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Topics - Agrul

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

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

Over the years, 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 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, 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 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 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, 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.,33632/

General Disconation / Feral Cats Actually Awesome: Suck it, Taket
« on: August 26, 2013, 01:00:13 PM »
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.


"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."

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.”

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/.

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.

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."

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.'

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

vastly less shitty than Origins

still pretty meh, but not totally unenjoyable

Spoiler (hover to show)


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

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

Spamalot / on the 29th, i begin my xx trip
« on: July 21, 2013, 07:40:47 AM »
the xx means "CROSS COUNTRY" you shallow dip

i LIKE but do not LOVE you. advise?

Spamalot / QUBBREAD
« on: July 21, 2013, 06:32:16 AM »
where in TX do you live BRO?

bc i will be in TX a bit, but the ladies imma goin with hate TX. so. can we hang? bc i hate girls + want to sex u.

Uhhh not sure about the article's title.

And kind of underwhelmed by "more than 20 schoolchildren died after eating tainted food."

I mean -- 20? really? Sounds to me like India is doing a fuckin' bang-up job if that is our global idea of a problem.


"We've become familiar with the story of India's economic ascent and the creation of a large middle class. While that story is true, hundreds of millions of Indians have not been lifted out of extreme poverty.

India has sought to help its poorest children with its midday meal program, which was in the news this week when more than 20 schoolchildren died after eating tainted food.

As we noted, India trails other developing nations at the pace at which it is reducing death rates for children under 5. And as the map and graph below from the International Food Policy Research Institute show, India also lags behind in other key childhood indicators. (You may have to click on India on the map to see the data. You can also click on other countries.)

In the face of all these challenges, India's government is working on a new plan to feed hundreds of millions of poor people with subsidized food grains.

It's called the National Food Security Ordinance. The government says it will help the country's poorest people, and help India reach some of its poverty-reduction goals. Here are some key facts about the program:

— It would cover 2 out of every 3 Indians — or some 800 million people.

— It would give each of them 11 pounds of grain each month.

— It would provide rice at 5 cents; wheat at 3 cents; millet at 2 cents per kilogram (2.2 pounds).

— Its cost has been estimated at more than $20 billion annually.

Critics say India can't afford public spending on such a vast scale; and they say it'll be far more expensive than the government's estimates. They also claim the program amounts to pandering ahead of next year's elections. Meanwhile, the government is battling allegations of corruption, inefficiency and a slowing economy."

General Disconation / Electrocute your Noggin to Learn Faster
« on: July 18, 2013, 11:09:45 PM »
Just about everyone wishes they were better at math. But studying and practicing is so difficult and boring that very few people do it. If only there were an easier way.

Now there may be, suggests a new study in which scientists stimulated volunteers’ brains with mild electric current while they learned new arithmetic operations based on made-up symbols. People who received brain stimulation during training sessions on five consecutive days learned two to five times faster than those who received sham stimulation, and they retained a 30 to 40 percent performance edge six months later.

The study is not the first to show improvement in mathematical cognition with brain stimulation. In 2010, scientists reported that people can learn a new set of numbers based on arbitrary symbols more quickly when a mild current is applied to the right parietal lobe of the brain, a region implicated in previous number-comprehension studies.

The new research goes a step farther by showing that electrical stimulation can also improve the ability to perform calculations, says cognitive neuroscientist Roi Cohen Kadosh of the University of Oxford, who led both studies.

The new study also uses a different type of stimulation. In the 2010 study, Cohen Kadosh and colleagues used transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), which delivers a weak but constant current to the brain via electrodes placed on the skull. In the new study, they used transcranial random noise stimulation (TRNS): current that fluctuates randomly within certain bounds. People sometimes feel a slight tingling on the scalp with tDCS, Cohen Kadosh says, but with TRNS they usually feel nothing.

They may also get a different kind of cognitive boost.

The researchers applied TRNS to a different brain region thought to play a role in mathematical cognition, the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. When people received TRNS during training sessions spread across five days, they memorized new “facts” more quickly (such as 4 # 12 = 17, an arbitrary equation that had to be learned by rote). Compared to subjects who got sham stimulation, those who received TRNS also learned more quickly to do calculations with novel operands (the symbols like + and – that tell you what to do with the numbers on either side, but in this case the new symbols required somewhat more complicated operations).

The researchers also monitored blood flow in the stimulated region of cortex with a non-invasive method called near-infrared spectroscopy. TRNS appeared to make metabolism more efficient, co-author Jackie Thompson wrote in an email to Wired: “That is, metabolic levels  in the TRNS group were actually lower whilst doing the same mental calculations (the same amount of “work”) as the sham group.”

That physiological change, as well as the improved calculation performance, persisted 6 months after training, the researchers report today in Current Biology. (The improved memory performance did not).

“If I put my sci-fi hat on, what I can imagine coming down the road is even more sophisticated combinations of stimulation and cognitive training,” said Peter Reiner, a neuroscientist and neuroethicist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Reiner sees the performance improvements reported in the new study as a nice incremental advance over what’s been shown previously, but he predicts that bigger things are on the way. ”There’s a huge amount of potential there.”

But before you run off to RadioShack and fire up the soldering iron in an attempt to build a TRNS kit, Cohen Kadosh has a few words of caution. “Do not try this at home,” he said. Although tDCS is fairly simple, TRNS requires more sophisticated equipment and protocols. The electrodes have to be attached in just the right place and the cognitive training has to be done right too, Cohen Kadosh says.

Also, although his team didn’t see any adverse effects in this study, they recently discovered that tDCS can cause cognitive impairments as well as benefits in some cases.

Study and practice is still the surest and safest way to kick your brain into a higher math gear. At least for now.

related, earlier article:

Exodus International, one of the nation’s most prominent coalitions of groups promoting harmful “ex-gay” therapy, announced Wednesday that it was disbanding and apologized to the LGBT community for the massive harm it has caused to many. Alan Chambers, the group’s president, issued a written apology, acknowledging that his organization hurt many.
In his apology, Chambers wrote:

Please know that I am deeply sorry. I am sorry for the pain and hurt many of you have experienced. I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents. I am sorry that there were times I didn’t stand up to people publicly “on my side” who called you names like sodomite—or worse. I am sorry that I, knowing some of you so well, failed to share publicly that the gay and lesbian people I know were every bit as capable of being amazing parents as the straight people that I know. I am sorry that when I celebrated a person coming to Christ and surrendering their sexuality to Him that I callously celebrated the end of relationships that broke your heart. I am sorry that I have communicated that you and your families are less than me and mine.

The board of Exodus International unanimously voted to shut down and announced that it will begin a new organization dedicated encouraging churches to “become safe, welcoming, and mutually transforming communities.”

In an address at the group’s final annual conference, at Concordia University Irvine in California, Chambers noted that his admission last year that people do not actually change their sexual orientation engulfed his organization in scandal. “I’m convinced,” he told attendees, “that the scandal is of God’s making.”

He encouraged the attendees to work to change their churches to be more like a loving, accepting “father church” than scolding, judgmental “older brother church.”
“What that means is we’re not gonna control people anymore,” he told them. “We’re not gonna tell them how they should live. We’re not gonna be responsible for what they’re doing.

It’s not our job. You are not the Holy Spirit. I am not the Holy Spirit. The Church is not the Holy Spirit.”
Watch the video here (Chambers begins at about the 20 minute mark):

Sadly, the admissions and departure by Exodus International do not mean the end for the dangerous “ex-gay” movement. A splinter group called the Restored Hope Network continues, with the endorsement of anti-LGBT organizations like Focus on the Family, to promote the same harmful and ineffective “cures.” And, according to the group’s statement, Exodus International’s former local affiliated ministries “will continue, but not under the name or umbrella of Exodus.”

 AMES, Iowa — As the car pulled into the parking lot of a Starbucks, William Sanford Nye unknotted his trademark bow tie and slipped it off.

“This might buy us a couple of minutes,” he said.

Roughly two minutes later, before his drink was ready, he was recognized anyway. Two awed young women approached to ask if he was really Bill Nye the Science Guy. Like more than a dozen other college students who would approach him over the next several hours, they asked if they could take a picture with him. He smiled, took a proffered iPhone, scooched the students in and, in a practiced gesture, stretched out his arm to take a shot of the three of them that you just knew was totally going on Facebook.

Mr. Nye had come to talk to them, and a few thousand of their friends, at Iowa State University. If he were a politician, college students would be his base. Instead, he is something more: a figure from their early days in front of the family TV, a beloved teacher and, more and more these days, a warrior for science. They, in turn, are his fans, his students and his army.

They have gone from watching him explain magnetism and electricity to defending the scientific evidence for climate change, the age of the earth and other issues they have seen polemicized for religious, political and even economic reasons.

He takes on those who would demand that the public schools teach alternative theories of evolution and the origins of the earth — most famously, in a video clip from the site that has been viewed some five million times. In it, he flatly tells adult viewers that “if you want to deny evolution and live in your world — in your world that’s completely inconsistent with everything we observe in the universe — that’s fine. But don’t make your kids do it, because we need them. We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future.”

In any given week, you’re likely to see Mr. Nye, 57, somewhere on television, calmly countering the arguments made by people like Marc Morano, the former Republican Senate staff member whose industry-funded organization,, disputes the increasingly well-understood connection between rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and warming. In an exchange several months ago on “Piers Morgan Tonight” on CNN, Mr. Morano denied that warming is occurring, and scoffed that Mr. Nye’s arguments were “the level of your daily horoscope.”

Mr. Nye quietly rebutted his opponent with the gravity of scientific consensus. “This will be the hottest two decades in recorded history,” he said. “I’ve got to disagree with you.”

Sometimes his advocacy can step out in front of scientific consensus, however. In May, after a monster tornado devastated large parts of Moore, Okla., he took a jab on Twitter at one of that state’s United States senators, James Inhofe, who has written a book calling climate change “the greatest hoax.” He mused: “Has anyone asked Oklahoma Senator Inhofe” about the frequency of such destructive storms? Yet a link between climate change and tornado activity has not been established.

On the night the tornado hit Moore, Mr. Nye explained to Mr. Morgan that “you can’t say from any one storm that ‘this is a result of, let’s say, climate change.’ ” But he noted that “if there’s more heat driving the storm, then there’s going to be more tornadoes,” and added that the question “is worth investigating.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson, the director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History, said that he considered Mr. Nye “among my best friends” and complimented him for “hitting controversial topics head on.”

But, he said, his own style is a bit less confrontational: “I’m looking to stimulate curiosity so most people can go out there and learn on their own.”

Phil Plait, the creator of the Bad Astronomy blog at and a fierce advocate himself, is more like Mr. Nye, willing to take the gloves off in rebutting those who might deny that men landed on the moon, or the evidence for human effects on climate change.

Mr. Plait said admiringly of Mr. Nye, “He will very calmly tear them apart,” adding, “His big advantage is, he’s right. We know that climate change is real. We know creationism is wrong. These are no longer scientific controversies.”

“When people call these ‘controversial topics,’ that’s misleading,” he continued. “They are only controversial politically. And politics is not necessarily evidence-based.”

There was nothing in Mr. Nye’s early days that suggested he might be a firebrand for science. Born in Washington, D.C., he studied mechanical engineering at Cornell, where he got to know a professor named Carl Sagan. He moved out West to do engineering for Boeing, where he spent some three years designing a hydraulic tube for the 747 that served to dampen vibration in the steering mechanism. He refers to it lovingly as “my tube.”

He tried his hand at stand-up comedy — his first time onstage was during a Steve Martin look-alike competition, which he won. He would achieve escape velocity from Boeing with an idea for a television program that would teach science to children in a wacky way. The best-known version of “Bill Nye the Science Guy” ran from 1992 to 1996, and won 18 Emmys in five years.

Mr. Nye’s past teaching and present crusading have made him a rock star for scientifically inclined students across the country. That celebrity has allowed him, as executive director of the Planetary Society, to push for the kind of interplanetary exploration that, he said in an interview, “leads to the reverence that we have for our place in the cosmos.”

“Space,” he added, “brings out the best in us.”

On the day of Mr. Nye’s visit to the Iowa State campus, students began lining up by midafternoon to make sure they got into the evening lecture. Stephens Auditorium holds about 3,000 people, and as many as a thousand would ultimately be turned away.

They came, many said, because “Bill Nye the Science Guy” helped shape their lives. “He was probably the one who inspired me to keep going in the science career track,” said Betsy Salmon, the first person in line at one entrance to the auditorium. She majored in animal ecology.

Kaci McCleary, an “aspiring neurobiologist, or neuro-something,” said that Mr. Nye was “a very inspiring person in the field of science — he tells people to make science part of their lives, even if it’s not their career.” Ms. McCleary, who knitted as she waited to be let in, said a friend had joked to her, “I hope to be able to touch the hem of his lab coat, so he could cure me of my stupid.”

Mr. Nye did not disappoint. In a lecture that gave evidence of his stand-up roots, he started out with rambling asides on his his family and its generations-long fascination with sundials. He talked about the bluish tinge of shadows on Earth compared with the orangy shadows on Mars, and described the sundial that he convinced NASA to send up with the Curiosity rover. He got a little risqué with a joke about the gnomon — the part of the sundial that sticks up, you know — and bounced into a discussion of the hellish heat of Venus and that planet’s high concentration of greenhouse gases.

He told the students that if they figured out ways to solve problems like greenhouse gases and global warming, “You could — dare I say it? — change the world!” And what’s more, he added, throwing his head back for a hearty mad-scientist laugh, “you could get rich!”

Over the hour-and-a-half talk, those statements started out as a laugh line that got funnier through increasingly manic repetition. But he shifted his tone gradually, from goofy to fervent. By the end of his speech, it was an exhortation, a command: Change the world.

During the question-and-answer session, a student brought up Mr. Nye’s comments on evolution and creation. The problem, he explained, is that some people advocate requiring public schools to teach religious apologia as science.

“The earth’s not 4,000, 6,000, 10,000 years old,” he said. “I’ve got no problem with anybody’s religion. But if you go claiming the earth is only 10,000 years old, that’s just wrong.”

The students roared their approval. As the audience streamed out — did those dudes really rip off their shirts to show that they had painted, in all capital letters, “Bill Nye” on their chests and “science” on their backs? — Mr. Nye looked like someone who had just run a triathlon. And then it was time for more pictures.

Earlier in the day, he had marveled at the chain of events that made him the Springsteen of the nerds. “I was making a TV show. It had commercials for toys.” Yet, he noted, “It stands the test of time. It’s very gratifying.”

What he did then, and what he does now, are all part of the same crusade, he said. “There’s nothing I believe in more strongly than getting young people interested in science and engineering,” he said — “for a better tomorrow, for all humankind.”

He stopped, realizing that sounded grandiose, or at least corny.

“I’m not kidding,” he said.

Spamalot / Aro: Hiking
« on: June 17, 2013, 11:53:45 PM »
I mentioned in another thread that I'll be up in MD July 17-18 (17th evening for a show, 18th... not sure what I'm doing? Going to Philly on the 19th).

You down for hiking something? What's MD's best, most painful, entertaining hike. LET'S DO THAT.

seriously wtf.

i've avoided bars for quite a while but lately gotten back into them as part of my social life, and i just don't fucking get it. is it supposed to be erotic to barely be able to yell your phrase-of-the-moment into your lady friend's ear or something?

seriously bars are horseshit stupid cockfecal sucktwats.

my dad is a former vet (not of any major war, but enough of his life was put into it to really matter) and my brother tried to join the marines and broke his arm so he couldn't.

she pressured me into celebrating them on 'their day' (which i did, bc i didn't really want to be a gigantic cocksuck about it), but i don't really think every person who joins the military deserves my gratitude. a lot of them are badass heroes. a lot of them are worthless shits. so, yeah.

tell me i'm an asshole, thanks :smitten:

General Disconation / Nazi SS Commander chillin' in Minnesota
« on: June 14, 2013, 03:36:17 PM »
A top commander of a Nazi SS-led unit accused of burning villages filled with women and children lied to American immigration officials to get into the United States and has been living in Minnesota since shortly after World War II, according to evidence uncovered by The Associated Press.

Michael Karkoc, 94, told American authorities in 1949 that he had performed no military service during World War II, concealing his work as an officer and founding member of the SS-led Ukrainian Self Defense Legion and later as an officer in the SS Galician Division, according to records obtained by the AP through a Freedom of Information Act request. The Galician Division and a Ukrainian nationalist organization he served in were both on a secret American government blacklist of organizations whose members were forbidden from entering the United States at the time.

Though records do not show that Karkoc had a direct hand in war crimes, statements from men in his unit and other documentation confirm the Ukrainian company he commanded massacred civilians, and suggest that Karkoc was at the scene of these atrocities as the company leader. Nazi SS files say he and his unit were also involved in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, in which the Nazis brutally suppressed a Polish rebellion against German occupation.

The U.S. Department of Justice has used lies about wartime service made in immigration papers to deport dozens of suspected Nazi war criminals. The evidence of Karkoc's wartime activities uncovered by AP has prompted German authorities to express interest in exploring whether there is enough to prosecute. In Germany, Nazis with "command responsibility" can be charged with war crimes even if their direct involvement in atrocities cannot be proven.
Larger view
Karkoc's petition for naturalization

Karkoc refused to discuss his wartime past at his home in Minneapolis, and repeated efforts to set up an interview, using his son as an intermediary, were unsuccessful.

Efraim Zuroff, the lead Nazi hunter at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem, said that based on his decades of experience pursuing Nazi war criminals, he expects that the evidence showing Karkoc lied to American officials and that his unit carried out atrocities is strong enough for deportation and war-crimes prosecution in Germany or Poland.

"In America this is a relatively easy case: If he was the commander of a unit that carried out atrocities, that's a no brainer," Zuroff said. "Even in Germany ... if the guy was the commander of the unit, then even if they can't show he personally pulled the trigger, he bears responsibility."

Former German army officer Josef Scheungraber -- a lieutenant like Karkoc -- was convicted in Germany in 2009 on charges of murder based on circumstantial evidence that put him on the scene of a Nazi wartime massacre in Italy as the ranking officer.

German prosecutors are obligated to open an investigation if there is enough "initial suspicion" of possible involvement in war crimes, said Thomas Walther, a former prosecutor with the special German office that investigates Nazi war crimes.

The current deputy head of that office, Thomas Will, said there is no indication that Karkoc had ever been investigated by Germany. Based on the AP's evidence, he said he is now interested in gathering information that could possibly result in prosecution.

Prosecution in Poland may also be a possibility because most of the unit's alleged crimes were against Poles on Polish territory. But Karkoc would be unlikely to be tried in his native Ukraine, where such men are today largely seen as national heroes who fought for the country against the Soviet Union.

Karkoc now lives in a modest house in northeast Minneapolis in an area with a significant Ukrainian population. Even at his advanced age, he came to the door without help of a cane or a walker. He would not comment on his wartime service for Nazi Germany.

"I don't think I can explain," he said.

Members of his unit and other witnesses have told stories of brutal attacks on civilians.

One of Karkoc's men, Vasyl Malazhenski, told Soviet investigators that in 1944 the unit was directed to "liquidate all the residents" of the village of Chlaniow in a reprisal attack for the killing of a German SS officer, though he did not say who gave the order.

"It was all like a trance: setting the fires, the shooting, the destroying," Malazhenski recalled, according to the 1967 statement found by the AP in the archives of Warsaw's state-run Institute of National Remembrance, which investigates and prosecutes German and Soviet crimes on Poles during and after World War II.

"Later, when we were passing in file through the destroyed village," Malazhenski said, "I could see the dead bodies of the killed residents: men, women, children."

In a background check by U.S. officials on April 14, 1949, Karkoc said he had never performed any military service, telling investigators that he "worked for father until 1944. Worked in labor camp from 1944 until 1945."

However, in a Ukrainian-language memoir published in 1995, Karkoc states that he helped found the Ukrainian Self Defense Legion in 1943 in collaboration with the Nazis' feared SS intelligence agency, the SD, to fight on the side of Germany -- and served as a company commander in the unit, which received orders directly from the SS, through the end of the war.

It was not clear why Karkoc felt safe publishing his memoir, which is available at the U.S. Library of Congress and the British Library and which the AP located online in an electronic Ukrainian libary.

Karkoc's name surfaced when a retired clinical pharmacologist who took up Nazi war crimes research in his free time came across it while looking into members of the SS Galician Division who emigrated to Britain. He tipped off AP when an Internet search showed an address for Karkoc in Minnesota.

"Here was a chance to publicly confront a man who commanded a company alleged to be involved in the cruel murder of innocent people," said Stephen Ankier, who is based in London.

The AP located Karkoc's U.S. Army intelligence file, and got it declassified by the National Archives in Maryland through a FOIA request. The Army was responsible for processing visa applications after the war under the Displaced Persons Act.

The intelligence file said standard background checks with seven different agencies found no red flags that would disqualify him from entering the United States. But it also noted that it lacked key information from the Soviet side: "Verification of identity and complete establishment of applicant's reliability is not possible due to the inaccessibility of records and geographic area of applicant's former residence."

Wartime documents located by the AP also confirm Karkoc's membership in the Self Defense Legion. They include a Nazi payroll sheet found in Polish archives, signed by an SS officer on Jan. 8, 1945 -- only four months before the war's end -- confirming that Karkoc was present in Krakow, Poland, to collect his salary as a member of the Self Defense Legion. Karkoc signed the document using Cyrillic letters.

Karkoc, an ethnic Ukrainian, was born in the city of Lutsk in 1919, according to details he provided American officials. At the time, the area was being fought over by Ukraine, Poland and others; it ended up part of Poland until World War II. Several wartime Nazi documents note the same birth date, but say he was born in Horodok, a town in the same region.
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Recalling the Nazi offensive

He joined the regular German army after the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 and fought on the Eastern Front in Ukraine and Russia, according to his memoirs, which say he was awarded an Iron Cross, a Nazi award for bravery.

He was also a member of the Ukrainian nationalist organization OUN; in 1943, he helped negotiate with the Nazis to have men drawn from its membership form the Self Defense Legion, according to his account. Initially small, it eventually numbered some 600 soldiers. The legion was dissolved and folded into the SS Galician Division in 1945; Karkoc wrote that he remained with it until the end of the war.

Policy at the time of Karkoc's immigration application -- according to a declassified secret U.S. government document obtained by the AP from the National Archives -- was to deny a visa to anyone who had served in either the SS Galician Division or the OUN. The U.S. does not typically have jurisdiction to prosecute Nazi war crimes but has won more than 100 "denaturalization and removal actions" against people suspected of them.

Department of Justice spokesman Michael Passman would not comment on whether Karkoc had ever come to the department's attention, citing a policy not to confirm or deny the existence of investigations.

Though Karkoc talks in his memoirs about fighting anti-Nazi Polish resistance fighters, he makes no mention of attacks on civilians. He does indicate he was with his company in the summer of 1944 when the Self Defense Legion's commander -- Siegfried Assmuss, whose SS rank was equivalent to major -- was killed.

He did not mention the retaliatory massacre that followed, which was described in detail by Malazhenski in his 1967 statement used to help convict platoon leader Teodozy Dak of war crimes in Poland in 1972. An SS administrative list obtained by AP shows that Karkoc commanded both Malazhenski and Dak, who died in prison in 1974.

Malazhenski said the Ukrainian unit was ordered to liquidate Chlaniow in reprisal for Assmuss' death, and moved in the next day, machine-gunning people and torching homes. More than 40 people died.

"The village was on fire," Malazhenski said.

Villagers offered chilling testimony about the brutality of the attack.

In 1948, Chlaniow villager Stanislawa Lipska told a communist-era commission that she heard shots at about 7 a.m., then saw "the Ukrainian SS force" entering the town, calling out in Ukrainian and Polish for people to come out of their homes.

"The Ukrainians were setting fire to the buildings," Lipska said in a statement, also used in the Dak trial. "You could hear machine-gun shots and grenade explosions. Shots could be heard inside the village and on the outskirts. They were making sure no one escaped."

Witness statements and other documentation also link the unit circumstantially to a 1943 massacre in Pidhaitsi, on the outskirts of Lutsk --today part of Ukraine -- where the Self Defense Legion was once based. A total of 21 villagers, mostly women and children, were slaughtered.

Karkoc says in his memoir that his unit was founded and headquartered there in 1943 and later mentions that Pidhaitsi was still the unit's base in January 1944.

Another legion member, Kost Hirniak, said in his own 1977 memoir that the unit, while away on a mission, was suddenly ordered back to Pidhaitsi after a German soldier was killed in the area; it arrived on Dec. 2, 1943.

The next day, though Hirniak does not mention it, nearly two dozen civilians, primarily women and children, were slaughtered in Pidhaitsi. There is no indication any other units were in the area at the time.

Heorhiy Syvyi was a 9-year-old boy when troops swarmed into town on Dec. 3 and managed to flee with his father and hide in a shelter covered with branches. His mother and 4-year-old brother were killed.

"When we came out we saw the smoldering ashes of the burned house and our neighbors searching for the dead. My mother had my brother clasped to her chest. This is how she was found -- black and burned," said Syvyi, 78, sitting on a bench outside his home.

Villagers today blame the attack generically on "the Nazis" -- something that experts say is not unusual in Ukraine because of the exalted status former Ukrainian nationalist troops enjoy.

However, Pidhaitsi schoolteacher Galyna Sydorchuk told the AP that "there is a version" of the story in the village that the Ukrainian troops were involved in the December massacre.

"There were many in Pidhaitsi who were involved in the Self Defense Legion," she said. "But they obviously keep it secret."

Ivan Katchanovski, a Ukrainian political scientist who has done extensive research on the Self Defense Legion, said its members have been careful to cultivate the myth that their service to Nazi Germany was solely a fight against Soviet communism. But he said its actions -- fighting partisans and reprisal attacks on civilians -- tell a different story.

"Under the pretext of anti-partisan action they acted as a kind of police unit to suppress and kill or punish the local populations. This became their main mission," said Katchanovski, who went to high school in Pidhaitsi and now teaches at the University of Ottawa in Canada. "There is evidence of clashes with Polish partisans, but most of their clashes were small, and their most visible actions were mass killings of civilians."

There is evidence that the unit took part in the brutal suppression of the Warsaw Uprising, fighting the nationalist Polish Home Army as it sought to rid the city of its Nazi occupiers and take control of the city ahead of the advancing Soviet Army.

The uprising, which started in August 1944, was put down by the Nazis by the beginning of October in a house-to-house fight characterized by its ferocity.

The Self Defense Legion's exact role is not known, but Nazi documents indicate that Karkoc and his unit were there.

An SS payroll document, dated Oct. 12, 1944, says 10 members of the Self Defense Legion "fell while deployed to Warsaw" and more than 30 others were injured. Karkoc is listed as the highest-ranking commander of 2 Company -- a lieutenant -- on a pay sheet that also lists Dak as one of his officers.

Another Nazi accounting document uncovered by the AP in the Polish National Archives in Krakow lists Karkoc by name -- including his rank, birthdate and hometown -- as one of 219 "members of the S.M.d.S.-Batl 31 who were in Warsaw," using the German abbreviation for the Self Defense Legion.

In early 1945, the Self Defense Legion was integrated into the SS Galicia Division, and Karkoc said in his memoirs that he served as a deputy company commander until the end of the war.

Following the war, Karkoc ended up in a camp for displaced people in Neu Ulm, Germany, according to documents obtained from the International Tracing Service in Bad Arolsen, Germany. The documents indicate that his wife died in 1948, a year before he and their two young boys -- born in 1945 and 1946 -- emigrated to the U.S.

After he arrived in Minneapolis, he remarried and had four more children, the last born in 1966.

Karkoc told American officials he was a carpenter, and records indicate he worked for a nationwide construction company that has an office in Minneapolis.

A longtime member of the Ukrainian National Association, Karkoc has been closely involved in community affairs over the past decades and was identified in a 2002 article in a Ukrainian-American publication as a "longtime UNA activist."

THURSDAY, June 13 (HealthDay News) -- In a decision that could have far-reaching implications for medicine, the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that human genes cannot be patented.

The ruling could be a blow to drug companies such as Myriad Genetics, whose effort to patent an isolated form of a gene that might foretell cancer risk was at the center of the case. The high court decided that, unlike drugs or medical devices, human genes are not "created" by companies and therefore cannot be patented, USA Today reported.

"Myriad did not create anything," Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the unanimous decision. "To be sure, it found an important and useful gene, but separating that gene from its surrounding genetic material is not an act of invention."

Still, the justices did say that Myriad or companies like it might be able to patent forms of DNA that were not simply extracted from genes taken from the human body.

According to USA Today, the judges' nine-to-zero decision was in line with past decisions that have ruled that forces of nature are not patent-eligible, while products of human invention are.

The decision may have a profound impact on the bottom line of companies that sell genetic tests. According to USA Today, more than 40,000 patents linked to genetic material have been issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office since 1984. Myriad's gene tests for breast and ovarian cancer risk have been used by almost 1 million women since the late 1990s.

But the newspaper noted that these tests aren't cheap: it costs $3,340 for the breast cancer gene analysis, for example.

As is usual in cases over patents, Myriad and industry representatives have long argued that losing patent protection would lead to less investment in research and development.

On the other side, doctors and patient advocacy groups say loss of patent protection for gene-based products would free up competition, drive prices down and lead to more research and development, not less.

In a statement released earlier this week, the National Society of Genetic Counselors, argued against the patenting of genes.

"Exclusive licenses on patents create barriers that could stifle the development of innovative tests by restricting the access of researchers to gene sequences," the group said, "or requiring researchers to pay exorbitant licensure costs that will ultimately be passed on to the consumer."

An advocacy group for patients with ovarian cancer agreed.

"Many women we work with are concerned about their genetic risk of developing ovarian cancer, especially in the wake of Angelina's Jolie's announcement that she carries the BRCA1 mutation," Calaneet Balas, CEO of the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, said in a statement. "Myriad's patent limited women's options for learning about their genetic risk."

The Supreme Court agreed that a gene is a preexisting entity that is not subject to patent.

"In isolation, it has no value, it's just nature sitting there," Justice Sonia Sotamayor said, USA Today reported.

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