If we can keep that bounce rate low, and show companies that people don’t just go to CNN.com but stay there, then we can go to Ford or McDonald’s or Samsonite or whatever big company you can think of and ask for the big bucks.

So, as managing editor of CNN.com, I want our readers to know this: All you are to us, and all you will ever be to us, are eyeballs. The more eyeballs on our content, the more cash we can ask for. Period. And if we’re able to get more eyeballs, that means I’ve done my job, which gets me congratulations from my bosses, which encourages me to put up even more stupid bullshit on the homepage.

I don’t hesitate to call it stupid bullshit because we all know it’s stupid bullshit. We know it and you know it. We also know that you are probably dumb enough, or bored enough, or both, to click on the stupid bullshit anyway, and that you will continue to do so as long as we keep putting it in front of your big, idiot faces. You want to know how many more page views the Miley Cyrus thing got than our article on the wildfires ravaging Yosemite? Like 6 gazillion more.

That’s on you, not us.

To be sure, I could have argued that Miley Cyrus’ performance merited the top spot on our website because it was significant in terms of what’s happening in the world of pop culture, or that her over-the-top theatrics are worth covering because they are somehow representative of the lengths to which performers must go to stand out in the current entertainment landscape. But who the fuck are we kidding? Truth be told, anything at last night’s VMAs short of Lady Gaga beheading Will Smith with a broadsword belongs tucked away in our entertainment section, far from the homepage, far from the top spot, and far from the eyes of anyone who logged on to our site this morning to see what was happening in the world.

But then not nearly as many people would have seen it, which wouldn’t get us the page views we want, which wouldn’t get us the money we want, which wouldn’t get me the congratulations I want. So you see, there’s no stopping this. And what is this, you ask? Modern-day journalism. And what is modern-day journalism? Getting you to click on this link.

http://www.theonion.com/articles/let-me-explain-why-miley-cyrus-vma-performance-was,33632/

170
General Disconation / Feral Cats Actually Awesome: Suck it, Taket
« on: August 26, 2013, 01:00:13 PM »
Quote
Foxes and feral cats are infamous for killing off Australia's native species. But new research suggests these predators help control an even more destructive one: the black rat. As a result, eliminating cats and foxes could actually leave native mammals more vulnerable to predation, competition, and ultimately extinction.


More:

"BALTIMORE, MARYLAND—Foxes and feral cats are wildly unpopular among Australian conservationists. The two animals are infamous for killing off the continent's native species, and they’ve been the targets of numerous government-backed eradication campaigns. But new research suggests that on Australian islands, these predators help control an even more destructive one: the black rat. As a result, eliminating cats and foxes could actually leave native mammals more vulnerable to predation, competition, and ultimately extinction.

Australia is ground zero for the modern biodiversity crisis. The continent has suffered more than a quarter of all recent mammal extinctions, and many other native species survive only as small populations on one or more of the country's thousands of islands. While habitat destruction has caused some extinctions, cats, foxes, and rats introduced around 1800 by British sailors have also played a major role, decimating native animals like bilbies and bandicoots—both small, ratlike marsupials found only in Australia. All of this has given large, nonnative predators like cats and foxes a bad name. "We hate them," biologist Emily Hanna of the Australian National University in Canberra declared here last month at the International Congress for Conservation Biology.

But to plan successful eradication campaigns, scientists must first understand how introduced predators interact with native fauna and with each other. For instance, cats and foxes are infamous for hunting birds and other wildlife, but they can also control rats, which are themselves ferocious killers of and competitors with native animals like the bandicoot. To date, few studies have looked at which type of predator is actually most likely to drive native animals extinct.

To determine which island invaders were doing the most damage, Hanna and her research adviser Marcel Cardillo created and analyzed what she calls a "ridiculously large" database comprising 934 living and extinct populations of 107 mammal species on 323 Australian islands between the early 1800s and today. For each island, the researchers recorded the presence or absence of various native mammals, and of rats, cats, foxes, and wild dogs known as dingoes, which some scientists believe help control invasive predators. The researchers also included other factors that might affect extinction risk, such as the size of the island and distance from the mainland. (Ecologists have found that island populations close to continents are more easily replenished, while more distant populations more easily go extinct.) Hanna then analyzed these data to find which factors most often correlated with native mammal extinctions.

The study yielded some surprising results: Native mammals were most likely to die off on islands that had rats, but not cats, foxes, or dingoes. Extinction rates on such islands ranged from 15% to 30%, but when cats, foxes, or dingoes were present, the rates plummeted to just over 10%—not much higher than on islands without any introduced predators, the scientists reported at the meeting and online this month in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography.

The scientists also found that native mammals fared only slightly worse on islands with cats than on islands without them. Moreover, the presence of foxes and dingoes on islands seemed to give native species a slight overall boost. "I was really surprised," Hanna says. "I thought I'd made a big mistake." Hanna and Cardillo also found that rats' impact was most pronounced on small mammals—those weighing less than 2.7 kilograms—although the scientists are unsure how much of this influence was due to direct predation as opposed to competition for food and other resources or disease spread. Rats also had the greatest effect on islands within 2.1 kilometers of mainland Australia.

The study includes "a very nice, large data set, and a very well-constructed and complete analysis of the problem," says Phillip Cassey, an ecologist at the University of Adelaide Environment Institute. The results suggest that managers may need to simultaneously eliminate more than one predator to save rare animals from extinction, he adds; eradication efforts frequently focus on only one species. When it comes to planning such eradication campaigns on limited budgets, Cassey says, "analyses like [Hanna's], which can assist in prioritization, are going to be really important."

Despite the apparent benefit of cats and foxes, Hanna does not advocate introducing the animals to islands that don't already have them. But she says her results do raise questions about the strategy of trying to kill top predators off while ignoring rats. She now hopes to study whether her results also apply to birds and other groups of native species and to other predators."

http://news.sciencemag.org/biology/2013/08/australian-cats-and-foxes-may-not-deserve-their-bad-rep

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Efforts to give the public free access to peer-reviewed papers have reached a milestone: One-half of all papers are now freely available within a year or two of publication, concludes a study funded by the European Commission and released today. That means so-called open-access publishing has reached a “tipping point” and will now accelerate, suggests Éric Archambault, the lead author of the study and president of Science-Metrix Inc. in Montreal, Canada. “Things are likely to move much faster now.” But some open-access observers have been quick to criticize the study, which yielded a number twice as high as other analyses.

The findings come as open access is set to expand: This week (22 August), U.S. science agencies are due to send the White House draft plans describing how they will make government-funded research papers freely available, generally within 12 months of publication. And the European Commission will soon require that most articles it funds be free within 6 months. The new “findings underline that open access is here to stay,” said Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, European commissioner for research, innovation, and science, in a statement.

The open-access movement took off more than a decade ago when some scientists began pushing to make full-text papers free. Today, some papers are published in journals that make papers immediately free upon publication and cover costs by charging authors a fee. Some other papers, published in traditional subscription-based journals, are made freely available on an author’s website or through an institutional or government archive, often after a 6- or 12-month “embargo” imposed by the publisher to protect subscription revenue. (Research papers in Science are free with registration after 12 months, and authors can post copies sooner.) Like other analysts, Archambault defines papers published in immediately free journals as the “gold” version of open access, and those posted in archives, sometimes after a delay, as “green”; other forms his team dubbed “hybrid.”

To find out how many gold, green, and hybrid papers are now available, Archambault and his colleagues randomly sampled 320,000 papers published between 2004 and 2011 drawn from Scopus, a database. They then built a software robot that scoured the Internet and online archives in April 2013 for the full text. Unlike some other analysts, they included papers that are only temporarily free (such as a journal’s sample issue). As a check, they also manually searched for 500 papers, revealing that the robot had missed a few. After correcting for this error, the Science-Metrix group concluded that open access reached a 50% “tipping point” in 2011, meaning that one-half of the papers published that year are now freely available.

The team also found that the proportion of gold papers grew from about 4% of all papers in 2004 to 12% in 2011 (see graph). Over the same period, the share of green and hybrid papers hovered around 34% then fell to about 32%. That decline probably reflects the fact that more recently published papers hadn’t yet come out from under embargo, Archambault says. Overall, he notes, the number of open-access papers has been growing by about 2% a year, and the absolute total jumps each year as journals and authors make batches of old papers free.

Such numbers haven’t persuaded other analysts that open access is making a historic transition. “Eric has given us good news about access, not open access,” says Stevan Harnad of the University of Quebec in Montreal, who thinks that delayed access shouldn’t count. Bo-Christer Björk of the Hanken School of Economics in Helsinki, who’s calculated a smaller number, says that for methodological reasons he’s “not fully convinced” that the 50% figure is valid. However, he says that the study is “important” and will be influential—but not necessarily in the way the authors hope: It may prompt subscription publishers to lengthen embargoes and tighten enforcement.

One publisher says that even if the 50% number is real, publishing hasn’t necessarily reached a tipping point. Fred Dylla, executive director of the American Institute of Physics in College Park, Maryland, argues that open access is expanding because it’s being driven by public policy mandates, not favorable economics. For that reason, “I don’t see us reaching the top of a hill and now rushing to the bottom. It’s more like the slope is getting smaller,” he says.

However imperfect, the Archambault analysis is welcome, says open-access advocate Peter Suber, director of Harvard University’s Office for Scholarly Communication. It shows that open access “has entered the mainstream,” he says. “When we're on a long journey, we have a right to celebrate when the odometer rolls over at some round number of miles, even if we're perfectly aware that the round number is somewhat arbitrary.”

http://news.sciencemag.org/scientific-community/2013/08/free-papers-have-reached-tipping-point-study-claims

173
Just curious -- I've been messing around with Blender (3D modelling / animation, also has a game design engine though that's not commonly used in my understanding) and Unity (3D game dev environment) for maybe a half-year now. Would love to have someone else to muck about in tutorials with, or toss together some lazy prototype. Happy to subjugate myself to someone else's project ideas, too; just looking for well-defined, simple shit to learn skills w/.

175
General Disconation / Chinese Boy has night vision
« on: August 21, 2013, 10:18:53 AM »
A young Chinese boy who was born with beaming blue eyes has stunned medics with his ability to see in pitch black darkness.

Nong Yousui from Dahua, China has eyes that reflect neon green when light is shined on them. Doctors have studied Nong's amazing eyesight since his dad took him to hospital concerned over his bright blue eyes.

"They told me he would grow out of it and that his eyes would stop glowing and turn black like most Chinese people but they never did", his Dad said.

Nong enjoys playing outside with his schoolmates but experiences discomfort when in bright sunlight, however can see completely clearly in pure darkness.

To test his abilities, a Chinese journalist prepared a set of questionnaires which he was able to finish while sitting in a pitch black room. The tests show Nong can read and write perfectly without any light and can see as clearly as most people do during the day.

According to the World Record Academy (the leading international organization which certify world records), Nong has even set the world record for the first human who can see in the dark.

In animals, night vision is made possible by the existence of a thin layer of cells, called the tapetum lucidum. And like a Siamese cat, Nong's sky-blue eyes flash neon green when illuminated by a flashlight.

Nong's night vision has sparked interest around the world by vision scientists, evolutionary biologists, and genetic engineers. And this is good news for science as we may eventually be able to use genetic technologies to deliberately create such a condition ourselves.

A new and growing generation of extraordinary and gifted children are springing up across our planet.

http://www.whydontyoutrythis.com/2013/08/chinese-boy-with-ability-to-see-in-pitch-black-stuns-medics.html

176
General Disconation / A Blood Test for Suicide?
« on: August 20, 2013, 11:25:14 AM »
What if a psychiatrist could tell whether someone was about to commit suicide simply by taking a sample of their blood? That’s the promise of new research, which finds increased amounts of a particular protein in the bloodstream of those contemplating killing themselves. The test was conducted on only a few people, however, and given that such “biomarkers” often prove unreliable in the long run, it’s far from ready for clinical use.

Suicide isn’t like a heart attack. People typically don’t reveal early symptoms to their doctor—morbid thoughts, for example, instead of chest pain—and there’s no equivalent of a cholesterol or high blood pressure test to identify those at most risk of killing themselves. "We are dealing with something more complex and less accessible," says Alexander Niculescu III, a psychiatrist at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis. So some researchers are eager to find physical signs, called biomarkers, that can be measured in the bloodstream to signal when a person is at a high likelihood of committing suicide.

Over the past decade, Niculescu and his colleagues have been refining a method for identifying biomarkers that can distinguish psychological states. The technique depends on blood samples taken from individuals in different mental states over time—for example, from people with bipolar disorder as they swing between the disorder’s characteristic high and low moods. The researchers test those samples for differences in the activity, or expression, of genes for of different proteins. After screening the blood samples, the scientists “score” a list of candidate biomarker genes by searching for related results in a large database of studies by other groups using a program that Niculescu compares to the Google page-ranking algorithm. In previous published studies, Niculescu and other groups have used the technique to probe for biomarkers in disorders such as bipolar disorder, psychosis, and alcoholism.

In the new study, the team tested whether the approach could be used to identify people experiencing suicidal "ideation"—thoughts ranging from feelings of worthlessness to specific plans or attempts at suicide. The study required finding a rare group of people who switch dramatically from zero to high levels of suicidal ideation, Niculescu says. Because those with bipolar disorder are at a far higher risk of suicide than the general population—one in three patients attempt it—the team recruited 75 men with that diagnosis. Many were war veterans in their mid-20s to late 60s, receiving care at the Indianapolis VA Medical Center, he says.

Over the course of three interviews spaced 3 to 6 months apart, only nine of the 75 men experienced an extreme shift from zero suicidal thoughts to high suicidal ideation, Niculescu says. (Most had more chronic thoughts of suicide, he notes.) After screening the blood samples from this small group, the researchers identified five top candidates for biomarkers. Of these, a protein made by the gene SAT1, which is involved in cellular damage and stress, was "head and shoulders" above the others at distinguishing the two mental states, Niculescu says. On average, SAT1 expression was significantly elevated when the men’s interviews suggested they were experiencing suicidal ideation.

In work by other groups, the activity of SAT1 has been found to increase in response to a number of stressors such as toxins, infection, and lack of oxygen, Niculescu says. To confirm that SAT1 activity was elevated in patients who had actually committed suicide, the group examined blood samples from nine men who died by hanging, gunshot wounds, or slit wrists. (No drug overdoses were included because they would have likely altered brain chemistry.) All nine men had strikingly elevated levels of SAT1 expression—higher, even, than those who had the highest rates of suicidal ideation in the previous study, the team reports today in Molecular Psychiatry.

Finally, to determine if the presence of elevated SAT1 and several other biomarkers that their work had flagged could predict future suicidal behavior, the group conducted a long-term study of two at-risk populations—42 men with bipolar disorder and 46 men with schizophrenia. The biomarkers were, to a small, but statistically significant degree, able to distinguish between patients who were later hospitalized for suicidal behavior and those who were not, the team reports. When combined with other simple psychological measures of anxiety and mood, the biomarkers became potentially far more helpful, Niculescu says—in the bipolar group, they were more than 80% predictive of future hospitalization for suicide.

"It's unlikely these markers are specific" for the complex behavior of suicide, but rather for contributing factors such as abnormal cellular function due to stress, Niculescu says. If SAT1 or the other biomarkers are to be used in the clinic, scientists will need to make sure that they hold up in larger and more diverse populations, such as women and patients with other mental disorders, he says. Even if validated, the biomarkers will likely never be adequate on their own to predict how likely a person is to commit suicide, Niculescu adds. Rather, they need to be combined with other information, such as substance abuse history and stress, much like a FICO score from the credit bureau, he says.

Gustavo Turecki, a psychiatrist at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, was "particularly happy" when he read the study's results because it fits well with his own lab's previously published work, which has also found evidence that the production of SAT1’s protein is elevated in the brains of suicidal individuals after they die. Although he's hopeful that the findings will eventually illuminate the biological processes that underlie suicidal behavior, Turecki doubts that these biomarkers will ultimately help predict suicide in the clinic. The small sample sizes in Niculescu’s studies and the fact that all the patients were male and had bipolar disorder or schizophrenia means that the study is "not representative of the universe of people with suicidal behavior," he says. More important, he says, is that the vast majority of people who die by suicide don’t see a doctor first.

"Any one test isn't going to be a perfect predictor," agrees psychologist Matthew Nock of Harvard University, an expert in developing behavioral exams to predict suicide. However, looking for biological warning signs of suicide is "an important piece of the puzzle," he says. "Hopefully we'll see a lot more in this line of research."

http://news.sciencemag.org/brain-behavior/2013/08/blood-test-suicide

177
General Disconation / Computer Can Read Letters Directly from the Brain
« on: August 20, 2013, 09:51:21 AM »
Aug. 19, 2013 — By analysing MRI images of the brain with an elegant mathematical model, it is possible to reconstruct thoughts more accurately than ever before. In this way, researchers from Radboud University Nijmegen have succeeded in determining which letter a test subject was looking at.

The journal Neuroimage has accepted the article, which will be published soon.

Functional MRI scanners have been used in cognition research primarily to determine which brain areas are active while test subjects perform a specific task. The question is simple: is a particular brain region on or off? A research group at the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour at Radboud University has gone a step further: they have used data from the scanner to determine what a test subject is looking at.

The researchers 'taught' a model how small volumes of 2x2x2 mm from the brain scans -- known as voxels -- respond to individual pixels. By combining all the information about the pixels from the voxels, it became possible to reconstruct the image viewed by the subject. The result was not a clear image, but a somewhat fuzzy speckle pattern. In this study, the researchers used hand-written letters.

Prior knowledge improves model performance

'After this we did something new', says lead researcher Marcel van Gerven. 'We gave the model prior knowledge: we taught it what letters look like. This improved the recognition of the letters enormously. The model compares the letters to determine which one corresponds most exactly with the speckle image, and then pushes the results of the image towards that letter. The result was the actual letter, a true reconstruction.'

'Our approach is similar to how we believe the brain itself combines prior knowledge with sensory information. For example, you can recognise the lines and curves in this article as letters only after you have learned to read. And this is exactly what we are looking for: models that show what is happening in the brain in a realistic fashion. We hope to improve the models to such an extent that we can also apply them to the working memory or to subjective experiences such as dreams or visualisations. Reconstructions indicate whether the model you have created approaches reality.'

Improved resolution; more possibilities

'In our further research we will be working with a more powerful MRI scanner,' explains Sanne Schoenmakers, who is working on a thesis about decoding thoughts. 'Due to the higher resolution of the scanner, we hope to be able to link the model to more detailed images. We are currently linking images of letters to 1200 voxels in the brain; with the more powerful scanner we will link images of faces to 15,000 voxels.'

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130819141641.htm?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+sciencedaily%2Fcomputers_math%2Fmathematical_modeling+%28ScienceDaily%3A+Computers+%26+Math+News+--+Mathematical+Modeling%29

178
General Disconation / The Wolverine
« on: July 29, 2013, 12:17:39 AM »
4/10

vastly less shitty than Origins

still pretty meh, but not totally unenjoyable

Spoiler (hover to show)

179


Thanks to rapidly-melting ice, Santa Claus now has his own swimming pool: The North Pole is currently a lake, Canada.com reports.

The shallow lake — it's about a foot deep, according to LiveScience — isn't the result of sea water overtaking the ice; it consists entirely of the melted ice itself. And it's a vicious cycle, writes William Wolfe-Wylie for Canada.com. That water picks up more radiation from the sun than solid ice would, so the area is getting even warmer.

At the beginning of the month, a lot of the Arctic Ocean saw temperatures two to five degrees warmer than average; the lake began forming July 13. But it's nothing new: The lake has been appearing each year, the Atlantic Wire notes.

More than half of Arctic sea ice is newly formed and thin, LiveScience reports, making it easier for meltwater ponds to form and combine. An Arctic cyclone due this week will boost the melting process even more. Visit the North Pole Environmental Observatory for images.

In related news, Arctic warming could end up costing the world an extra $60 trillion, researchers say. (Compare that to the size of the global economy in 2012: $70 trillion.) That's because the methane gas emitted as the permafrost under the East Siberian Sea thaws could quicken the effects of climate change, adding to the costs heaped upon the world by global warming, the Christian Science Monitor explains. And Science Daily notes that there's far more methane in the region than just what sits under that particular sea.

In quirky related news: The CIA is studying how to control the world's climate.

Newser is a USA TODAY content partner providing general news, commentary and coverage from around the Web. Its content is produced independently of USA TODAY.

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/07/25/newser-north-pole-lake/2586469/

180
Spamalot / hey zeke
« on: July 21, 2013, 08:29:58 AM »
you're on tzt

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